Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witness (Questions 820 - 839)



  820. Can I say that we are exasperated with this case, just as you are, we just want it to come to a head, and it is these delays that are making life difficult, where there are lawyers between us and Members of Parliament. All we need to do is to talk to Members of Parliament, establish the truth and produce a report. The problem is that all along the line, for months, we have been complaining about people employing lawyers, and yet all the questions that have had to be answered have been perfectly simple. Can I just ask, on one particular question which was raised originally by the Chairman, you referred to the "K Vaz MP office account".
  (Mr Vaz) I did not. Mr Zaiwalla did.

  821. Sorry, you did not, Mr Zaiwalla did. In the reply to question number (v)— Can I clarify the position? In your reply to the Chairman—because I did not quite understand what was said—did you say that you were not aware that there was perhaps an account in that name?
  (Mr Vaz) No, no.

  822. Perhaps I misunderstood or I just did not hear you correctly.
  (Mr Vaz) No, what I said was that at the time there was a petty cash account, when I checked with the member of staff who was there. This is eight years ago. Members of Parliament deal with their offices in different ways. I choose to write cheques out now for my personal account when I have to pay for bills. That is what I choose to do now, and I have asked for every single thing to come to me; even silly little things like milk bills I am now going to pay. It does not come from Mapesbury, I have to tell you.

  823. Is there any way that even now, despite what you said the other week about the difficulties, we could find out, get the proof, that this payment of £1,000 was paid to this charity? Is there any way we could establish that?
  (Mr Vaz) No.

  824. Is there any way that you might recall at all?
  (Mr Vaz) No.

  825. Is there any way we could close this end of the thing?
  (Mr Vaz) No. Mr Campbell-Savours, I understand one's interest in this, and I am not criticising the Committee at all, but I have read the transcript of evidence of Mr Brown and, frankly, Mr Brown has contradicted himself totally with what he said on the telephone to Mr Milne. The only two people who have given certainty about this are me and Mr Zaiwalla. Mr Brown cannot remember whom he handed this envelope to. Mr Brown is the book keeper. He did not even know about these payments for the calendar.

  826. I understand that. I am not asking you about that. We also read the transcripts, obviously. The issue is, is there any way you can find out where that £1,000 went? At that stage you would have been supporting and promoting—as, indeed, we all would do—a few charities, and you might say, "Well, at that time, according to my diaries" or whatever, "I was promoting this particular charity, therefore it's likely that it went there and you could check there." It would make life a lot easier for us, I might say. We could wrap this up very quickly, could we not?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, we can, but you are considering a complaint against an MP not on the balance of probability, beyond all reasonable doubt, and this is not even breached. If it is dealing with my complaint, out of mere curiosity, yes, I can, I will write to lots and lots of people. I will have to send out 250 letters.

  827. For one year?
  (Mr Vaz) Mr Campbell-Savours, you have no idea how many people have approached me. For this Indian earthquake appeal I have been contacted by 35 separate organisations—35—and I have not responded positively to any one of those. There are this weekend seven concerts taking place to raise funds for the Indian earthquake, and I cannot go to any one of them, though I have bought tickets. There are just so many that it is impossible. Until it was even raised by Mr Brown and Mr Milne (who originally, of course, had a completely different explanation for all this money being passed around), it did not even cross my mind. I would merely say to people, "Contribute, support, do these things." I passed round a piece of paper last time from someone who wanted to climb Everest. That was the day before I gave evidence. Members of Parliament, frankly, and others contact me all the time about these issues.

  828. But can you see the problem for the Committee?
  (Mr Vaz) No, I cannot. I cannot see the problem for the Committee, because there is no credible evidence to support any claim that this money came to me. The scenario of it is so absurd. It is the most incredible scenario, if you read it. You almost feel now that this is a soap opera. I certainly feel like it is. I am surprised the Sunday Telegraph does not sell the rights of this. It is a soap opera. Why do you get frustrated? Why do you employ lawyers? It is because I think you need to put a simple question for a simple answer. You do not need a lifestyle investigation. You have a complaint, there is evidence, you put it to the Member, the Member responds. I think that is the basis. Mr Campbell-Savours, I am not going to whitter on, because you are busy. I cannot understand what point we have reached in this process, because if you take Mrs Filkin's broadcast from Jerusalem to be "I look at the evidence, I put in a memorandum, I submit it to the Committee. It is up to the Committee then to do what they want with it"; if we are in stage two, which we are, I imagine, I do not have a process for stage two. What I do not understand is why someone who is an investigator in stage one, who has prepared a report, should then be involved in stage two which is dealing with another body of people looking at the same evidence. This is what I cannot understand. That is why it is confusing. I think it is confusing for everyone, and I am glad you are having a review of this, because it needs a review. This is not a criticism of the Commissioner at all, or the Committee, it is just this second stage. Mr Sandall has been very helpful, but Mr Sandall always says what Mr Sandall is instructed to say. "We are onto the second stage," he says, "it is for the Committee to decide." Frankly, for third parties, for uninitiated people, I do not know where we are in this process, I really do not. The last questions at the end, concerning the expenses for the campaign fund, come from my entry in the register. Here (indicating) is the 1997 register after the election. You have the register. The Committee has it. What I did was that I put the names of people who had contributed to the Labour Party, and I have now discovered I did not even have to do that, because these were people who contributed to the Labour Party. But I am glad I did.

