Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner
for Standards from Mr Geoffrey Bindman, Bindman & Partners,
Thank you for your letter of 19 May. Since receiving
it, I have also read my client's letter to you of 21 May and your
reply of 23 May, a copy of which you have kindly sent me. Mr Vaz
has asked me to say in relation to the latter that he has not
passed or shown Mr Kamal's letter to any person other than myself.
He does not know how Mr Kamal's letter came into the possession
of Mr Hall or what provoked Mr Hall's letter of 8 May to Mr Kamal.
The purpose of this letter is to review the
course of your investigation and make submissions as to what should
happen now. Before turning to those matters, however, I will comment
briefly on your letter to me of 19 May.
1. I have seen copies of the letters which
you list in your letter of 19 May and I believe I have seen all
my client's replies to your letters. You say that the complaints
against him are contained in the letters in your list but it remains
unclear what you consider to be a complaint other than that originally
made by Mr Milne, namely that Mr Vaz received unregistered payments
from Mr Zaiwalla, an allegation which has been categorically denied
by both Mr Vaz and Mr Zaiwalla himself. Nevertheless, Mr Vaz has
replied in detail to all your letters and has, with one exception,
provided all the information you have requested.
2. The only question addressed to Mr Vaz
which he has not previously answered is whether he recommended
Mr Zaiwalla for an honour. You have not explained the relevance
of this question to any allegation. You know that it has been
the subject of communications between Mr Vaz and Madam Speaker.
Moreover, you know the answer to your question because it was
given to you by Sir Hayden Phillips. I am instructed by Mr Vaz
to confirm that the information given to you by Sir Hayden Phillips
is correct. Otherwise he will not comment on the matter unless
he is advised that it is proper for him to do so. It is not the
case, as suggested in your letter to me of 19 May that he has
asked me to gather material on this issue and I do not understand
why you say that his replies on this or any other matter "may
not be sufficiently comprehensive". In what respect is this
3. As I submit below, Mr Vaz is entitled
to be told clearly and explicitly what complaints are made against
him, identifying the breaches of rules which are alleged, so that
he knows precisely what case he has to answer. He must then be
given a reasonable opportunity of answering that specific case.
Apart from the complaint by Mr Milne of failure to register a
payment or payments alleged to have been made to him by Mr Zaiwalla,
no explicit complaint of conduct which violates any rule has been
put to him.
4. On 4 February 2000, you sent Mr Vaz a
copy of a letter from Mr Andrew Milne complaining that a young
man from Mr Vaz's office had called to collect £2,000 in
cash from Mr S R Zaiwalla in 1994, which alleged payment was not
registered by Mr Vaz, and expressing Mr Milne's belief that other
unregistered payments had been made. Mr Milne also alleged that
Mr Vaz had promised to use his influence to stop an Inland Revenue
investigation into the affairs of Mr Zaiwalla. Mr Milne's letter
does not claim direct or personal knowledge of the facts he alleges,
and nor does it state the source of his information. The allegations
were promptly denied both by Mr Vaz and Mr Zaiwalla. The latter
volunteered information about payments properly made for events
attended by Mr Vaz which clearly had nothing to do with Mr Milne's
allegations. He also referred to judicial findings which, at the
very least, cast serious doubt on Mr Milne's credibility.
5. By 12 February you had not informed Mr
Vaz that you had received any evidence at all to support Mr Milne's
allegations. On that day, Mr Vaz was told by a journalist that
you had contacted another former employee of Mr Zaiwalla, called
Brown. Mr Vaz informed you that he did not know this person. On
22 February you informed Mr Vaz that a Mr Brian Brown had given
you a statement saying that he thought a payment of £1,000
was made to Mr Vaz by Mr Zaiwalla for an "office fund"
and that a cheque was refused (by whom is not stated) and replaced
by cash. But, Mr Brown is then claimed to have gone on to say
"This may or may not be the case, I simply cannot be certain
though I suspect that could be the case". The figure is not
the same as that mentioned by Mr Milne and the evidential value
of this statement, again denied by Mr Vaz, is zero.
6. On 8 March you wrote again to Mr Vaz
setting out extracts from an alleged transcript of a telephone
conversation between Mr Milne and Mr Brown on 14 January 2000
in which Mr Brown states, prompted by Mr Milne, that he gave an
envelope containing cash to Mr Vaz on one occasion and that "it
may well have" contained £2,000. You do not say when
you received the alleged transcript. It was not mentioned in your
letter of 22 February which gives a quite different account of
Mr Brown's evidence; nor do you explain how the alleged transcript
came into you possession or whether you were also provided with
the original tape recording. Mr Vaz has analysed the numerous
discrepancies and uncertainties in the accounts given by Mr Milne
and Mr Brown in his letter to you of 13 March. Mr Milne himself
has confirmed that Mr Brown is a convicted criminal, having been
sentenced to four years imprisonment for theft from Zaiwalla &
Co. Without the original tape recording, and indeed even if there
was an original tape recording, the belated disclosure of the
alleged conversation between such persons must reduce the credibility
of its contents to vanishing point.
