Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Annex vi2A

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Mr Graeme Peene

Thank you for your letter of 2nd February 2001 enclosing the Code of Conduct and Rules for Members of Parliament.

As requested, I would advise as follows:

The name of the Company visited during the initial stages of the Russian Butter Export Refund investigation was M Ltd who are based near Crewe, Cheshire. The date of the initial visit was on 19th March 1999.

I was accompanied by Mr F, a Higher Executive Officer employed by the Intervention Board Executive Agency in the Research & Intelligence Section.

From memory, Mr F and myself spoke to the Export Manager, uplifted certain documents and issued a receipt. The details of the person spoken to on 19th March 1999 is recorded in the Investigation File retained by the Intervention Board Anti Fraud Unit. I believe that H M Customs & Excise also have an ongoing interest in this investigation, and should you require access to the case papers may I suggest that you write to either Mr George Trevelyan, Chief Executive, alternatively, Mr Philip Kent, Head of Legal Division.

I have enclosed a copy of the letter dated 14th April 1999 received from Mr Keith MP Leicester East. My wife *** made the appointment with Mr VAZ's Leicester East Office and made a manuscript entry on the letter advising.

"Appointment 3.30 pm Saturday 17/4/99 Belgrave Neighbourhood Centre Rothley Street Belgrave".

"I was totally amazed and taken aback by Mr VAZ's enquiry because the Russian Butter Export Refund Investigation was at that point in time only known to a small number of Senior Intervention Board Anti Fraud Unit personnel. I refused to discuss the matter with Mr VAZ and sought to obtain an explanation from him about how he knew anything about the investigation. Mr VAZ did not provide a satisfactory explanation and went on to discuss other matters".

The other matters discussed related to tabling a number of Parliamentary Questions in relation to the conduct of the Department of Trade and Industry. We were later provided with a quantity of Parliamentary Question forms, Mr VAZ later advised that he could no longer table the questions on our behalf.

I do not know what Mr VAZ's intentions were, or upon whose behalf he was acting when he signed the letter dated 14th April 1999 or during the meeting on 17th April 1999. I refused to discuss the matter with Mr VAZ, and in the circumstances outlined above, had I done so, I could have jeopardised a politically sensitive criminal investigation, and would Mr VAZ infringed The Official Secrets Act by making an unauthorised disclosure of a third party?

The initial and only external enquiry concerning the Russian Butter Export Refund investigation was made on 19th March 1999 and Mr VAZ's letter to myself dated 14th April 1999, some 26 days later, and could have only been as a result of the visit to M Ltd.

Crewe, Cheshire, is not within Mr VAZ's Leicester East Constituency, it is approximately 100 miles distant, and the approach should not have been made in the first instance.

The Guide to the Rules relating to the Conduct of Members at page 20, "Other occasions when declaration of interest should be considered" advises:

"The requirement to declare a relevant interest at the appropriate time covers almost every aspect of a Member's parliamentary duties extending to correspondence and meetings with Ministers and public officials. Frankness with colleagues is also important. In 1975 the House agreed to the report of the Select Committee on Members' Interests (Declaration) which contained these words: "it should be a matter of honour that a pecuniary interest is declared not only , as at present, in debate in the House and its Committees but also whether a Member is attempting to influence his fellow Members, whether in unofficial committees and gatherings or at any kind of sponsored occasion, with or without entertainment, or simply in correspondence or conversation. Above all it should be disclosed when a Member is dealing with Ministers of the Crown and civil servants, and this obligation becomes of paramount importance when a foreign government is involved either directly or indirectly".

As previously stated, "I refused to discuss the matter with Mr VAZ and sought to obtain an explanation from him about how he knew anything about the investigation. Mr VAZ did not provide a satisfactory explanation and went on to discuss other matters".

I believe that Mr VAZ should have declared his interest in the Russian Butter Export Refund investigation / M Ltd in his letter of 14th April 1999 and during our meeting of 17th April 1999 inasmuch as he should have given me advance warning, as an established Civil Servant that he wished to discuss matters relating to a politically sensitive criminal investigation. Furthermore, when challenged about his conduct, he, Mr VAZ, failed to provide a satisfactory explanation for his conduct.

I have enclosed copies of Companies House Direct COMPANY APPOINTMENTS for your information and attention.

8 February 2001

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Prepared 8 February 2002