Evidence from Sir Peter Soulsby
118. In the meantime, I had contacted Sir Peter Soulsby, a
former local government colleague of Mr Vaz's, who was at one
time Leader of Leicester City Council and who had been alerted
to my inquiry by the articles in the press. Sir Peter had also
been approached by Councillor Mustapha Kamal, a Leicester city
councillor, to whom I had written as one of those whom The
Sunday Telegraph had indicated might be a potential witness
to my inquiry into the complaints against Mr Vaz.
Sir Peter agreed to come to my office to describe, from his own
experience, some of the relevant events and personalities involved.
119. At that meeting, on 23 March 2000, Sir Peter began by
sketching in the political background to the allegations against
Mr Vaz (Annex 117):
"SIR PETER SOULSBY: It would be helpful if I give you some
background, because I really ought to say right from the outset
that Keith and I have a long history of quite a difficult relationship
and it does date back initially to the period when he was selected
as the prospective candidate in Leicesterback in about
1985. At that time, shortly after he was selected, he obtained
a job with a councilfunded law centre, the Belgrave Law
Centre. It was something which I found very uncomfortable because
there were suggestions at the time that the job had not been properly
advertised and so on, and as Council LeaderI had in fact
been Council Leader since 1981for the Labour controlled
council, this was of some embarrassment to me, as the council
was funding the project. I was then further embarrassed when allegations
were made that he was operating as a solicitor without a proper
practising solicitor certificate. There were several complaints
from the Law Society and so on. Then complaints from political
opponents that the office was effectively being used as his campaign
headquarters. I found myself having to field some very difficult
questions for which I did not have proper answers. That was perhaps
the first strain in our relationship. The second strain in our
relationship was in 1987 when he was elected to Parliament when,
despite a number of requests from me and from the Town Clerk,
Keith delayed resigning from his post and continued to draw his
salary for, I think it was, about eight months after his election.
That, to me as Council Leader and to the Town Clerk, who was actually
the departmental head with responsibility for it, was a very difficult
period indeed. When he did eventually leave I was told that he
took the secretary with him and all the filing cabinets, which
clearly was a further embarrassment to me and a further strain
on our relationship. Over the subsequent years there was then
a series of issues which caused problems between us, particularly
with regard to his office, which he subsequently set up at 144
and 146 Uppingham Road in Leicester: problems with the planning
permission, with an unauthorised sign, more recently with his
electoral registration, his claims he lived at the office, when
it was suggested that he did nothe was not paying council
tax at the officea whole series of difficulties between
us. The first issue which raised Keith to a national profile,
you may recall, was the BCCI issue. While there are all sorts
of allegations still widely spread about that period, I have no
knowledge at all of the financial interest he might or might not
have had in that and certainly cannot comment on it. There have
actually, though, been a number of subsequent difficulties between
us. Keith has a very effective, some would say crude, constituency
machine which I would say to my knowledge, having been Council
Leader for the best part of 20 years, is almost unique in the
extent to which it sought to control the selection of council
candidates. You will see the relevance of this in a little while.
His mother was found a safe seat and there are several transcripts
and tapes which were taken of him discussing these issuesnot
taken with his knowledge, I hasten to say, nor with mine at the
timewhich show the extent to which he was seeking to control
the council candidates who came forward for the Labour Party from
the wards in his constituency. I shall explain the relevance of
this in a little while. Considerable concern was expressed over
constituency finances and about the way in which membership of
the party in Leicester East was paid for. I have records of the
auditors' reports, from that period and indeed have the transcript
of a discussion between the person who was the treasurer of the
constituency party and Ian Murray of The Times about the
period 1990 onwards, about the way in which the finances of the
constituency were organised.
MS FILKIN: What does that show?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I can certainly pass this to you. How can I
summarise it? It alleges that block memberships were purchased
in certain wards by people who in some cases were not aware that
they were being signed up to the Party. It suggests that Merlyn
Vaz, Keith's mother, who was by about this time a councillor for
one of the wards, was personally involved in paying cheques for
other people's memberships. I shall pass this over to you. The
relevance will become more evident in a minute. It is really that
in 1991 Merlyn Vaz, Keith's mother, became Chair of the Property
Committee of the City Council. That was after considerable pressure
from her and others for her to get that job. I tried to replace
her in 1992, but the person whom I tried to put in her place resigned
within a few days of having accepted it, under considerable pressure
from Keith and Merlyn. The relevance of all of this is that Leicester
has three constituencies. Leicester East provided more than its
share of councillors and Keith had an unusual degree of influence
over the councillors from that constituency and therefore over
the council and the Labour group in particular."
