19. Written statement by Mr Owen Patterson
MP, 21 October 2003|
[See also Volume III, PCS Oral Evidence 18]
1. I am the Member of Parliament for North Shropshire
and was first elected in 1997. I had very few dealings with Iain
Duncan Smith in my first term in Parliament. However, when William
Hague stood down as Leader of the Opposition, I joined Iain's
campaign team and I was responsible for keeping the book logging
MPs'' voting intentions.
2. The complaint against Mr Duncan-Smith involves
an allegation that his wife, Betsy Duncan Smith, was improperly
paid by Mr Duncan Smith from his Parliamentary staffing allowance
after he had become Leader of the Opposition in September 2001
until December 2002. I am asked to shed light from my own experience
on the truth or otherwise of these allegations. In order to do
so I need to include my recollection of the period which pre-dates
the specific dates which are the subject of the investigation.
3. I have made this statement in the short time
I have had since receiving a fax from the Parliamentary Commissioner
in the afternoon of Friday 17th October 2003. I have
tried to recollect events as best as I can, but I have not had
sight of documents that may have been produced at the time in
order to refresh my memory. If there are specific documents, comments
or issues which I am asked to explain, I will need to do so when
I have had a proper opportunity to consider them further.
Relevant arrangements prior to September 2001
4. To the best of my knowledge, prior to being
appointed Leader of the Opposition, Mr Duncan Smith's constituency
office was located in the Parliamentary offices for MPs at Norman
Shaw North, where Mr Duncan Smith had a suite of two rooms. The
first time I recall meeting Betsy Duncan Smith was when I visited
Mr Duncan Smith's offices there. This was in June 2001. When,
at the beginning of the campaign for the Leadership, I visited
Mr Duncan Smith's constituency offices, the lady to whom I subsequently
introduced myself was on the telephone sitting at a workstation
when I arrived. From the tone of the call it sounded as though
she was dealing with a constituency matter. When the call ended,
we went through brief introductions and I established that she
was Betsy Duncan Smith. To the best of my knowledge, she was sitting
at her own desk. There were lots of papers on her desk and she
carried on working whilst I made some telephone calls from another
desk. She continued with her work, which seemed to be related
to political issues.
5. The other desk in the outer room of these
offices was occupied by Annabelle Eyre. She was also seated at
a workstation with papers and appeared to be fielding calls. So
far as I was aware there were therefore two people busy dealing
with Mr Duncan Smith's work as an MP at the time. Iain was not
only MP for Chingford and Woodford Green but also Shadow Secretary
of State for Defence.
6. I do not recall having more than a passing
conversation with either Betsy Duncan Smith or Annabelle Eyre
on this occasion. Both seemed to be involved in their work and,
as I had urgent matters to attend to, we only exchanged pleasantries.
I was there for only about an hour and during that time both Betsy
Duncan Smith and Annabelle Eyre continued with their work. This
is now a couple of years ago and so my recollections are not particularly
detailed. I mention the matter only because this was the first
time that I met Betsy Duncan Smith.
7. I went to the Norman Shaw North offices only
a few times. I tended to meet Iain Duncan Smith there mainly to
interview other MPs to discover their voting intentions. This
was a place in which we would have a degree of privacy. So far
as I am aware, only people with authorised access were allowed
to be in the offices.
8. I saw no change in the arrangements which
I have described above whenever I went to Norman Shaw North again.
My recollection is that the offices looked the same on each occasion
with desks occupied by Betsy Duncan Smith and Annabelle Eyre respectively
and a spare desk, all in the office adjoining the office in which
Iain Duncan Smith had his desk.
9. When Iain Duncan Smith entered the Party Leadership
contest in June 2001, we set up a campaign office at 11, Lord
North Street. This was solely for the purpose of conducting the
Leadership campaign for Iain. As Iain had asked me to assist him
in the Leadership campaign, my focus from that point onwards was
upon Lord North Street, although obviously I had to continue to
deal with constituency matters of my own.
10. My constituency is rural and it differs from
Iain's in many respects. Nevertheless my experience of dealing
with constituency work is that solving individual problems can
take a lot of time. They are a central and vital part of any MP's
work. They are a priority as, if they are not attended to efficiently
and effectively, constituents, quite rightly, complain vigorously.
Problems can continue over a considerable period of time and take
time to resolve. Continuity in the process of fielding these matters
and being on top of them is therefore very important. I assume
that Iain had to deal with the same sort of issues through his
constituency office, but I do not know, as I was not involved
in his constituency. I can only speak from my own experiences
of being an MP. I can say that he has a reputation for being a
good local MP.
