Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1-19)




  1. Mr Vaz, thank you for coming before this Committee this morning and we also welcome Mr Bindman. A number of serious allegations have been made against you. The Committee has got the benefit of the Commissioner's report, the related annexes and we have also had your responses in two volumes, which I have read thoroughly. What the Committee wants to do this morning is focus on those questions which we do not believe have been fully answered or where the answers give rise to further questions or where my colleagues want to probe a little further. We are as anxious as I am sure you are to complete this inquiry. We want to be fair to you, obviously, and we want to be fair to the House which has asked us to apply the code of behaviour, so it would assist us if you were to answer our questions accurately and concisely. I would like to start, if I may, with the complaint relating to a financial relationship with the Hinduja brothers. My predecessor, Robert Sheldon, wrote to you on March 20 last year (and that is page 21 of the annexes) and asked whether "you or any member of your family, has received or been associated, in any way, with any other payments or benefits provided by the Hinduja family or their Foundation." In your reply you said "Neither my family nor I have received any payments from the Hinduja brothers." We know that several payments were made by the Hindujas to Fernandes Vaz for legal work, and against that background can I ask, firstly, whether you were aware of that when you wrote your reply to my predecessor?
  (Mr Vaz) No.

  2. So you gave the assurance without knowing that your wife had received any payments?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, because, Mr Chairman, it is not for me to be involved in my wife's legal practice. I never have been.

  3. You did not know that she was doing any work for the Hindujas?
  (Mr Vaz) We have been married for 16 years, she is an expert in immigration law. As a solicitor she has her clients and I have my duties. I do not involve myself in her practice. The only person who knew of these payments was Mrs Filkin.

  4. You told the Commissioner that you would ask your wife about any payments she might have received from the Hinduja family, business or Foundation. Did you?
  (Mr Vaz) I asked my wife whether or not any payments were received. She was replying as she would always reply, on the basis of any registerable benefits. She did not discuss her clients with me. I would not expect her to. I would not expect a lawyer to tell me, even though it was my wife, who her clients were.

  5. Might you, then, have told the Committee or the Commissioner of your concerns about your wife's professional duty and confidentiality?
  (Mr Vaz) No, because I have no authority, as a Member of Parliament, or as a husband, to give instructions to my wife. Mrs Filkin was well aware that payments had been made because she received, according to her annex, on 15 February a statement from an employee of my wife. The issue is whether or not she gave that information to Mr Sandall, and whether or not Mr Sandall gave that information to the Chairman. If the Chairman had written and said "I understand that payments have been made to her practice and, therefore, would you like to comment on that?", my reply would have been "You raise that with my wife". I do not speak on behalf of my wife.

  6. Against that background, why did you say "Neither my family nor I have received any payments from the Hinduja brothers"?
  (Mr Vaz) Because, as I have said very clearly in my submission to you, beginning on page 16 onwards, that what I would have imagined that Robert Sheldon was asking—what he asked that I was responding to was, were any payments received by me or members of my family from the Hindujas, and the answer is no. This is not a question about Maria Fernandes' practice. There has to be a distinction between what Members of Parliament do in their lives and what their wives do in their professional activities. The code of practice accepts that. A number of MPs have professionals who are wives, and a number of Members of the Government and a number of Members of the Opposition. There is no question that we have to relate information about that.

  7. Rather than saying "Neither my family nor I have received any payments from the Hinduja brothers", would not a better reply have been "My wife is a solicitor. I respect her professional confidentiality and, therefore, I do not know whether she has received any payments from the Hinduja family or their foundation"?
  (Mr Vaz) No, it would not because Mr Sheldon and the Committee were well aware that my wife was a solicitor. She had given evidence to the Committee last year. She has actually sworn an affidavit about her clients to this Committee. Mrs Filkin had the information and rather than give an impression to me that no further information was available Mrs Filkin should have made that information available to the Chairman. She did not choose to do so, but she knew on 15 February.

  8. Is not the impression the Committee would have been left with, if we had simply accepted what you said, that no payment had been made from the Hinduja brothers to your wife?
  (Mr Vaz) Not at all, because the Parliamentary Commissioner knew on 15 February that payments had been made. You would never have been under that impression, because the Parliamentary Commissioner was told on 15 February that Mrs Hinduja was a client of my wife by Mr Gresty, the husband of Rita Gresty my wife's ex-employee. Why was the letter written to me asking me information which was already in the possession of the Commissioner? I just do not understand that.

  9. What we are asking is whether the reply which you gave to my predecessor was an accurate one.
  (Mr Vaz) Absolutely accurate.

  10. You have asserted that "Neither my family nor I have received any payments from the Hinduja brothers" is an accurate response, even though your wife did receive payments from the Hindujas.
  (Mr Vaz) Absolutely, because I did not know about it. It is absolutely accurate, because I would never ask my wife who her clients are and what information she had on her clients, because she would not be able to practise again. If a third party was able to make a complaint about a Member of Parliament concerning his or her spouse, on the basis of their professional activities, that person could never practise again. I do not want to know what my wife does. Clearly Mrs Filkin is interested in it, but I am not. She can do what she wants, she is not subject to the Parliamentary Code of Conduct or the Solicitor's Code, which my wife is bound by .

  Chairman: Can I ask my colleagues if there any questions they want to ask on this particular case?

Peter Bottomley

  11. Did you tell the Commissioner you had asked your wife?
  (Mr Vaz) No, because the letter came from Mr Sheldon and I replied to Mr Sheldon. In my letter that I wrote to Mrs Filkin I wrote, at the end, "As far as I am aware". That is what I said to Mrs Filkin. Mrs Filkin has never, ever in the last few months of this inquiry asked me about my wife's clients. She has known about this since 15 February but she has never put the question to me.

  12. Can I just be clear. If I said "You told the Commissioner you would ask your wife about anything she might have received from the Hinduja family, business or foundation", are you saying you never said that to the Commissioner?
  (Mr Vaz) Can you repeat that?

  13. You told the Commissioner that you would ask your wife about any payments she might have received from the Hinduja family, business or foundation. Did you do so?
  (Mr Vaz) On what date did I say—

  14. I am just asking.
  (Mr Vaz) On what date? What is the reference?

  15. On any date.
  (Mr Vaz) I do not know. There is a lot of paper. Which date? This appeared in the newspapers and therefore—

  16. If your answer is you do not know—
  (Mr Vaz) No, the answer is not "I do not know". Mr Bottomley, it is not that I do not know, it is that on 3 June The Mail on Sunday published a very, very large article about my wife's practice. Of course at that stage I knew, of course at the stage when Mrs Filkin wrote to me and said "These are your wife's clients" I knew, so the date is actually very, very important. I have made it very clear that my wife's clients are her own; they are not the subject of this inquiry. Her conduct is not the subject of this inquiry. What is is my knowledge. When Mr Sheldon wrote to me he asked me whether I knew of any payments that had been made to my family. The answer is no. He did not say "Were any payments made to my wife's practice?". Even if he had said that it is not a question that I can answer.

  17. That may be the answer to questions that have not been asked at the moment, but the question I was asking is this: the words are these: you told the Commissioner that you would ask your wife about any payments she might have received from the Hinduja family, business or foundation. It is not a question of which date you may have said that.
  (Mr Vaz) It is the question.

  18. Is the answer that you do not know whether you said that or that you did say it?
  (Mr Vaz) No. You have a quotation there. It has obviously come from the annexes. Just tell me the annex reference and I will get the date.


  19. It is 176.
  (Mr Vaz) What was the date?

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2002
Prepared 8 February 2002