Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence


24.  Written statement by Mrs Christine Watson, 17 October 2003

[See also Volume III, PCS Oral Evidence 22]

Background

1.  I first began working with IDS on 15th October 2001. I was appointed as IDS's Constituency Secretary, a role that had previously been undertaken by Annabelle Eyre.

2.  When IDS was elected leader of the Conservative Party there was a considerable change in the personnel of the offices. No one from William Hague's office of leader of the opposition continued in place when IDS took over the leadership. He therefore asked Annabelle Eyre (AE) to set up a new office for him as the Leader of the Opposition. Andrew Whitby-Collins (AWC) was appointed as Iain Duncan Smith's Diary Secretary in the Leader of the Opposition's office.

Work with BDS

3.  The Constituency offices were not ready immediately so for the first few weeks I worked from Central Office with AWC and AE. It was then necessary for me to arrange to move to the new offices in M2 in Parliament. The office materials were not moved until late October and it took a lot of work to arrange for all the boxes to be unpacked and casework placed in order. In the first months that I was employed, I spent a considerable amount of time unpacking and putting IDS's office in order.

4.  There was a period of about a month from September 2001 to October 2001 when no one was appointed exclusively as Iain Duncan-Smith's Constituency Secretary although work was being done by a number of people. Some correspondence had accumulated during that period and during the leadership election, as a result, when I was appointed, I had to deal with a backlog of correspondence. I had to become familiar with the current cases and obtain information about the filing systems in the office very quickly.

5.  Initially Betsy continued with her previous practice of dealing with AE and I only had indirect contact with her as I worked closely with AE familiarising myself with the constituency matters. Initially BDS worked with AE and they referred constituency matters to me that BDS had raised with them. BDS was employed in IDS's office before Annabelle Eyre was recruited and therefore has got the longest experience of any of the members of staff working for him. BDS provided me with invaluable information about constituents. I was able to draw upon Betsy's expert knowledge of Iain Duncan-Smith's Constituency office during this time.

6.  I was aware of—but not very involved with—BDS' close management of the diary. This work was largely carried out in liaison with AE and AWC who were making and implementing day-to-day diary decisions.

7.  I was responsible for constituency correspondence which I would send to Iain to deal with in the evenings but particularly at weekends. BDS would make sure that he considered the papers and would feed back any issues he would raise, this was particularly the case over the weekends. She was progress checking to make sure that the constituency work was covered. Whenever IDS went to the constituency he would raise the issues with BDS that he wanted to deal with and she would pass them on to AE who would speak to me. BDS would make sure that the work I sent down was done and she would respond to me in her conversations with AE.

8.  Perhaps the most important work undertaken by BDS was at weekends. In a way that no-one else could, BDS would go through constituency correspondence with IDS on Saturdays and Sundays—ensuring that it was processed and returned to me and that any queries that I had were answered. This was a major task as little time could be found during the working week for constituency work to be processed. IDS spent most of the week working on issues connected with his leadership of the Conservative Party.

9.  BDS was not in the office at Parliament but she worked from the office at their home in Swanbourne. BDS was an important source of advice on constituency issues. I particularly remember her helpfulness with understanding the difficulties faced by Rose Addis. Mrs Addis was a constituency case that became a national story when IDS raised her story at Prime Minister's Question Time. BDS provided intensive help for special projects. I remember her constant help with Iain's Christmas card competition and in the drawing up of his Christmas card list.

10.  It took me almost a year to establish the Constituency Office. In July 2002, I moved from Iain Duncan Smith's Constituency Office to become Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition. When I became Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition I became responsible for preparing the box of work for IDS's consideration in the evenings and at weekends. This included constituency correspondence prepared by Cara Walker who was appointed as Constituency Secretary in September 2002. I relied upon BDS to draw matters that I considered to be particularly important to IDS's attention.

11.  Cara Walker, the new Constituency Secretary was a recent university graduate. Before Cara was able to take over the constituency casework it was necessary for me to train her. I realised that it was necessary to get a research assistant to support Cara in her role. In November 2002 Tom Hooper was appointed to work with Cara in the constituency office, he stayed until June 2003. During their time working in the office Tom and Cara reported almost exclusively to me and have not had much contact with Betsy. Until the Constituency office was re-established I ran it and drew upon BDS's assistance to bring certain matters to IDS's attention and to make sure that outstanding matters were followed up.

12.  Finally, I would like to attest to the quality of the working relationship I had with Betsy. She was always available. When I phoned her she was either waiting at the end of the line or she returned my call quickly. I have found her to be very reliable, competent and efficient.

The memorandum to Vanessa Gearson[79]

13.  At the time that I wrote the memorandum to Vanessa Gearson I was trying to negotiate my new contract having been promoted from Constituency Secretary to the Private Secretary of the Leader of the Opposition. In this context Vanessa asked me to explain my current role and give details of what I had done as Constituency Secretary. She was new to the department, having only been appointed as Administrative Head of the Leader's Office in September 2002, and did not know of all the work that I had undertaken.

14.  This memo, which was marked 'Strictly Private and Confidential', expressed my concerns about the workload that I was dealing with at that particular time in the office in Parliament. It was written at Vanessa's request at a time of maximum stress within the office. I wrote it a time when I was tired and overworked. I think my frame of mind is evident in the style of the memo which was never intended to be a permanent record or a full record. It does not give a full account of the way that all of the offices were being run. It does not refer to the work that Betsy was doing in the office in Swanbourne and it does not refer to the work that Rikki Radford was doing in the constituency because the memo dealt only with the position in Parliament. My concern was to make sure that I received recognition and appropriate remuneration from the Conservative Party for the work that I was doing and had done in IDS's offices.

15.  I cannot remember Vanessa Gearson commenting to me about the work that BDS did for IDS following the submission of the memorandum. She said very little about it after I gave it to her. Had she regarded BDS's employment as an issue arising out of the memo I would have thought that she would have spoken to me about it.

16.  Although I am distressed at the memo's publication it does not undermine my submission of 13th October or my known belief that BDS did undertake regular constituency work for IDS. BDS's constituency work is not discussed in my memo but neither is the work of IDS' full-time Agent, Rikki Radford.

17.  The memo focuses on the particular problems at the time working with the Houses of Parliament and Conservative Central Office team. Problems which have since been resolved.

17 October 2003


79   See PCS Written Submission 49.  Back


 
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