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Last Updated: Monday, 29 March, 2004, 15:33 GMT 16:33 UK
Duncan Smith cleared on Betsygate
Iain and Betsy Duncan Smith
The inquiry was stressful for the Duncan Smiths, say MPs
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith has been cleared of impropriety over the way he ran his private office.

It follows an inquiry by Parliament's watchdog into claims Betsy Duncan Smith did not do enough to justify her salary as her husband's diary secretary.

Mrs Duncan Smith, arm-in-arm with her husband, said: "The last six months have been been horrendous, for Iain, for me, and our family."

She added: "We want to put these terrible times behind us and move on."

Although the watchdog dismissed the main complaint, about Mrs Duncan Smith's employment, he said two officials were paid out of the wrong funds for party work.

The Commons standards committee said the arrangements were not ideal but concluded he had not broken MPs' rules.

Journalist criticised

Mr Duncan Smith has always denied wrongdoing since the claims surfaced during his last days as Tory leader.

Parliamentary standards commission Sir Philip Mawer handed his report to the Commons standards and privileges committee earlier this month.

I said at the start of the inquiry that we would be exonerated and today we have been
Iain Duncan Smith

Questions about Mr Duncan Smith's office were raised by investigative journalist Michael Crick in the run-up to last year's Conservative conference.

Mr Crick made his inquiries for BBC Two's Newsnight, although his report was never broadcast.

Misunderstandings

In his inquiry report, Sir Philip said Mrs Duncan Smith had not been improperly employed by her husband.

And he had seen no evidence "which should cast doubt on the honesty or integrity of Mr and Mrs Duncan Smith".

But a "misunderstanding" had caused problems over the way Mr Duncan Smith paid Christine Watson and Annabelle Eyre from his parliamentary staffing allowance.

He said they, as well as Mrs Duncan Smith in some cases, were doing party political rather than parliamentary work, which would have been more appropriately paid out of the Short money, the public funds given to opposition parties.

It was absolutely right that this should have been pursued
Michael Crick
Investigative journalist

The committee agrees about the facts but says that does not mean Mr Duncan Smith acted improperly.

"There are clearly shortcomings in the extent of the guidance currently available on the respective scope of Short money and the staffing allowance...

"Mr Duncan Smith's financial arrangements may not have been ideal in the light of the current official interpretation of the scope of the various allowances available to him.

"But we would not be prepared to find a breach of the code [of conduct for MPs] where such ambiguity exists."

The MPs want more clarity on the use of MPs' allowances, as well as a wholesale examination of those payments.

'At last, it's over'

Mr Duncan Smith told BBC News 24 he and his wife were looking forward to getting on with their lives after being cleared of "malicious" allegations.

He said: "It's been a tough five-and-a-half months, particularly for my wife, who's not used to this sort of process...

"I do think it's not a good idea, it's in fact utterly wrong, to try to get to me through my wife."

The MP said it was for his party to look at the issues about others who had given evidence to the inquiry.

A Tory Party spokesman said: "We welcome this report which is an unambiguous vindication of IDS. He emerges with his honour and reputation intact."

Inquiry defended

Mr Crick said he accepted the findings but argued: "It was absolutely right that this should have been pursued and absolutely right that the commissioner should have looked into it."

He said Mr Duncan Smith could have cleared up the questions a lot earlier.

The committee says it has "grave doubts" about some of the techniques used by Mr Crick to gather information for his complaint.

Michael Crick
Crick: Defended his report

"But these are matters for the BBC," it adds.

The journalist defended his investigation techniques, which he said had been approved by his Newsnight bosses.

A BBC spokesman said: "We simply note that the BBC did not broadcast this story on Newsnight because it did not meet editorial tests at the time.

"We do, however, think it was legitimate to inquire into the allegations given the seniority and nature of the sources."

The complaints came after concerns about the work done by the MP's wife were aired in a leaked e-mail from then senior Tory official Vanessa Gearson.

Sir Philip said Dr Gearson, as well as former Tory chief of staff Jenny Ungless and ex-party chief executive Mark MacGregor, had all told him they had seen no evidence of Mrs Duncan Smith doing work for her husband which would have justified her being paid out of his parliamentary allowances.

But other staff in Mr Duncan Smith's office did describe the kind of work she did.

A Conservative MP close to Mr Duncan Smith says he believes Dr Gearson and Mr MacGregor should now be reported to the party's ethics and intergrity committee.

Mr Crick accused the committee of being "complacent" about the way dozens of MPs employed relatives, often fairly, without it being put on public record.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"If it wasn't for Betsygate, might Iain Duncan Smith still be Tory leader today?"



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