11. Those involved in conducting the campaign
(including myself) used to meet at 11, Lord North Street to work
on the Leadership campaign daily. I do not recall Betsy Duncan
Smith coming to work at the Lord North Street office but I had
no expectation that she would, as the office was dedicated entirely
to campaign matters, whereas she was only involved in constituency
issues. We had many volunteers helping with the campaign itself.
12. The Leadership election campaign lasted for
about 3 months. The first month involved the Parliamentary stage
and then there were two months in which the candidates went to
the country to develop support among Party members. I was not
the campaign manager but played a central role.
Relevant arrangements from September 2001 onwards
13. At around the time of Iain Duncan Smith's
victory in the Leadership election, he telephoned me and invited
me to become his Parliamentary Private Secretary (PPS). I accepted
the invitation and shortly afterwards visited his home in Swanbourne,
Buckinghamshire. This is a country house which had recently been
vacated by Iain's parents-in-law and was in need of some modernisation.
Iain and his family had moved in only recently. I met Betsy Duncan
Smith but my conversations on this occasion were almost exclusively
with Iain. We discussed party issues and I would not have expected
Betsy to have been involved.
14. In the very early days when I telephoned
Swanbourne, it often proved rather difficult to get through due
to the lack of facilities. The telephone was often engaged. Betsy
Duncan Smith would invariably answer my calls. I have not visited
Swanbourne since that visit, but soon after Iain took over the
Leadership, modern office facilities were installed and communications
15. Once the Leadership campaign had been won,
the 11, Lord North Street operations were closed down. From September
2001 to late summer 2002, the Leader's Office was based in the
mornings at offices at 32/34 Smith Square, the Conservative Party
Central Office. The Office was in a building connected by a corridor
to the main Party headquarters in 32 Smith Square.
16. I was not responsible for setting up the
Leader's Office at Smith Square. However, as PPS I was involved
in Iain Duncan Smith's daily routine. My understanding of my duties
as PPS to Iain Duncan Smith was initially drawn from discussions
which I had with William Hague's last PPS, John Whittingdale.
17. He said that the main role of the PPS was
to keep in touch with MPs. He advised that the PPS should accompany
the Leader on all Parliamentary occasions but should strike a
balance between sticking with the Leader at meetings inside and
outside Parliament and keeping in touch with colleagues on behalf
of the Leader. His view also was that the PPS should act as a
sounding board for the Leader and that he should liaise closely
with the Shadow Cabinet. Iain went further and created a half-hourly
slot in his diary each day so that MPs could discuss with him
any issues which might arise. John Whittingdale also said that
it was vital for the PPS to attend all Shadow Cabinet meetings,
meetings of the 1922 Committee, other parliamentary meetings,
appointments meetings and to liaise closely with the Chief Whip.
Another extremely time consuming part of the role was to handle
all correspondence to the Leader from MPs, peers, MEPs, Scottish
MSPs, Welsh AMs, the Board of the Party, Constituency Chairman
and Councillors. It was on this advice that I modelled my role
18. My role as PPS did not involve Iain's constituency
and so I have no direct knowledge of how he handled them apart
from what I have already said. Looking back, if I had applied
my mind to it, I would have assumed that Iain's constituency matters
were dealt with in the same way as before he became Leader. I,
for example, continued to deal with my own constituency and handled
the PPS role separately.
19. John Whittingdale told me that in his view
Iain should employ a Chief of Staff based permanently in the Leader's
office. This should not be an MP. He told me that William Hague
had had a highly efficient manager called Tina Stowell.
20. It may be obvious to say this but an MP's
day usually continues into the evening and it is often only after
the Westminster day that he has time to catch up with constituency
and other political matters matters which have arisen during the
day. This is why many MPs employ their wives as secretaries, as
they can be a point of contact during the day and after work can
discuss or chase up issues, whether by telephone or otherwise.
The MP's wife builds up a substantial fund of local knowledge
and political contacts. It is also important to preserve the personal
relationship between an MP and his constituency. If this arrangement
is changed for any reason, it has to be done gradually and delicately
so as to provide continuity.
21. This is my experience of what is after all
a unique job involving the relationship with the constituency
and the work in the House of Commons itself. Because so much of
the work happens after Westminster hours I would not have any
direct knowledge of personal arrangements involving Iain Duncan
22. The arrangements which operated at 34 Smith
Square were that Annabelle Eyre, who had previously worked in
Iain Duncan Smith's office at Norman Shaw North, moved to become
his Private Secretary at the Leader's Office. She sat immediately
outside Iain Duncan Smith's own office, sharing an office with
Andrew Whitby-Collins whose role was to organise Iain's diary,
with the help of input on Iain's constituency commitments. Jonathan
Hellewell also worked in the office adjoining Iain's for the first
few weeks, before he joined me in my office. I was based in a
separate office down the corridor from Iain. I confirm that whenever
passing through the outer office on the way to see Iain, I frequently
heard Annabelle Eyre or Andrew Whitby-Collins on the telephone
to Betsy Duncan Smith.
