Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 380 - 399)



  380. Mr Kapasi discussed this with you—the actual payment and the reason for it?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Only insofar as he said he had been asked for the money as a "campaign contribution"—that was the phrase he used.

  381. Was he embarrassed to tell you this?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, at the time he was telling me I think he was quite angry with Keith, and I think felt he had been let down by Keith with regard to Keith's lack of support for another councillor, a chap who was Deputy Leader at the time. That is what motivated him to contact me at that stage and complain about what he felt Keith was doing with this other councillor and to add, "...and we paid him £500".

  382. Have you had any other allegations of payments of this kind for the sale of the land?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) None that I can substantiate.

Mr Foster

  383. When you were first told about this proposed campaign fund contribution being required, you did not write to anybody at that time. Why was that so?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) As I have explained to the Chairman, at that stage there was no indication a payment had actually been made and I felt I had done sufficient to protect the Council's interests by ensuring that Merlyn Vaz, Keith's mother, was no longer in a position to chair the committee dealing with the issue.

  384. You did not, did you, because you left her on the committee. That is what I do not quite understand. She remained, as you say, influential on the committee that was going to make decisions?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes, but you have to understand the difficulties of a Leader of the City Council. Unlike a Prime Minister, Leader of a Council is not in a position to say, "You will do this job", "You will do that job", and "You will do the other job". Certainly in Leicester City Council, it has long been a question of balancing competing interests and seeking to survive the next group annual general meeting, because council leaders only have a one-year term of contract, as it were. I felt sufficient had been done to move Merlyn from the Chair; and at that stage did not feel there was very much I could do about the more substantial allegation, particularly given (and if you see the transcript you will see the discussion with the Commissioner) the long history of difficulties that I have had with Keith where matters of propriety have been an issue between us.

  385. Was it not a compromise with propriety? You allow the woman to remain on the Committee and be able to make decisions, even when you believe she is on the make, or may be on the make?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I believe I had done quite sufficient to protect the Council's interest, and also made sure that the member who was in the Chair of the Committee was well able to respond robustly to any pressures.

  386. Did you mention your concerns to the person who was the Chairman of the Committee?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Not with regard to that, no.

  387. Why did you not actually approach your Council colleague, Mrs Vaz, and ask her or just comment that this allegation had been made?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Again, it is very difficult to explain to those who are not involved just how difficult the process is of holding together a political group on the City Council, and the need to balance the competing factions within a group and to maintain goodwill within a very tight group of people, a very small group of people. I believe that I had done sufficient to protect the interests of the Council at that stage. I believe that by putting it on the record, as I subsequently did, I did enough to make sure the officers were aware that this was an area they needed to keep a very close eye on.

  388. And presumably you, as Leader, should keep a close eye on?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Absolutely so.

  389. When it came to that subsequent occasion when you were told again—and in your letter you say: "This morning I telephoned Mr Kapasi who confirmed that he had been asked repeatedly for a campaign contribution ..."—did he volunteer that or did you ask him?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) He had called me I think on the previous day, and it should be clear from the notes, but he had certainly called me prior to that. He had also spoken to Bhupen Dave who was the Deputy Leader at the time and said something similar. I returned the call and, in the course of the conversation, he complained about what was happening to Bhupen Dave and what he saw as his [Keith Vaz] role in that, and then added the information about the £500 which he said he had paid.

  390. He said that to you: "And, by the way, I paid that money"?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes.

  391. You said he was angry with Keith?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) He was, yes.

  392. Is he the sort of man you found to be truthful in the past?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Entirely so, yes. As I say, he is a leading member of the Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat, which is a Muslim group—it is a group essentially of traders and business people—and he has a very high standing in the local community and is also involved in a number of inter-faith activities in the City. I have the highest regard for him.

  393. You now know him to be a liar because you have no doubt had the opportunity to read the transcripts of his interview last week?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, I have not.[1]

  394. You have not had an opportunity, I am sorry. You have read the press reports, have you, of the comments he had made to the press about this incident?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes.

  395. If he had changed his mind would that be a surprise to you in view of your knowledge of this man?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, it would not be a surprise. I am well aware from my experience of the extent to which it is possible for people in the sort of position Mr Kapasi is in, in the City, to find themselves under intolerable pressure with regard to what they said about incidents of this sort.

  396. After the second occasion, when you were told on this date in April of 1994, did it occur to you to do anything more than about Mrs Vaz, who was still a member of the Council, still involved in the Property Committee, having now been told she had actually taken cash? Did you think that was sufficient, simply to tell an officer?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes, I did at that stage. As I have explained earlier on, it was a time of very considerable political turmoil in the Labour group, and indeed I lost leadership of the Council quite shortly after that. I put it on the record; I told the appropriate officer of the Council and, frankly, from then on had a lot of things to deal with.

Mr Campbell-Savours

  397. You used the term before "intolerable pressure": what do you mean by that? Be frank.
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) There have been a number of occasions when members of the community in Leicester, particularly members of the Asian community, have been critical of Keith and have made statements criticising Keith and subsequently changed the position they have taken in public. Indeed, there were a number of occasions around this time I am talking about when people changed their positions. How the trick is achieved, I do not know, but it has happened on a number of occasions.

  398. You regard Mr Kapasi as an honourable man?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I do, yes.

  399. Would you expect him to change his position on oath?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, I would not.

1   Note by witness: The reason being that they have not been made available to me. Back

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