Examination of Witness (Questions 369
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
369. Welcome to the Committee, Sir Peter. Would
you say something about your relationship with Mr Vaz, brieflyyou
do not need to go into any great lengths but just acquaint us
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Certainly. As you will have seen
from the transcript of my conversation with the Commissioner,
I was Leader of Leicester City Council from 1981 through until
1995, and then again from 1996 through to 1999having been
a member of the City Council from 1973. I first met Keith when
he came to Leicester as a parliamentary candidate in 1985, and
obviously got to know him quite well over the years since then.
As I explained to the Commissioner, and as you will see from the
transcript of our discussion, that relationship has not always
been an easy one. It is one that has on a number of occasions
led us into differences of opinion and, indeed, on some occasions
quite open conflict. I can if you wish, Chairman, give some further
details of those difficulties, or you may wish to refer to the
370. I think a number of those will come out.
The first question I wanted to put to you is the one that you
told the Commissioner, that Mr Kapasi was asked for some form
of payment in connection with the land in Hamilton, Leicester.
Can you say something about that?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Mr Kapasi is a very prominent
member of the community in Leicester. He is President (I think
is the title) of the Dawoodi Bohra Jamaat, which is a Muslim group
in the City. I have known him quite well, as he and his group
have had some difficulties with some previous premises which they
had which had been subject to an arson attack and I had helped
them get alternative premises in the centre of town. Mr Kapasi,
together with somebody from the Swaminarayan Hindu Missionwhich
is one of the other three groups seeking to purchase and develop
land for places of worship in the Hamilton area of the Citytold
me that they had been asked by Keith and his mother, Merlyn, to
make "campaign contributions" (that was how they described
them) of a thousand pounds each; with words to the effect that
"if they can afford to purchase the land at Hamilton they
can certainly afford that sort of contribution". I think
it was fairly clear to me this was intended for my ears only at
that stage. As I had by that stage already reshuffled his mother
from the Chair of the Council's Property Committee, I felt that
probably all I could do as a council leader had been done at that
stage. Then he later repeated this to me in a telephone conversation.
I returned his call, and I think at that stage his primary concern
was about other things that were going on within the City Council
at the time, but he also said, "Do you know, we actually
paid up £500 to Keith and Merlyn". I, at that stage,
was involved in some fairly tumultuous events within the Council
but did feel I needed to get on record that I had been told this;
so I sent a letter to the Town Clerk at that time, particularly
focusing on Merlyn's role in it. Obviously, as Leader of the Council,
I was more concerned with the activities of a member of my own
group, rather than the activities of a Member of Parliament. It
was quite clear from Mr Kapasi that it was both of them acting
together who asked for and, it is alleged, received £500.
371. How was the payment interpreted: as expenses,
as a bribe, what?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) It was described by Mr Kapasi
as having been requested as "a campaign contribution".
What that means of course is clearly open to interpretation. "A
campaign contribution" were the words he said had been used.
372. This would have been as a result of his
involvement in the affair?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) The Hamilton area of the City
is within Leicester East constituency. Keith's mother had been
Chair of Property; was at that time still a member of the Property
Committee and, indeed, of the Planning Development Control Sub-Committee;
both of which were crucial elements in purchase of land from the
Council and the obtaining of planning permission. The whole issue
of building of places of worship at Hamilton had been the subject
of considerable political controversy between the parties of the
373. Was it interpreted as a condition for assistance,
for a campaign contribution to be made?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) I could not say that. I just know
what was said to me at the time by Mr Kapasi and someone from
the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission and later by Mr Kapasi himself.
374. At what stage in the process was this campaign
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Certainly before either the land
had been sold, or before the planning permission had been granted;
because I know the issue has in fact rumbled on since then; and
I think only quite recently has the final purchase of the land
gone through. It was certainly quite early in the process.
375. Who actually made the payment?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) I think you have to ask Mr Kapasi
quite how he made it. I can only say that the implication was
that he made it personally.
376. Personally, not by the Dawoodi Community?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) No, not as I understood it.
377. When you heard the allegation what did
(Sir Peter Soulsby) The first time I heard it, it
was more in terms of the request having been made, than the payment
having been given. Having already reshuffled Merlyn Vaz away from
the Chair of Property and put in there somebody in whose integrity
I had entire confidence, I felt sufficient had been done at that
stage. It was later, at a time of considerable political turmoil
in the Council, Mr Kapasi actually told me he had made a payment
that I actually felt I needed to put it on record. That was a
time of such turmoil that the opportunity to follow that up did
not occur as I lost the leadership quite shortly afterwards.
378. Mr Kapasi told you about that some time
after the payment was made?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) Yes.
379. Any idea how long after it had been made?
(Sir Peter Soulsby) To the best of my recollection,
the difference in time between him first having mentioned it to
me and then telling me a payment had been made would have been
the matter of a few months.