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Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Annex i9

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Mr Keith Vaz MP

Thank you for your letter of 27th September 2001.

The purpose of this letter is to summarise my response to the outstanding matters raised by you in your various series of letter and accompanying documents beginning with the complaint from Andrew Lansley MP to the extent that I have not already answered your question in any correspondence, I hope to do so in his letter. I am waiting for your response to my letter of 27th September 2001 which obviously crossed with mine.

38.  Andrew Lansley (who, incidentally, did not afford me the "basic courtesy" of sending me a copy of the letter of complaint: See paragraph 47 of the Committee's Fifth report of 2000/2001) refers to your invitation to me in your letter of 14 March 2000 to respond to the allegations that I have not registered "substantial donations". Payments made to me as MP by inter alias; the Hinduja Brothers. My reply was that "No donation has ever been made by the Hinduja Brothers". That statement was true and remains true.

39.  Andrew Lansley suggests that the payment of £1196.10 made by the Hinduja Foundation to Mapesbury Communications Limited on 5 July 1995, undermines my statement unless:

(a)  The Foundation is not interpreted as the Hinduja Brothers or
(b)  That I did not and could not have benefited from the payment
(c)  That the payment solely reimbursed costs and did not include any element or profit payment in respect of my own time.

40.  I have given a detailed account of the matter and my recollection of the Dada Vaswami event in my letter of 26 March 2001, but I take this further opportunity of summarising my comments on the three options listed by Mr Lansley as follows:

41.  As to (a) I would certainly have regarded the allegation as covering the Foundation as well as the brothers personally and would have answered informatively if I had been aware of it and had received any donation either from the foundation or the brothers themselves or anyone of them. You defined the "brothers" to me as SP, GP, and AP and PP Hinduja.

42.  However in relation to (b) it is the case that I did not and could not have benefited from the payment for reasons which I have already given. I had no right to any profit or benefit from the company because I was neither director or shareholder nor did I have any contractual or any other arrangements with it, save in relation to the calendar, which of course I discussed fully with Sir Gordon Downey and two Registrars.

43.  I followed Sir Gordon Downey's advice and that of the two Registrars to the letter.

44.  In relation to (c) it is clear that the payment was solely reimbursed costs and included no profit payment in respect of my time. I was co-chairing this public meeting with a Conservative MP. I certainly received no payment or other professional benefit as a result of the reimbursement by the Foundation to the Company.

45.  The Committee has already received evidence concerning the company and unchallenged evidence from the company's accountants that no payments were made to me.

46.  In your letter of 3 May 2000 under the heading "Replies outstanding". You include "your review of all the transactions for any purpose between you or Mapesbury Communications or Ms Fernandes with the Hinduja Family or Foundation. I can state categorically that I am aware of no "transactions" other than those referred to in this letter and my other communications with you and the Committee.

47.  I now deal with Rita Gresty's complaints transmitted by Mrs Eggington. In your letter of 28 March 2001, you say that you are drawing my attention to particular allegations made by Mrs Gresty, which apply not solely to me but to other members of my family because the Chairman has asked me to state whether any member of my family has received any payments or benefits provided by the Hinduja family or Foundation. I have already made it clear that I have received no such benefits.

48.  The Hammond Inquiry examined my position in relation to the Hindujas and I was found to have acted entirely properly. The issues and comments of Sir Anthony Hammond QC are in Chapter 7 of his report.

49.  I have already written to you concerning Mrs Gresty in paragraphs 8, 20, 21, 22. The three examples given by Mrs Gresty are nothing to do with me. Mrs Gresty is a former employee of my wife. I have already explained to you that I am reluctant to enter into a dialogue with her because of her mental illness, and especially when her statements made on her behalf by Mrs Eggington represent hearsay upon hersay. Mrs Eggington, who I believe is being paid by a national newspaper to give them stories about me and my family, claims to communicate information given to her by Mrs Gresty who in turn claims she received the information from someone else.

50.  In her letter of 11th June 2001 Mrs Eggington who claims to have worked for Margaret Thatcher, says that Rita Gresty

    "Has been receiving psychiatric care as an inpatient since July 2000. * * * She remains in a seriously depressed state." And then goes on to say that Rita Gresty is "an excellent witness". I am sure that you can draw your own conclusions from that.

