Whipping boy: Ken Clarke to explain ‘dark arts’ of Whips’ Office to CSA inquiry
03.03.19 Look out for later related articles
By Mark Watts
Senior politicians led by Ken Clarke and Nick Brown face questions about the secrets of the Whips’ Office by the inquiry into child sexual abuse.
The CSA inquiry has summoned the two MPs and two Lords, who have all worked as whips in the House of Commons, to explain the ‘dark arts’ of the secretive world at the heart of the Conservative and Labour parties in Parliament.
They are due to give evidence in the second week of hearings for the inquiry’s Westminster investigation, which begin tomorrow.
MPs raised the issue of the role of whips in covering up for paedophile MPs when Theresa May, as home secretary, announced the CSA inquiry in 2014.
They cited an interview by Tim Fortescue, a senior whip for Sir Edward Heath’s Conservative government from 1970 to 1973, for a BBC documentary in 1995 in which he said: “Anyone with any sense who was in trouble would come to the whips and tell them the truth, and say, ‘Now, I am in a jam, can you help?’
“It might be debt, it might be scandal involving small boys, any kind of scandal, which, if a member seemed likely to be mixed up in, they would come and ask if we could help. And if we could, we did.
“And we would do everything we can because we would store up brownie points... If we could get a chap out of trouble, then he will do as we ask for ever more.”
Another former Conservative MP, Jerry Hayes, wrote in his memoirs in 2014 of the whips: “If you find yourself in a spot of bother, like being found with a cold woman, a hot boy or a serious drink problem, they will also advise you how to minimise the damage. But they are primarily doing this to protect the government. Not the MP.”
Counsel to the inquiry wants to ask Clarke and Brown for their responses to Fortescue’s comments, and about the practice of keeping a “dirt book” of notes on the personal problems and private lives of MPs.
The inquiry also plans to question them about how allegations of criminal behaviour against MPs would be handled.
In addition, the inquiry intends to ask about the whips’ function of “pastoral” care over their “flock” of MPs.
Clarke, who is father of the House of Commons as its long-serving MP, was assistant whip and then whip between 1972 and 1974, overlapping with Fortescue.
In his written statement to the inquiry, Clarke seeks to give reassurances that absolutely nothing untoward ever happened in the Whips’ Office.
Brown has been Labour’s chief whip since 2016. He was also government chief whip between 2008 and 2010 when Labour was in power.
The inquiry is also to call Lord Jopling, who was government chief whip between 1979 and 1983 when the Conservative party was in power with Margaret Thatcher as prime minister, and Lord Arbuthnot, shadow chief whip for the Tories from 1997 to 2001.
Counsel to the inquiry wants to ask Jopling about information received from the then attorney general, Sir Michael Havers, about the backbench Conservative MP, Geoffrey Dickens, who named Sir Peter Hayman, the former diplomat and spymaster, in Parliament as a paedophile.
Jopling has disclosed to the inquiry a hand-written note from his archives about one MP’s marriage, although the identity will be withheld from publication, and another about Havers.
And the inquiry is to call Sir Murdo Maclean, who from 1978 to 2000 was private secretary to the government chief whip, a role taken by a civil servant.
He is to be asked what he knew about allegations of child sexual abuse against the late Conservative MP, Sir Peter Morrison. This includes a meeting in 1990 with the then cabinet secretary, Sir Robin, now Lord, Butler, about concern over Morrison.
As I revealed earlier, the inquiry will also ask MI5 what it knew about allegations of child sexual abuse against Peter Morrison. In addition, the inquiry will grill former Liberal leader Lord Steel over his derision of claims of child sexual abuse by Sir Cyril Smith MP.
Mark Watts (@MarkWatts_1) is the co-ordinator of the FOIA Centre.
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