Sir Malcolm was born in Edinburgh in 1946.
He was educated at George Watson's College and Edinburgh University where he studied law before taking a postgraduate degree in political science. While at University he took part in an overland expedition to the Middle East and India. He, also, appeared on University Challenge.
From 1967-69 he lived in Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) and taught at the local University. He travelled widely around southern Africa and wrote his postgraduate thesis on the Politics of Land in Rhodesia. While in Africa he met his wife, Edith, whose parents had emigrated there when she was a small child.
On return to Britain he was called to the Bar and practised as an Advocate until 1979. He was appointed a Queen's Counsel in 1985. During his time at the Bar he appeared in both civil and criminal cases.
In 1970 he fought his first Parliamentary campaign and from 1970-74 he was a local councillor in Edinburgh. In 1974 he was elected as MP for Pentlands and represented that constituency until 1997.
Sir Malcolm was appointed to the Front Bench in 1975 but resigned over devolution in 1977. In 1979, when the Conservatives were returned to power under Margaret Thatcher, he was appointed a Parliamentary Under Secretary of State, at first in the Scottish Office and then, at the time of the Falklands War, he was transferred to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, being promoted to Minister of State in 1983.
He became a member of the Cabinet in 1986 as Secretary of State for Scotland. In 1990 he became Secretary of State for Transport and in 1992 Secretary of State for Defence. From 1995-97 he was Foreign Secretary. He was one of only four ministers to serve throughout the whole Prime Ministerships of both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. In 1997 he was knighted in recognition of his public service.
He has also been active in a number of voluntary organisations. He is a member of the Dulverton Trust, a Vice President of Combat Stress and a Patron of Raleigh International. He has served on the Court of Edinburgh University and is an honorary colonel. He is a member of the Queen's Bodyguard, the Royal Company of Archers.
Sir Malcolm was re-elected as a Member of Parliament in May 2005 for Kensington and Chelsea. He served as the Shadow Secretary of State for Work & Pensions and Welfare Reform until December 2005 when he chose to return to the backbenches. He has been selected to fight the new Kensington constituency at the next General Election.
Malcolm and Edith Rifkind have a daughter, Caroline and a son, Hugo, both of whom live and work in London.