51.  My wife was an experienced solicitor before I met her in 1992. She has her own Practice in which I have no involvement or role of any kind. She is a leading specialist in Immigration Law, she is a member of the Council of the Law Society and chairs its Immigration Committee. She does not discuss her clients with me and it would be improper and in breach of professional rules and confidentiality for her to do. I have never introduced potential clients to her.

52.  Of course this raises an important question. Many Members of Parliament have spouses or partners who carry on legal or other professional practices, including the Prime Minister, Leader of the Opposition, and the Leader of the Liberal Democrats. This is also the case for one of the complainants Andrew Lansley. I am aware of no previous suggestion that the Rules or the Code of Conduct requires any disclosure by his/her spouse of their clients or that the Parliamentary Commissioner's remit extends to reviewing the professional activities of spouses or partners.

53.  I cannot see how I can comply with a such a request, as to do so would require me to persuade my wife to violate rules of professional practice.

54.  The remaining allegations of Mrs Gresty in respect of the Hinduja's are that I accepted invitations and received hospitality from them and that they provided me with large quantities of flowers. Mrs Gresty is clearly reacting to the widespread press comment that was made since these matters entered the public domain in January of this year. All this information had been given to Sir Anthony Hammond and has been published by him.

55.  Andrew Lansley should be aware (and it is already in the public domain) that like many other Members, including Peter Bottomley and Virginia Bottomley, and the entire Shadow Cabinet I have attended social events hosted by the Hinduja brothers. I have been advised by the Registrar that it is not necessary to register such attendances. If you take a different view, please let me know. I have no recollection of ever receiving flowers from any member of the Hinduja family. I believe I may have received sweets at Diwali as have Peter and Virginia Bottomley as this is common practice amongst Asian families. It is my practice to distribute sweets received as gifts at Diwali amongst elderly constituents.

56.  Rita Gresty says that I received regular provisions of pre-packed frozen foods. This is untrue and there have never been such arrangements. I do recall an occasion when Mrs Gresty was given frozen foods from our freezer, which had broken down. It was our own food, which we had purchased. Perhaps that is what she is thinking of. I still have the list of food that she received, would you like a copy?

57.  As requested by you I enclose the documents concerning Mr XY. As my Agent has been in conversation with him I have asked him to prepare a note of the conversations. The gist of the allegations are that when you were in Liverpool you passed confidential information to your then husband Geoffrey Filkin. As you know I know Geoffrey Filkin very well. I am concerned that by this action I am going to be involved in the legal proceedings between yourself and Mr XY which appear to be ongoing. I will be unwilling to give evidence on behalf of either party as a result of the communications with me on this subject which were entirely unsolicited and were passed to you at your specific request. Please will you confirm that this is the case.

58.  Turning now to Andrew Robathan's letter of 26 April 2000 he like Andrew Lansley also failed to send me a copy of his letter of complaint. (See paragraph 47 of the Committee's Fifth Report 2000-2001).

59.  First he raises a matter which is now 14 years old. Sir Peter Soulsby made these allegations when he saw you on 14th March 2000. You sent me a copy of his statement in your draft report to the Committee nine months later on 20th December 2000. You presumably studied it carefully as you quoted from it very extensively, giving his comments even more coverage in your report than mine. Is Mr Robathan suggesting that you have not been thorough?

60.  No evidence was provided by Sir Peter Soulsby to support his allegations. No questions were asked of me about them.

61.  I respectfully suggest that it is not appropriate to investigate a complaint after so long. When I was elected as a Member of Parliament, I informed the Law Centre of the fact that I had become an MP, though this was also a matter of public knowledge. I would have explained to them that I wish to give up my employment with the Law Centre. I would imagine that even newly elected MPs would have to give some kind of notice to their previous employers.

62.  I would have taken the substantial holidays due to me (as I had not taken any since I joined the Law Centre in 1985) and any flexitime that I was entitled to. As this was a Law Centre my removal from the Law Centre would necessitate the employment of another solicitor with a practising certificate.

63.  Sir Peter Soulsby claims that I received letters from the City Attorney. This is untrue. He also claims that he wrote to me, but has provided no letters to confirm this and I do not believe there are any. Perhaps you could ask him to provide you with copies of his letters.

