God inspired me, says Widdecombe

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The Independent Online
The hand of God is behind today's potentially explosive Commons debate in which Ann Widdecombe is set to accuse Michael Howard of lying to Parliament. She is, literally, on a divine mission.

The former prisons minister told yesterday how she believes that it was the Almighty who told her to set off on her crusade against Mr Howard over the sacking of the Prison Service director-general, Derek Lewis.

Ms Widdecombe, a recently converted Catholic, declared that she has prayed "consistently" for help from God as she continues her bitter public feud with her former boss, which threatens to scupper his chances of becoming the leader of the Conservative Party.

Speaking on the BBC Radio programme Sunday, she said: " I prayed a great deal, particularly when Derek Lewis was taken to court.

"I prayed that the truth would come out. And all the time a voice was saying to me: `It is all very well saying the truth would come out; you have got the truth, and you have not put it out. What are you battering Heaven's gate for?' "

Asked who she believed the voice belonged to, Ms Widdecombe replied: " I think that when I am praying to God, I am being answered".

Yesterday Ms Widdecombe cancelled her threatened plan to go to Mr Howard's home to deliver details of the charges she intends to make against him in the House.

The former home secretary had complained that Ms Widdecombe's visit, undoubtedly accompanied by the media, would put pressure on him and his wife, Sandra.

An approach was made on his behalf to Ms Widdecombe by Rachel Whetstone, part of his campaign team. Ms Widdecombe told the Independent: "I was merely going to give him the opportunity of seeing the outline of my case, as custom dictates.

"However his side said there were people camped outside his house, and this was putting pressure. So I have agreed to get the material to him another way.

"What I did not want to do is give Michael Howard the opportunity to distract people from what I have to say in the House tomorrow by claiming that I had been responsible for a media circus outside his home.

"I want him to be fully rested, and refreshed when he listens to what I have to say about his behaviour".

This morning Ms Widdecombe will also learn whether she will get access to documents, locked away in the Home Office, which would prove whether or not Mr Howard had misled MPs.

The papers in question refer to contemporaneous notes taken by Mr Howard's parliamentary private secretary, Miss J MacNaughten, during a meeting with Mr Lewis over the fate of the governor of Parkhurst Prison.

The meeting, on 10 January l995, lies at the heart of the controversy over the sacking of Mr Lewis by the then home secretary.

Seven days later Miss MacNaughten presented the official minutes of the proceedings.

But these, according to people who were present at the meeting, are a "sanitised" version of what happened.

On Friday Ms Widdecombe sought to see the contemporaneous notes, but was denied permission, despite the fact that Mr Howard had been allowed to consult the files.

Officials say that Ms Widdecombe does not have an automatic right to see the papers, as they were notes which were taken by Mr Howard's secretary.

Ms Widdecombe was told that her request would have to be referred to the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office.

She, in turn, gave notice that she expected an answer by this morning. It is believed, however, that she has access to other documents to make her accusation against Mr Howard.

Yesterday Mr Howard said that he was looking forward to answering Ms Widdecombe's "with relish". He rejected charges that he had misled MPs over the dismissal of Mr Lewis.

Tories' virgin soldier, page 13