Ken Clarke denies Tory whips buried allegations of child abuse by colleagues in exchange for political loyalty in the 1970s
- Fellow whip Tim Fortescue said abuse of young boys would be used to whip MPs
- But Clarke, 78, said he ‘would have remembered if someone was a paedophile’
- He said homosexuality was strongly disapproved of when he first got into office
Ken Clarke has denied Tory whips hid allegations of sexual abuse against MPs in exchange for political loyalty in the 1970s.
The Conservative MP, 78, was grilled on the issue during a hearing of the Westminster strand of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse.
He was quizzed about a claim made by another Tory whip Tim Fortescue in a BBC documentary in 1995.
Fortescue told the programme whips were constantly on the lookout for anything that could be used to threaten MPs and ensure they towed the party line.
But Clarke, who is the longest serving MP having been elected in 1970, denied it, saying he ‘would have remembered’ if he had come across someone in politics who was a paedophile.
Ken Clarke, 78 (pictured in Westminster yesterday) was grilled on the issue during a hearing of the Westminster strand of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse
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Mr Fortescue told BBC documentary Westminster Secret Service: ‘It could be debt, it might be scandal involving small boys or any kind of scandal in which a member seemed likely to be mixed up in.
‘They would come and ask if we could help, and if we could, we did. We would do everything we could because we would store up brownie points.’
He added: ‘If we could get a chap out of trouble they would do as you liked for ever more.’
When asked if he had heard scandals about ‘small boys’, Clarke told the panel: ‘I would have remembered. It would have been quite a problem – I would have remembered that.
‘If I had come across someone sexually molesting children I would have remembered it.’
He questioned whether Mr Fortescue had ‘really thought through’ the examples he used when he gave the BBC interview.
He was quizzed about a claim made by another Tory whip Tim Fortescue in a BBC documentary called Westminster Secret Service (pictured on the programme) in 1995
‘A paedophile is really rather strongly disapproved of and would have found the House of Commons a really rather difficult place to work if we had had one,’ he said.
But he added that in a House of 600 members ‘it would be astonishing if amongst those there weren’t one or two paedophiles’.
‘There were rumours about two or three members [but] – with the exception of Cyril Smith – none of which I would have believed.’
He continued: ‘Once people start gossiping, all the people who like to pretend they are in the know just repeat it.’
Mr Clarke described the atmosphere in the whips’ office as ‘like an old boys club’ in which potentially damaging information on colleagues was written ‘in a big black book’.
He said homosexuality was intensely frowned upon when he first arrived in Westminster, saying: ‘Gay people were a risk – they had to keep it a deadly secret.’
He said the vast majority of the information contained in the book related to Tory members’ political leanings, their attitude to legislation and comments made about their parliamentary colleagues.
He said that people were never threatened with having embarrassing information about them released if they refused to obey the party whip.
Clarke (pictured in the House of Commons in January) insisted he would have remembered if any of his colleagues were paedophiles
‘The words ‘whips’ office’ conjure up sinister men twisting arms and so on, which is a parody of what’s a perfectly straightforward political activity,’ he said.
But he continued: ‘If you go back 50 years ago it was a different culture – paedophilia was disapproved of but prosecution of it was rare compared to today.’
He cited the example of his old school where it was an open secret that one of the teachers was abusing pupils, but nobody did anything to try and prevent it.
‘I don’t think people appreciated the lasting damage it did to the victims,’ he said.
Referring to the Conservative party, he said: ‘I wouldn’t have covered up for a paedophile if I had discovered someone was a paedophile.
‘If I found the whips knew about it and did nothing about it, I don’t know what I would have done – it would have been a serious moral dilemma,’ he said.
He added: ‘Fortunately that dilemma never arose.
‘I never had any factual knowledge of a paedophile in the House of Commons or anywhere else, so I’m sorry I can’t help you.’
The Westminster strand of the far-reaching inquiry into historical sexual abuse in British institutions is expected to last three weeks and is due to conclude on March 22.
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