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Patients Without Legal Capacity (Safeguards)

Mrs. Helen Clark accordingly presented a Bill to amend the Mental Health Act 1983 to provide protection for persons with a mental disorder who are unable to consent to being treated in hospital: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 12 April, and to be printed [Bill 94].

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Standards and Privileges

[The Fifth Report from the Committee on Standards and Privileges, Session 2001–02, HC 605-I & II, on the Complaint against Mr. Keith Vaz, is relevant.]

Motion made, and Question proposed,

3.42 pm

Mr. Keith Vaz (Leicester, East): I completely accept the report of the Standards and Privileges Committee and its recommendation. I apologise to the Committee and the House. In so doing, I underline my unreserved support for the integrity of the House and its procedures.

I am very pleased that the report clears me of all the main allegations made against me. I note what the Committee says about minor issues relating to events that took place eight and 15 years ago. However, the Committee was critical of me in respect of two further matters, the first of which relates to a telephone call that my mother received from, she believes, one of the complainants, a person all of whose allegations were dismissed by the Committee and who has for almost two years subjected my wife to constant attention.

That person, Eileen Eggington, who told Mrs. Filkin that she was a former protection officer of Margaret Thatcher and Salman Rushdie, has represented Rita Gresty, a former employee of my wife's law practice, in various claims against my wife, none of which has been sustained and none of which relates to me. Miss Eggington told Mrs. Filkin that Rita Gresty, sadly, has been suffering from a serious illness, and despite what has happened, I very much hope that she will make a full recovery.

I reported the call in good faith to the police and to Mrs. Filkin. My only concern in so doing was the welfare of my mother. My mother, a cancer patient who is seriously ill, has never been interviewed about those matters, although she is most willing to explain what happened. The police wrote to her on 25 January; I am most grateful for their response.

The second criticism is that I have not co-operated with Mrs. Filkin. I believe that I have co-operated in every possible way, and I have sought legal and other advice throughout the process to ensure that I have done so. I have given hundreds of answers and numerous supporting documents. I shall not rehearse again on the Floor of the House my real concerns about process. However, there is little point in having rules of procedure—written by the commissioner and agreed by the House on 5 April 2000—which appear not to have been adhered to.

May I make one plea for the future? It is that evidence collected by the commissioner should be retained so that the Member can examine it. My attempts to obtain a crucial tape recording of a meeting between Mrs. Filkin, Miss Eggington and Mrs. Gresty were frustrated when I was told on 5 February, three days before the report was published, that the tape had been erased. Mrs. Filkin

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decided to publish her memorandum, as she herself stated, without my corrections of fact, comments or observations. She has a right to do so.

The inquiry, like others, has been dogged by leaks. Mrs. Filkin's report was given to a Sunday newspaper, and the Committee's draft report to another Sunday newspaper. I am grateful to the Chairman, the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire (Sir George Young), who has always been courteous and helpful to me, for initiating a leak inquiry. I am sure that he will pursue that vigorously, and I look forward to hearing the results. The leaking of a Select Committee report in this way is, of course, a contempt of the House.

Much has been made of my connection with members of the Asian community. I am proud of my ethnic origin. I am proud of what the Asian community has done. The community must always be allowed to take its rightful place in society, and I shall continue to raise the concerns of the Asian community in an appropriate way. I am also grateful to my constituents in Leicester, East for their tremendous support. I shall strive to repay that support with my continued devotion to them.

The House will shortly be debating the appointment of a new commissioner. I wish the new commissioner well, and I hope that we will have a new era in which the rules of natural justice and fairness are applied firmly. As Michael Beloff, in his opinion quoting Lord Atkin, said:

I am very sorry that I have detained the House today and the Committee on these matters. I apologise again most sincerely to the Committee and the House. Plaudits from one's colleagues are always gratefully received. I assure hon. Members that criticisms from them are taken most seriously indeed.

Thank you, Mr. Speaker, for allowing me to speak. In accordance with precedent, I shall now withdraw.

