Examination of Witness (Questions 400
TUESDAY 6 FEBRUARY 2001
400. When was the last time you talked to Mr
(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
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
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
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
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 youif 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
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 paidand I am not saying
this criticallyhe 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
(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
(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
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.
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 constituenciesSouth,
East and West.