Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report

Annex 51

Letter to Geoffrey Bindman, Bindman & Partners, Solicitors, from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards

  Thank you for your letter of 2 November 2000.

  I am grateful for Mr Vaz's responses to various points raised in my letters of 11 and 18 of July and 3, 12 and 19 of October, the contents of which I have noted.

  I now turn to the points you have made in your letters. I am sorry to see that you have repeated your comments on the procedure followed in investigations which I am required to undertake. It seems to me that we have a difference of opinion on this matter and that further correspondence on this point is unlikely to be helpful. However I assure you that I have considered your views very carefully. I take it that your sentence "I am sure you will agree that this is a most unsatisfactory and an improper way to conduct an investigation," was said tongue in cheek but for the record I certainly do not agree.

  I can only repeat what I have endeavoured to explain on many occasions, namely that this investigation is a fact finding exercise not a judicial process with a prosecution and defence. My duty is to enable Mr Vaz to make a full response to all the matters raised and to obtain information from others which may support or otherwise both the substance of the complaints and Mr Vaz's responses. Only when I have such a picture can I take a view on whether any of the complaints have any basis whatsoever.

  I have throughout this investigation put any allegations which were sufficiently precise to Mr Vaz for his comments and, where necessary, I have asked Mr Vaz for specific pieces of information which would enable me to build up a complete and accurate picture on which I can eventually make my report to the Standards and Privileges Committee. The purpose in each case is to enable Mr Vaz to give his account of any matters of which he has personal knowledge which are relevant to the complaints. That explains why it has been necessary for me to write frequently to Mr Vaz although I must point out that some of the questions dealt with in your latest letter have been outstanding since July.

  I am afraid I do have to ask some questions "for the sake of completeness." The reasons for this are so that I may assure the Standards and Privileges Committee that no other matters which have come to light during an investigation indicated breaches of the Code of Conduct or Rules and in addition to protect the Member from additional complaints being triggered when the report is published. To take the example you use, you are aware that Members are required to make register entries for some property interest. Therefore when I became aware that Mr Vaz owned two houses in Leicester I had to seek clear information about them from him and to give him the opportunity to inform me if he owned other property elsewhere.

  I now turn to the questions you raise in your separate letter of 2 November concerning information sent to me by the Sunday Telegraph.

  Throughout my investigation, I have been completely open with Mr Vaz about the role of The Sunday Telegraph in relation to the complaints against him and from my telephone conversations with Mr Vaz I believe he was clear about the information they had forwarded to me. In addition, in response to your letter of 24 October, I set out the position in some detail in my letter of 26 October. The newspaper is not an "informant" in the sense in which you appear to use the term.

  Turning to your specific questions and numbering them likewise:

  1. The document you have is in the form in which it was sent to The Sunday Telegraph. I am not aware of any other accompanying document.

  2. I have written to each of the people named in the document (except where as I explained in my letter of 26 October 2000, the allegation was too vague to warrant my pursuing it.) I have followed my usual practice, in relation to these allegations, of both putting the original allegation to Mr Vaz and any information subsequently received which might be at variance with his account.

  3. I do not regard these pieces of information, which were sent to the Sunday Telegraph after they had published articles about the complaints against Mr Vaz, as new complaints. I regard this list as information having a possible bearing on the complaint that Mr Vaz had failed to register some financial interests, which is the matter under investigation. I made sure Mr Vaz was informed of this list when I received it.

  4. I have already provided Mr Vaz with all the relevant transcripts of tape recorded conversations. As I have said Mr Vaz and/or you, are welcome to hear the tapes in my office at your convenience. It is not my practice to supply original tapes but if Mr Vaz wishes to have any tape checked forensically I can arrange for this to be done. I must correct several misconceptions in your letter. Neither The Sunday Telegraph (nor any other newspaper) has "access", as you put it, to information about my inquiry, beyond factual answers to questions about its progress.

  The role of Sir Peter Soulsby in my investigations, as I have repeatedly explained, is as a witness. If by the term "with whom you have contact" you are referring to the period during which our membership of the Audit Commission overlapped, the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee is fully aware of this fact and has expressed the view that no conflict of interest arises. You are right in assuming that I will inform the Committee of this fact when I report to them.

  I can assure you and Mr Vaz that I shall make a full report on all relevant matters to the Standards and Privileges Committee including Mr Vaz's view that there has been a "deliberate campaign against him."

  You raised the matter of the publication of material gathered during the course of my inquiries. I can assure Mr Vaz that I will append to my memorandum to the Committee only such information as is necessary in order to enable the Committee to understand my memorandum. It will then be for the Committee to decide what, if anything, should be published. If Mr Vaz has a particular concern about any item of information please let me know.

  Finally may I once again invite Mr Vaz to provide me with any other information he wishes me to consider. Otherwise I shall assume that Mr Vaz has completed his replies to me. For my part I should make it clear that some witnesses have not, to date, provided me with the information which I have requested. If it is forthcoming I will, of course, put it to Mr Vaz if it might be at variance with his account.

  Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can provide Mr Vaz with further information. (Having drafted this letter I have received your letter of 6 November 2000 with corrected copy of your letter of 2 November 2000 which I have noted.)

9 November 2000

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