23. In the afternoons each day, when Parliament
was sitting, the Leader's team would move to his office in the
House of Commons, following the pattern that William Hague's office
had established. My office at the House was at the furthest end
of a series of rooms that comprised the Leader's Office in the
House of Commons.
24. With Annabelle Eyre becoming Private Secretary,
Christine Watson was taken on by Iain Duncan Smith to handle constituency
matters. She did so until the late Summer of 2002. She worked
in a completely separate office in the House of Commons. I did
not ever visit her office and had no particular reason to do so,
because as I have said, I was not involved in Iain's constituency
matters. I have never visited Iain Duncan Smith's constituency
of Chingford and Woodford Green. Due to the fact that I represent
a rural seat in Shropshire, Iain and I have very few constituency
issues in common.
25. Some of the staff inherited from the Leadership
campaign had insufficient experience for the Leader's Office,
once the Leadership campaign had concluded and left in the winter
of 2001/2002. The volume of work in the Leader's Office increased,
as John Whittingdale had predicted. Jenny Ungless had done a very
effective job in organising the Parliamentary Research Unit from
scratch in the previous Parliament, and was appointed Chief of
Staff some time in Autumn 2001 until standing down in the late
summer of 2002. Her role as Chief of Staff was to run the Leader's
Office. She was based in an office in Conservative Central Office.
In the afternoons in Parliament she shared my office. She appointed
Rebecca Layton in early 2002 to assist her with administrative
26. This period of transition for the Leader's
Office administratively coincided with changes made at a more
senior level in Central Office.
27. In early 2002, David Davis, then Party Chairman,
appointed Mark MacGregor as Chief Executive of the Party. Mark
MacGregor was based in an office in Central Office, adjacent to
the Chairman's office in 32 Smith Square, some distance from the
Leader's Office. He never had an office in the House of Commons.
I know of no contact which Mark MacGregor would have had with
Iain Duncan Smith's constituency office. Mark never reported any
constituency concerns or concerns about Betsy's role to me for
discussion with Iain until a much later date and I deal with this
28. When Jenny Ungless left in the Summer of
2002, it was clear that the Leader's Office was still not running
as well as it might. The lease on 34 Smith Square was running
out and a small new office was established in 32 Smith Square
so that Iain had a base in Central Office. Later in 2002, the
Leader's Office was moved entirely to the House of Commons.
29. In the late Summer of 2002, Christine Watson
became Iain's Private Secretary. She helped to supervise his move
from 34 to 32 Smith Square and sat outside Iain's new office in
Central office with Andrew Whitby-Collins. In the House of Commons,
she sat outside Iain's door. Annabelle Eyre took over organisation
of Iain's tours.
30. In about September 2002, Vanessa Gearson,
who had been working for Theresa May, was appointed Administrative
Head of the Leader's Office. My recollection is that she was recommended
to Iain by Mark MacGregor. As her title would suggest, Vanessa
was in charge of administration in the Leader's Office. Although
I have seen documents in which she has referred to herself as
being Chief of Staff this was never her position. In fact Barry
Legg was appointed to this role of Chief of Staff for a short
period in early 2003.
31. Vanessa Gearson was already a school governor
and a busy Councillor in Barnet. Soon after joining the Leader's
Office, she was selected as prospective parliamentary candidate
for Cheltenham. Living in North London, she normally arrived for
the 9am meetings and, because of her other commitments, she tended
to leave the office at about 6pm each day. Much of the office
work was in fact done in the evenings.
32. When she first joined, Iain was in the small
office at 32 Smith Square, which I have mentioned above. She remained
at her desk in the Chairman's office until after the Conference,
which would have been in October 2002. After the Conference, Andrew
Whitby-Collins, who had had an office next door to Iain's office
(sharing with Christine Watson) went to work for the Candidate's
Department and Vanessa moved to his desk in the office next to
Iain. This was for a very short timea matter of weeks.
The Leader's Office then moved to the House of Commons.
33. Cara Walker, a young inexperienced graduate,
was brought in to help with Iain Duncan Smith's constituency work.
She worked out of a separate office away from the Leader's Offices.
My recollection is that from time to time Cara would come down
to the floor I worked on to ask questions of Christine.
34. From the moment of the election of Iain Duncan
Smith to the position of Leader, there followed a period of ongoing
change and adaptation to the developing circumstances related
to Leadership matters. I had no reason to enquire into arrangements
relating to his constituency affairs. Just as Iain Duncan Smith
would deal with those matters separately, so would I through my
own office. As a result, I had virtually no contact with Betsy
Duncan Smith. I now assume that she continued to work on political
matters from home. I am not aware that any additional staff were
recruited to deal with Iain's constituency, other than through
the replacement of Annabelle Eyre and then subsequently Christine
35. In the Autumn of 2002, Vanessa Gearson raised
with me the issue of Betsy's employment. She did so informally.
