Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence

20.  Written statement by Mr Mike Penning, 16 October 2003

1.  I have known IDS since 1995 but only became involved on a professional basis when he was appointed Shadow Secretary of State for Social Security under William Hague in 1997.

2.  I was then a media adviser to Iain and several other members of the Shadow Cabinet but was mostly based at a desk in Iain's parliamentary office in the House of Commons, where I had a desk very close to his wife Betsy.

3.  I saw at first hand the professional and dedicated way that Betsy fulfilled her duties as Iain's diary secretary and also witnessed the closeness and dependence in a professional capacity as Iain relied on Betsy as a key aide in his office.

4.  I was also aware that on a regular basis Betsy took work home and that the two of them often worked late into the evening, as that was the only time they could be together to get through the diary work without the interruption that there will always be in a busy parliamentary office.

5.  I have to say that Betsy often got the short straw in the office, because people like me were always demanding time with Iain that had been pencilled in for Betsy's diary work, but they regularly let me have that time slot and the work was done much later when Iain came home from the Commons.

6.  The personal and professional trust that was self evident between IDS and Betsy was obvious to anyone that had worked closely with them.

7.  In 2000 I was appointed to Central Office as deputy head of Media but kept in close contact with IDS's office and in the leadership election of 2001 I left Central Office to run the media of the IDS campaign. During the campaign and after I returned to CCO, Betsy was clearly working for Iain as I had to speak to her on a regular basis and later I was aware that Betsy had set up office in his house in Swanbourne and that she was still key to the constituency side of Iain's duties. I confirm that there is a fully-equipped working office at Swanbourne which I have used myself on the many occasions when I have visited the house since Iain became Party Leader.

8.  Many times in the past when in my role as senior press officer to the party I have asked for details of Iain's constituency events or visits, I always felt that in many cases, it was best to go direct to Betsy. I have always thought that Betsy was in charge of that side of Iain's commitments, and even now that she doesn't officially work for Iain I still find her my best point of contact.

16 October 2003

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