Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 400 - 419)



  400. When was the last time you talked to Mr Kapasi?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I would have seen him at various inter-faith functions of one sort or another perhaps twice over the past year and exchanged pleasantries. Beyond that I have had no discussion.

  401. You have never discussed anything to do with this inquiry?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I have been very careful not to.

  402. What documents relevant to this Inquiry have you had access to?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I have had the transcript of my discussion with the Commissioner, together with, I think, her correspondence with Mr Price-Jones the Town Clerk at the time I wrote, and a document that was produced by Colin Hall, one of Keith's friends, after some difficulties we had in and around this period in 1994. I think that is all I have had.

  403. Have you talked to the press about the Inquiry at all?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, I have been very careful not to, including refusing to give my name to the person sitting outside this door!

  404. Would you say that relations between you and Mr Vaz are bitter?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I do not know how Keith feels about me. I certainly feel he and I have a different view about what is proper behaviour in public life. Yes, to that extent, obviously there are differences between us and a distance between us.

  405. Do you think that many of the allegations made in Leicester perhaps derive primarily from misunderstandings arising out of that bitterness?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, I know that not to be the case.

Mr Williams

  406. Other than the Kapasi issue, how would you describe these different views of proper behaviour in public life, on what you have based the idea there is such a difference?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I think there have been a number of occasions in the past when I have felt Keith's attitude to the truth is different from the attitude I feel appropriate for a person in public life. It ranges from a whole range of issues: from telling one group in the community that he is in support of a road scheme, while telling another that he is opposed to it; through to rather more national or even international issues, such us his message of support to Salman Rushdie followed by taking part in a march with a group of Muslims wanting to burn the Satanic Verses; through to the difficulties he is having with his attitude towards Kashmir, telling different communities different attitudes, which has caused a number of problems, not just in Leicester but at a national level. There are a range of issues of that sort which come to my mind, and I am sure I could remember more occasions if you wished me to.

  407. These are matters of presentational propriety rather than monetary propriety. Is there anything similar to the Kapasi-type situation that has concerned you in the past?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, but there have been a number of occasions when Keith's behaviour towards the Council and Council officers has caused me considerable concern and, on some occasions, considerable embarrassment. You may recently have seen some reports of the alleged extraordinary lengths he went to to overturn the eviction of somebody who appeared to have very substantial rent arrears who, as I understand, asserted he could not be evicted because he was a friend of Keith's. That through to the extraordinary lengths of the alleged bullying of Council staff associated with getting that tenant reinstated.

  408. What position would he be in to bully? He has no executive hold over them. He may shout and bluster but anybody can shout and bluster. Could you be more specific?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Both with regard to that issue and, indeed, on other occasions, council officers have reported to me and to other of my colleagues the extent to which he has sought to put pressure on them, the extent to which he has sought to suggest their jobs were at risk were they not to do what he wished. I am sure, if the Committee were minded to follow this, that there are Council officers who would testify on the extent to which they have been put under pressure by Keith, and the extent to which they have had their jobs threatened by him, as a result of their determination to carry out Council policy appropriately and even-handedly. I am aware of the comparatively recent incident where officers in a particular department of the Council have felt that the way in which he has put pressure on them is totally inappropriate, and did involve (they allege) threats to their continued livelihood. You ask how it is possible for a Member of Parliament to do this. As I have explained to the Commissioner, and you may wish to go back over the transcripts, the extent to which Keith has control of the selection and deselection of councillors within his constituency is unique in my experience. There are records of him on tape talking about: "Who we'll have here", "who we'll there", "who we'll deselect there", and "who we'll deselect in another ward". That does give him enormous influence over those members who are selected and deselected by him, and does enable him to use that influence, I believe, in a totally inappropriate manner within the Council.

  409. This is new to me. Would you be able to provide relatively quickly information in black and white in support of these allegations, do you think?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) It is difficult for me as a back-bench member of Leicester City Council to go to officers and say, "Will you give me affidavits that are critical of one of the Members of Parliament in the City?" I could try, but you may guess at what response I would get.

