Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence


5.  Joint written statement by Mr Iain Duncan Smith, Mrs Elizabeth Duncan Smith and Mrs Christine Watson, 13 October 2003

A summary of the evidence that could be given by Mr Iain Duncan Smith, Mrs Betsy Duncan Smith and Mrs Christine Watson

Iain Duncan Smith (IDS), Betsy Duncan Smith (BDS) and Christine Watson (Private Secretary)

1.  By profession, BDS ran a freelance secretarial service which would, provide secretarial services to Chief Executives when their PA's were absent or away on holiday. For example, BDS worked for Lord Thomas of Swinterton when he was Chairman of the CPS from his home.

2.  She has worked for IDS for over 10 years since his election in 1992. She has a signed contract dated 1 October, 1997 which describes the nature of her diary and other secretarial responsibilities and the fact that she is required to work for 25 hours a week from home or the office, in fact she worked considerably longer hours than that. BDS will also produce a letter from the Fees Office showing what she was paid no more than £15K until she ceased her job on 31 December, 2002 and in the last year received a total of £11K.

3.  Up till August 2001, IDS and BDS lived in Fulham. There was a fully equipped office there and indeed the constituency work had been done from the home office when it could not be carried out at Westminster during the 1997 and 2001 election campaigns. During that period BDS was working with Annabelle Eyre (Constituency Secretary) on the diary and various secretarial tasks as required. When BDS lived in London, she was able to travel into Westminster during the hours that her children were at school and characteristically would work between about 9.30 and 3.00 but also would work late in the evenings and at weekends from home and on a number of days BDS would work from the home office. The work included running IDS's diary, and assisting when required on constituency casework, liaising with the Chingford constituency office and assisting Annabelle Eyre as and when required, for example covering for her when she was away on holiday.

4.  In August 2001, IDS and BDS moved to the house in Swanboume, near Milton Keynes. As this was about an hour and half by car to Westminster, it soon became apparent that it was not realistic to travel up and down to London, with the school commitments. So her work was done from Swanbourne where an office was established at home.

5.  On 13 September, 2001, IDS was elected Leader of the Opposition. Furthermore, the Leader of the Opposition's Private Office had to be set up with new staff and in fact no member of William Hague's staff remained behind in the new office. BDS having worked for IDS for 10 years provided continuity and has been described by those who worked with her as the "sheet anchor". It was IDS's and BDS's intention for BDS to give up work once all the appointments were settled so as to concentrate on being the wife of the Leader of the Opposition.

6.  After he was elected leader, the constituency office had to be packed up and moved location. During the course of that there was a great strain on correspondence which BDS assisted in clearing. This added to the pressures of those early months.

7.  BDS set up an office in Swanbourne which was fully equipped with fax, computer (subsequently a second computer was added), e-mail and an ISDN line. Although BDS did initially, come up several times to Westminster, she decided it was not an efficient use of time as with the school hours it would mean that she could spend only a couple of hours in Westminster. She therefore operated mostly from Swanboume which enabled her to work for longer hours.

8.  BDS liaised with Andrew Whitby-Collins, who had been appointed Diary Secretary in the Leader's Office after the election campaign. He would on a regular basis send the long-term diary covering IDS's appointments for 6 months which BDS would then go through with IDS and feed into it the necessary engagements and changes after discussions. AWC would also send through the short-term weekly diary. BDS would assist by way of secretarial and diary skills in sorting out what information IDS required for meetings and other engagements. She would work in support of and alongside the constituency office and leader's office. BDS would also make sure that constituency events were arranged following discussions with Rikki Radford (Constituency Agent) and Coralie Buckmaster (Constituency Association Chairman).

9.  BDS would also liaise with Christine Watson who in October 2001 became the constituency secretary. CW had previous experience in the House of Commons (until 1981) but BDS was able to assist with the detailed knowledge that BDS had acquired over 10 years of experience of working for IDS. Matters that she was involved in included Christmas card competition, Christmas card lists, visits to schools and hospitals in the constituency, bazaars and association events, and an annual concert by the Savoy Players. Much of this work would be done after the children had gone to bed and often would involve BDS working until midnight. She assisted IDS in formulating the actions necessary as a result of the work sent down with him at the weekend. These actions were followed up in liaison with CW, AWC and AE. This might typically involve dictating some instructions or amending letters which had already been typed. It was important as it enabled IDS to catch up with the previous week's work. A considerable amount of work would be done at weekends and for example it was not unusual for BDS to do three hours work on Sunday evening. BDS and IDS spoke at length at the end of every working day. During their discussions she would raise matters outstanding and either IDS or BDS or both would make notes to take the necessary action with CW, AE or AWC.

10.  There were a number of changes and re-organisations in the staff and one needs to appreciate that the Leader of the Opposition's office was being set up from scratch. For example, in autumn 2002, Annabelle Eyre took on Tours and Planning having previously been the Private Secretary. This position was created by IDS to meet a growing requirement of the organisation and planning of tours which had increased the workload of BDS. In August 2002, CW took over as Private Secretary. Cara Walker was taken on as Constituency Secretary in Westminster in September 2002 on a three month trail basis. Her position was confirmed in November 2002. Paula Malone was taken on as the new diary secretary in October 2002 taking over from AWC, who went to work in the Candidates Department in CCO. Throughout all the various changes and upheavals in the Leader's office, BDS remained in an advisory and supporting capacity.

11.  Additionally, BDS also liaised with Rikki Radford, the Agent in the constituency and Coralie Buckmaster, the Chairman of the Association as the occasion arose. Both of whom knew of BDS's professional arrangements.

12.  An additional reorganisational difficulty that arose was the fact that CW's office had to be moved from 34 Smith Square to 32 Smith Square and at Westminster the constituency office moved from M1 to G1.

13.  CW confirms these matters where they are within her knowledge and attests to the efficient and professional performance of her duties by BDS and that they were in regular contact. Michael Crick surprisingly has not attempted to contact her and CW has no criticism of BDS's work. They had a good working relationship and she can confirm that BDS assisted in familiarising CW with the constituency details, liaising over constituency appointments and ensuring that IDS kept up to date with his correspondence over night and at weekends and they were in regular contact. It was only at this stage in November that the constituency office took on a research assistant.

14.  All those who worked with BDS over the period 13 September 2001 to 31 December 2002 stress the importance of her involvement and professional commitment. In a period of great change at home and in the office, BDS helped CW, AE and AWC carry out their jobs which otherwise would have been made more difficult.

15.  CW also confirms that although she did not see the emails which Vanessa Gearson sent to certain Conservative Party officials, but not IDS, from the two years that she has worked for IDS she has never seen him act in a confrontational manner or subjecting people to intolerable pressure.

16.  It is important to note that throughout this period no one from outside the private office ever enquired into the employment of BDS with AE, AWC, CW or IDS. The first time IDS discussed this with anyone was when Owen Paterson, his Parliamentary Private Secretary, raised it in the autumn of 2002. Subsequently VG raised the matter with him following an email that she sent to others although not to IDS in January at which time she was informed that BDS had ceased work in December 2002. However, she was also informed that all these matters were correct and carried out in line with BDS's contract.

17.  CW does however recollect that this was a difficult and upsetting time for VG owing to illness in the family. IDS allowed her a great deal of time away from the office to deal with these matters.

13 October 2003


 
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