Reginald Maudling, 61, a former British cabinet minister who once was a contender for leadership of the Conservative Party, died yesterday at a hospital in London.

He had been hospitalized three weeks ago for treatment of hepatitis. His condition worsened Tuesday and a hospital spokesman said there was "some indication of kindney failure."

Mr. Maudling's wife, Beryl, a former actress, and his eldest son, Martin, were at his bedside when he died.

Mr. Maudling was elected to Parliament in 1950 and went on to become one of the leading figures in British politics. He was chancellor of the exchequer from 1962 to 1964, and home secretary during 1970-72.

In 1965, he came within 17 votes of beating Edward Heath as Tory leader.

He resigned as home secretary in 1972 after it was learned that he had been an executive with two businesses run by men who were later convicted of illegal practices.

Mr. Maudling had worked with Jerome Hoffman, an American promoter convicted of fraud, and John Poulson, a British architect sent to prison on charges of corruption and conspiracy.

His connection with Hoffman had been brief but the link with Poulson had been more extensive and cost him his cabinet seat. He had joined Poulson in 1966 and was a director of three Poulson companies until the Tories returned to power in 1970. Mr. Maudling's chief activity had been contacting officials in other countries, asking them to give Poulson work.

In time Poulson went bankrupt, and police began looking into his affairs. As home secretary, Mr. Maudling was in charge of police. So he resigned from the government but kept his seat on the back benches of Parliament.

Out of office, Mr. Maudling served as a director of one of Britain's most important investment banks, Kleinwort Benson. He appeared frequently on television, dispensing political and economic wisdom, and was treated as a respected elder statesman.

In the early part of 1975, Mr. Maudling came back from political exile to serve as the Conservative Party's spokesman on foreign affairs. He was chosen by Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, to be a member of her shadow cabinet.

He had said then of his link to Poulson: "All of us can be taken in from time to time. After all, I had no evidence at any time whatever to suggest that Mr. Poulson was behaving improperly."

His shadow cabinet position lasted 21 months.

Mr. Maudling was born in London. After studying at Merton College, Oxford University, he decided on law and was called to the Middle Temple Bar in 1940.

During World War II, he was a staff officer with the Royal Air Force and then private secretary to the minister for air.

Mr. Maudling became active in the Conservative Party in 1945, and was elected a member of Parliament for the Barnet division of Hertfordshire five years later.

In 1952 he was named parliamentary secretary to the minister of civil aviation. Later that year he became minister of supply, and two years later paymaster-general.

Mr. Maudling had served as chairman of the ministerial committee of the Organization for European Economic Cooperation and had tried unsuccessfully to organize a free trade area among the nations left out of the Common Market, when it was established in 1959.

In 1959, Mr. Maudling was appointed president of the Board of Trade, a senior cabinet position that made him responsible for United Kingdom commerce, overseas trade and industry.

Mr. Maudling and Beryl Laverick were married in 1939. They had three sons and a daughter.