52. Letter to the Commissioner from
Mr Iain Duncan Smith,
6 January 2004|
Complaint by Michael Crick
I refer to your letter of 16 December and our subsequent
meeting on Thursday, 18 December, to discuss its contents and
the letter dated 10 December from Mr Walker of the Fees Office.
It was agreed during our meeting that I would confirm
my position on the various matters you raised in writing, which
I now set out briefly.
Concerns expressed by Vanessa Gearson about
my ACA claims
I referred you to page 12 of Vanessa Gearson's transcript
of interview in which she alleged there was in respect of my house
in Chingford a "concern that centred on the lack of paperwork
that had been given to indicate which of the houses Mr Duncan
Smith was claiming the allowance for, and the paperwork that had
been given had not been changed to reflect this new address."
She went on to allege, "I cannot confirm whether these concerns
were ultimately proven either to be true or not at the end
of the day by the Fees Office. I again make the point that
if Vanessa Gearson was, as an official in my office, raising these
matters in good faith she would have previously raised them in
a transparent way with me.
There is no truth in any of these allegations. Vanessa
Gearson had no reason to suggest that this was looked into at
any stage by the Fees Office.
I claimed ACA for my Chingford house throughout the
period you are investigating. The Fees Office have never questioned
these claims let alone investigated them. I regard Vanessa's suggestion
that she cannot confirm whether these concerns were ultimately
proven by the Fees Office as pure mischief-making on her part
as she had and has no facts on which to base such a statement.
Quite the contrary, Mr Walker's letter of 10 December confirms
that "I have no reason to doubt the validity of the claim."
I believe that all of the claims I have made on the
ACA in relation my Chingford House were allowable and correctly
made. I stay in my Chingford house as the need arises, usually
in connection with my regular visits to my constituency and did
so throughout the period you are investigating although in this
context, I do refer back to my general observations as to how
the investigation has expanded beyond the original complaint concerning
my wife as to the proper procedural safeguards for those subjected
to such enquiries. The frequency of visits, and therefore my stays
at the house, reduced after I became Leader of the Opposition
but remained regular nonetheless. I expect now that I no longer
hold the position of Leader my visits to the constituency will
increase again, although this will have no bearing on my current
ACA claims because I ceased to claim for the Chingford house in
early 2003. when I paid off the mortgage.
As I informed you, I had and still have a nephew
living in my Chingford house who is there to help me and, of course
himself as the occupant. My nephew does not pay me rent for staying
in the property, nor has he ever paid me rent for staying there.
I confirm that I have never received rental income relating to
my Chingford house. At no time have I received rent for my house
in Chingford as has been suggested to a large number of people
by Mr Crick. He was told this clearly months ago but has continued
to suggest this to other journalists whenever he can.
Short Money and guidance from the Fees Office
Perhaps I could now refer to the section of your
letter covering the Short Money.
When I asked Christine Watson to become my private
secretary 1 was clear her new salary would be transferred to Central
Office. This was made clear to Vanessa Gearson as well as to Mark
MacGregor. However after further discussions with Christine Watson
I became fully aware that she would spend a large proportion of
her time involved in the organisation of my constituency correspondence
as it was her intention to train up and bring in someone who had
never done this before. In the early autumn I spoke to Vanessa
Gearson when I discovered that Mark MacGregor was still dragging
his heels about Christine Watson's salary and told her that a
proportion would be paid out of my staffing allowance. If as the
Fees Office maintain now this may also have been their advice
at the time then we would anyway have been complying with such
advice. However, I was not aware of any such advice nor did I
discuss the matter with them. I will return later in this letter
to the nature of this advice.
At no time from the moment that Vanessa Gearson started
work in the Leader's Office did she raise any issues over the
use of Short Money even though we had a number of discussions
about settling Christine Watson's contract. At no stage did Mark
MacGregor over the period that he was Chief Executive raise these
issues with me.
