Treasury inquisition puts Hillingdon man in limelight

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Indy Politics
THE TELEVISING of Norman Lamont's appearance before the Treasury and Civil Service Select Committee yesterday allowed a little limelight to fall on John Watts, the hitherto barely-known chartered accountant who took over the chairmanship of the committee in the summer, writes Stephen Goodwin.

Though he has made occasional appearances in news reports of Tory strife over Maastricht and the recession, Mr Watts' uncontroversial comments have been overshadowed by those of the protagonists.

Only in Hillingdon, west London, does he have any real form. As leader of the Conservative council from 1974 to 1984, Mr Watts gained a reputation for cutting expenditure, including shutting the borough's swimming pool to save pounds 60,000, after ousting Labour.

Elected MP for Slough in 1983, he went to Bishopshalt Grammar School, Hillingdon, then on to Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, before returning to his home patch and chartered accountancy. A family man, aged 45, his father was a piano tuner, his mother a shop assistant, and he married a teacher.

Mr Watts' Commons utterances through the 1980s suggested a right-winger. He attacked Arthur Scargill, high spending and abortion, and favoured capital punishment. But on the Treasury select committee, which he joined in 1986, he could generally be expected to toe the government line.

Mr Watts supported the Government through the sterling crisis and has been calling gently for economic growth and lower interest rates.

His modest contributions from the chair during the interrogation of Mr Lamont will not have put him among the grand inquisitors of the select committee system, but for Mr Watts any exposure is welcome. Slough voters slashed his majority over Labour from 4,090 in 1987 to just 514 last April.