Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Analysis (iv)

(iv)  Complaint relating to Mr Vaz's alleged failure to register property interests and his alleged failure to give full and accurate answers about such interests during the previous investigation

502.  During the previous inquiry into complaints against Mr Vaz, I concluded that he had failed to register a property (144 Uppingham Road, Leicester), which he owns and which is used as his constituency office. The Committee agreed with my view and Mr Vaz has now registered that property[139]. I asked him to let me know of any other properties he owned (in addition to his two houses in Leicester and his home in * * * [Middlesex]). He did not give me details of any other properties.

503.  Documentary material provided to me by the Today programme and The Sunday Telegraph and correspondence between the Registrar and Mr Vaz appeared to suggest that Mr Vaz had interests in properties he had not previously mentioned. Information also came to light during other aspects of the current investigation. I therefore thought it right to set out my detailed understanding of all Mr Vaz's properties and to put this to him for confirmation or otherwise. I did this in the form of a schedule in tabular form.

504.  I asked Mr Vaz to let me know whether the schedule was accurate and complete, and, if it was not, to let me have "a comprehensive and corrected version covering all [his] property holdings in the United Kingdom or elsewhere from the date of your first election in 1987 to June 2001 and indicating any rental income received from properties".

505.  I had assumed that Mr Vaz would take my schedule as a starting point. He would then indicate in each case whether he had (or had previously had) an interest in the property, and, if so, what kind; whether rental income had been received; and whether any properties in which he had an interest had been omitted. Instead, Mr Vaz wrote a series of letters to me requesting additional information or seeking clarification of points of detail in the schedule which did not appear to me to be necessary to enable him to set out with precision his own property interests.

506.  Having written to Mr Vaz enclosing the schedule on 19 June 2001, I received from him on 28 September what he described as his response on the outstanding matters relating to his property interests. Because his answers were incomplete this gave rise to further questions from me in a letter dated 19 October 2001, some replies to which were supplied by Mr Vaz in his letter of 3 November 2001.

507.  In my view, it should not have taken as long as five months to seek to obtain from Mr Vaz comprehensive factual information about his property interests. Even now I can not confirm that the information on his property interests is comprehensive because Mr Vaz has failed to provide me with clear confirmation despite several requests.

508.  I deal in turn below with the position relating to each of the properties listed in my original schedule, taking into account Mr Vaz's replies and other information provided to me.

(a)  * * * [London SW1]

509.  Mr Vaz stated that he purchased his flat at * * * in April 1999 as a new second home in London; that the people registered to vote at the address between 1998 and 2001 were in fact the previous owners (not tenants of Mr Vaz), whose names had been left on the electoral roll in error; and that Mr Vaz's own name had been registered by a canvasser without his knowledge and had subsequently been removed at his request.

510.  I have received no evidence which contradicts this explanation by Mr Vaz of the position concerning the property at * * *. As a second London property used only for residential purposes and not producing substantial income (which I have no reason to doubt), this property is not registrable.

(b)  * * * [Middlesex]

511.  The house at * * *, is Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes's main London residence and was purchased by them in August 1996. Mr Vaz told me that he had never met the Murte family, three of whom continued to be registered to vote at that address from 1996 to 1999. His explanation for this apparent anomaly was that the * * * had occupied the house in 1995 and that "electoral registers are not always reliable because a person tends to be assumed to remain in occupation unless a positive step is taken to alter that assumption". The implication of Mr Vaz's statement is that because he and his wife were not themselves registered to vote at their * * * home there was no reason for them to have taken steps to ensure that the electoral register entry for that address was accurate. The fourth name which appeared on the electoral register for * * *, Ana M Fernandez, was, according to Mr Vaz, the family's live-in nanny. It therefore appears that someone did make an electoral registration return for the property sometime after Mr and Mrs Vaz moved in.

512.  As Mr Vaz's principal London residence, the home at * * * was not registrable unless Mr Vaz was deriving substantial income from it. I have received no evidence to suggest that this is, or has been, the case.

(c)  70a Teignmouth Road, Willesden Green

513.  70a Teignmouth Road, Willesden Green is, according to Mr Vaz, the garden flat in a converted block. From the information gathered by my office it appears to have been purchased by Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes in 1993 as their "first matrimonial home". Mr Vaz told me that it was sold in 1997 when he and his wife bought their current house * * * [Middlesex]. Mr Vaz explained that the sale date of 1999 which I had included in my schedule was incorrect since that referred to the disposal of the property by the person who had purchased it from Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes in 1997. Since the * * *[Middlesex] house was purchased in August 1996 (a statement not corrected by Mr Vaz in the schedule sent to him), it would appear that, for a period of some months covering late 1996 and part of 1997, Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes owned both properties.

