Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report

Annex 117

Transcript of the tape of an interview by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards with Sir Peter Soulsby on Thursday 23 March 2000

  MS FILKIN: Thank you Sir Peter Soulsby for coming to see me; it is very good of you. I want to ask you, if I may, some questions about Mr Vaz, because I have had complaints that he took monies from people in Leicester and did not record those. Would you like to give me some background and then give me any information, any facts you have which relate to that?

  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 Leicester back in about 1985. At that time, shortly after he was selected he obtained a job with a council funded 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 Leader—I had in fact been Council Leader since 1981—for 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 not, he was not paying council tax at the office—a 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 issues—not taken with his knowledge, I hasten to say, nor with mine at the time—which 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. 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 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 from them. 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.

  MS FILKIN: You have been helpful in confirming the truth.

  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.

  MS FILKIN: Is that Price with a "y"?


  MS FILKIN: It will be in the files.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: It will be somewhere in the files. I took that note to myself on 21 April 1994.

  MS FILKIN: Do you have a copy of that?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes, I have a copy of my note. What I do not have, I could not actually find, is the letter I sent; I have the draft of the letter which is what I kept. Who wrote it and whether my secretary typed it at the time or I did, I really do not know, but I have the note which is from 21 April 1994.

  MS FILKIN: Whatever you have.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: It is in that context really which I told you the rest about the extent of Keith's influence and perceived influence over the councillors in Leicester East, over the constituency party in Leicester East and Merlyn's responsibility as Chair of the committee which was actually leading—

  MS FILKIN:—responsible for allocating the land?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY:—responsible for allocating the land and both for general policy and indeed for the specific. She would certainly have been involved in discussions directly with the leaders of those groups who wanted to buy this land.

  MS FILKIN: Did Mr Kapasi say the £1,000 was for being on the short list 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 permission.

  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.

  MS FILKIN: Are there any other specific instances of this that you are aware of?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Few of the other things I am aware of are as specific as that. It is perhaps also worth saying that my relationship with Keith deteriorated still further because, being aware of that, I was involved in removing Merlyn from the Chair of Property in 1993 after the AGM. Again I shall pass you by way of background a copy of the letter Keith wrote to me after that really instructing me what I ought to do in terms of appointing Merlyn to something else. You will find it quite "unusual" is the best way of describing it.

  MS FILKIN: I do not know how "unusual" applies to the leader of a council.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: It does give you something of an insight into the background and to the personality anyway. That actually was the time when I was appointed to the Audit Commission and on the day that I was appointed in 1994 Keith, according to Andrew Foster, actually phoned the Commission to say that I was a most untrustworthy person and ought not to be given any confidential information, etcetera, etcetera. I have, again which I shall pass to you, a letter from the then Chair, Sir David Cooksey, saying, "You may well be aware that the Commission has received a complaint about your activities from Keith Vaz" and he goes on. I had to go to explain the situation, with a lot more of the background even than I am able to give to you, to him at that time. It was really quite astonishing. It did result in a lot of national coverage and an investigation by the Labour Party into a whole range of things, a number of them financial, but essentially things to do with the way in which the Labour Party in Leicester East was run, on which Claire Ward, now a Member of Parliament sat; she was a representative of the National Executive. I know that Claire was very unhappy about the way in which the investigation was conducted and did subsequently press for it to be properly completed. It was actually stopped after the first day and although the whole inquiry team had arranged to come back the following week, they never re-emerged.

  MS FILKIN: Why do you think that was?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I can only speculate; Claire could perhaps tell you more if you were to ask her because she has been a member of the NEC and I know she tried to raise the issue with the NEC and ask why it was stopped. Certainly informed guesses at the time were that it was producing things which were very embarrassing to the Party. I also recall actually visiting what was then Walworth Road headquarters to speak to one of the Labour Party's officers and being told that Keith had been virtually camping on the doorstep trying to get things stopped. He did have one or two influential friends who were determined that the inquiry was never ever going to be completed. I do not think it was in any sense completed and certainly never reported. A number of the things I have mentioned to you and many others were brought to its attention at the time. In fact Claire wrote to the then General Secretary of the Party complaining about the abuse she had received from Keith subsequent to the inquiry and I have copies of that but you might like to ask Claire, to follow up that with Claire.


  SIR PETER SOULSBY: The next issue I really just wanted to mention to you was really just to raise a question with you, because I actually do not know whether there is any impropriety involved in this. Keith became the Chairman, which was the description he gave himself, of City 2020, which was something which was established while he was Opposition spokesman, Shadow Minister for Planning and Regeneration, between 1992 and 1997. It was essentially a road show which travelled around the country. It was not taken particularly seriously, I have to say, but it travelled round the country. Very recently, I think it was September of last year, it published that book which I think it is unlikely is a book for sale. It is a publication.

  MS FILKIN: So you think it was sponsored?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think it has been sponsored and I think the whole of City 2020 was sponsored.

  MS FILKIN: If it was sponsored, to answer the question you posed, and Keith Vaz got paid for it, then he has to register.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I would not know for certain.

