Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence


10.  Written statement by Miss Annabelle Eyre, 12 November 2003

[See also Volume III, PCS Oral Evidence 8]

1.  I make this statement in response to various letters I have received from Sir Philip Mawer regarding aspects of my employment with Iain Duncan Smith MP, and in particular having read the memorandum from Christine Watson to Vanessa Gearson of 24th October 2002.

2.  I attach Addendum A, a note I have prepared setting out as completely as possible my role as private secretary to Iain Duncan Smith during 1997 to 2002. In August 2002, I was appointed as Head of Planning and Tours to the Leader of the Opposition. I attach at Addendum B, a copy of my contract of employment.[61]

3.  I have been provided with a copy of Christine Watson's memorandum by Sir Phillip Mawer under cover of his letter of 20 October 2003. I had not previously been aware of the existence of the memorandum before extracts of it had been published in The Times last month. Prior to commenting in detail upon the specific paragraphs within the memorandum to which Sir Philip Mawer has drawn my attention, I wish to make some general comments on the contents of the memorandum as a whole, in particular in response to the criticisms raised in it regarding my filing, the post, the keeping of Iain's diary and the Golden Jubilee present

4.  Filing:

a)  In order to start work in October 2001 as Constituency Secretary, Christine had to take over the files. There was a perfectly ordinary filing system in force (see para 6 of addendum A) Until June 2001, the time of the start of the Leadership election, documents were filed regularly using the system that I had established. During the leadership campaign, Iain was understandably distracted from the day—to—day constituency work so the burden as constituency secretary increased—Iain had no time to respond to constituency correspondence or telephone calls. Consequently, there were not enough hours in the day to keep on top of all the constituency filing.

b)  Iain took over as Leader on 13th September 2001. Immediately following Iain's appointment, the constituency office was packed up in its entirety by some of the House of Commons' staff and put in crates. To give an idea as to the sheer volume of documentation that was packed up, the crates alone took up the space of one and a half offices. This task took one intern and staff from the House of Commons a fortnight. These were not unpacked until we had taken over the offices in the Shadow Cabinet wing.

c)  On the evening of 13th September, Iain's office was set up at 34 Smith Square. The immediacy for this was his need to respond to a statement in the House of Commons on 14th September.

d)  I was also appointed as his private secretary to Iain on 13th September and I was responsible for setting up the new office at Central Office. As a result of my new role as private secretary, from the day of Iain's appointment my day was taken up with work for the Leader of the Opposition rather than dealing with day-to-day constituency matters. An intern was brought in during that period to help respond to constituency calls and opened the letters to monitor important cases.

e)  The crates were delivered to the top floor of the Shadow Cabinet wing at the end of September. They were temporarily stored there until we had decided which offices we were to occupy. The crates were not unpacked until Christine's appointment and her move into the House of Commons' offices in October—no-one simply had the time to do it—the annual party conference took place at the beginning of October and consequently Iain was very preoccupied focusing on that which meant that we were left to deal with much of the parliamentary business without his intervention.

f)  About the time of the end of the annual conference at the beginning of October 2001, Christine took over the constituency office. During this time, and while we waited for her office to be vacated, Christine shared an office with Andrew and me at 34 Smith Square. To help Christine deal with all the constituency correspondence and casework, I continued to oversee the constituency and would liaise with her regularly. I also helped with Betsy Duncan Smith to organise visits in the constituency and continued to liaise with the local press until an agent was appointed in early 2002.

g)  Once the offices in the House of Commons were ready for our occupation, Christine among others moved in. As all of the crates contained documentation relating to constituency matters, Christine had the role of supervising the unpacking of the crates. Christine would call me regularly—by which I mean twice a day on average—to ask me about constituency casework particularly with regard to benefit queries and which Council offices should be contacted for particular matters. Although Christine and I discussed the volume of documents that needed to be unpacked and archived, she did not complain about this—it being a reality of moving offices. If I had been working in the same offices all day with her, I would have had the opportunity to assist her. In hindsight, with the background to the packing up of the documents, I had great sympathy for her in her task of having to set up a new filing system in the new office with all the documents in the crates.

h)  Once Christine had unpacked all the documents, she handed to me the documents relating to the financial allowances. I deal with this documentation in more detail below.