7. On 14 March you wrote to Mr Vaz again
recording further allegations of failure to register payments
which you said had been sent to you "in the course of investigating
the complaints against" my client. Mr Vaz responded to all
these further allegations in detail in his letter of 19 March.
He also raised certain matters concerning the conduct of two journalists.
In your reply of 20 March you confirmed that
the complaint you were investigating was the one made by Mr Milne.
You reminded Mr Vaz that the specific incidents he cited concerned
Mr Zaiwalla. You said that the information you received since
then concerned allegations which relate to the same issue, though
in fact the allegations set out in your letter of 14 March have
nothing to do with Mr Zaiwalla. Furthermore, the letter addressed
to you by Mr Paul Gosling of 29 February, a copy of which you
sent to Mr Vaz on 3 March, raises yet other issues which have
nothing to do with Mr Milne's complaint. In any event Mr Vaz has
provided you with a full response which shows Mr Gosling's complaints
to be without foundation. He has also provided you with a copy
of his letter to the Registrar after he had sought his advice
on the previous occasion when Mr Gosling raised this matter.
8. In your letter of 20 March you say that
you have no outstanding points to put to Mr Vaz. Although you
had told him on 18 March that you had written to an unidentified
"local Labour councillor", it could reasonably be inferred
from your letter of 20 March that at that point, both Mr Milne
and Mr Vaz having been given reasonable opportunities to respond
to the allegations and the answers to them, you would promptly
decide to reject the complaint.
9. Instead, you apparently confirmed to
The Sunday Telegraph journalists on 5 or 6 April that you
had received a further letter from Mr Milne. They contacted Mr
Vaz and told him this whereupon he telephoned you and subsequently
received copies of two letters from Mr Milne dated 4 April. These
letters added further claims which Mr Vaz has also refuted. Again,
instead of concluding your investigation by rejecting Mr Milne's
complaint, you wrote to Mr Vaz on 17 April asking whether he had
proposed Mr Zaiwalla for an honour, an issue not raised by Mr
Milne in his original complaint.
10. On 20 April you sent Mr Vaz a copy of
a letter from Mr Kamal dated 17 April. Evidently he is the Labour
councillor you referred to in your conversation with Mr Vaz on
18 March. Until Mr Vaz saw Mr Kamal's letter he was unaware of
any allegations or complaints about unregistered payments having
been made by Mr Kamal, nor that you were investigating any such
allegation. Certainly there is nothing in the matters raised by
Mr Kamal, all of which were fully answered by Mr Vaz by fax within
four hours, which has any connection with the complaint by Mr
11. In the light of your claims that you
always keep members informed of your continuing investigations
(see paragraph 12 of "the Investigation Process") it
is surprising that Mr Vaz only learned that you were investigating
matters in Leicester from The Sunday Telegraph.
Submission on Mr Milne's complaint
12. It is assumed for the purpose of this
paragraph that the only allegation against Mr Vaz is that he failed
to register payments from Mr Zaiwalla which he was under a duty
to register. At best this allegation is supported by no more than
oral evidence of Mr Milne and Mr Brown that they observed cash
payments being made to Mr Vaz in Mr Zaiwalla's office. That evidence
is both vague and contradictory. Both witnesses have records of
dishonesty and in Mr Milne's case a strong personal grievance
against Mr Zaiwalla. Both Mr Vaz and Mr Zaiwalla have flatly denied
the allegations. There is no credible evidence in support of the
allegations and, in the face of his denial, no rational basis
on which Mr Vaz can be found to have violated any of his obligations
as a Member of Parliament. He is entitled to be fully exonerated.
13. While it remains unclear that the allegations
by Mr Gosling and those set out in your letter of 14 March and
Mr Kamal's letter of 17 April have been treated as complaints
within the scope of your investigation, Mr Vaz has answered them
swiftly and conclusively and there can be no justification for
continuing to investigate them or initiating any fresh or separate
investigation. Mr Kamal has produced no evidence at all. They
should be dismissed at the same time as Mr Milne's complaint.
Procedural fairness and the content of your report
14. Even if Mr Vaz is completely exonerated
and is not criticised in your report his reputation will not easily
recover from the damage it has suffered as a result of this investigation.