  MS FILKIN: If there is any way in which he might have benefited from help or from publicity ...

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: What I would suggest, and I really know little more beyond what I have told you, is that it is just that there was such an initiative, that it was quite an active initiative, it involved a lot of travel, a number of meetings—it has produced a publication which is quite an expensive publication—and I am not aware, which does not mean to say it has not but I am not aware, that any accounts have ever been published of where the money came from or how it was spent. While there may be such accounts and there may be no personal benefit, no difficulty at all with it, I think that it may be worth while—

  MS FILKIN: Does it have an office?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I do not know; it is a somewhat nebulous organisation as far as I am aware. It may be worth asking the other members of the shadow ministerial team from that period.

  MS FILKIN: Anybody in particular?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think it may be worth particularly talking perhaps to Frank Dobson and asking him and Hilary Armstrong.

  MS FILKIN: What are you suggesting they should be asked?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: It may be worth asking them whether they are aware of how this 2020 initiative was funded and on what the money was spent and indeed whether they have ever had concerns about these monies.

  MS FILKIN: One of the other allegations which I have put to him in relation to this matter is an allegation that councillors in Leicester East were required to make contributions to Keith Vaz's party machine or to Keith Vaz directly over a period of time and most of them did; not all of them, but most of them. Do you have any evidence of that?

  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.

  MS FILKIN: Who complained about that to you directly? Who have you heard say that?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Let me see. I know that Margaret has moaned about it. Who else? The other person who used to complain about these sorts of practices was Paul Sood but unfortunately he is dead. Kamal is the most obvious one who comes to mind.

  MS FILKIN: He has told me that.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: He says he complained about it at the time.

  MS FILKIN: I wondered whether there was anybody else who complained to you.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: No, but they would be unlikely to, given the history.

  MS FILKIN: Yes, I understand.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Most of them were recruited to the enemy as it were.

  MS FILKIN: I take the point. Anything else you can think of?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think those are the only things I can think of. There are other things I am aware of, but I do not think any of them are the sort of things which I could provide you with support for.

  MS FILKIN: That has been terribly helpful. If I could have any of those pieces of paper that would also be very supportive.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes, of course. Let me tell you what I have over here which might be of interest to you.

  MS FILKIN: You have copies.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes. These are really just by way of background. I told you that there were transcripts of tapes, of conversations with Keith and these provide some flavour at least. You are welcome to hear the whole tape, for what it is worth.

  MS FILKIN: Who has the tape?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I have a copy of the tape. It was made by a Councillor Hanif Asmal.

  MS FILKIN: Can you spell that?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: A-S-M-A-L. First name H-A-N-I-F. He made them surreptitiously during telephone calls.

  MS FILKIN: Is he still about?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I should say former councillor. He was a councillor at the time in Leicester East. He is still around in Leicester certainly, yes.

  MS FILKIN: Would he be willing to sign a transcript of the tape to say that he made it?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think he did something of the sort for the Sunday Times; no, the Despatches programme, because Despatches used it quite extensively. That was in November of 1995, something like that.


  SIR PETER SOULSBY: These are just by way of extracts and obviously they are taken out of context but nonetheless I think they do reflect the ... This is the report which Paul Gosling and Pat Stoddart produced as the auditors for Leicester East about their concerns about the way in which the constituency funds were being operated. That was back in 1991 to my knowledge and it is perhaps only of interest as background.

  MS FILKIN: It is background.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Of interest as background rather than directly. Again as background is the transcript of an interview between Bharat Sachdev, who was constituency treasurer in Leicester East for quite a short period of time, with Ian Murray of The Times. That extract perhaps gives some indication of motivation which could be behind Keith's wish to see three Asian groups having places of worship in Hamilton, which produced that headline in The Sun. Those are the ... [Reading] Those are the minutes of Leicester City Planning Committee and the other side has the Property Committee which is the one Merlyn was Chair of and that is the period while she was in the Chair of it. This is a copy and I did not actually check back on the originals; they are just ones I have taken out. Those were decisions which were taken at that time.

  MS FILKIN: I see. That was this batch going back to square one.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: That is right. Letter from Keith Vaz to the Director of Resources, who was responsible for property, about the land at Hamilton. You will see there is an element there of Keith facing both ways on it because he is clearly also writing that for an audience of constituents who are very hostile to it. You will see that at the end it says something about "subject to local people agreeing", when in fact local people were very much not agreeing with it - which was not to say that it was not in many respects quite an admirable scheme to try to produce a site where you get a Hindu, a Muslim and a Sikh group with places of worship on the same site; it is very admirable in many respects. It is just—

  MS FILKIN:—how you do it?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY:—one has to doubt the motivation and the method of achieving it. I do not think that adds very much. That was just a letter from David Cooksey.

  MS FILKIN: I see; that is interesting.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: This is one of the most astonishing letters I have ever received in my life, the one I referred to where Keith as a Member of Parliament seeks to tell me what to do. I recommend you read it at your leisure. It has been much quoted.

