James was born in 1949 in Suffolk. He was educated at Framlingham College, Suffolk, and Writtle Agricultural College.
James was a member of Suffolk Coastal District Council from 1976 to 1987. He served as the youngest ever Chairman of the Council in 1983.
James has been the Member of Parliament for South East Cambridgeshire since 1987.
Secretary of the Backbench Employment Committee and member of the Backbench Horticulture and Markets Sub-Committee, 1988-89. Member of the Select Committee on Employment, 1987-89. Parliamentary Private Secretary to Baroness Trumpington, Minister of State at the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, 1989-90. Parliamentary Private Secretary to John Gummer, Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries of Food, 1990-94. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department of Employment, 1994-95. Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Department for Education and Employment, 1995-97. Opposition Spokesman for Agriculture, Fisheries and Food, 1997-2001. Frontbench Spokesman for Home Affairs, 2001-03. Shadow Minister for Home, Constitutional and Legal Affairs, 2003-04. Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Rural Affairs, 2004-10. Minister of State for Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, 2010-12.
James is married to Ava and has two grown-up sons. In what little spare time he has he enjoys tending his small herd of Highland Cattle and various country pursuits.