Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report


(i)  Complaints relating to Mr Vaz's alleged financial relationship with the Hinduja brothers

a)  Complaint by Mr Andrew Lansley MP

13.  On 19 March 2001, Mr Andrew Lansley, Member for South Cambridgeshire, wrote to me (Annex i1) to make a complaint against Mr Vaz, alleging that he had received registrable benefits from the Hinduja brothers which he had failed to register.

14.  Specifically, Mr Lansley said that:

15.  Mr Lansley summarised his complaint as follows:

    "I am writing to ask you to investigate this aspect of Mr Vaz's conduct, since the payment from the Hinduja Foundation in 1995 to Mapesbury Communications Limited could have given rise to a benefit to Mr Vaz and should therefore have been registered."

16.  Mr Lansley's letter concluded:

    "On the face of it, Mr Vaz's reply to you was accurate only on the basis that the Hinduja Foundation is not interpreted as the Hinduja brothers; that Mr Vaz did not, and could not have benefited from the payments to Mapesbury Communications Limited; or that the transaction was irrelevant since the payment solely reimbursed costs incurred and did not include any element or profit payment in respect of Mr Vaz's own time. All of these are arguable propositions or unsubstantiated.

    The failure to provide sufficient information regarding this payment, either in Mr Vaz's letter to you, or as information supplied about Mapesbury Communications Limited, could have had the capacity to mislead, or to frustrate the purpose of your investigations and so, therefore, I would also ask you to examine whether this constitutes a matter which should be reported to the Committee."

17.  With his letter Mr Lansley enclosed a copy of the Report of the Trustees of the Hinduja Foundation for 1995. Listed as the trustees were Mr S P Hinduja, Mr G P Hinduja and Mr P P Hinduja. Attached to the statement of accounts of the Foundation was a schedule of payments, including donations, made during the 12 months to 31 December 1995. Amongst these was an entry relating to "Vaswani Lecture and Reception" which, in addition to other payments, referred to the following item:

      "06/07/95 Mapesbury Communications£1,196.10".

Mr Vaz's Response

18.  I wrote to Mr Vaz on 20 March 2001 (Annex i2) seeking his comments on the matters raised by Mr Lansley in his letter of 19 March 2001. I indicated to Mr Vaz that I was aware that the Chairman of the Committee had written to him requiring him to provide me with information on the same matter, but I pointed out that Mr Lansley's letter "raised wider concerns", namely the possibility that Mr Vaz had misled me, on which I would be grateful for his observations.

19.  The Chairman's letter, dated 20 March 2001 (Annex i3), explained the reasons for his writing to Mr Vaz as follows:

    "The Committee at its meeting today noted various press articles which alleged that payments had been made to Mapesbury Communications from the Hinduja Foundation.

    The Commissioner also informed the Committee that she had received a complaint from Mr Andrew Lansley raising this matter. She has told me that she will be writing to you in due course with a copy of the letter.

    The Committee agreed that I should write to you to require you to provide the Commissioner with full details of any payment from the Hinduja family or their Foundation, to you, or any member of your family, with the supporting documentary records."

20.  In addition to seeking details about the Dada Vaswani lecture and any associated payment to Mapesbury Communications by the Hinduja Foundation,[65] the Chairman also asked Mr Vaz:

    "... 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 and, if so, provide full details."

21.  On the same date (20 March 2001), the Chairman also wrote to Mr Vaz's wife, Ms Maria Fernandes, in her capacity as a director of Mapesbury Communications asking her to provide similar information about the Dada Vaswani lecture and any resulting payments to the company by the Hinduja Foundation (Annex.i4).

22.  On 20 April 2001, Ms Fernandes replied to the Chairman (Annex i5):

    "I understand that the information you had requested concerning the event on 6 July 1995 has already been supplied. I have no personal knowledge of this matter."

