Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence

26.  Letter to the Commissioner from Mrs Christine Watson, 20 January 2004

The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP

Thank you for your letter of 18 December and the letter from Andrew Walker. As Isobel has already explained, I did not receive your letter until 17 January 2004 when Isobel sent a copy to me.

In this letter Mr Walker confirms my evidence that I had a number of contacts with the Fees Office in autumn of 2002. I did not keep a record of the specific meetings. I have however checked in a notebook that I kept then which refers to the names of Andy Gibson, Tara West and Jordan Neville: all of whom I spoke to during my visits to the Fees Office. In addition I spoke to Dan Gorman. I have no recollection and no reference in my notebook to conversations with Caroline Stockton. It is however possible that I could have spoken to her at the time. The Fees Office is a large open plan room in which many people work. During the relevant period I would often see more than one person at a visit and so it is possible that I met Caroline Stockton without keeping a note of her name.

By the time that I first visited the Fees Office I knew that a significant portion of my salary would be paid by CCO out of the Short Money. I have no recollection of anyone from the Fees Office suggesting to me that I could not be paid out of Mr Duncan Smith's Staffing Allowance in my position as Private Secretary to the Leader of the Opposition. I was only responsible for administering the Parliamentary Allowance for Mr Duncan Smith; I did not have any responsibility for the administration of Short Money. During one of my conversations with employees of the Fees Office it is possible that I might have referred to the payment of my salary from the two sources of money: the MP's Staffing Allowance and CCO's Short Money. I think I would remember if I had been advised by Fees Office staff that my salary had to be paid out of Short Money. I think that if such a conversation had taken place before I sent the memorandum to Vanessa Gearson I would probably have referred to it in my memorandum. I would certainly have told Mr Duncan Smith about such a conversation and would probably have asked the Fees Office to set out their advice in writing.

As I told you previously I used to go to the Fees Office for them to advise me in the administration of Mr Duncan Smith's MP's allowances and to obtain information from them about the funds available. I found the people working there were very helpful. I cannot however remember receiving any general guidance about the use of Mr Duncan Smith's MP's Staffing Allowance as opposed to Short Money. As I explained at our last meeting I had to do my best by myself to interpret the rules on the basis of the information provided in the Green Book. At the time of sending the memorandum to Vanessa I thought that I should be paid out of Short Money but that was prompted by the fact that I was concerned there might not otherwise be enough money in the Staffing Allowance to pay salaries for Cara Walker and the researcher. I have read the rules in the Green Book again since and realise that because I was helping Mr Duncan Smith in the performance of his parliamentary duties I could be paid out of Short Money or from the Staffing Allowance.

Accordingly I have nothing to add or vary concerning my recollection of these matters from what I have already informed you in my testimony.

20 January 2004

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