Vanessa expressed concern that Betsy Duncan Smith was employed
by Iain and questioned whether she really did any work. So far
as I am aware, Vanessa had no involvement in constituency issues
but, regardless of this, I raised the matter with Iain along with
a list of routine matters. I believe this to have been in the
course of one of our evening meetings at which I ran through issues
which had arisen in the course of the day. This was an informal
although regular process. Vanessa Gearson raised this matter with
me on one or two further occasions in late 2002. This was done
in the same informal way. I raised the matter with Iain again
and he confirmed, as he had before, that the arrangements were
completely regular. My concern was that Betsy's working for him
could be misinterpreted and hence could be politically damaging.
Even though Iain had reassured me, I continued to worry that this
was potentially politically damaging.
36. There was a Communication Meeting at Central
Office once a week. It took place in Theresa May's office and
was attended by Theresa May, Stanley Kalms, Mark MacGregor, Stephen
Gilbert, Vanessa Gearson and myself. The purpose of the meeting
was to ensure that the actions of the various branches of the
Party were co-ordinated. The meetings were relatively informal.
I do not recall any minutes being prepared. I am fairly sure that
the issue of Betsy's employment was raised at one of these meetings.
I cannot recall it being discussed at more than one meeting but
it is possible that it was. It was one of many matters raised.
I cannot remember the detail of what happened or what was said.
I have not seen any paperwork that may have been produced and
retained. It is a year ago and it was one of a number of matters
that came up at the time.
37. I had agreed at the Communication Meeting
to raise the issue of Betsy's employment with Iain, as far as
I can remember the matter. It was either as a result of that or
my discussions with Vanessa that in a later discussion with Iain,
he said that it was his intention to end Betsy's role. I note
that the development of administrative arrangements was more or
less in place by then. Cara had gained knowledge and experience
and now had Tom Hooper working with her. Annabelle Eyre had taken
on responsibility for organising tours which meant that Paula
Malone, the new diary secretary, had more time than Andrew Whitby-Collins
in this role.
38. As far as I know, neither Mark MacGregor
nor Vanessa Gearson raised the matter directly with Iain. Also,
as I did not know what the arrangements involved first hand, I
would not have expected them to have known either.
39. I was therefore very suspicious of an e-mail
sent in early 2003 by Vanessa Gearson reportedly sent to Mark
MacGregor and copied to other people in Conservative Central Office
but not to me or to anyone else in the Leader's office (including
Iain). I see from the leaked copy referred to in newspapers that
it was in fact sent on Thursday 30th January 2003. As I remember,
Paul Baverstock (the newly-employed Director of Communications
who had just started work at Conservative Central Office) showed
me a copy of this e-mail.
40. I thought it strange that Vanessa had not
raised this issue with me as a continuing concern as she had in
the past, or, if she felt so strongly why she had not raised the
issue directly with Iain Duncan Smith, to whom she had constant
access. Also, e-mails sent at Central Office are usually written
in an informal fashion. However, Vanessa's email was formal, and
appeared to have been drafted very carefully. I spoke to Iain
about the contents of the e-mail and he told me that Betsy had
already ceased to be employed at the end of December 2002, as
he had indicated would happen. Iain then met Vanessa, almost certainly
on Friday 31st January. I have checked my diary which
shows that I had a dinner engagement in Shrewsbury on the night
of Thursday 30th January and a whole series of constituency
engagements on Friday 31st January. From memory, Iain
rang me at some stage after his meeting with Vanessa to say that
he had had a perfectly sensible conversation with her. She had
agreed to send a second e-mail confirming that Iain had reassured
her that her concerns were unfounded. I do not have copies of
either of these e-mails.
41. Around the time that the e-mails were sent,
major further changes to Central Office staffing were being discussed
and Mark MacGregor was removed as Chief Executive in February
2003.It was well known that he has a very different view from
Iain Duncan Smith as to how the Conservative Party should proceed.
42. In the Summer of 2003, Vanessa Gearson then
moved to a new role as liaison between the Chairman and Leader's
Office. It may be that she saw this as a demotion.
43. The issue of Betsy Duncan Smith's employment
was not raised again between January 2003 and the attempt by the
BBC's Newsnight programme in the Autumn of 2003 to broadcast what
were clearly intended to be extremely damaging allegations in
the week prior to the Conservative Party Conference. If those
who are accusing Iain Duncan Smith believed that there was any
substance in this matter, I feel that they should have produced
their evidence months before the Conference. It seemed that this
issue was being raised simply as part of a political campaign
21 October 2003