Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Clerk of the Committee on Standards and Privileges from Mr Geoffrey Bindman, Bindman & Partners, Solicitors

1.  In the hope of assisting the Committee to conclude this matter, I am submitting some further observations on behalf of Mr Vaz to deal with further material which has emerged since my response of 8 January 2001 to the Commissioner's draft memorandum. Because time may be short, Mr Vaz has asked me to send a copy separately to each member of the Committee.

2.  Since 8 January the Commissioner's final memorandum has been delivered to the Committee and the Committee has heard oral evidence from:

    Mr Vaz (twice)
    Mr Jaffer Kapasi
    Mr Sarosh Zaiwalla
    Sir Peter Soulsby
    Mr Brian Brown
    Ms Maria Fernandes

3.  In addition the Chairman and Clerk have met:

    Ms Maria Fernandes
    Mr Keith Bennett

4.  The Committee has also received further documentary evidence. This will be mentioned in relation to the separate complaints considered in this letter.

Complaints not upheld by the Commissioner

5.  In her memorandum, the Commissioner does not uphold the complaints referred to in paras. 409 to 442.

6.  In relation to the complaints not upheld, the Committee has referred to only one issue in its subsequent questioning of witnesses, namely the alleged payment to Mr Vaz of sums of money by Mr Zaiwalla which were not declared on the Register. Mr Zaiwalla and Mr Brown were questioned on this issue as was Mr Vaz himself. Both Mr Zaiwalla and Mr Vaz repeated their previous evidence that no payments had been made to Mr Vaz for his personal benefit and they denied explicitly the allegation by Mr Brown, which he repeated to the Committee, that he had drawn a cash sum of £1000 at the request of Mr Zaiwalla and handed an envelope containing this sum to Mr Vaz in Mr Zaiwalla's office.

7.  The Commissioner rejected this complaint on the ground that the evidence was inconclusive, given that it was contradictory and lacked corroboration (para. 409) Mr Vaz was able to trace his personal bank statements for the relevant period and produced them to the Chairman of the Committee and to Mr Sandall. They demonstrated that no payment of the sum in question was made into his bank account at that time. No new evidence has supported the complaint. The Committee should accept the Commissioner's rejection and Mr Vaz is entitled to be exonerated.

8.  The only other comment which has to be made about paras. 409 to 442 is that they contain unjustified criticisms of Mr Vaz and prejudicial suggestions that even though complaints have not been upheld there is possible wrongdoing which the Commissioner has failed to establish. (see for example para. 432). The Committee should remove these criticisms from its published report. They are defamatory allegations which should not be made under the cloak of Parliamentary privilege. If a complaint is not proved Mr Vaz is entitled to have it dismissed. There is no room for a "not proven" verdict which unfairly leaves Mr Vaz under suspicion notwithstanding that the Commissioner has concluded in his favour.

Complaint upheld by the Commissioner

9.  The Commissioner's conclusion that Mr Vaz breached a duty to disclose an interest in recommending Mr Zaiwalla for an honour (paras. 443 to 447) is unsustainable for the reasons given in my letter of 12 February. To summarise these reasons:

  • The evidence that either of the two alleged payments relied on by the Commissioner was in fact made or was made to the knowledge of or for the benefit of Mr Vaz is at best inconclusive.

  • The Commissioner has accepted that in any event neither payment was registrable or if one of them was registrable that Mr Vaz was entitled to assume it was not (paras. 312 and 316).

  • The Commissioner accepts that there is no evidence that Mr Vaz offered to recommend Mr Zaiwalla for an honour in return for benefits received or expected (para. 435).

  • The two payments, even if made as claimed by the Commissioner, do not amount to a "financial relationship" or in any case were far too remote in amount (too small to be registrable), proximity (2 and 3 years), or character (payments to third parties not for personal benefit) to require disclosure in the circumstances under consideration.

  • The case of Mr Tony Baldry MP is completely different in that the amount was substantial; the proximity of payment was only 12 days before the recommendation; and its character was a formally agreed personal loan.

Inquiries which the Commissioner considers incomplete

10.  I comment on the issues listed by the Commissioner under the heading "Inquiries incomplete" (paras. 448 to 501 and 505).

(a) Mapesbury Communications

11.  There was no complaint about this company. The issue only arose because the Commissioner decided to investigate it. Mr Vaz discussed the company with two registrars and with Sir Gordon Downey because he was concerned to act properly (see Appendix A to Annex 39 to the Commissioner's report). Evidence from two firms of accountants who audited the company and from Mr Vaz, as well as Mr Vaz's own evidence, shows positively that the company made no payments to Mr Vaz or his office.

12.  The company provided the Chairman of the Committee with a list of its clients and payments over £1000. Ms Fernandes swore an affidavit confirming that Mr Zaiwalla was neither a client of the company nor the recipient of any payment from the company. A report on the company was commissioned and given to the Chairman.

13.  Mr Vaz did not use revenue from Mapesbury to support his Parliamentary office and there is no evidence that he did so. He is plainly entitled to have any allegation or complaint that he acted improperly in relation to Mapesbury rejected without criticism.

(b) The calendars

14.  There is no reference to the calendars among the "inquiries not completed" in para. 505 of the Commissioner's report and it is uncertain whether there is any outstanding complaint or issue relating to them. It is abundantly clear from my letter to the Commissioner of 17 July 2000 that there were two kinds of calendar and it is quite plain that Mr Vaz acted correctly in relation to both of them. Paras. 455 to 458 do not suggest any outstanding doubt on the part of the Commissioner as to the propriety of Mr Vaz's conduct—they merely complain about the alleged lack of co-operation which Mr Vaz (and I) utterly deny. Mr Vaz registered the community calendars from 1995 and 1997and the single donation he received in 1999 for the purpose of his constituency calendar.

