Lord Clark of Kempston

Conservative MP respected for his tax and financial expertise

William Clark was a most effective operator behind the scenes as a Conservative MP. He served for 13 years as chairman of the Conservative backbench Finance Committee, and before that did much for the finances of his party, as joint treasurer and then joint deputy chairman. Although he was remembered wryly for banning the use of plastic cups in Central Office, the economies he made were essential if it was not to become a "black hole" in Tory finances.

William Gibson Clark, politician: born London 18 October 1917; MP (Conservative) for Nottingham South 1959-66, for East Surrey 1970-74, for Croydon South 1974-92; Joint Treasurer, Conservative Party 1974-75, Joint Deputy Chairman 1975-77; Kt 1980; Chairman, Anglo-Austrian Society 1983-98; PC 1990; created 1992 Baron Clark of Kempston; President, City Group for Smaller Companies 1993-98; married 1944 Irene Rands (died 2003; two sons, and one son and one daughter deceased); died Bedford 4 October 2004.

William Clark was a most effective operator behind the scenes as a Conservative MP. He served for 13 years as chairman of the Conservative backbench Finance Committee, and before that did much for the finances of his party, as joint treasurer and then joint deputy chairman. Although he was remembered wryly for banning the use of plastic cups in Central Office, the economies he made were essential if it was not to become a "black hole" in Tory finances.

Clark had been briefly a frontbencher whilst the Conservative Party was in opposition between 1964 and 1966, but lost his seat in the 1966 general election. Although he returned to the House of Commons four years later, he was not included in Edward Heath's government. He had urged Heath to include Enoch Powell in his Cabinet and his decision to oppose entry into the EEC inevitably left him out of favour with the whips.

Nevertheless, he was appointed to chair the Select Committee on Tax Credits in 1973, a tribute to his acknowledged expertise in matters of tax, and he used his skill to ensure that the Chancellor's proposals to bring tax and benefits together were in good shape to be implemented. Unfortunately Heath's defeat in the February 1974 election meant that they did not progress to the statute book.

Clark made a substantial contribution to the organisational side of the party, first as Honorary National Director of the highly successful Carrington appeal for funds in 1967-68, which raised £2.8m for the party, and later as one of the party's treasurers from April 1974 until he was made Deputy Chairman of the party organisation by Margaret Thatcher in March 1975. It was his task to restore an almost bankrupt party to solvency and his success in that task helped lay the financial foundations of Thatcher's victory in 1979.

In the year ending March 1975 the central accounts showed a deficit of £1.2m. The following year showed a small surplus. Part of the credit was down to Alistair McAlpine, who succeeded Clark as Treasurer and concentrated on fund-raising. Clark's role was to exercise strict financial control and he put in place a vacancy freeze, cut back on private polling and ended the scheme for the central employment of agents. Inevitably he became something of a "hate" figure amongst the party professionals and the rather brusque way in which he announced dismissals and further cuts was resented. When he asked the party chairman for greater control over the budget, Lord Thorneycroft refused and Clark resigned in November 1977.

Clark will also be remembered for the vigorous defences that he offered on television of the monetary policies pursued by the Prime Minister and her Chancellor Sir Geoffrey Howe. He appeared in his capacity as the chairman of the Conservative Finance Committee, a post that he held from 1979 until he stepped down from Parliament in 1992. His public display of loyalty was rooted in total conviction that the policies the Government was following were right, but, unlike with many of the Government's supporters and its critics, his belief was rooted in detailed knowledge and experience.

William Gibson Clark was educated at Battersea Polytechnic and qualified as a Certified Accountant in 1941. He then spent five years in the Army, enlisting as a private and ending the Second World War a major.

On returning to civilian life in 1946 he established his own firm of accountants, W.G. Clark, but he built a very considerable fortune through property investments undertaken by the firm he had established in 1939 and by R.C. Glaze (Properties), where he became a director in 1951. After his defeat in 1966, he served on the board of companies associated with cane-sugar production in St Kitts, later adding Belize Sugar Industries. Their crop was sold to Tate and Lyle, to whom he became a consultant.

He began his political career with service on Wandsworth Borough Council from 1949 until 1953 - he speedily became Vice-Chairman of the Finance Committee - and contested the LCC elections unsuccessfully in 1952. In the 1955 election, he fought Northampton in the 1955 election, cutting back Reggie Paget's majority to 3,348.

Recognising that he was unlikely to displace a popular MP, he sought another nomination and was adopted for Nottingham South, holding the seat from 1959 until 1966, when he lost narrowly. He returned to the House four years later as MP for East Surrey and, after the boundaries were changed in the early 1970s, was elected for Croydon South. He was knighted in 1980, made a Privy Councillor 10 years later, and elevated to the House of Lords in 1992.

An uncomplicated right-winger, he was a founder member of the National Freedom Association and was prominent in the activities of the 92 Group. He opposed sanctions on Rhodesia and South Africa and supported tight immigration controls and hanging. Shortly after his election in 1959 he advocated the sale of council houses to sitting tenants and in 1961 thought up the "save as you earn" scheme. He was also a strong advocate of unit trusts, publishing a pamphlet, Owning Capital, in 1963. On tax, he had a simple message: "My aim in life," he said in 1972, "is to pay less tax."

He took a strong, broadly evangelical, Christian position on moral issues and was also a strong supporter of smokers' rights. However, he was not without a sense of humour, evidenced by his membership of the all-party Naafi club. Its initials proclaimed that it members had "No Aims, Ambitions or Fucking Inhibitions".

Clark chaired the Select Committee on the Wealth Tax in 1977 and served on the Public Accounts Commission from 1983 until 1988. Colleagues respected him for his knowledge of tax and finance more generally and Chancellors were inclined to pay him more attention than they did most backbenchers and that was not merely because of his position. When he was challenged by Maurice Macmillan for the chair of the backbench Finance Committee in October 1981, it was in part respect for that expertise which enabled him to survive. There had been suspicions that he had overly played down doubts on the back benches and the journalist Peter Riddell described him as "too much of an ultra loyalist" in the Financial Times. He easily beat off a further challenge to his position from Nigel Forman in 1984.

In fact Clark was his own man, successfully spearheading a major Conservative backbench campaign to prevent Nigel Lawson from taxing lump sums, voicing fears that the poll tax would cause difficulties and publicly calling on Thatcher and Lawson to end their "rift" over the exchange rate in May 1988. In the following October he went with the Chairman of the 1922 to see Margaret Thatcher privately to urge her to get rid of her economic adviser, Alan Walters.

She refused and Lawson resigned.

John Barnes



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