  829. Can I stop you. What you are saying, therefore, is that to track down where that recommended £1,000 was sent would mean writing to hundreds of people?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, because I—

  830. That is what you are saying to us?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, I would have to write to a lot of people—but I am happy to do that if you wish—and ask them do they remember in 1994.

  831. We have not expressed that wish at this stage. I am just putting to you that that is what you are saying it would take if we were to pursue it.
  (Mr Vaz) To be perfectly honest, the same thing would apply to Zaiwalla who would also be contributing to these causes. I get people writing to me, constituents, who say, "I'm going on a sponsored walk", "I can't complete my studies", "Would you send me some money?" and all that kind of thing. This goes on endlessly for MPs.

Mr Levitt

  832. Keith, I think one of the reasons we are in the position we are in now is because the Commissioner has uniquely come to us with a draft report in which she says she was unable to complete her investigations because of difficulties in obtaining evidence from various sources, so in that sense it is a unique situation for us as well. We are doing, if you like, some of the stage one work. I would like to take on this issue of Mr Zaiwalla and the £1,000. Mr Zaiwalla tells us that he gave, over a period of time, something like £2,250 to you, or through you, either for advertising, or for sponsorship of events or for charitable donations. On the one occasion where the £1,000 was in question, this was where he had undertaken to make a charitable donation at your request, and the charity, or the charity through yourself—I am not sure which—reminded him that he was late with his payment, and he thus authorised a payment in cash to the charity. Clearly, payments in cash are much harder to trace than payments through cheques and through accounts. Mr Brown tells us that you were present when that payment was made. Mr Zaiwalla tells us that it was paid to two men who came from the charity. I think you have said that you were responsible for suggesting to him that he make this charitable donation in the first place. Were you responsible for chasing it up as well when it was late?
  (Mr Vaz) I have no idea, but if I say to people that someone is going to contribute, or it is at a function or whatever, they will ring up and say, "Well, X, Y and Z have not done it." I have seen his evidence, and I may well have rung up and told him that he had not made his payment, but, frankly, having looked at his turnover, I think £2,500, or whatever it is, for good causes is pretty small beer for him.

  833. Indeed. How many times did you actually visit Mr Zaiwalla's premises?
  (Mr Vaz) I do not know. I have seen his evidence. I have nothing to add or subtract from what he said. I do not believe I signed in and signed out. It would be around about that time. There were a number of functions. Lord Mackay was at one of them. I do not know whether John Major was at one or not. You know, he was always having events there, unveiling of portraits and so on.

  834. I was not thinking so much of events as the private visit to his office.
  (Mr Vaz) No, as I have said in my answer, I was very rarely alone with Mr Zaiwalla and I have never met Mr Brown. I would not recognise Mr Brown if he was standing in a crowd of two.

  835. Have you ever received, through the payments that you have passed on to the Labour Party or to good causes, substantial sums in cash?
  (Mr Vaz) No.

  836. They have always been by cheque?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes. Well, I have not received it. The money for the Labour Party, the subject of Mr Syal and Mr Hastings' article a few weeks ago, was all paid by cheque and all paid to the Labour Party. I do not go around carrying— I do not know where this image, whether it is an image for MPs or certain types of MPs—

  837. No, it is simply that we have in this particular case a cash donation to a charitable cause which it is proving very difficult to locate as to where it comes from.
  (Mr Vaz) If I may say so, it is eight years ago. This all comes from Mr Milne's letter of 7 February in which he has made allegations which the Commissioner herself has found she cannot sustain. The Commissioner has said this.

  Mr Levitt: Thank you.

Mr Foster

  838. I just wanted to ask something about that £17,500. I think it is important to say that this is not the subject of a complaint, but I think that it is very important if you have no objection, and I think it is important to put to you, do you have any objection to answering questions about that today, given that it is not the subject of a complaint?
  (Mr Vaz) I have no objection, but I would ask this. We are within weeks of a general election campaign, I think—I do not know, it may be held this year or next year, I do not know when the election is going to be held. I do not know whether it is fair for a Member of Parliament to have to disclose what is or is not in their campaign fund, but I can tell you that the payments were made in the way in which the Labour Party Secretary General has stated, and I can tell you that the money is very much in the account, whatever is left. I can confirm what she has said as to what money was given to the Labour Party nationally. What happens is in campaigns if you have anything extra, people do ask for support, and the party locally did support the party nationally. I have to tell you that one of the donations—at least, actually two of the donations were not registerable, in the sense that I put it in the register, but I am glad I put all their names in the register. So yes, it was there, yes, it is there. If you want to know a balance, I will pass it round, but I do not want it published, because it will end up in the Sunday Telegraph.

  839. What I really want to know is—because we have all got experiences of how different constituencies operate on a different basis—what was the name of the account that these initial donations went into? We are talking about the five donations adding up to the £17,500. Was it the same account?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes. Yes, it was.

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