5.  Post: As with the system under the previous Leader, the post was collected by the Leader of the Opposition's Correspondence Unit. I then oversaw the division of the post into political, constituency, private and invitations. The constituency-post was brought over to Christine at the House by one of the members of the office. I never had any reason to think that this caused Christine any difficulty.

6.  Diary: From the beginning, Christine was given twice-weekly slots in Iain's diary. There was no question of rationing her or keeping her at a distance, it was simply the existing system. Sometimes this had to be re—scheduled, perhaps because Iain needed that time for a meeting with some particular individual. At her request, Iain decided to change the system so that she was to have a slot when she needed one. There was no reproach implied in the change, it was simply a decision to make a change in the light of circumstances.

7.  Jubilee-Present: I was delegated the task of arranging the purchase of a present for HM Queen to congratulate her on her Golden Jubilee. Consequently, the Shadow Cabinet wrote cheques to me personally, or in some cases gave me cash. I was concerned that the cheques would not be banked (or the cash paid into my account) until the present, which was to be specially designed, was actually ready for collection. The gift was a gold pill box designed by Simon Benney of Walton Street. As the present required intricate detail it was not ready until December 2002. As a result I did not cash the cheques until December 2002. I started collecting money from Members of the Shadow Cabinet in July 2002. As I received a substantial number of cheques, as well as payments in cash, I asked Christine to store both the cash and the cheques in the safe until such time as the present was ready.

8.  I turn now to the specific matters raised in the memorandum by Sir Philip Mawer regarding the Parliamentary Allowances. I break these into the following sub-headings: (a) my salary, (b) Betsy's salary, (c) use of parliamentary allowances.

9.  The payment of my salary:

a)  I attach a copy of my employment contract which was filed with the Fees Office and Addendum A which explains the details of my role as private secretary to Iain Duncan Smith.

b)  Providing secretarial support for Iain Duncan Smith's parliamentary role has always been a job for more than one individual. This remained the case after the post of Constituency Secretary was created. There never came a moment when it was possible to classify the work of one secretary as purely constituency, and the work of another as purely other, both because of the nature of Iain's role, and because of the way in which, for practical reasons, the secretaries and the support staff had to work.

c)  It is important to re-emphasise the different roles that Iain assumed as Leader of the Opposition—Parliamentary, which included his role as Member of Parliament for Chingford and Woodford Green; Leader of the Opposition and Leader of the Party. The work that I carried out as Iain's private secretary incorporated the first two roles, and only the third as a very minor part of my duties. (para 13 of Addendum A)

d)  Until August 2002 I was paid out of Iain's staffing allowance. In the summer of 2002 I had a couple of conversations with the Former Chief Executive, Mark MacGregor, regarding the payment of my salary. At the time I was concerned that I was paid out of Iain's parliamentary allowance and thought I should be paid from Short Money. The Short Money is paid to the Conservative Party and administered by them. Mark MacGregor never indicated to me that there was a problem and I believe he never raised the matter with Iain.

e)  In August 2002 when I was appointed as Head of Tours and Planning to the Leader of the Opposition, I began to be paid out of the Short Money.

f)  I am aware of the rules in the "Green Book" which state that the Parliamentary Allowances (Office Costs, Staffing Allowances and JEP) are for the use of Members of Parliament to carry out their Parliamentary duties and therefore it was quite correct that I was paid out of the Parliamentary Allowance as I was employed to and carried out Parliamentary duties.

10.  Betsy's salary:

I refer to my previous statement regarding my knowledge of Betsy's work.

a)  Betsy's salary continued to be paid from the Staffing Allowance of the new Office Costs Allowance. This was the correct source for her to be paid from because her work had comprised of and continued to comprise of Parliamentary and Constituency work. I had no reason to have any concerns about this and at no point was it raised with me by anyone either in the private office or externally. The first time that I was aware that concerns had been raised was when Newsnight contacted the Leader's Office.

