Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges

from Mr Geoffrey Bindman

My client, Keith Vaz MP, has asked me to write to you in response to your letter to him of 10 December concerning the current investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Mr Vaz very much appreciates your assurance that the Committee is as keen as he is that his point of view should be given a fair hearing. He also appreciates that the proposals in your letter go some way towards achieving this aim.

In her letter to Mr Vaz of 30 November enclosing her draft memorandum and annexes amounting in all to more than 1000 pages, the Commissioner rejected his request to be given more than five working days to provide his suggested corrections and any further comment he wished to make.

Based on his experience of the previous investigation, when, as now, the draft memorandum contained a large volume of new material which Mr Vaz had no previous opportunity of considering, he knew that this would not give him nearly enough time to put his point of view fairly. For this reason he approached you on the advice of Mr Sandall to seek more time.

In effect you have been good enough to grant his request but the difficulty with the timetable as set out in your letter of 10 December is that you appear to intend to consider the uncorrected memorandum virtually in its current form before the Commissioner has had a full opportunity to consider Mr Vaz's response so that she can make any necessary amendments before the Committee received the report. There is the further difficulty that the uncorrected report if circulated could give currency to false and damaging allegations under cover of privilege.

A preliminary examination of the draft memorandum reveals that in the main the Commissioner does not uphold the complaints. However, the document contains many defamatory and damaging comments not only about Mr Vaz but also about his wife and other third parties who have no opportunity of responding to them. Mr Vaz believes—in my view with good reason—that these comments are unjustified and can be refuted, given the necessary time. Natural justice demands that they do not appear in a published report and I suggest that it is the responsibility of the Committee to ensure that before publication such material is excised. When Mr Vaz made a similar request following receipt of the previous draft report in December 2000, it was unfortunately ignored. The damage this caused to Mr Vaz, notwithstanding the fact that he was almost completely exonerated, was immense and irreparable and the Committee should be very careful to make sure it does not happen again.

May I therefore respectfully suggest that the matter should proceed as follows:

1.  The Commissioner is invited to consider Mr Vaz's preliminary response to the draft memorandum, which will be provided to her and to you before 18 December, and make any changes to her report which she considers appropriate.

2.  In January, the Committee gives detailed consideration to the Commissioner's report, as amended.

3.  The Committee at the same time gives consideration to the further detailed observations of Mr Vaz which will be prepared over the Christmas period.

4.  Until the Committee has completed its detailed consideration the documents referred to are kept completely confidential as obviously any leaks to the media could be extremely damaging.

May I respectfully add one further point. The controversy over the Commissioner's re-appointment has led to expressions of partisanship among Members and others. Mr Vaz is concerned that he has been identified—for example by David Hencke in the Guardian on 10 December—as a leading "whisperer" who is seeking to undermine the Commissioner. Mr Vaz categorically denies that allegation. Two members of the Committee have put their names to an early day motion supporting the reinstatement of the Commissioner. In order to avoid any breach of natural justice it would seem prudent for those two Members not to take part in any deliberations or decisions of the Committee on Mr Vaz's case.

13 December 2001

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