Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Written Evidence

37.  Letter to the Commissioner from Councillor John Gover, 20 October 2003

Complaint against Mr Iain Duncan Smith MP (IDS)

Thank you for your letter of 20th October 2003 which enclosed a transcript of an alleged telephone conversation between one N Daigleish and me.

I have carefully read both your letter and the transcript and firstly refer to that.

Daigleish contacted me on my mobile telephone whilst I was in my car in Station Road Chingford during the middle part of the day in question and said he was a BBC researcher. He went on to say he understood I was IDS's constituency agent and that he was doing research on how nationally known politicians juggle their constituency responsibilities with their high profile ones as party leaders etc, or words to that effect.

I told him I was not IDS's constituency agent and he seemed surprised. To assist him, I explained that as one who many years ago qualified to do so, I had acted as election agent for IDS in 1997 and 2001 because he did not at those times have a constituency agent. I made it clear that on both occasions my role ceased immediately after the post campaign administrative matters had been completed.

The forgoing is my recollection of the part of the telephone conversation described as missing from the transcript. It is my supposition that it is missing because subsequent developments clearly show that Dalgleish gave a false reason for contacting me. I take the strongest possible exception to that and am considering available remedies.

With regard to the remainder of the transcript, the generality of which is familiar to me, I would comment that it is disjointed and does not make sense in certain paragraphs. The third, eighth and ninth items on page two are good examples, as are the fifth and seventh ones on page three.

In the fourth line on the last page, Dalgleish says he was trying to find out whether Mrs Duncan Smith worked in the constituency or not. That is obviously untrue. So far as I know the allegations concern her role in IDS's parliamentary office and contain nothing about her activities in the constituency.

Whilst I repeat that the generality of the transcript is familiar to me I do not believe it has any evidential worth. My recollection is insufficiently clear for me to be sure there are no material omissions other than the one identified above. The conversation took place at zero notice and Dalgleish told me he was undertaking routine research.

In answer to whether I can further assist you, my 2002 contacts with Mrs Duncan Smith were as described in my substantive statement, are not documented and took place by mobile telephone. So far as date frames are concerned, to the best of my recollection the contacts were around the 2002 local elections that took place in May.

It may however be relevant to mention Christine Watson who is referred to in item 8 of the first page of the transcript. This, with the first three items of page two, attempts to imply that I believe(d) Christine Watson managed IDS's diary. I have never believed that. The incident referred to, and there was only ever one in which I had dealings with Christine Watson, concerned a dispute between a local residents forum and the railway company that serves Chingford. It had attracted significant local press coverage. After being contacted by a well-known local resident who is also a former councillor, I discussed it with Christine Watson, as a constituency issue, against the background of IDS's possible role in it. IDS did, I believe at very short notice, subsequently attend a decisive meeting on the matter but its implications for his diary never featured in my discussions with Christine Watson.

In item three of page one Dalgleish says he thought Mrs Duncan Smith was IDS's constituency secretary and arranged visits and so on. That exhibits a limited understanding of how a high profile MP's parliamentary office works. The two things are virtually mutually exclusive. In my experience a constituency secretary provides administrative support to her MP in his constituency role. This involves correspondence, analysing issues, making enquiries and maintaining telephone contact with others involved, in addition no doubt to much else. The role of a diary secretary is quite different. She ensures that the MP always knows where he should be, how to get there, at what time and is never double booked. With a high profile MP, with constantly changing appointments nation-wide and internationally, it is a major task. The two roles are quite separate and in my view could be combined only in a superhuman. I am aware that Christine Watson has held the job of constituency secretary and that Betsy Duncan Smith has worked as diary secretary. What I do not know is when either of them began or ended those roles. I am aware only of the assertion in your letter, I have no more knowledge of IDS's past or present parliamentary office arrangements than mentioned in my statement or in this letter. There is no reason why I or any other local Conservative activist should. The parliamentary office and the constituency are quite separate dimensions of an MPs life and in my experience their paths hardly ever cross. It is my opinion that your complainant should focus on what people know about the issues that concern him. I am anecdotally aware of "evidence" that the complainant has gathered from people in IDS's constituency. This suggests to me that those questioned know little or nothing of his parliamentary office. I cannot see how that assists your investigation which I understand to be into aspects of personnel and employment matters at that office.

20 October 2003

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