23.  Mr Vaz came to see me on 21 and 26 March 2001 (Annexes ii14 and i6) to discuss these matters and, in particular on 26 March 2001, Mr Lansley's complaint. Following the meeting on 26 March 2001 I recorded the following note (Annex i6):

    "I suggested to Mr. Vaz that he should carefully reply to all the points which Andrew Lansley had made. I particularly drew his attention to the allegations that he had misled me and the Committee and I said I felt he should deal with those. He said he thought that the way in which Andrew Lansley's letters were written, did not actually raise any complaints because it said "Mr. Vaz may" and "Mr. Vaz may have". I said that as far as I was concerned, the paragraphs made clear Mr. Lansley's contentions and I thought that Mr. Vaz should take the opportunity of replying to them. And I said that what I wanted to make sure that he was absolutely clear what those complaints were so that he could be under no illusion that he had dealt with all the points when he had not. Mr. Vaz said he accepted this. Mr. Vaz said he would go away and write a longer letter which did cover these other points and would include in them the information which he provided me in the meeting about the smaller points."

24.  On 26 March 2001 Mr Vaz wrote to me giving his formal response (Annex i7). Mr Vaz said that he had already replied to the Chairman's letter of 20 March on the same subject (Annex.i8), and that the main points of that reply had been incorporated in his response to my letter of 20 March.

25.  Mr Vaz prefaced his response to me with a statement consisting of the following points:

    —  that the event in question [the Vaswani lecture and reception] took place 6 years ago;

    —  that it was one of numerous events he had attended during the previous 6 years;

    —  that he had therefore asked others to obtain information for him;

    —  that he had no personal knowledge of the details of the organisation of the event in question, other than that it took place and that he had been present;

    —  that he had taken it upon himself to obtain as much information as possible from the company and that, in doing so, he believed he had my approval on the basis that this would "save [me] having to go through this process."

26.  Mr Vaz's response to the main points in Mr Lansley's letter were as follows:

    —  the event in question, a lecture given by Dada Vaswani of the Sadu Vaswani Mission, took place at the House of Commons on 6 July 1995[66] and the event was attended by a number of other Members of Parliament;

    —  the event was convened and chaired jointly by Mr Vaz and another Member of Parliament;

    —  the payment of £1,196.10 was made by the Hinduja Foundation to Mapesbury Communications Limited on the basis of an invoice for that amount;

    —  the payment was intended solely to cover the costs incurred in organising the lecture and, accordingly, there "was no benefit to the company [Mapesbury Communications Limited]";

    —  neither Mr Vaz nor his co-sponsor of the event, nor their offices had benefited from the event.

27.  Mr Vaz added:

    "I have not received any payments from the Hinduja family; neither has my family, as far as I am aware. This also applies to the Hinduja Foundation. I may well have attended Hinduja Foundation events: the Hinduja family were involved in a number of religious and community events. I have attended many religious and community events, but I would not be aware of any particular funding arrangements or agreements about these matters. But I have not received any payments from them."[67]

28.  Mr Vaz's letter concluded:

    "The answer to your question in March 2000 was fully accurate, and even if it was posed as the Hinduja Foundation it would be the same: I have received no payments or benefit from this charitable event.

    You further asked me whether there were any other payments or benefits. The answer to this question is no."

29.  In a letter to me dated 28 September 2001 (Annex i9) giving his response to outstanding matters, Mr Vaz repeated his denial and confirmed that it applied equally to alleged payments from the Hinduja family and their Foundation.

30.  Mr Vaz attached to his letter of 26 March 2001 a copy of the invoice (Annex i7a) for £1,196.10 raised by Mapesbury Communications Limited in respect of the arrangements for the lecture. The invoice, which was dated 4 June 1995—over a month before the date given by Mr Vaz for the event to which it related[68]—was addressed to Mr Hugh Carless at the Hinduja Foundation. Among the larger costs itemised were the printing and re-printing of invitation cards (totalling £491); arrangements for the venue/caterer (£150); and administration (£320.04).

31.  On 26 March 2001 I wrote to Mr David Broad, Director of the Hinduja Foundation (Annex i10), seeking information as to the purpose of the payment of £1,961.10 to Mapesbury Communications Limited and about any other payments made by the Foundation to Mr Vaz, his wife, or Mapesbury.

