Duncan Sandys

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(Redirected from Duncan Edwin Sandys)

Duncan Edwin Sandys, Baron Duncan-Sandys1 (January 24, 1908-November 26, 1987) was a British politician and a minister in successive Conservative governments. He was the son-in-law of Sir Winston Churchill.


Early life

Sandys was the son of a Conservative MP and was educated at Eton College and Magdalen College, Oxford. He entered the diplomatic service in 1930, serving at the Foreign Office in London as well as at the embassy in Berlin. He became MP for Lambeth, Norwood in south London in 1935. In the same year, he married Diana Churchill, daughter of the future prime minister.

The Duncan Sandys case

In 1938 Sandys asked questions in the House of Commons on matters of national security. He was subsequently approached by two unidentified men, presumably representing the secret services, and threatened with prosecution under the Official Secrets Act. Sandys reported the matter to the Committee of Privileges who held that the disclosures of Parliament were not subject to the legislation though an MP could be disciplined by the House2.


During World War II he fought with the British Expeditionary Force in Norway and was wounded in action in 1941, giving him a permanent limp. From this time he had a desk job as the Finance Member of the Army Council. His father-in-law gave him his first ministerial post during the wartime Coalition Government. While a Minister he was also Chairman of a War Cabinet Committee for defence against German flying bombs and rockets. However, he lost his seat in the 1945 general election.


Sandys was responsible for establishing the European Movement in Britain in 1947 and served as a member of the European Consultative Assembly in 1950 to 1951. He was elected to Parliament once gain in 1950 for Streatham and, when the Conservatives regained power, he was appointed as Minister of Supply in 1951. As Minister of Housing from 1954, he introduced the Clean Air Act and in 1955 introduced green belts. He was appointed Minister of Defence in 1957 and quickly produced a Defence White Paper which proposed a radical shift in the Royal Air Force by ending the use of fighter aircraft in favour of missile technology. Though later Ministers reversed the policy, the lost orders and cuts in research were responsible for several aircraft manufacturers going out of business.

He divorced his first wife in 1960 and married Marie-Claire (née Schmitt, previously married to Viscount Hudson) in 1962, the marriage lasting until his death. It has long been speculated that he may have been the 'headless man' whose identity was concealed during the scandalous divorce trial of Margaret, Duchess of Argyll in 1963.

Sandys continued as a minister until the Conservative government fell from power in 1964 at the Commonwealth Relations Office, later combining it with the Colonies Office. In this role he was responsible for granting several colonies their independence. He was an active member of the Shadow Cabinet but was sacked by Edward Heath in 1966. He strongly supported Ian Smith in the dispute over Rhodesia's Unilateral Declaration of Independence. He was not offered a post when the Conservatives won the 1970 general election, but instead served as Leader of the United Kingdom delegation to the Council of Europe and Western European Union until 1972 when he announced his retirement. The next year he was made a Companion of Honour.

In 1974 he retired from Parliament and was awarded a life peerage. He followed the example of George Brown and incorporated his first name in the title (Baron Duncan-Sandys).


Among his other interests were historic architecture. He formed the Civic Trust in 1956 and was its President; the Royal Institution of British Architects made him an honorary Fellow in 1968, and the Royal Town Planning Institute made him an honorary member. His business activities included a Directorship of the Ashanti Goldfields corporation, which was later part of Lonrho of which he became Chairman. He was therefore caught up in the scandal in which Lonrho was revealed to have bribed several African countries and broken international sanctions against Rhodesia.


  • 1 The name Sandys is pronounced Sands
  • 2 House of Commons Paper 101 (1938-1939)

Career Summary

Preceded by:
The Earl of Home
Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations
Followed by:
Arthur Bottomley
Preceded by:
Reginald Maudling
Secretary of State for the Colonies
Followed by:
Anthony Greenwood

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