Examination of Witness (Questions 1-19)|
TUESDAY 15 JANUARY 2002
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
(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
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 askingwhat 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
(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
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?
11. Did you tell the Commissioner you had asked
(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?