(c) Mr Kapasi

15.  The Committee may well be puzzled by the allegations said to have been made by Mr Kapasi to journalists and to Sir Peter Soulsby but Mr Kapasi's subsequent retractions in statutory declarations and in his oral evidence, the categorical denial by Mr Vaz and two of the three religious organisations, and the absence of any corroboration, rule out any possibility of upholding the allegations or giving them any credence whatsoever.

16.  Furthermore, the oral evidence of Sir Peter Soulsby weakens the force of his earlier evidence in his interview by the Commissioner as quoted in her report (paras. 118 to 131) because he now says that Mr Kapasi did not claim that Mr Vaz or his mother asked for money in return for land or a planning permission (see transcript, paras. 431 to 433). Asking for contributions to Party funds without any quid pro quo obviously need not involve any impropriety. Also the memoranda by Mr Price-Jones, which have now been disclosed, show that the latter considered after consulting a CID contract informally that there was no real evidence of corruption. The CID contact also wisely referred to the obscurity of motives in such cases, an important point where strong political rivalries are engaged.

17.  The Committee will also have in mind that these allegations are extremely serious because they amount to criminal offences. Plainly they are not proved at all, let alone to the criminal standard, and Mr Vaz is entitled to be wholly exonerated.

(d) Mr Kamal

18.  Mr Kamal alleged that he made payments of £8 a month to Mr Vaz for four years from around 1987/8. Mr Kamal's own bank has confirmed that payments of £8 a month (with an initial payment of £16) were made for the period October 1988 to January 1990 (annex 116 to the Commissioner's report) by standing order to the Leicester East Labour Party. There is no evidence whatsoever that Mr Kamal's payments to the Labour Party were paid to or otherwise benefited Mr Vaz. The reference by the Commissioner to the "uncertainty which persists over the purpose of Mr Kamal's monthly payments" (the last of which was made more than 11 years ago!) cannot possibly in common sense reflect adversely on Mr Vaz. The criticism in para. 471 is unwarranted and Mr Vaz is plainly entitled to have this complaint categorically rejected.

(e) Improper pressure on witnesses

19.  The Commissioner's speculations as to who sent Mr Kamal's letter to Mr Hall and as to the source of Mr Kamal's anxiety fail to take account of the evidence that Mr Kamal himself handed out at least one copy of his letter to a colleague of Mr Hall. The essential point, however, is that there is not a shred of evidence that Mr Vaz was implicated in the actions of Mr Hall and Mr Vaz is therefore entitled to be cleared categorically of any suggestion of improper pressure.

(f) Registration of property

20.  Mr Vaz has plainly acted in good faith in relation to the properties in question and has already taken steps to fulfil any registration requirements.

(g) Mr Attwal

21.  The Committee will recall that this complaint did not come from Mr Attwal but was an allegation made by a Sunday Telegraph journalist. Mr Vaz has done his best to provide independent verification of the fact that he did not personally receive any donation from Mr Attwal which he himself has made clear was made to the Labour Party. Councillor Thomas confirmed in a letter dated 24 March 2000 (appendix 3 to Mr Vaz's response dated 8 January 2001 to the Commissioner's draft report) that Mr Attwal's cheque in 1992 or 1993 was payable to the Labour Party and was collected personally by him. I made it clear to the Committee on 13 February 2001 that I did not send the letter to the Commissioner with my letter of 5 July 2000 because I thought she already had a copy. The Commissioner in turn agreed that she should have pointed out that she had not seen Councillor Thomas' letter in July when she read the reference to it. Mr Vaz has tried to obtain confirmation that Mr Attwal's donation in 1993 did not go into his bank account and a letter from his bank is enclosed.

22.  In short, there is ample evidence that Mr Attwal's donations were to the Labour Party and no evidence whatsoever that Mr Vaz or his Parliamentary office received any benefit from them. The Commissioner said in para. 381 of her draft report that Mr Vaz was entitled to be given "the benefit of the doubt" in relation to this allegation. That is incorrect. He is plainly entitled to be completely exonerated.

(h) The "50 Club"

23.  In para. 505 the Commissioner refers to an uncompleted inquiry about this constituency fund-raising club but makes no reference to it in her earlier discussion of these inquiries in paras. 448 to 501. It is therefore hard to understand why she has not rejected it. There is no evidence of any kind that Mr Vaz received any benefit from the fund raising club or that it was under his control. Indeed he has given evidence that he was himself a donor to the club. He is once more plainly entitled to be exonerated of this allegation and the Commissioner has produced no reason to the contrary.

24.  Finally, the Committee is respectfully reminded of the submissions in Mr Vaz's response of 8 January as to material in the Commissioner's draft memorandum, for the most part repeated in her final draft memorandum to the Committee, which is defamatory, prejudicial, and irrelevant. This material should be removed from the Committee's published report. It is unfair to Mr Vaz and perhaps more importantly to third parties including his mother that such material should be published under the protection of Parliamentary privilege. The Commissioner did not respond to the submissions made on 8 January and evidently left the matter for the Committee to resolve. Mr Vaz is willing to make further submissions on this issue should the Committee require them and I will myself gladly go through the text with Mr Sandall to identify the passages to which objection is taken, if they are not already clear.

22 February 2001

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