Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence


3.  Commissioner's note of meeting with Mr Iain Duncan Smith on 13 October 2003

1.  This record is based on notes I took at the time of my meeting in the early evening of 13 October 2003 with the Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP, following the submission of a complaint against him by Mr Michael Crick. The meeting took place at the request of Mr Duncan Smith. Also present were Mrs Duncan Smith, Mr Tim Montgomerie (Mr Iain Duncan Smith's Political Secretary) and Ms Isobel Griffiths of Reynolds Porter Chamberlain (Mr Iain Duncan Smith's solicitors). Ms Griffiths took a note of the meeting of which I have been promised a copy but which, to date, I have not seen.[6]

2.  Most of the meeting consisted of Mr Duncan Smith (who was clearly very angry about the allegations made against him) giving me his account of the circumstances relating to the complaint as he saw them.

3.  Mr Duncan Smith described the complaint as a "nonsense" and "malicious". His wife had worked for him as a member of his constituency staff since 1992-3. She had had a contract since 1997, which had been lodged with the Fees Office. Her title had been that of diary secretary but her responsibilities had gone wider than had been indicated, either in the complaint or in reports of it in the press. Mrs Duncan Smith was an experienced PA, having previously worked in that role on a free-lance basis.

4.  When Mr Duncan Smith had become Leader of the Party in September 2001 he had not inherited a functioning office from his predecessor. The new role had involved a huge change. He had continued to employ his wife for reasons of continuity. There had been many staff changes and in August 2001, he and his wife had moved home from Fulham to Swanbourne in Buckinghamshire. His wife had set up a functioning office there, from which she had then worked.

5.  Mr Duncan Smith said that although he had been served by a full time diary secretary in his office from September 2001, he had been concerned about gaps which he perceived in the administration of his office. The period between September 2001 and July/August 2002 had been one of huge pressure. He would speak to his wife in the evenings and at weekends, and she had functioned as a kind of progress chaser, holding the various aspects of his life together. The three other members of his staff with whom his wife had particularly worked (Annabelle Eyre (AE), Andrew Whitby-Collins (AW-C) and Christine Watson (CW)) would testify to this. His wife had also helped him go through the diary and correspondence, as well as doing some work on her own.

6.  In August 2002, his Chief of Staff had left. He had asked his then Private Secretary (AE) to take on the organisation of his tours as Leader. CW had moved over to become his Private Secretary (having previously been his constituency secretary) and a successor to her had been taken on, initially on 3 months probation. A new Diary Secretary had also been employed at around the same time.

7.  Mrs Duncan Smith had asked to stand down from her role some time after her husband had become Leader. Mr Duncan Smith had not welcomed this (his wife had served him well and he would have liked her to continue her role) but accepted it. They had both expected a 6 month transition but the other changes in the Leader's office arrangements meant that this period had been prolonged. Mrs Duncan Smith had in the event stood down on 31 December 2002.

8.  Mr Duncan Smith stressed that during this period, his wife's principal dealings as a member of his staff had been with AE, AW-C and CW, in addition to himself. No one from Conservative Central Office (CCO) had expressed any concern to him about his employment of his wife before December 2002, although Owen Paterson (his PPS) had mentioned the matter to him in the autumn of that year. Dr Gearson had not spoken to him, nor had anyone approached AE, AW-C or CW.

9.  Mr Duncan Smith said that it had been reported in the media that Mrs Duncan Smith had earned £18,000pa. In fact her salary had been around £15,000pa. No one in the CCO had known of her contract or her salary level and no one had asked for details of them. The rules surrounding the use of Short money in any case made it difficult, in his view, to discuss these matters easily with CCO.

10.  As to the substance of Mrs Duncan Smith's work, the dossier of evidence which he and his legal advisers had prepared included copies of e-mails exchanged with his wife and of a piece of work concerning the Royal College of Surgeons in which she had been involved.[7]

11.  Mr Duncan Smith went on to express his concern about the circumstances and manner in which the complaint against him had emerged. Mr Crick's interest in various aspects of his life went back a long time. For example, Mr Crick had questioned whether he was receiving rent on the house he owned in Chingford, which he should have registered. In fact, he was receiving none. Mr Crick had represented Mr Radford (Mr Duncan Smith's agent) as confirming that Mrs Duncan Smith had had no role working for her husband since he had become Leader, whereas it was clear that Mr Radford's remarks related to the present (rather than the historic) position.

12.  When Mrs Duncan Smith had set up meetings, it had been her practice not to reveal herself as Mrs Duncan Smith but instead to describe herself as the diary secretary or Betsy. Moreover, Mrs Duncan Smith had been at the Westminster end of his office arrangements, rather than the constituency end. She had not therefore been in the habit of visiting the constituency in her employee role.

13.  Mr Duncan Smith said that he had first become aware of the impending allegations when he had been contacted by Newsnight on the Tuesday prior to the Party Conference. The programme had put a number of questions and there had also been a flurry of activity in the constituency. He was happy to share with me—as background to the circumstances which had led to the complaint—a copy of letters exchanged subsequently between his legal representatives and the BBC.[8] As a result of those exchanges Newsnight had not run their story on Thursday 2 October as planned but he had reason to believe that, on that day, all the papers had a copy of the material Mr Crick had gathered.

14.  The Sunday Telegraph had published some information on 5 October and the story had continued to run disruptively throughout the Party Conference. However, he had not been told the precise nature of the allegations until they had been published in the Sunday Telegraph on 12 October. He intended to take action against the paper in due course.

15.  It had been reported that some of the evidence against him came from anonymous sources. These sources were, in his view, tainted. (I commented that I would not expect anonymous evidence to be counted against a Member if its source(s) remained anonymous.)

16.  Mr Duncan Smith said that he suspected the sources included Mr Mark McGregor (who had been removed as Party Chief Executive because he was not doing a good job); Ms Jenny Ungless, his former Chief of Staff (who had been sacked and had gone on to try to found a separate party in Scotland); Mr Dominic Cummings (who had been sacked as Director of Strategy); and Dr Vanessa Gearson.

17.  Dr Gearson had written 2 e-mails referring to concerns about Mr Duncan Smith's employment of his wife. He had seen Dr Gearson the day after she had issued the first of these and Dr Gearson had subsequently issued a second e-mail withdrawing the concerns expressed in the first. She had said she was happy then but in the last 4 days had been saying she had issued the second e-mail under duress. He did not understand why this was so, especially as in a meeting with her on 1 October attended by Mr Montgomerie, she had not expressed such concern.

18.  Mr Duncan Smith concluded by saying that the allegations against him were groundless. He hoped they could be resolved as quickly as possible. He was angry about circumstances in which he found himself condemned in the media. He could not accept the way they had handled this matter or the methods Mr Crick and his associates had used (for example, in not telling the local Councillors to whom they had spoken that their remarks were being taped).

19.  I thanked Mr Duncan Smith for his explanation and said that I understood that the circumstances in which he and his wife found themselves were distressing. As he would understand, my sole concern was with the truth or otherwise of the allegations against him, allegations which essentially focussed on the allegedly improper use of his parliamentary allowances. I would reflect carefully on what he had said and the material he had given me in response to the allegations before deciding how to proceed.

31 October 2003  Sir Philip Mawer


6   Never supplied to the Commissioner Back

7   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back

8   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back


 
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