514.  I was concerned to establish why so many different names (though not those of Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes) appeared on the electoral roll for 70 Teignmouth Road between 1993 and 1997. I therefore asked Mr Vaz, when checking the accuracy of the schedule, to indicate which of the names related to No. 70a (ie the ground floor or garden flat).

515.  Mr Vaz's initial response was that the relevant electoral registration extracts appeared "to relate to other people, the majority of which I do not know anything about". He subsequently expanded on this reply, saying that the details appeared "to be entries that relate to next door neighbours and other people in a block of flats whom I have never met".

516.  When asked by me in letters dated 19 & 31 October 2001 why the Asian Business Network was registered from 70a Teignmouth Road until February 2001 when he had previously stated that he was not actively involved in the organisation's work, Mr Vaz told me in his letter of 3 November 2001 that:

    "...The ABN has never been 'registered' at this address. I have lived at this address and I have been the President of this organisation a position that as you say I have registered. It has always as far as I am aware operated from Coleridge House, Coleridge Gardens..."

517.  In his letter of 18 November 2001 Mr Vaz reiterated that the Asian Business Network had no connection with the property and he said the Website information was incorrect.

518.  Mr Vaz's 70A Teignmouth Road home was, until June 1999, the registered address of Mapesbury Communications.[140]

519.  During the period between 1993 and 1997 when Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes owned 70a Teignmouth Road it was their main London residence and therefore not registrable unless substantial income was derived from it. I have received no evidence to suggest that this was the case. I have, however, been unable to establish how this property remained the address of Mapesbury Communications until June 1999 and maybe that of the Asian Business Network until February 2001[141] or whether it has in fact been used for business purposes other than as an address.

(d)  144 and 146 Uppingham Road, Leicester

520.  Registration issues arising from Mr Vaz's two properties at Nos 144 and 146 Uppingham Road, Leicester—the first used as his office and the second as a residence—were dealt with in my previous investigation. The Committee agreed with my finding that Mr Vaz ought to have registered No. 144 and he did so on 13 February 2001.

521.  For the sake of completeness, however, I included both properties in the schedule sent to Mr Vaz for checking. In one of his responses dated 28 September 2001 Mr Vaz explained that No. 144 had been used "from time to time [as] living accommodation and may be so used in the future", but that no rental income had been received from it. As for No. 146, Mr Vaz added that various people, including a former member of [his] staff and a member of the Labour Party, had stayed there, and the Labour party had had their offices there from 1994 to 1995—but again no rental income had been generated. No. 146 was sold "at full market value" in April 2001 to Mrs Vaz senior.

522.  I do not consider that any of the additional information supplied by Mr Vaz causes me to revise my previous conclusions about these properties, nor has any evidence been provided to me to indicate that Mr Vaz's Register entry in relation to 144 and 146 Uppingham Road (following his recent registration of No. 144) is incomplete or otherwise inaccurate.

(e)  75 Vanburgh Court, Kennington

523.  The property at 75 Vanburgh Court, Kennington was purchased by Mr Vaz in August 1988 and was used as a second London home until he acquired the flat at * * * [London SW1] in April 1999.

524.  Mr Vaz had previously explained in correspondence with the Registrar that his mother "was the beneficial owner of the Kennington flat and it was transferred to her last year" [ie 2000]. In his response to the schedule prepared by my office Mr Vaz added that the phrase "transferred without payment" used in that document in relation to the Vanburgh Court property was misleading since, as Mr Vaz put it, "payment was not required when it was a transfer to the beneficial owner". He added that his mother had since sold the flat (in January 2001), but that during the period before he had purchased the * * * [London SW1] flat she had rented out the property for a short time, and she also thought she had permitted "someone else" to live there. But none of that rent had been paid to Mr Vaz.

525.  Mr Vaz had also told the Registrar that he had allowed the flat to be used on two occasions (for no more than three weeks at a time) as the headquarters of a political campaign, but that, again, no rent was received by him for the use of the accommodation.

526.  Given that other people were registered to vote at 75 Vanburgh Court in various years between 1988 and 1996, I was puzzled by Mr Vaz's statement, in his response to the schedule, namely: "I have no personal knowledge of who was registered there when I was not in occupation, but I confirm that I received no rent". I therefore invited Mr Vaz in a letter dated 19 October 2001 to explain on what basis, unless with his authority, the persons registered to vote at the property were there, and, if with his authority, how he could maintain that he did not know who they were.

527.  In his reply to this point Mr Vaz said:

    "...I had no arrangement with any such persons nor do I have knowledge of any arrangement. They were there under the authority of the beneficial owner who was responsible for this..."

528.  I do not regard this as an adequate explanation for people who were living in his property long enough to be registered as voters.

529.  In a letter dated 19 June 2001 I also questioned Mr Vaz about the legal implications and, in particular, the timing of the decision to transfer the Kennington property to his mother on 27 October 2000, two weeks after I had written to him during the earlier investigation to ask whether he had any previously undisclosed property interests.