11.  Use of Parliamentary Allowances:

a)  During the period in my role as constituency secretary between 1997-2001 I would deal with claims to the Office Costs' Allowance. These would be in respect of payments for stationery—printer cartridges, paper, computer equipment, constituency newspapers—as well as mobile phone bills. They would generally be submitted on a monthly basis and copies of the submissions would be filed chronologically. I cannot recall dealing with any other types of claims.

b)  During that period, Iain would maintain his own system for submitting claims for motor-mileage and the Additional Costs Allowance. I had no part in the submission of these claims other than occasionally putting them in an envelope.

c)  In 2001, when Iain was appointed as Leader, I took responsibility for overseeing the claims to the Allowances. In July 2001, Iain transferred to the Office Costs Allowance to the new system of Staffing Allowance and IEP. I took control of the allowances' paperwork when the crates were unpacked in October 2001—this meant separate files for the Office Costs Allowance and the Additional Costs Allowance. The Office Costs Allowance file comprised of copies of the monthly submission with copies of the relevant paperwork attached. The monthly submissions dated back to 1997 and were in respect of claims for stationery, constituency newspapers and mobile phone bills as above these comprised between two and four inches of paperwork. The Additional Costs Allowance files comprised of monthly submissions dating back to at least 1997.

d)  Once Iain became Leader, no motor-mileage claims were filed as he had his own Government car. The only use of his Parliamentary Allowance of which I am aware during his appointment in 2001 and my change of role in 2002 was for Additional Costs Allowance. This was in respect of costs incurred for accommodation and was in line with the guidelines as set out by the Fees Office. I prepared the claim at the beginning of every month which was signed off by Iain and sent off to the Fees Office for reimbursement.

e)  In respect of the IEP, during this period the sporadic claims were minimal because much of the office's equipment was provided by Conservative Central Office and because the salaries were paid out of the Staffing Allowance automatically. These salaries were in respect of me, Betsy Duncan Smith and Christine Watson. The salary allowance was £70,000 a year gross of tax and employer national insurance.

f)  Once Iain became Leader of the Opposition, almost all the office stationery for the office in Swanbourne came from Conservative Central Office. We often sent down equipment/files in the car when Iain returned home at weekends.

g)  In May 2002, arrangements were made for Iain to pay 20% of the costs of the staff and office expenses from his constituency office from the IEP as approved by the Fees Office. This was an annual total of £8,000, paid quarterly. The only other office costs allowance claims were various stationery items and constituency newspapers.

h)  I handed over all the financial paperwork to Christine Watson in August 2002 when I moved to take up the position of Head of Tours and Planning.

12.  I refer specifically to the two bullet points highlighted by Sir Philip Mawer in his letter of 20th October.[62] I have dealt with the majority of what Christine Watson says in these two bullet points above. However there are two specific sentences upon which I wish to comment on. Christine says "I have spoken to VG regarding this sensitive matter", I have no idea to what she is referring. I have no concerns about the sensitivity over the use of any of the allowances. I have still seen no indication to what she is referring to and would be more willing to address any concerns that Christine had at the time.

13.  With regard to her assertion that there must be more papers, I gave Christine all the relevant paperwork in August 2002. As a rule, I would generally shred out of date documentation, this may include allowance claims, as I knew a record was kept by the Fees Office. I believe that I gave her the allowances' paperwork for the period of my employment as the constituency secretary dating back to 1997.

12 November 2003

Addendum A:

Miss Annabelle Eyre's role as Mr Iain Duncan Smith's Private Secretary

Introduction:

1.  I started working for Iain Duncan Smith at 7 Millbank (and subsequently at Norman Shaw North) shortly after the General Election in May 1997, having previously worked as political researcher and then as a secretary for 2 other Members of Parliament.

2.  My job-description was Private Secretary, but it was a matter only of terminology: in all essential respects I was acting as a constituency-secretary. My role was to:

·  Deal with constituency correspondence and casework

·  Respond to telephone-calls from constituents, party workers, journalists etc.

