Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 940 - 959)



Mr Williams

  940. When you joined it, that I assume was at Keith's request, that you became a director?
  (Ms Fernandes) Yes.

  941. It was, as we understand it, a notional thing at that stage. What was the declared objective of the company at that stage?
  (Ms Fernandes) It was always a public relations and publishing company. It was an off-the-shelf company and I bought it.

  942. Somewhere in the records I seem to recollect it being also intended to receive income your husband might channel into the company originally.
  (Ms Fernandes) Where? In the objects?

  943. Have I got that right, Commissioner? Yes.
  (Ms Fernandes) I do not think so. Not as far as I am aware.

  944. It was put in writing to the previous Commissioner, so the Commissioner tells me. Can we clarify this?
  (Ms Filkin) It is in the documents. I will look at it. Mr Vaz has said to me that, because he lost the radio job as he said this morning, other income did not go through the company but the purpose of the establishment of the company, according to his letter to my predecessor, was to take his outside earnings from other than his parliamentary salary.

  945. Perhaps you were not aware of that?
  (Ms Fernandes) Certainly from the time I took over and started working at that company, he did not receive any outside earnings.

  946. Do we, Commissioner, know whether it was a stated objective of the company or was it just—
  (Ms Filkin) He said he set it up for that purpose.

  947. When you took over the company, you did not alter the declared objectives of the company at all?
  (Ms Fernandes) No.

  Mr Williams: What I am trying to get at, there is a difference from what was told the previous Commission and what the stated objectives of the company were.

Mr Bottomley

  948. If I can help, is it possible that Keith Vaz may have said to the previous Commissioner, "The intention for the use of the company is this, that and the other", but that was not actually written down as part of the objects of the company?
  (Ms Fernandes) I cannot comment on something I do not know anything about. As far as I am aware, this was a public relations and publishing company. It had clear objectives.

Mr Williams

  949. Were you aware that Keith had told the Commissioner this was its purpose?
  (Ms Fernandes) No, I am not aware.

  950. That leaves only one other person who would have known about the company, and that is the secretary?
  (Ms Fernandes) Mrs Vaz.

  951. That would have been Mrs Vaz?
  (Ms Fernandes) Yes. I do not want to comment on what she knows or does not know.

  952. I am trying to think of who else could have been aware of the scenario. You seem to have been quite taken aback by the suggestion that it was the purpose, although it is what the previous Commissioner had been told was the purpose—quite openly, may I say, it did not have to be wrung out of your husband, it was what he stated. What I am trying to get at is the continuum situation, how far that was an objective which therefore would mean that if you took it on without changing anything it alters the perception of it as far as this Committee is concerned and its access to documents is concerned, and it would entitle us to ask for access beyond the stage of 1996 because the objectives had not changed; the declared objectives had not changed. You see what I am saying?
  (Ms Fernandes) I do not quite actually, to be quite honest.

  953. I was thinking as I was going along and I was not thinking clearly. Your position is that once you took it over, it ceased really to be anything to do with your husband, and Mr Vaz told the Commissioner in 1996 the purpose of Mapesbury Communications, which Mr Vaz was then setting up, was to receive his earnings from outside Parliament and to devote the resulting income towards expenditure for supporting his parliamentary office. That is what he openly declared.
  (Ms Fernandes) I know nothing about that, you will have to ask Mr Vaz about that.

  954. Where it presents us with a slight problem is, no one wants to probe and interfere in your personal business activities, but if that is the purpose for which the company was set up and if you then took it over without changing the purposes of the company—if they were stated in the objectives, I have not seen them—
  (Ms Fernandes) The way I understand the purpose of the company is what is its ability, what it is allowed to do, in a sense. (After consulting solicitor) Mr Conway is saying what you might be doing is confusing what he wanted from the company with what the objectives of the company are.

  Mr Williams: All we knew about it was what we had in the register.

Mr Bottomley

  955. Can I ask Mr Conway a question which might be helpful. To your knowledge, did the written clauses of the company constitution have to be changed when, in effect, Maria Fernandes started using it rather than Keith Vaz using it?
  (Mr Conway) I am afraid to say that until your colleague raised this point a couple of minutes ago, I was completely unaware of it. The legal objects of the company are very broad, and they are that it carries on business as a general commercial company, which is a sort of catchment. That is point one. It is a catchment, it is a small trading company. I think what your colleague was raising were the intentions of individuals, which is not a legal position. I think that is where the confusion has arisen.

Mr Williams

  956. But you can see it confronts us with a difficult position now, because, as I say, we do not want to intrude on your private interests, but here we have a company set up where this Committee's predecessor and the Commissioner were told clearly what its intentions were by the person who set it up. It was then taken over by someone else, and clearly the objectives that were stated were wide enough to enable it to do what Mr Vaz has stated. Therefore, they still remain wide enough to do what Mr Vaz has stated. Therefore, they still are of interest to this Committee. That is the point I am trying to establish.
  (Ms Fernandes) Yes. If that is your concern, I will happily take that back to my accountants and ask them to verify that. Would that satisfy you?

Mr Bottomley

  957. Essentially, I think what would be helpful would be to have confirmation that since about 1996 or—
  (Mr Conway) Sorry, forgive me for interrupting, if I may. It may look like my letter to the Committee a couple of days ago was being evasive. It was not intended to be, because we really did not know exactly what you were wanting. It is a big, broad picture. Having come here now, you are being much more specific, which is enabling us hopefully to help you and provide you with what you want. Could I take a note of exactly what it is you want?

  958. It may vary a bit, and I suspect that detailed consideration of what the Commissioner put earlier on, both to Mr Vaz, if that is available to you, and to the company, would be helpful. As far as I am concerned, there are two things. One is whether the intention that Mr Vaz declared to the then Commissioner was consistent with what the company ought to be doing, and whether there is any record of what actually happened. On that we have been told that the record is not available, except that the calendar enterprise was not successful and that the media earnings which were anticipated did not happen. That is one part. A second part is whether in the company since, say, around 1996 anything linked to Mr Keith Vaz has been going through the company, because if there is a substantiated declaration that that has not happened, and that the accounts of the company cannot include any payments that might be linked to the main part of our inquiry, that again would be helpful to the Committee. It is possible that there are some detailed points that the Commissioner has put either to Mr Vaz, or to the company or to Maria Fernandes which need not detain us now, and that can be confirmed. There are two points, I think. Before 1996 did Mr Vaz have the company basically for his use, is useful information available? Secondly, post 1996 is there anything linked to Keith Vaz in the company flows of monies in or out? That sums it up.
  (Ms Fernandes) I am happy to go away and provide that information, if I can.

  Mr Williams: That is basically exactly what we want. It now opens up the possibility, now you understand. Sorry if the written request has not been as clear as you might have wished.

  Mr Bruce: Can I ask a supplementary. Was there a hiatus? Was there a hiatus between the completion, if you like, of the calendar business, the Keith Vaz business and your taking it over? Indeed, was there an annual account in that period?


  959. There is also this question of this calendar of 1999 for Mr Vaz, the calendar produced for 1999, which is rather later.
  (Mrs Filkin) And registration through until 1999 of a calendar.
  (Ms Fernandes) Sorry, I do not understand.

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