120. I have quoted Sir Peter's opening remarks at some length
since they are important for two reasons: first, they describe
the context in which, according to Sir Peter, the events covered
by the allegations against Mr Vaz took place; and second, they
illustrate Sir Peter's candour in describing his strained relationship
with Mr Vazan issue of relevance in assessing the respective
credibility of the two men.
121. Sir Peter then went on to speak directly of his knowledge
of the alleged demand by Mr Vaz for a payment from Mr Kapasi in
connection with a planning application:
"SIR PETER SOULSBY: As I say, his mother became Chair
of Property in 1991 and remained Chair through to 1993.
One of the most contentious issues in front of it [ie the Property
Services Committee] at that time was the development of the Hamilton
area of the city, which had been proceeding slowly in the years
up to that stage, but on which it was suggested the council should
permit the development, on its own land or on land which it could
sell to groups, of some places of worship. The crucial time when
this was under discussion was while Merlyn was Chair of the Property
Committee. There were two issues with regard to that land: one
was the disposal of property, the second issue would have been
the granting of planning permission to build there. The thing
which was of interest to Keith, and I have letters from him relating
to it from slightly after this period, but nonetheless showing
continuing interest over a considerable period of time, was the
disposal of the land to some particular groups. I shall again
pass you the letters so that you will see the context. Initially
it was intended by those involved with Property,
and Merlyn was one, that the disposal should be to four groups.
I and others insisted that we ran the process so that it could
be transparent and it could be clear as to how these people were
selected. The process resulted in three of the same four groups
being selected. Merlyn very openly took credit for that position
and it was intensely controversial. The two Conservative councillors
for that ward resigned and fought a by-election in 1993 or 1994
and it is at this period, with that level of influence by Keith
and his mother, that it was alleged to me by Jaffer Kapasi, one
of the successful groups, and a person whose name I cannot remember,
that Keith and Merlyn had asked for a contribution of £1,000
122. In response to questions from me Sir Peter said that
he had in his possession documentary evidence which would support
"SIR PETER SOULSBY: I have a file note to myself from
a slightly later period, April 1994. I think it must have followed
from some further conversation with Jaffer Kapasi, when I had
drawn this to the attention of the Town Clerk. However, I do know
in a subsequent discussion I had with Jaffer Kapasi that he was
not prepared to repeat that at that time.
MS FILKIN: But he definitely said it to you.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: He definitely said it to me; I am absolutely
certain of that.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: He has absolutely definitely said it to me.
I wrote a file note to myself and I drew it to the attention of
the Town Clerk and that was probably in writing and that will
probably be in the Town Clerk's files, if they go back that far.
MS FILKIN: Who was the Town Clerk at the time?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It was Arthur Price Jones. Arthur has now retired."
123. I then pursued further with Sir Peter the alleged purpose
of the payments by Mr Kapasi to Mr Vaz:
"MS FILKIN: Did Mr Kapasi say the £1,000 was for
being on the shortlist or for planning permission? Did he tell
you what the £1,000 was for?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It was something like, "Keith and Merlyn
have said to me 'We are getting you this land'".
MS FILKIN: For the land.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I am fairly sure it was that rather than planning
MS FILKIN: Rather than the planning permission itself.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: And "This is the least you can do"
or something to that effect.
MS FILKIN: Did he tell you it was actually paid to both of them
or to one of them?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: To the best of my recollection, he had paid
it directly to Merlyn.
MS FILKIN: Not to Keith.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Not to Keith, to the best of my recollection.
It was put to me that the request had been made jointly by one
or other and paid to one or other but I think it was Merlyn to
whom the money had actually been paid. I think the request was
for £1,000 and £500 had been paid."
124. I also asked Sir Peter whether he had evidence which
related to the allegation made to The Sunday Telegraph
that councillors in Leicester East were required to make contributions
to Mr Vaz's party machine or to Mr Vaz directly.
Sir Peter replied:
"SIR PETER SOULSBY: I do not have any evidence of that
except that they have complained about having to do it.
MS FILKIN: Complained to you.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: No, they just moan about the fact that they
are expected to contribute towards him. This was particularly
the case when Keith was operating both 144 and 146 Uppingham Road.
MS FILKIN: They complained that they had to fund that building.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: That they had to fund the building. One of
the buildings was the one he had problems with as an office, the
other was essentially his residence at that time.