3.47 pm

Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire): I am sorry that the hon. Member for Leicester, East (Mr. Vaz) felt unable to make a personal statement in the usual way. That means that I will need to say a little more than I had hoped. I am very disappointed that, for the second time in less than four months, I have to support a motion to suspend a fellow Member from the service of the House.

The report is my Committee's second major report and, like the last one, it brings to a conclusion an inquiry that was started in the previous Parliament. I am glad to say that the Committee is now up to date with its work. I believe that both the reports give further proof that the system of parliamentary self-regulation is working successfully.

I am grateful to my colleagues on the Committee for the hard work that they have put into the report over the past two months. We are all grateful to the commissioner for her work in investigating these complaints since last March—indeed, for her distinguished service to the House since her appointment three years ago.

I need spend very little time on the complaints originally made against the hon. Gentleman. Of the 11 allegations, we upheld only three, two of which we did not regard as serious. We are having this debate today not because of the original complaints but because of the way in which the hon. Member responded to them. We were

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deeply dissatisfied with the way in which, he dealt with the commissioner. The commissioner described his approach to the inquiry as one of

The commissioner has a job to do which the House has given her. All Members have a duty to co-operate with her inquiries. We found that the hon. Gentleman failed to do so. He did not answer her questions fully, directly, clearly and promptly. We were dismayed that it took him five months to provide the commissioner with information about his property interests, which must have been readily available to him. All the relevant correspondence is published in our report, so hon. Members can read it if they wish.

The hon. Gentleman was criticised by the Standards and Privileges Committee in the last Parliament for failing to co-operate with the earlier inquiry into complaints against him. That makes his lack of co-operation with the latest inquiry all the more serious. We found that the hon. Gentleman had failed in his duty of accountability under the code of conduct.

The more serious charge against the hon. Gentleman is that he wrongfully interfered with the House's investigation process. According to his oral evidence to us, his mother received a telephone call on 4 October last year and the words "Eggington" and "Filkin" were used. Miss Eggington is one of the complainants in this case. He informed the police that Miss Eggington had made a harassing telephone call to his mother, linked her with another witness in the case and gave the police her address. Then he told the commissioner that Miss Eggington had made the call, had claimed to be a police officer and had put questions to his mother, claiming to be acting on the commissioner's behalf.

Those allegations went way beyond what the hon. Gentleman and his mother told us they knew. Moreover, the hon. Gentleman made it clear to the commissioner that he expected her to follow up the matter. He asked the commissioner what action she proposed to take over his allegations against Miss Eggington. Miss Eggington has strongly denied these allegations, and the Committee accepts her evidence. We do not believe that she made any telephone call to Mrs. Vaz.

The police are now satisfied that no calls were received on the day in question which could be attributable to Miss Eggington or the other witness. The police officer in charge of the case said:

the hon. Gentleman. The police officer continued:

The police would not make such categorical statements unless they were absolutely sure that they were well founded.

The Committee is also satisfied that the hon. Gentleman's allegations are false, yet on the basis of his false allegations, both Miss Eggington and the other witness that the hon. Gentleman identified were put through the ordeal of being interviewed by the police. The commissioner was also led to investigate his accusation against Miss Eggington.

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We concluded that the hon. Gentleman recklessly made a damaging allegation against Miss Eggington to the commissioner, which was not true and which could have intimidated Miss Eggington or undermined her credibility. The hon. Gentleman also set the commissioner on a false line of inquiry, then accused her of interfering in a criminal investigation and threatened to report her to the Speaker. The hon. Gentleman failed in his public duty under the code of conduct and committed a contempt of the House.

The hon. Gentleman has made matters worse by his subsequent behaviour, which in my view has been aimed at undermining the entire investigative process. He was, perhaps, unwise to hold a press conference last Friday in which he sought to play down the severity of the Committee's report—he is quoted as saying:

by focusing on the areas where complaints were not upheld and minimising the importance of those that were upheld. I believe that he was also unwise to criticise the punishment as "disproportionate" and the report as "misled".

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