If, on the other hand, he is criticised, that damage can only
be unfairly and unnecessarily exacerbated. In my submission there
is no basis for any criticism. I draw attention to the fact that
he has discussed his entries in the register with relevant officials
and has always acted on their advice. The Chairman of the Committee
on Standards and Privileges has said in a letter to the Shadow
Leader of the House that in such circumstances he could not conceive
of circumstances in which a Member would be exposed to criticism.
(See your report of Mr John Major MP.)
15. Mr Vaz has, however, made clear in the
course of the investigation that he has important concerns about
the manner in which it has been conducted, While it is plain that
your conduct is not susceptible to challenge by judicial review
(see R v Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards ex parte
Fayed  1 All ER 93), I assume nevertheless that you
seek to exercise your functions in accordance with the principles
of natural justice (now more commonly described as procedural
fairness) and they would be applied by the Court if it had jurisdiction
over them. For an account of those principles I refer you to De
Smith, Woolf and Jowell Judicial Review of Administrative Action
(Fifth edition, 1995), especially chapter 9.
16. Paragraph 2 of your paper on the Investigation
Process says that "when it appears that the allegation has
some substance which would merit further inquiry my practice is
to ask the Member of Parliament for a response." In the present
case you were, according to your letter of 20 March, investigating
only a complaint by Mr Milne alleging unregistered payments by
Mr Zaiwalla. Presumably this complaint passed the threshold of
"some substance" referred to in paragraph 2. In your
letter to Mr Vaz of 28 March you refer to other allegations but
you do not say you are investigating them or whether you have
determined that they have the required substance.
17. It may be that you have followed up
these other allegations only for the purpose of your investigation
into the complaint by Mr Milne. If they remain to be treated as
independent complaints which you are investigating, Mr Vaz is
plainly entitled to be told this and to know the case which is
being put against him. He is entitled to know what breach of the
code or rules relating to the conduct of Members of Parliament
he is accused of violating or indeed if he is accused of breaches
of the law. Mr Milne has made accusations which are not merely
of failing to register payments by Mr Zaiwalla, but which are
allegations of corruption: accepting bribes for the purpose of
influencing decisions of the Inland Revenue and those responsible
for the Honours system. Are you investigating the latter allegations?
If so, Mr Vaz is entitled to be told.
18. Paragraphs 4 to 6 of "the Investigation
Process" indicate that the Member's response to your initial
approach to him or her will be sufficient to enable you to reject
the complaint. Mr Vaz was not informed that this was not the case
and why it was not the case. He was not informed what further
information you were seeking or from whom you were seeking it.
It emerged that you had written to a number of businessmen known
to Mr Vaz but it is impossible to see how they could have thrown
any light on whether payments had been made to Mr Vaz in Mr Zaiwalla's
office. Did you limit your questions to that matter or did they
range more widely? If the latter to what investigation or allegation
were they directed? In paragraph 12 of "the Investigation
Process" you say that you always keep the Member informed
that you are continuing your inquiries, but do you consider that
you are entitled to extend those inquiries beyond the scope of
the complaint which you have informed the Member that you are
investigating? I submit that to do so would be manifestly unfair.
19. As I have said already, procedural fairness
requires that the Member is informed of the case which he or she
has to meet and what specific offences are alleged. He or she
is also entitled to be told the evidence which is relied on to
support the allegations. If you are now minded to exonerate Mr
Vaz completely and without criticism, this may no longer be required.
Otherwise, I invite you to let me have your assurance that Mr
Vaz will be supplied with this information and an opportunity
to respond to it before your report is finalised.
20. At the same time I would be grateful
if you would confirm that you are not minded to make any criticism
of him in your report. If this is not the case, would you please
indicate the nature of such criticism so that he may have an opportunity
of responding to it. In any event, it would be appreciated if
any part of your report which refers to the conduct of Mr Vaz
could be disclosed to him in draft so that he has the opportunity
to comment on it, as has been done in other cases.
21. One further issue which concerns my
client is the role of the Press. Naturally, there is likely to
be media interest in complaints against Members of Parliament,
but you make no reference in "the Investigation Process"
to this topic. Mr Vaz has been subjected to repeated and damaging
media harassment during the lengthy progress of your investigation.
There have been several claims by journalists that you have talked
to journalists about its substance or at least confirmed information
put to you. Although I understand you have argued that you need
to talk to the media to assure the public that they can have confidence
in your investigations, they can perfectly well be given that
assurance when the investigation has been concluded. I submit
that no communication between you and the media about the content
of an investigation during its progress can ever be justified.
It must surely be sufficient that the public has access to the
report of its outcome.
I would be grateful for your response to this
letter before any further step is taken in the matter.
25 May 2000