That is why when I read your letter enclosing Mr
Walker's response from the Fees Office I was concerned about the
reference to the Fees Office Guidance on Short Money to my staff
in the autumn of 2002. A re-reading of Mr Walker's letter will
show conclusively that the conversations referred to are with
Furthermore, for the reasons I outlined to you I
have concerns about the interpretation that Mr Walker has sought
to place on the contacts in 2002 (which undoubtedly did occur)
between Christine and the Fees Office. First, Christine has informed
me after having read Mr Walker's letter that although she had
a number of conversations with various people in the Fees Office
she does not recall any conversations in the context that Mr Walker
suggests i.e. to advise on her the use of Short Money. Instead,
she confirms that her statements to you regarding her dealings
with the Fees Office remain her best recollection of what happened
and what was discussed. The file note seems to confirm Christine
You will recall I explained to you that neither in
connection with Ms Stockton or with Mr Gorman do the words 'Short
Money' appear, not even in the verbatim quote from Ms Stockton's
note. That note of Ms Stockton is said to relate to a conversation
with Ms Stockton on 20 October 2002 and subsequent to the advice
from Mr Gorman but no mention of any such advice on Short Money
appears in Christine's memorandum four days later dated 24 October
to Vanessa Gearson. Christine is a very precise and thorough secretaryI
cannot believe that if she had received such a clear statement,
or indeed any guidance on Short Money from the Fees Office, she
would have failed to mention it to me, or at least in her memo
when it was so critical to her budgetary concerns at that time.
The Fees Office records show that Christine was
informing the Fees Office that (following discussions with
me and on my instructions) she would be reducing her income from
the staffing allowance because she was (or was to about to be)
being paid through CCO. As you know from Christine's statement
and my own, Christine wanted a raise when she became Private Secretary
which would not be fully met by CCO I arranged to make up the
difference from my staffing allowance. No-one so far as I am aware
ever thought that paying Christine from the staffing allowance
was wrong or ever raised it with me. I decided that she should
be paid from both funds and from what I can see, Ms Stockton's
note merely records that Christine was relaying that instruction,
Also, I regard it as unlikely that the Fees Office
would be giving advice to Christine in relation to Short Money,
but not to me or the Conservative Party. After all the Fees Office
would know that Christine did not administer any Short Money.
No-one in the Leader's Office administers Short Money, it is done
by CCO. Any official guidance on Short Money would have to be
given to the political parties which receive it and have to administer
and ultimately to account for it.
Then there is the fact that the Fees Office was no
more in a position to give categorical guidance on the use of
Short Money in autumn 2002 than they are now. I have referred
you to The Fourth Report of the Select Committee on Public Administration
(HC293; 28 February 2001) entitled "Special advisers:
Boon or Bane" at paragraphs 40-53. The Committee found
that there is no attempt in any Resolution of the Parliament to
define what constitutes "parliamentary business" for
the purposes of Short Money (paragraph 45) and it urged the Leader
of the House to arrange for a resolution (paragraph 43 and 51).
However, there is no such resolution and therefore, presently,
no such guidance for Members. The Fees Office were criticised
in the same report for having come up with a definition which
did not have the approval of Parliament (paragraph 50). No-where
is there even a suggestion that there is official guidance of
what constitutes the activities associated with being the Leader
of the Opposition. This expression of opinion by Mr Walker is
a reflection of his personal views to be assessed in the light
of the fact that there is no definition or guidance which the
Select Committee have called for to avoid precisely these sort
of proceedings. What the Committee acknowledges as grey areas
remain grey areas until Parliament chooses to deal with the matter.
The Trend Allegation
I remind you that I showed you Christine Watson's
notebook from 2002, and her 'to do' list for Monday 18 November
2002 there appeared this entry: "3. Salary letterBetsy".
That is independent corroboration of my decision to take Betsy
off the staffing allowance in November 2002. This is supported
by the testimonies of Alastair Burt, Owen Paterson, Theresa May,
Mark MacGregor and Vanessa Gearson as well as those of myself
and my wife.
6 January 2004