·  Issue press-releases and columns for local papers

3.  However, his office was extremely busy, and also needed a diary and support secretary. This role had been taken since 1992 by Betsy Duncan Smith, and consisted at that stage of:

·  Dealing with invitations

·  Arranging visits in the constituency and (once he was appointed to the Shadow Cabinet) around the country

4.  There was also a researcher whose role was to assist on social security matters, subsequently with defence, and occasionally with detailed constituency casework.

Private Secretary

5.  On a typical day, I did the following:

·  Opened all the post, which was then split into private, brief-related (social security or defence), constituency and invitations

·  Deal with telephone-messages and make calls

·  Respond to letters

·  Deal with casework

·  Follow up any issues that Iain had raised.

·  Liaise with BDS with regard to meetings, invitations, arrangements for visits and tours etc.

6.  I was responsible for the main filing-system. There was nothing original about it, it was completely conventional:

·  Constituency post was copied and filed alphabetically.

·  Other matters—defence, Europe, &c., were filed under subject-headings.

·  Paperwork for the Office Costs Allowance was kept and filed (Iain maintained the papers for his motor-mileage and ACA claims).

·  Diary paperwork was filed separately.

7.  Iain was appointed to the Shadow Cabinet in June 1997 and from then on my role also included:

·  Liaising with the Leader's office with regard to Shadow Cabinet matters

·  Organising meetings and briefings for his team

·  Dealing with correspondence related to his brief and assisting in organising visits relating to his brief

8.  After the General Election in 2001, Iain stood for the leadership of the party. I continued as his Private Secretary during that period, but with my main role, just as before, continuing in reality to be helping with the constituency-work. BDS remained in post and continued to provide secretarial and diary support during that period.

9.  In September 2001, after Iain Duncan Smith was elected as Leader of the Conservative Party, I continued as his Private Secretary. His private office was to be situated at 34 Smith Square (his constituency office was to be based in the Shadow Cabinet wing of the House), but we moved over to House at lunch-time on a daily basis when Parliament was sitting. (This was a practice that was inherited from William Hague's time as Leader.) It was very unsettling to have to move office twice a day—once at lunchtime and back again in the evening to prepare for the following morning. In addition, it meant that Christine was alone in the House of Commons' office for much of the day. This set-up was continued until Iain decided that it would be better to remain in one office.

10.  The day after Iain's election as Leader, he had to respond to a statement in the House by the Prime Minister, so it was necessary to establish our office immediately. This was done "from scratch"—there was no staff left behind from the previous regime or handover notes. I think it's important to recognise that Iain's office had to be transformed from the office of a front bench parliamentarian to that of the alternative Prime Minister and that it took sometime for the arrangements to settle down. Many of those who worked on Iain's leadership campaign were brought in to work in the office, mostly on temporary contracts so that we could see how the office could be organised. Betsy remained to provide diary and secretarial support for the newly appointed diary secretary, Andrew Whitby-Collins, and for me. She continued to progress-chase as she had done previously.

11.  My role as Private Secretary changed little from what I had done previously except of course as Private Secretary to Leader of the Opposition I was dealing with new issues and different personalities.

12.  The office was incredibly busy, particularly after Iain's election as Leader. His days were full of meetings with colleagues and others who wanted to advise him, as well as policy and strategy meetings to decide the future direction of the party.

13.  As my contract with Iain stated, I was employed to work 44.5 hours a week (09:30-18:00).While Iain was in the Shadow Cabinet, I estimate that I would have worked those hours, possibly coming in earlier or on occasion leaving after 18:00. However once he became Leader of the Opposition, my hours changed dramatically. Most mornings I would be in the office before 08:00 and it was quite normal to still be at work at 20:00 and often much later. I certainly worked 60 hours a week and often worked at weekends. I was always "on call". I would estimate that over 90% of the work that I carried out in my position as Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition was of a parliamentary nature in support of Iain as a parliamentarian.