530.  Mr Vaz answered:

    "The reason for the transfer was explained to the Registrar... she [Mrs Vaz senior] wished to move to London ... She had not decided if she wished to sell the property. Instructions were given to settle these matters in 1999, she changed her mind in 2000 and changed it again. Two different sets of solicitors were instructed to deal with these matters the second set being instructed in the summer of 2000, and they began the process ... The timing of the transfer is a matter of legal process."[142]

531.  In his letter of 5 June 2001 (Annex iv2) Mr Vaz referred to a meeting with the Registrar as follows:

    "As I said in our meeting in January my mother was the beneficial owner of the Kennington flat and it was transferred to her last year".

532.  However, as regards the meaning of the term 'beneficial owner', Mr Vaz, in his letter of 3 November 2001, merely referred me to a particular statute (the Law of Property Act 1925).

533.  This response by Mr Vaz was not very informative. It was Mr Vaz who introduced the term 'beneficial owner' as part of his explanation for the transfer. To direct me to a 75 year old section of the statute book was not, as Mr Vaz must have known, helpful. It was not the answer of someone who was trying to be open and cooperative.

534.  Nor has Mr Vaz explained his own legal status, if any, in relation to the property before or after the transfer, as I had specifically requested.

Other Properties

535.  Of the other addresses in respect of which I had asked Mr Vaz to confirm whether or not he had a property interest, he told me that:

    —  he had never had a financial interest in 63-65 Camden High Street,[143] nor even visited the premises;

    —  he had never had a financial interest in 77 Langland Crescent, Stanmore, which was owned by his mother in law;

    —  he had never had a financial interest in 153 Scraptoft Lane, Leicester;

    —  his only connection with 203a Uppingham Road, Leicester was that he had rented office space there which had been in use during the general election and was now employed for storage.

536.  I have received no evidence to suggest that Mr Vaz personally, or his office, derived any benefit from any of these properties such as would have made them registrable.

537.  In my letter of 19 October 2001 I asked Mr Vaz to "...confirm for the record that you have now provided me with complete information about all your property interests, in the UK or elsewhere, during the time you have been a Member of Parliament."

538.  Mr Vaz's answer in his letter of 3 November 2001 offered confirmation in relation to properties abroad but did not mention the UK. This may be because he regards this schedule as comprehensive but it is not the answer of someone seeking to provide a complete and accurate account of his interests.

The Registration of Second Homes

539.  The table below shows the sequence of the purchases and sales by Mr Vaz of his various properties:

70a Teignmouth Road
Willesden Green
* * *
August 1996
* * *
[London SW1]
April 1999
75 Vanburgh Court
August 1988
October 2000 [transferred to Mrs Vaz snr]
144 Uppingham Road
September 1985
146 Uppingham Road
[not available]
April 2001 to Mrs Vaz senior

540.  It can be seen that, for most of the period since 1993, Mr Vaz has owned, in addition to a principal residence in London, a second home in Leicester (one or other, alternately, of the Uppingham Road properties) and a second London home. For a period between the purchase of the * * * [London SW1] property in April 1999 and the transfer to his mother of the Kennington flat in October 2000, Mr Vaz owned two London properties, which he says were used for residential purposes of himself, his wife and his mother, in addition to his principal London residence (in * * * [Middlesex]) and a home in Leicester.

541.  On the basis of the information I have received, and with the exception of his failure (since rectified) to register 144 Uppingham Road, Leicester which he uses as his office, Mr Vaz appears to have fulfilled the registration requirements in relation to these properties according to the rules as they now stand and as they have been interpreted hitherto. (Though, for the reasons I have indicated, the question of whether Mr Vaz owns other properties in the United Kingdom about which he has not informed me remains unresolved).

542.  The Committee may wish to consider whether any limit should be placed on the number of properties, in addition to a Member's main home, which can be treated as exempt from registration on the grounds that they are used solely for the personal residential purposes by the Member or his spouse[144]. Alternatively, the Committee may wish to examine whether the definition of "personal residential purposes" needs to be specified more clearly. Either way, the issue raised by this case is whether there is a point at which a Member's ownership of several properties becomes a portfolio holding; and, if so, whether that constitutes a financial interest of such significance that it ought to be registered, irrespective of the use to which the properties are put.

139   He did so on 13 February 2001. Back

140   See paragraph 124. Back

141   See section (ii) Back

142   Personal information about Mrs Vaz senior removed. Back

143   See paragraph 291. Back

144   On 20 March 2001the Committee recommended that a total property portfolio of a value equivalent to, or greater than, 100% of the Parliamentary salary should be registered, but it did not propose that there should be any restriction on the number of properties which could qualify as second homes for exemption for registration. This recommendation has not yet been agreed to by the House.  Back

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