32.  Mr Broad replied in a letter dated 30 March 2001 (Annex i11), stating that a thorough review of all the Foundation's files and records going back to 1991 had revealed no payments to either Mr or Mr Vaz or Ms Fernandes, or Mapesbury Communications Limited, other than that made on 6 July 1995 to Mapesbury.

33.  Mr Broad confirmed that the payment was for services provided by the company to facilitate arrangements for the lecture given by Dada Vaswani at the Palace of Westminster and for a reception immediately afterwards. Mr Broad, however, gave the date of the lecture as 8 June 1995 (not 6 July 1995 as stated by Mr Vaz).

34.  On 14 May 2001 I wrote to Ms Fernandes (Annex i12), asking her to elaborate on the list of "clients, events and payments in and out in the knowledge of the directors of [Mapesbury Communications Limited]", which she had provided to the Chairman of the Committee on 10 May 2001 (see attachment to Annex ii26). In particular, in relation to Mr Lansley's complaint, I asked Ms Fernandez to indicate any payment in or out of the company "which was in any way related to the Hinduja family or Foundation".[69]

35.  I interviewed Mr G P Hinduja and Mr S R Hinduja on 2 July 2001 (Annex i14). By way of background and in order to establish the nature of the relationship between Mr Vaz and the Hinduja family, I asked about the circumstances in which Mr Vaz had provided help with passport applications on behalf of the brothers. Mr G P Hinduja told me: "Firstly, he has never offered anything voluntarily. It has so happened that whenever the community found problems in getting visas in Bombay from the Consul General, from the Delhi High Commission, or at this end, the matter was brought to his attention and he used to verify and let us know what the problems were."[70] But Mr Hinduja denied ever having requested Mr Vaz to intervene in order to expedite a particular application, or that Mr Vaz himself had volunteered such a course of action. And Mr Hinduja strongly rejected the suggestion that Mr Vaz had ever indicated in any way that he expected to receive anything in return for assisting with passport or visa applications.[71]

36.  I also took up with the Hinduja brothers the statement in Sir Anthony Hammond's Report on the circumstances surrounding an application for naturalisation by Mr S P Hinduja in 1998, published in March 2001, that on 17 July 1997 "Mr Vaz wrote to Mr [Peter] Mandelson, at the request of the Hindujas,[72] saying that he was disappointed that there were no Asian projects in the [Millennium] Dome and saying that he hoped that it [a religious project sponsored by the Hindujas] might be accepted... ."[73] Mr G P Hinduja challenged the accuracy of Sir Anthony's assertion, saying: "We would not have told him [Mr Vaz] to write to Mandelson."[74]

37.  On the specific issue of the Dada Vaswani lecture in 1995, the main points of the evidence given by the Hinduja brothers were:

    —  that they had been unaware, until my inquiry, that Mr Vaz had any connection with Mapesbury Communications Limited;

    —  that it had been the responsibility of the Hinduja Foundation to check that the amount charged by Mapesbury for arranging the event was reasonable;

    —  that they could not explain the reason for the discrepancy between the evidence of Mr Vaz and Mr Broad as to the date of the Dada Vaswani lecture.[75]

38.  When I interviewed Ms Fernandes, accompanied by Mr Mohammed Pathan (a co-director, with Ms Fernandes, of Mapesbury Communications), on 4 July 2001 (Annex i15), Ms Fernandes denied any personal knowledge of the Dada Vaswani lecture, saying: "That was something that was done by Mapesbury." She added that, as far as she was aware, this was the only work carried out by Mapesbury Communications either for the Hinduja brothers or the Hinduja Foundation. Neither Ms Fernandes nor Mr Pathan could shed any light on the reasons why the Mapesbury Communications invoice was dated before the lecture took place.

b)  Complaint by Miss Eileen Eggington

39.  On 26 March 2001, Miss Eileen Eggington of Northwood, Middlesex wrote to me (Annex i16) making a number of complaints against Mr Vaz,[76] including an allegation that he had a financial relationship with the Hinduja brothers. Consequently, according to Miss Eggington, the information available to her suggested "that Mr Vaz and, in particular his wife, Mrs Maria Fernandes Vaz, have been unduly influenced by the wealth of the Hindujas". Miss Eggington added: "Maria has been used by the Hindujas to receive highly preferential treatment in obtaining British passports and visas."

