Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 140-159)



  140. Or do you normally forward them, as I think most colleagues do, and say, "I have received this reply, if you have any further matters you wish to raise with me please do so"?
  (Mr Vaz) It is in the file but the actual wording would have been the exact wording we use in any other case. Sometimes we have printed documents saying that, other times we have a letter. This is not even a letter signed by me, this is a standard letter.

  141. But you specifically asked Mr Peene to come and see you.
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, we would do that. We would do that. I think the last letter we had before he came to see me was a reply from the senior official—Do you know the one I mean?

  142. I know the one you mean.
  (Mr Vaz) He wrote, a routine letter would go out which would say, "Come and see me at the surgery". He was not given a special meeting. The reason why I put my surgery list in is because the way he was saying this it was like calling for a special meeting. A five minute constituency appointment—they never actually last five minutes, they over-run—is just a routine constituency meeting.

  143. But you did invite him to come?
  (Mr Vaz) But they are always invited to come.


  144. Relating to what Mr McNamara is asking, in paragraph 619 of the Commissioner's Report—
  (Mr Vaz) Is it the draft report?

  145. The draft report—it quotes a letter which you wrote on September 28, "The letter . . ." and that is the routine letter, ". . . is a routine letter to any constituent who asks how his matter is progressing." I could not find on the file any enquiry from Mr Peene as to how the matter was progressing.
  (Mr Vaz) I would have written that letter because I would have received a letter from the Attorney General's department. The second way in which I would write a letter is if someone phones my office like today and says they want to see Mr Vaz, they would get a standard letter. This is not a letter I have signed, this is a routine, standard letter sent out by my case worker in Leicester. There is nothing special about this letter.

  146. Just going back to Mr McNamara's question, we all get letters in our post every day which are onward-forwarded to our constituents, what was there about this which made you say, "I am not going to do what I normally do, I am going to ask him to come in and have a meeting"?
  (Mr Vaz) I would not make that decision. That decision would be made if the case worker in Leicester felt somebody had rung and said, "I want to see Mr Vaz." You have looked at Mr Peene's file, he did not become a routine constituent, because of the volume of correspondence and the number of phone calls he made. When I did not reply to correspondence, he criticised me. If you look at the next letter he writes to me, I write a letter after the surgery, which is my record of what is said at the surgery—the only record I have is what I write—he then writes to me—actually I think there is a delay because—can I just look at it because we want to get this right and look through the whole scenario?

Peter Bottomley

  147. I think it might be helpful if Mr Vaz and we recognise he had had a letter dated 29 March from Mr Peene with a number of complicated things in it, which might have triggered the letter to him to invite him to come in.
  (Mr Vaz) It is not just that, but also what happened, as I look through it, is that it would not be routine for me to have gone to a senior official at the Attorney General's department, and I may have had the reply from him before I saw Peene, but there are many reasons why. Then the letter from Kim Howells which came through, I am quite sure, would have arrived after the meeting with Peene, because it is dated 15 April and ministers' letters are usually delayed because they go up to Leicester. Here we are. Mr Cranston might know who signed this note, I cannot remember.

Ross Cranston

  148. This is your Tab 11?
  (Mr Vaz) This (indicating) one.

  149. Tab 11.
  (Mr Vaz) That is 8 April.

  150. Tab 12, I am sorry.
  (Mr Vaz) "This correspondence and the covering letter from you eventually . . . Mr Peene's case is very well known . . . There are basically two threads to his allegations, the first is that you knew the DTI is in some way corrupt . . . bla, bla, bla . . . Metropolitan Police." It could have been that I wrote to him about, it could have been the fact he had written to me.


  151. Can we then move on to what actually happened because this is where the Committee is faced with two wholly conflicting accounts, one which is yours and the other which is Mr Peene's. Mr Peene alleges you asked him questions. Why would Mr Peene have invented this account of the transactions of your advice bureau?
  (Mr Vaz) I have no idea. I have absolutely no idea. You will have to ask him. All I can say is, I do not know anything about the Russian export market, I do not even know what the Intervention Board is. I have gone to the library and asked them to give me the company searches of *** , this company he says I know about. I have got the details of the company searches here. I have looked at it to see whether I know any of the directors, and the directors are listed here. One of them is Lord Wade of Chorlton, who is the former Deputy Treasurer of the Conservative Party. I just cannot understand how anyone can believe I have an interest in this company. I have the things here and I will pass them on. I actually asked the clerk to send me this but he said he did not have this information.