Constituency Secretary:

14.  By October 2001, it was apparent that it would be necessary to have an additional secretary: there were now to be many more meetings, Prime Minister's questions, speeches to prepare, &c. The decision was taken to appoint a separate Constituency Secretary. I was instrumental in choosing Christine Watson. She appeared to have the following qualifications:

·  She had worked in the House of Commons previously and had a knowledge and experience of how to run a Member's office.

·  Her references were excellent.

15.  Her role was to deal with:

·  Constituency correspondence

·  Casework

·  Telephone calls.

16.  This of course changed my role, precisely as was intended. My role with respect to constituency-work was:

·  To oversee the constituency-office, with Betsy giving help and advice to Christine as required.

·  To assist in arranging visits to the constituency.

17.  Betsy's role also changed, though perhaps not so much because of the re-organisation as because of the change in Iain's role:

·  The Leader's diary was co-ordinated by Andrew Whitby-Collins in the private office, with Betsy working with him with regard to Iain's appointments and invitations.

·  She continued to 'progress-chase'—ensuring that we contacted people for meetings, to arrange lunches or dinners, to pass on messages to other members of staff.

·  I continued to liaise on a daily basis with her. She assisted as a support for Andrew and me. She was used by Iain as a means of passing information to us and by us to raise matters with him. Much of the work she did was with Iain each evening, and at weekends the office would send down documents, papers and correspondence for him to review, sign or comment on. At the beginning of the following week, she would contact Andrew, me or often both to direct us as to what Iain's response was.

Moving Office:

18.  In July 2002, a start had already been made on moving Iain's office from 34 Smith Square to be based permanently in the Leader's Office in the House of Commons. That meant moving the files. In order to do that, I placed the files into carrier-bags, and brought them across in my car. This was simply a practical method of transporting the files, it was not some kind of symptom of indifference.

19.  It was never disputed that improvements to the filing-system were long overdue, and at Iain's suggestion Christine and I worked together to establish a parliamentary political filing-system.

20.  The system established was:

·  All political members (MPs, Peers, MSPs, Ams, MEPs) had separate files in relation to Parliamentary matters.

·  Other papers were separated according to subject/country

·  Separate filing for private/domestic correspondence

·  Financial Allowances

·  Speeches

·  Minutes from meetings

·  Miscellaneous

21.  Christine went on holiday in August 2002, and while she was away I separated the paperwork into the relevant sections and continued doing what was needed.

Replacement by Christine

22.  Christine replaced me as Private Secretary in August 2002, and I was appointed Head of Tours and Planning to co-ordinate Iain's visits and events around the country and abroad.

23.  I left to go on holiday the day after Christine had returned from her summer holiday. The intention was for her to settle in to her new role during the late summer which was generally a quiet period and that I would advise or discuss any problems with her on my return. I was always available on my telephone during my holiday and I recall speaking to the office on a number of occasions. Andrew Whitby-Collins remained in the office once I left, and he helped assist Christine during the first couple of months in her new role.

24.  Just after I left for my holiday towards the end of August * * *, returning shortly before the party conference at the beginning of October. My father remained bed-ridden until his death in early January 2003. During that time I had to spend a considerable amount of time supporting my mother as a result some of the work that I otherwise would have been doing at that time fell on Christine, and of course I was not there to help her in any way. AWC, Betsy and I had worked closely together before this, so he continued to help Christine as he had helped me.

25.  After the party conference, Iain embarked on a 3-week national tour. He was out of the office every day except Wednesdays when he was required to be in Westminster to attend Prime Minister's Question Time. It was clearly a difficult time for those trying to co-ordinate matters in the private office, particularly as Iain and the tour-team were very much out and about and did not often have access to office facilities. Betsy assumed much of the role of supporting Iain with his work Parliamentary work as most of it had to be dealt with at the weekends. The task of writing the necessary letters fell on Christine, exactly as it had done on me when I was Private Secretary before her.

26.  Meanwhile, though, I was less involved in the day-to-day running of the constituency work, I continued to liaise with BDS in her role of giving secretarial and diary support for the office, and I oversaw the constituency office. I continued to liaise with Iain's office based in Chingford.

13 November 2003


61   Not appended by the Commissioner. Back

62   Not appended by the Commissioner.  Back


 
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