  MS FILKIN: I shall. "I hope its contents will also be kept confidential".

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I actually wrote back to him a very polite letter about three paragraphs long and just sort of said—

  MS FILKIN: Go away.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: There is a bit in there where Keith says "I hope you won't consider this a cheek".

  MS FILKIN: You said, "But I do".

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Or words to that effect, though I said it rather more politely than that.

  MS FILKIN: "And my mother will chair the committee".

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes. This is a Member of Parliament to a council leader; quite astonishing. And I had just removed her from the Chair of the Property Committee because I felt that what she was getting involved in was improper. So he wanted me to create another committee specially for her.

  MS FILKIN: For her to chair?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: You will see he makes suggestions for some of his other friends as well, creating an economic committee for Culdipp Bhatbi and Gordhan Parmar, making one of them Lord Mayor, and the other a roving ambassador.

  MS FILKIN: That was another thing I was going to ask about. A number of these people like Mr Kapasi have honours and have been made Deputy Lord Lieutenant or something.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes. I have not heard it from them directly but it is widely said in Leicester that both Atwal and Kapasi got their honours as a result of Keith's intervention. I have to stress that I have not heard that directly from either of them. That is just "Everybody says Keith did it". It does not mean to say he had any involvement at all.

  MS FILKIN: Or that he did anything improper.


  MS FILKIN: He might have done it because he thought they deserved it.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Absolutely. Atwal's honour came much earlier; it may have been in the late 1980s or early 1990s.

  MS FILKIN: You have never heard any of them saying that they had had to provide money for that.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: No, no, I have not heard anything like that, although Atwal was a very close confidant of Keith's in the late 1980s and indeed I went with Keith to visit him when there was a threat of a Sikh candidate standing against Keith, because Atwal is a Sikh, before what must have been Keith's second general election. Was it 1987?

  MS FILKIN: 1987 and then in 1990; there is another one, 1993 or something like that.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Whichever one it is. It cannot have been quite as late as that. Whenever it was. In the early 1990s I went with Keith and it was very clear that there was a very close relationship because I was actually taken to Atwal's house late at night to try to persuade him, for us together to try to persuade him not to allow a Sikh to stand. There was clearly a very close friendship, but again not necessarily anything improper. What else do I have? A few more bits from the tape which provide some background and finally again one of many press cuttings I have, just to give you one which summarises some of the difficulties between Keith and myself. Again I stress that I am certainly not going to be seen by others as being impartial, because I have had a very long series of difficulties.

  MS FILKIN: Yes, I am just looking for the truth. Thank you for telling me properly about the context, because that is obviously proper that you have done that. Obviously what I want are facts and that is what you have done.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: That is certainly what I have sought to do. 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 is all.

  MS FILKIN: No, no. I am very grateful to you. If there is anybody to whom afterwards you think it might be worth me writing and asking what they know, it is quite clear to me from what has happened already that people are not replying to my letters or not everybody is replying to my letters themselves in a straightforward way. It is all being in some ways orchestrated. That may be perfectly benign, that is people talking to each other and being supportive of each other. It may not be.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: You mentioned you had had contact with Hanif Asmal. The other person I have noted, apart from the ones I have already mentioned, is one of the people who signed that audit report with Paul Gosling.

  MS FILKIN: Yes. He has made a complaint to me.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Has he now?

  MS FILKIN: So I have this complaint.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Very reliable, very well respected journalist and I am sure he will be utterly straight. Two there might be less interest in talking to would be Colin Hall and Maralyn Hall. I do not have their addresses but they were both very active in Leicester East's politics for many years.

  MS FILKIN: Do you think you might have an address for them?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: I can get it.

  MS FILKIN: Could you?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes; quite easily. Across the political divide, the only two who occur to me, certainly on the Hamilton issue, would be Councillor Roman Skuplak. S-K-U-P-L-A-K. He is actually leader of the Conservative group on the City Council.

  MS FILKIN: Is he leader at the moment?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: He is the current leader and it was he and John Mugglestone who resigned

  MS FILKIN: Because of what happened.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Because of the, as they saw it, imposition of these places of worship within their ward. They fought a by-election and won it overwhelmingly.

  MS FILKIN: Are they likely to have any evidence that money was given to achieve this?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: What they might have done, would be to have checked the election expenses at the time of their election. They may or may not.

  MS FILKIN: It might be worth writing to them.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: It might be worth it.

  MS FILKIN: What was the other one called?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: John Mugglestone. M-U-G-G-L-E-S-T-O-N-E.

  MS FILKIN: Is he still a councillor?

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes, they are both.

  MS FILKIN: So I can write to them at the Town Hall.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Those are the only names which immediately come to mind, apart from the ones you have mentioned..

  MS FILKIN: Thank you very much indeed. I am sorry to take your time.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: It is quite all right.

  MS FILKIN: That is immensely helpful.

  SIR PETER SOULSBY: Thank you for that.

  MS FILKIN: Thank you.

  (Agreed as correct by Sir Peter Soulsby, 14 July 2000)

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