64.  Since preparing the above I have now received your letter of 27th September 2001. You say that "the complaint is that you misled the Committee during the last inquiry". (However, Mr Robathan himself does not say that the Committee was misled). The sequence of events is as follows:

    (a)  You interviewed Peter Soulsby on 23rd March 2000 when he made this statement to you. You did not feel that it merited any further examination. You sent my solicitor this statement on 20th December 2000.

    (b)  You interviewed me on 3rd July 2000. You did not mention this allegation.

    (c)  Between the commencement of your first inquiry and the conclusion I answered over a hundred questions. You did not feel that it was serious enough to ask a question on this statement.

    (d)  The Committee examined me and Peter Soulsby yet did not feel that this matter merited examination. You also did not ask Peter Soulsby to provide copies of his alleged letters.

I believe there is some confusion on Mr Robathan's part or perhaps he was not aware of the sequence of events.

65.  Secondly, Mr Robathan complains that I failed to register a donation by Lord Paul of St Marleybone (as he is now known) in 1993. He relies on a report in the Sunday Telegraph. I have known Lord Paul and his family for many years and I regard him as a close family friend. He is the godfather of my son, who is named after him. Lord Paul has been a strong and generous supporter of the Community causes and is widely known as a supporter of the Labour Party having publicly made substantial donations to the Labour Party.

66.  The matter came to my attention before the Report appeared and before Mr Robathan's complaint. I consulted the Registrar about it; no doubt you have seen a copy of my letter to him confirming my conversation. The statement attributed to me in the Sunday Telegraph article is correct, save that I was not aware that a Register was published in 1994. I was telephoned while I was at a European Council meeting in Stockholm. Access to Registers on a Friday night in Stockholm is not good.

67.  As I explained to the Registrar, Lord Paul's two donations were used for computer and electronic equipment, the first in 1993 and the second in 1995. The total donation was registered in 1995. If there was an unreasonable delay in registering the first part of the payment I cannot explain it after this length of time, but I did register it and the purpose of it. Lord Paul made further donations all of which have been registered even though some did not need to be.

68.  My relationship with General Mediterranean Holdings is set out in correspondence with the Registrar and I followed his written and oral advice about registration. During the short time I served as a Director I did not attend a Board Meeting, I did not take part in any decisions nor did I participate in any company business, nor would I have been aware of any relationships the company has. As far as I am aware I have not received any benefits save that I attended a celebratory dinner for the company with other Members from both Houses of Parliament who I know, including Lord Dholakia the President of the Liberal Democrat Party and Vice Chairman of the Conservative Party.

69.  Regarding the complaint by Graham Peen I sent you my complete file of papers relating to Mr Peen and I have no other records. I do not understand the nature of his complaint and what he is accusing me of doing.

70.  Notwithstanding this, and in the spirit of full co-operation the answers to your questions in your letter of 7 August 2001 are as follows: —

    1.    The letter is a routine letter to any constituent who asks how his matter is progressing. It is for him in response to make an appointment.

    2.    There was no "meeting" on 17 April 1999 it was a normal constituency surgery. People telephone my office, they are given faxed appointments and I dictate on a recording machine in their presence and hearing any letters that I am sending. That acts as a record of what happens at the meeting. Mr Peen did not challenge any of these records but thanked me for my help.

    3.    No, he seems to be suggesting that I had some independent knowledge of the matter other than what he has told me, but I only knew what Mr Peen told me himself and what is contained in the correspondence. All letters from Ministers concluding with the letter from the Solicitor General, Ross Cranston QC were passed to him with comment.

    4.    No.

    5.    Everything Mr Peen raised with me is in the correspondence. All his questions were passed on at his request to all the relevant authorities. He confirmed all conversations in writing and I responded as quickly as I could.

    6.    No. Save to repeat my incomprehension of this complaint.

71.  The above was prepared before your letter of 27th September 2001. I am still puzzled about this. You asked for my casefile and said that Mr Peen had given you his consent to receive it. Mr Peen approached me as his MP and if my dates are correct he had ceased to be a civil servant before he approached me. Therefore your statement that he alleged that I intervene improperly when he was a civil servant cannot be sustained. As you will see from the correspondence all the letters sent were at Mr Peene's own request. Is there some other letter that have not seen which will give a complete picture of what he wants?

