Iain Duncan Smith employed his wife, Elizabeth, to help with his constituency work for several months after his election as leader of the Conservative Party, The Independent on Sunday can reveal. Her £18,000-a-year salary was paid by the House of Commons.
The disclosure that Mr Duncan Smith was topping up his family's income with an allowance for his wife will be used by the Tory leader's enemies at a time when he is under heavy political pressure - although the Conservative Party's legal advisers have told him that the arrangement was legal and proper.
All MPs are entitled to employ assistants to help with their constituency work and claim their salaries from the Commons fees office. Employing spouses is an accepted practice, but it is unusual that Mr Duncan Smith continued employing his wife for months after he was in a position to call on the services of party staff.
Rumours about Mr Duncan Smith's financial arrangements were being repeated around Westminster last week, prompting suspicions that somebody with inside knowledge was seeking to embarrass the Tory leader as he prepares for the party conference in Blackpool.
A spokesman denied yesterday that he had misused public funds, threatening legal action against anyone who suggested that he had. Nevertheless, Mr Duncan Smith may face questions about why he employed his wife when the couple were not in need of money, and when he had the resources of Conservative Central Office at his disposal.
Mrs Duncan Smith is from a wealthy family. She is the daughter of Lord Cottesloe, a hereditary peer, and a distant relative of Princess Diana.She worked as her husband's diary secretary while he was a shadow minister, before his election to the Conservative Party leadership two years ago. He continued paying her for another 16 months, until January this year. His diary and correspondence are now handled by party staff.