Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Third Report

Annex 80

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Mr Gerald Shamash, Steel and Shamash, Solicitors

  Thank you for your letter of 15 November 2000.

  I appreciate that you have wanted as early a response as possible but I have been away in Nigeria, however I have now been able to take my clients full instructions on the matters raised in your letter.

  It may be helpful if I set in context my client's official involvement with the constituency. My client was first elected Secretary of the Leicester East Constituency Labour Party in February 1992. At the time of his election there were no minute books in existence and therefore no records prior to his election to which he can refer. My client was surprised that there were no minutes and set about regularising the situation ensuring that a proper record was kept of both the General Committee and Executive Committee minutes. My client was re-elected secretary each year until his resignation in June 2000 for family reasons.

  In my letter of 14 November 2000 I requested an indication of the dates referred to my witnesses so that my client could save time in his search for the information required. You say that witnesses have given dates from 1988-1997. You will immediately appreciate that as no records exist for the period 1988-1992 my client can only verify his responses based on minutes available to him.

  I will deal with your queries in the order set out in your letter:

    1.  My client has not found any reference in the minutes of the CLP General Committee or indeed the Executive Committee requesting serving councillors to give a percentage of their allowances either regularly or not to the Labour Party. My client is from the best of his recollection never been at a constituency meeting at which such a request has been made.

    2.  See answer above.

    3.  Ditto.

    4.  It is worth noting that it is normal for sitting Labour councillors, to make a contribution to the respective Labour Groups on their Council. This is recognised under the Local Government and Housing Act 1989. This money is used to pay for the administrative and associated costs incurred by the Labour Group. In addition each Labour Councillor is required to be a member of the Association of Labour Councillors. This entails the payment of a subscription, currently between £10—£50 per annum dependent on means. This is for the purposes of briefing, advice, guidance, etc.

  In 1995 a Premises Fund was set up by the CLP to enable it to run offices. Prior to that time following my client's election in February 1992 he effectively ran the constituency office from his bedroom. This was most intrusive and inefficient. After much debate it was thought that the CLP could best raise funds was by the establishment of a 50 Club. This was structured on the basis that members of the Party and supporters could contribute at a rate of £5 per month. At the end of each month a draw would take place; the winner would receive a prize calculated on the basis of 50 per cent of the months take. From my client's memory the 50 Club never exceeded 37 members during its lifetime. The surplus after the prize had been paid out, was then used to fund the CLP expenses. These were heating, lighting, telephone, paper, photocopying etc of the office space. All the invoices and bills including the utilities were paid directly by the CLP from its own funds and not by payment to Mr Vaz.

  This office space was provided free by Keith Vaz MP located in the ground floor of 146 Uppingham Road a property owned by him but which was at all times vacant save for the CLP office. It was next door to his Parliamentary Constituency Office at 144.

  The Premises Fund was in fact closed in mid 1996. This was because my client's wife suffered a major stroke which required him to be at home. The funding then began to taper off very quickly. In fact even whilst at the office funding became a problem as members dropped out.

  For the sake of clarity my client confirms that references by witnesses to 100 or 200 Clubs are not correct but refer to the 50 Club. In respect of the Lottery referred to in your letter this was run by the Labour Party nationally. Tickets were sold with the CLP receiving a proportion of the income. This lottery is available to any Constituency Labour Party that wishes to join.

  My client can categorically state that the CLP has never from his direct knowledge or recollection ever contributed to the running of the MP's office. It may be that confusion has arisen in the memories of some of your witnesses in that the MP's actual parliamentary constituency office is next door at 144 Uppingham Road as distinct from 146 Uppingham Road where as explained above for the short period between 95-96 the CLP office was situated.

  I trust that I have been able to set out my client's instructions in such a way that deals with all the questions that you have raised. My client fully understands that you are merely trying to establish the factual situation and has indicated through me that if you require any further information he will endeavour to assist.

30 November 2000

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