72.  As regards the information provided by the BBC you have stated in your letter of 23 August 2001 that I need not check the electoral information, however for completeness I believe it is important to check the information that they have provided and to make sure that it was accurate. As I have already explained to you the BBC has relied on information that is inaccurate as can be seen from the plethora of office copy entries that have nothing to do with me that they sent you.

73.  My Agent and indeed I cautioned them that they were dealing with matters that were not correct. As has become clear from the replies I have received so far from the Electoral Registration Officers, the information is indeed inaccurate. Local electoral registration officers require that a form is filled in every year. However, I believe that it is important to stress 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 the assumption. This was confirmed by all the EROs that I have written to.

74.  I discussed all property issues with the Registrar when invited to do so by the Committee. I further discussed them again following media comment. I discussed them a third time in June 2001. The first two occasions were in person and the third was on the telephone. I remain very grateful to the Registrar for his advice. As a result of his advice I registered my office at 144 Uppingham Road, Leicester.

75.  I have explained to the Registrar in correspondence the purchase of 75 Vanburgh Court was in 1988. 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 continued to use this property as a second home. The words "transferred without payment" is misleading. Payment was not required when it is a transfer to the beneficial owner for the reasons I gave to the Registrar when we discussed these issues.

76.  70a Teignmouth Road was a garden flat and my first matrimonial home. My wife and I lived there from 1993 to 1996. It was sold subject to contract in 1996 when we purchased our home in *** the proposed purchaser then withdrew and it was sold to a new purchaser in April 1997. None of the persons named in the last column lived in the garden flat when we owned it. As it is clear from the flat numbers stated in most cases those named were occupying other flats in the building. I have asked for a missing office copy entry from 1997 and 1999 which the BBC has not supplied , this will tell you the identity of the purchaser. For completeness I would be glad to receive this. The information from is four years out of date. They informed my assistant that information is acquired from a number of sources and informed her that they only change information when they get new information.

77.  As my Agent explained to the BBC and to The Times I have never met the *** family. The explanation as to why they remained on the register is given above (para 73). I have subsequently checked with the previous owners of our house and was told that the *** family occupied the property in 1995 before it sold to us (there were no tenants when we moved in). They ran an organisation called the London Life Christian Centre. Post for them is still delivered to our address. The other person named was our live in nanny.

78.  * * * was purchased in April 1999 as a new second home in London after family members indicated that they wished to move into the studio flat. *** and *** are the previous owners as the office copy entries show, not tenants, their registration was not removed. The registration of my name for 2001-2 was made by a canvasser and not made by me and was removed at my request.

79.  144 Uppingham Road was purchased before I became an MP when I moved from London, I have explained at length what it was used for and from time to time it was used living accommodation and may be so used in the future. I have not yet received any rent. 146 Uppingham Road was purchased from a Mr Murphy. As I have explained various persons including a former member of staff and one member of the Labour Party, Mustapha Kamal stayed there, the Labour Party had their offices there from 1994-5. I have received no rent. It was sold at full market value in April 2001 for the reasons I explained to the Registrar when I saw him in February.

80.  In your schedule you use the word "empty". With respect I believe this is the wrong description. Your last column is based on electoral registration for the relevant date, 10th October in each year. The correct description is that no person is registered to vote, at that property, on that date, in that year.

81.  I hope I have clarified the errors that were contained in the information that was given to you.

82.  As regards the comments you make concerning my relationship with your husband Michael Honey I do think to protect yourself and myself from any subsequent criticism that you or I are "suppressing" information it really ought to be dealt with. I will check my notes regarding our three conversations about him and I will write again. If you have any further information on this please let me have it. For completeness could you let me have the appropriate reference to Mr Honey in the last Report.

83.  This now completes the information you require from me. The difficulty has been the lack of specific complaints, the abundance of personal opinions and the absence of facts. Nevertheless I have done my best to provide you with the information that I have or that I am aware of given that some of these matters go back 14 years. Please let me know if there is anything further than I have inadvertently omitted and please let me know which complaints you are pursuing.

28 September 2001

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