40.  Miss Eggington attached to her letter of 26 March a seven page statement dictated to her on 23 March 2001 by her friend, Mrs Rita Gresty, who had worked for Ms Fernandes[77] as a personal assistant from August 1998 to May 2000. Miss Eggington said that Mrs Gresty was now an in-patient receiving psychiatric treatment. Miss Eggington had previously informed me of this in earlier correspondence in February 2001.

41.  The main points of Mrs Gresty's statement were:

    —  that either in late 1999 or 2000 she was directed by Ms Fernandes to renew Mrs ***'s passport;

    —  that Ms Fernandes had used her position on a member of the IND[78] user panel to speed up applications for passports for a Mr and Mrs ***, a wealthy couple from Bolivia, and their two children;

    —  that Ms Fernandes also secured the rapid granting of visas for a lady servant of the Hindujas and for a computer scientist working for Mr G P Hinduja;

    —  that the Hindujas "were always showering Keith and Maria with invitations";

    —  that the Hindujas sent floral arrangements to the Vaz's home every week, so that the house "was like a florist shop" and "there were flowers everywhere";

    —  that "another wealthy Indian" used to send Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes "pre-packed frozen Indian food in bulk to their * * * [Middlesex] home"; this happened every two to three weeks and Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes "did not pay for it."

42.  I wrote to Miss Eggington on 28 March 2001 (Annex i17) requesting her to ask Mrs Gresty to let me have any evidence of Mr Vaz's personal involvement in passport applications connected with the Hindujas, together with details of any fees paid. Similarly, I invited Mrs Gresty to provide any evidence of Mr Vaz's role, if any, in the handling of passport applications for the family of Mr ***.

43.  Since I had received no reply from Miss Eggington when I came to review the information I had gathered in relation to this complaint against Mr Vaz, I wrote to her again on 27 September 2001 (Annex i18), reminding her that she had not yet provided me with any further evidence which might be in Mrs Gresty's possession.

44.  On 11 October 2001 Miss Eggington came to see me, along with Mrs Gresty, who was recovered and home from hospital. Mrs Gresty confirmed the substance of her written statement, in so far as it related to work carried out by Ms Fernandes on a passport application for Mrs ***, as well as that on behalf of Mr *** and his family. She added that Ms Fernandes had contacted an official at the Home Office who had "sped the whole matter up through his contacts there." (Annex i19).

Mr Vaz's Response

45.  On 28 March I wrote to Mr Vaz (Annex i20) seeking his response to the matters contained in Miss Eggington's letter of 26 March 2001 and the accompanying statement by Mrs Gresty.

46.  In a letter to me dated 9 July 2001 (Annex iv8), Mr Vaz drew my attention to what he described as "[Mrs] Gresty's mental illness, her hospitalisation [and] the industrial tribunal proceedings." He added: "You will understand why I am reluctant to deal with accusations by someone who (on the admission of Miss Eggington) may not be fully well."

47.  I wrote again to Mr Vaz on 16 July 2001 (Annex i22) confirming that Miss Eggington had indeed informed me of Mrs Gresty's ill health and asking for Mr Vaz's response to Miss Eggington's complaint, including details of any relevant matters such as industrial tribunal proceedings or ill health.

48.  In a further letter dated 13 August 2001 (Annex i23), Mr Vaz stated that information about Mrs Gresty's state of health had not been available when she was appointed as Ms Fernandez's personal assistant. He was unaware of the outcome of the legal proceedings brought against Ms Fernandez by Mrs Gresty for unfair dismissal. Mr Vaz added: "The information that Miss Eggington purports to give is both inaccurate and wrong and the 'statement' that has been made by Mrs Gresty is untrue."

49.  In his letter dated 28 September 2001 (see Annex i9) Mr Vaz repeated his claim that the state of Mrs Gresty's health made her an unreliable complainant.