MS FILKIN: Did they complain that they had to pay this money to
Keith Vaz or that they had to pay this money for this building?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think the complaint was actually that it
was not possible to distinguish between the constituency finances
and the personal finances of Keith. Had they been asked to contribute
towards the constituency finances, they would not necessarily
have objected. The objection was that payments were being made
in a way, and indeed the constituency finances were being operated
in a way, which was not transparent."
125. At the conclusion of the interview Sir Peter re-emphasised
the context in which his remarks needed to be understoodin
particular his relationship with Mr Vaz:
"I wanted to stress to you that there is this history
of difficulty between us and I would not want you to be surprised
about that if somebody challenged anything I had said later. That
126. At the meeting Sir Peter provided me with a number of
documents in illustration of the points he had made during the
extracts of transcripts made by Mr H Asmal of
taped conversations he had had with Mr Vaz and Mrs Vaz senior;
contemporary newspaper articles about a Labour Party
inquiry into allegations relating to the running of the Labour
Party in Leicester East;
a letter from Mr Vaz to Sir Peter about how Mr Vaz
believed Sir Peter should proceed as Leader of the Council;
a letter from Sir David Cooksey, the then Chairman
of the Audit Commission, informing Sir Peter that Mr Vaz had made
a complaint about him;
an interview of Mr B Sachdev conducted by Mr Ian Murray
of The Times about electoral registration; and
a copy of the auditors' report for Leicester East
Constituency Labour Party, dated 14 February 1991, signed by Ms
Pat Stuttard and Mr Paul Gosling.
127. Following our meeting, Sir Peter wrote to me on 17 April
(Annex 118) with further information, including a copy of his
handwritten note of his telephone conversation with Mr Kapasi,
made on 20 April 1994. The relevant extracts from the note read:
128. With the same letter Sir Peter enclosed a copy of a draft
letter to the then Town Clerk of Leicester City Council, Mr Arthur
Price Jones, reporting to him the gist of Sir Peter's conversation
with Mr Kapasi. The draft letter read as follows:
"Dear Mr Price-Jones,
As you know Cllr Merlyn Vaz is a member of the Property Services
Committee which amongst other things deals with the sale of City
Council land. She is also a member of both the Planning Committee
and its Development Control Sub-committee which deal with planning
applications in the City.
You are, of course, also aware that there are three religious
groups seeking to purchase land at a discount price from the Council
and that, if they succeed, they will subsequently seek planning
permission. These proposals are of course very controversial and
were the subject of the recent by-election campaign.
On Wednesday a colleague alleged that during that campaign and
subsequently, Cllr Merlyn Vaz and Keith Vaz MP repeatedly and
insistently solicited payment of £500 from each of the three
groups and that offers of payment of less than that have been,
it was alleged, rejected on the ground that if they could afford
to buy the land they could certainly afford to pay £500.
This morning I telephoned Mr Jaffar Kapasi of the Dawoodi Bohra
Jamaat who confirmed that he had been asked repeatedly for a 'campaign
I would welcome your advice on how to proceed.
22 April 1994
Councillor Peter Soulsby".
129. Sir Peter told me that he had been unable to find any
contemporaneous record of the identity of the colleague referred
to in the third paragraph of the draft letter, although it is
clear both from the context and Sir Peter's subsequent recollection
that the reference is to Mr Kapasi. Sir Peter added that, in the
period after writing to Mr Price-Jones, he had been preoccupied
by the "political upheaval" in the Council and had not
followed up the letter to see what, if any, action had been taken.
130. I wrote to the current Chief Executive of Leicester City
Council, Mr Rodney Green, to seek any further information he might
hold on the subject. He replied on 10 April 2000 (Annex 119) enclosing
a copy of Sir Peter's signed letter to Mr Price-Jones (which was
identical in wording to the draft) and stating that the Council's
archived file contained "no response or follow-up documents."
131. At Mr Green's suggestion, I also wrote to Mr Price-Jones
(Annex 120), who told me he had discussed the contents of Sir
Peter's letter to him with Sir Peter two days after it was received.
A file note, dated 28 April 1994, attached to a letter of 3 May
to me from Mr Price-Jones (Annex 121) recorded his advice to Sir
Peter that there was not "sufficient substance in what was
being said to justify referring the matter to the police."
Mr Price-Jones confirmed that his conclusion was that "no
formal action was warranted in the absence of more specific evidence
from persons willing to come forward on a formal basis".