  152. So Mr Peene is making it up?
  (Mr Vaz) Yes he is, because I would not know about the Russian butter mountain. There is an easy way of finding out, which I think Mrs Filkin should pursue. She had been in touch with the Intervention Board, there is no reason why we cannot write to the Intervention Board who apparently have a copy of the—

  153. The object of this encounter is not to give advice to Mrs Filkin, it is to try and get answers from you.
  (Mr Vaz) But I do not know—I would like—

Mr McNamara

  154. You accept that in fact Mr Peene did feel he had received this enquiry from you to such an extent he informed his superiors, and that was recorded?
  (Mr Vaz) No, he said that.

  155. I am saying, you accept he said that?
  (Mr Vaz) No, because the Intervention Board, according to Mr Peene's last letter, deny any knowledge of any report and he is in dispute with the Intervention Board.

  156. That is not the statement that the Commissioner makes. She contacted the Intervention Board and they confirmed Mr Peene had made a statement to them.
  (Mr Vaz) Well, we do not know, because we do not know what was put to them. All I can tell you is what Mr Peene is now saying as a result of what Mrs Filkin has written, which is that the Intervention Board does not have a copy of the report. Is it not very strange that apparently an MP is supposed to have raised the Russian butter mountain at a meeting with someone who is doing an investigation, he does not keep a copy of that statement, and the very organisation he is supposed to work for, to whom he sent a copy of this report, also does not have a copy of the report. I did not make a written note of what I said other than what was in the letter I sent following the meeting. Any constituent can come to any of our surgeries and say, "X, Y and Z has said this." We need to know when he reported that to the Intervention Board, that is not clear from Mrs Filkin's phone call.

  157. We have the statement that the Intervention Board, or his superiors, accepted a phone call from Ms Filkin, and they said, "Yes, Mr Peene had made a complaint about you."
  (Mr Vaz) Yes, but we do not know when.

  158. The issue of the time and the place at the moment is not of importance, the fact is that a complaint was made. Why should a person, whose integrity you do not doubt, go from a meeting he has had with you and telephone his superiors or write a report to his superiors and say, "This matter of a highly confidential, fraudulent inquiry which we are making was surprisingly raised with me by my MP, who asked me to go and see him, and in the course of our conversations this was raised?"
  (Mr Vaz) I have no idea.

  159. It was also witnessed by his wife, who has confirmed that statement as well.
  (Mr Vaz) I do not know what was witnessed by his wife because we have had no statement from his wife. Secondly, I do not know what he has said to anyone else, because nobody else has confirmed the date, the time and place this was made. It does seem to me very odd, since we are looking at human behaviour, Mr McNamara, if indeed that happened, why on earth did not Mr Peene, who is not averse to writing lots of letters to everybody, immediately write to me and say, "Mr Vaz, you have acted improperly in raising this issue and we would like to know how you know about it"? Why did not the Intervention Board say, "How on earth did Keith Vaz know about the Russian butter mountain and ***? We must write to Mr Vaz and find out how he knows. We are the anti-fraud unit. Because if an MP knows, the next thing Mr Vaz is going to do, and knowing Mr Vaz's history, is go into the House of Commons and start raising it there." How come none of this happened? First of all, he carries on with the conversation very happily, "Thank you for meeting with me, thank you for doing this, thank you for doing that", I get no communication from the Intervention Board, nobody writes to me and says, "Why did you raise it?", nobody asks me about

*** until the autumn of this year. Mr Peene is trying to make a connection between me and this company. The connection is so tenuous it is unbelievable. It is based on the fact that someone called *** was a director of *** and I was a director of Skillshare Africa in 1992, and we crossed over by one month. We never attended any meeting, we have never even met each other. I have here the records of *** , the only people who appear to be directors are, as I have said—the most famous person is a former Deputy Treasurer of the Conservative Party. Some of you are directors of companies—the Chairman is a director of McCarthy Stone—I can go along and find out the name of a director of McCarthy Stone who was once a director of another company. You know, it could go on forever.

  Chairman: I think, Mr Vaz—

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