50.  In relation to the allegation concerning invitations to him from the Hinduja brothers to attend social functions, Mr Vaz said:

    "... like many other Members, ... I have attended social events hosted by the Hinduja brothers. I have been advised by the Registrar that it is not necessary to register such attendances. If you take a different view, please let me know."

51.  So far as gifts of flowers and food from the Hinduja family were concerned, Mr Vaz added:

    "I have no recollection of ever receiving flowers from any member of the Hinduja family. I believe I may have received sweets at Diwali, as this is common practice amongst Asian families. It is my practice to distribute sweets received as gifts at Diwali amongst elderly constituents.

    Rita Gresty says that I received regular provisions of pre-packed frozen foods. This is untrue and there have never been such arrangements. I do recall an occasion when Mrs Gresty was given frozen foods from our freezer, which had broken down. It was our own food, which we had purchased. Perhaps that is what she is thinking of. I still have the list of food that she received, would you like a copy?"

52.  When I interviewed two of the Hinduja brothers on 2 July 2001 (see Annex i14)), they denied ever having provided benefits to Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes. As Mr G P Hinduja put it: "... no gifts or any monies were given."[79] On the specific allegations by Mrs Gresty, Mr S P Hinduja stated categorically that no food had ever been supplied, and that, while it was possible that they had sent flowers at the wedding time, this had not been "a regular event."[80]

53.  Of his relationship with Ms Fernandes, Mr G P Hinduja said that he and his brother did not know her "that well"; it was the head of their legal department, Professor Marchant, who had most contact with her in her capacity "as an expert on immigration."[81] The only payments they had made to Ms Fernandes were for professional services involving four separate immigration and nationality cases. At the end of the interview they provided me with a copy of a schedule of fees paid by the Hinduja business to Ms Fernandes in respect of these cases (Annex i25) The Hinduja brothers strongly denied Mrs Gresty's claim that Ms Fernandes had assisted Mrs *** with her passport application. None of the cases listed in the schedule provided by the Hinduja brothers referred specifically to Mrs ***.

54.  During my interview with Ms Fernandes and Mr Pathan on 4 July, I told Ms Fernandes (without indicating my source) that I understood her to have carried out legal work, through her practice, for the Hinduja brothers, their family or their business. Ms Fernandes replied that her duty of confidentiality towards her clients prevented her from confirming the information I had put to her. I explained that the purpose of my questioning on this point was not to pry into her professional affairs but to establish whether any "part of any payment for such work was transferred to the account of Mapesbury Communications."[82] I asked Ms Fernandes if she would be prepared to approach the relevant clients to see whether they would be willing to waive confidentiality in order to enable her to answer my question about payments for her legal work for the Hinduja brothers or their business. I undertook, at Ms Fernandes's suggestion, to write to her with this request.

55.  I accordingly wrote to Ms Fernandes on 10 July 2001 (Annex i26) as follows:

    "So that I have a complete picture of all your transactions with the Hinduja brothers, the Hinduja businesses and Foundation I would be grateful if you would approach any client who is connected in any way with the Hinduja brothers, businesses or Foundation to seek their agreement to disclose to me a list of the activities carried out for them with dates and the payment received for each piece of work."

56.  On 6 August 2001, Ms Fernandes replied (Annex i27), explaining that she was taking advice about my request for information concerning certain of her clients and that she would respond fully when this process was complete.

57.  Since I had by then received no substantive reply from Ms Fernandes I wrote to her again on 11 October 2001 (Annex i28) reminding her that an answer was overdue and asking for her response by 19 October 2001 at the latest.

58.  Ms Fernandes replied on 13 October 2001 (Annex i29) as follows:

    "I have consulted my professional body, the Law Society, on issues of professional conduct and at their suggestion also taken further legal advice.

    My Code of Conduct sets out my duty of confidentiality in detail. It is fundamental to the relationship between solicitor and client. The duty extends to members of my staff and exists beyond the grave and rarely overridden. All information including the address of clients is confidential. My duty remains intact even though the information may already be in the public domain. I have to act in the best interests of my clients.