  410. The problem is that hearsay is not normally acceptable evidence. We really would need something in black and white. If people came to complain to you, would they not have put their complaint in black and white when they came to see you in your previous role?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I doubt it. Chairman, I am not making fresh allegations. These are issues I have touched on in general in my discussion with the Commissioner, and I bring them up now in response to the question.

  411. Can I put it to you—if you can provide any authentic support of what you have said we would obviously look at that.
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I will certainly do my very best. I wondered whether it might not be more appropriate for the Commissioner to write. I would be happy to give her the names of those concerned. I think, frankly, a request from the Commissioner might carry rather more authority than a request from me.

  Chairman: The Committee can consider that.

Mr Williams

  412. I will leave that to you, Chairman, at this stage. In the Kapasi case, where he first of all said a request had been made and then he actually paid—and I am not saying this critically—he only said that when there was no-one around to witness it?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) The first time it was said to me actually was in the presence, at the very least, of somebody from the Swaminarayan Hindu Mission, who confirmed they too had been asked for a contribution. As I recall it, it was a cultural event at Shree Sanatan Mandir, one of the Hindu temples in the City. It certainly was not said secretly at that stage.

  413. Would you remember offhand who might have said that?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I really would not, but I bet Mr Kapasi would know who it was, because it was the leading member of the Swaminarayan who had been invited to this cultural event.

  414. We have a problem then. In relation to Mrs Vaz senior, Merlyn Vaz, first of all, would it not have been appropriate to warn her, without revealing the source, that allegations were being made; because they are very serious allegations, and at least it would be a warning shot that someone was aware (if it indeed was happening) that this was going on? Instead, nothing really was done about the allegation.
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I can understand you asking me the question but, frankly, if you knew Mrs Vaz's personality you would understand why that was not an easy thing to do.

  415. Yet you bit the bullet and took her out of the Chair?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I did indeed, yes.

  416. Why was that? Why did you remove her from the Chair?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) Because I was concerned about the extent to which she was becoming involved in matters that ought only to be the preserve of the officers of the Council, inappropriate discussions with developers on potential purchases of land, not just on this occasion. I think she had not got a very good understanding of the sort of role that is appropriate for a member of the Council as opposed to one of the officers of the Council.

  417. There is a distinction there. You said "for a member of the Council". You took her from the chairmanship; she still remained a member of the Council; you did not take her from the Committee. If you were concerned about it, would not the sensible thing to have been to divorce as far as possible her relationship with this source of power?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) I understand the question entirely but, frankly, it was the most I could achieve, and that was difficult enough. Removing her from the Chair caused very considerable difficulty. The person I tried to put in her place was persuaded by Keith and Merlyn to stand down, so I had to find another candidate to try and defeat Merlyn at the election that followed as a result of that. You have to understand that Committee Chairs in local authorities, certainly as things were organised at that time, are essentially elected by members of the group. In a small group you do find yourself having to make compromises with what you might achieve were you to have the sort of position that, as I said earlier, the Prime Minister has in terms of how you allocate people.

  418. Would membership of a committee have been within your gift, but chairmanship would be a matter for whom?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) No, the chairmanship is a matter for the group; so is membership of the Committee; but it is possible for a Leader in most circumstances at most times to be quite successful in ensuring that particular people are guided towards particular Chairs and are successful in any elections that follow. That is not the case with membership of the committees. Membership of the committees are taken to the group; there are never enough people to fill the places you have got (or never used to be in the old structure before modernisation) and it only needed Merlyn to persuade somebody to do a swop with her and she was back on the Committee. It is as simple as that.

Mr Bottomley

  419. Just to remind the Committee of the situation in Leicester, how many constituencies are there in the City?
  (Sir Peter Soulsby) There are three constituencies—South, East and West.

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