    It is particularly important to me as a solicitor married to an MP, and other professionals who are married to MPs, to be able to represent their clients without fear of such information and client affairs being made public property, through the back door. I practised law for a decade before I met my husband and I never discuss my clients with him.

    You have given me no cogent reason or explained the relevance for taking the unusual step of departing from my duty of confidentiality. I am not aware that the professional and personal relationships of the spouses or partners of MPs are subject to scrutiny."

59.  A table comparing the dates of the interventions made by Mr Vaz with officials or Ministers on immigration and other matters[83] with the dates of the invoices raised by Ms Fernandes for professional services to the Hinduja business or family is annexed to this memorandum (Annex i30).

(c)  Allegation relating to use by Mr Vaz of office facilities provided by the Hinduja Foundation

60.  In the context of the complaints that Mr Vaz had received registrable benefits from the Hinduja brothers, I received information, which was passed to me by a member of the previous Committee, alleging that Mr Vaz had for some time enjoyed the use of office facilities, including a desk, at the Hinduja Foundation and that this might have constituted a registrable benefit.

61.  When I wrote to Mr David Broad, director of the Foundation, to ask whether he could confirm this allegation he telephoned me to say that as far as he was aware Mr Vaz had not been provided with office facilities. He added that Mr Vaz was in the habit of calling in "probably about every six weeks to discuss matters [and] sometimes to help draft speeches", for which purpose he was given the use of a telephone and secretary. Mr Broad also said that to the best of his knowledge, no such facilities (ie an office) had been made available to Mr Vaz by the Hinduja business. Mr Broad confirmed in a letter dated 3 April 2001 (Annex i31) what he had told me over the telephone.

62.  When I interviewed the Hinduja brothers on 2 July 2001 (see Annex i14) they denied that Mr Vaz had been provided with office facilities either by the Foundation or by the Hinduja business. The Hinduja brothers' recollection was that Mr Vaz's visits to the Foundation had been somewhat less frequent than Mr Broad had implied. They also thought that Mr Broad's reference to speech-drafting might have overstated Mr Vaz's role, although he was one of those who was consulted from time to time about community relations, including policing issues and "what was happening in the Asian areas." The Hinduja brothers added that whilst Mr Vaz might have the use of a telephone when he visited the Foundation, there was no question either of an office or a researcher being provided to him.

63.  On the basis of this information, I did not think it necessary to put this specific allegation to Mr Vaz.

63   HC (2000-01) 314-III, Annex 18, Question 6.  Back

64   Ibid Annex 19 Back

65   Efforts both by me and the Committee to obtain information about the receipts and outgoings of Mapesbury Communications more generally are described in section ii of this memorandum. Back

66   Its subsequently transpired that this was the date on which the payment of £1,196.10 was made to Mapesbury Communications and that the correct date of the lecture was 8 June 1995 (see paragraph 18 ). Back

67   See paragraph 83. Back

68   See footnote to paragraph 14. Back

69   On 8 May 2001 the Committee had agreed to an Order requiring Ms Fernandes to produce, by 11 May, a list of persons or organisations who made payments of £1,000 or more to Mapesbury Communications or who received payments or benefits worth £1,000 from Mapesbury Communications. See separate section on Mapesbury Communications Ltd. (paragraph 153). Back

70   Annex i14. Back

71   Annex i14. Back

72   Emphasis added. Back

73   HC (2000-01) 287, paragraph 7.5.  Back

74   Annex i14, p 10. Back

75   The Hinduja brothers subsequently confirmed to me that the correct date of the lecture was 8 June 1995 (Annex i14) p 20, and that 6 July 1995 was the date on which payment was made against the invoice.  Back

76   See also paragraphs 69-70. Back

77   ie Mr Vaz's wife. Back

78   Immigration and Nationality Directorate in the Home Office. Back

79   Annex i14, p. 26. Back

80   HC (2000-01) 314, Annex i14, p 28. Back

81   Ibid i14, p 26. Back

82   Ibid i15, p 16. Back

83   Including cases raised on behalf of the Hindujas (as listed in the Hammond Report) and other cases, including that relating to Mrs Matin (see paragraph 550). Back

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