Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Analysis (i)

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

The previous inquiry

    As part of the previous enquiry, the Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee had asked Mr Vaz to provide complete information about any payments or benefits received by him or any member of his family from the Hinduja family or business.[84]

a)  Complaint by Mr Andrew Lansley

64.  Mr Lansley alleged that Mapesbury Communications had received a payment of £1,196.10 from the Hinduja Foundation in respect of a lecture by Dada Vaswani at the House of Commons in 1995; that the Foundation was wholly controlled by the Hinduja brothers and Mapesbury Communications was a potential source of income to support Mr Vaz's Parliamentary office; and that accordingly the payment by the Foundation might constitute a registrable benefit to Mr Vaz.

65.  Mr Vaz's response was that the payment was intended solely to cover the costs incurred in organising the lecture; that there was no net gain to Mapesbury Communications; and that neither he nor his office had benefited from the event.

66.  The copy of the invoice for the payment, provided by Mr Vaz, listed a series of items of expenditure which might be expected to have arisen in connection with the practical arrangements for the holding of the lecture and the associated reception. The total amount, although it included a sum to cover the cost of reprinting invitation cards, was not so obviously excessive that it was queried by the Hinduja Foundation (whose responsibility it would have been to do so, according to the Hinduja brothers). Mr Broad, the director of the Foundation has confirmed that the payment was for services provided by Mapesbury Communications in connection with the lecture.

67.  Although there was some confusion on Mr Vaz's part over the date of the lecture, and the invoice, somewhat unusually, was dated four days before the event actually took place, I do not regard either of these factors as significant.

68.  I have seen no evidence to suggest that the payment of £1,196.10 by the Hinduja Foundation represented anything other than the reimbursement of the costs claimed to have been incurred by Mapesbury Communications in making the arrangements for the lecture. Nor has any evidence been produced to show that Mr Vaz or his office benefited from this payment.

b)  Complaint by Miss Eileen Eggington

69.  Mrs Eileen Eggington alleged that Mr Vaz had an undisclosed financial relationship with the Hinduja brothers. She based this allegation on a statement by Mrs Rita Gresty, a former personal assistant to Ms Fernandes.

70.  Mrs Gresty's statement contained two separate, but related categories of allegation: the first suggesting that Ms Fernandes had misused her position as a solicitor specialising in immigration and nationality cases to obtain preferential treatment for clients associated in some way with the Hinduja family; and the second claiming that Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes had enjoyed various registrable benefits, including hospitality and gifts of flowers, provided by the Hinduja brothers or business. Implicit in Mrs Gresty's statement was the allegation that the benefits which, according to Mrs Gresty, were supplied to Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes represented payment for the favourable handling of immigration cases obtained by Ms Fernandes on behalf of the Hinduja family—making use of Mr Vaz's position as a Member of Parliament.

Ms Fernandes

71.  My approach to the allegations which concern Ms Fernandes's activities as a legal practitioner has necessarily been cautious. My remit does not extend to Members' spouses or partners; and I would only think it right to investigate matters which related to them where it had a direct bearing on the subject matter of a complaint against a Member of Parliament, or where a Member and his or her spouse or partner appeared to be acting in concert.

72.  Because of Ms Fernandes's role as a director of Mapesbury Communications which was a company set up by Mr Vaz and the apparent links between the company and the Hinduja brothers, I would have judged it appropriate to consider the allegations relating to Ms Fernandes' actions, if I had received substantive evidence in support of them—in particular, suggesting that Mr Vaz, as a Member of Parliament, was involved in some way—which warranted further investigation.

73.  Equally, where the Committee had requested either from Mr Vaz or Ms Fernandes, but not received, answers to questions in connection with the previous inquiry, I regarded it as my duty to seek to obtain the information as part of the current investigation. (In particular, the Chairman had requested Mr Vaz to provide the Committee with information about links between Mapesbury Communications and himself or any member of his family[85] and had asked Mr Vaz in his letter of 20 March 2001 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.")

74.  During my meeting with Ms Fernandes on 4 July I asked her to provide me with information about any links she had with the Hinduja brothers. Although Mrs Gresty came to see me on 11 October 2001, she did not produce any evidence which added significantly to her original statement or the questions I had already raised with Ms Fernandes and which warranted my putting it to Ms Fernandes.

75.  Mr Vaz strongly denied the allegations that he and his wife received registrable benefits from the Hinduja family or business, whether or not in return for favourable treatment of immigration cases secured by Ms Fernandes. In addition, Mr Vaz questioned Mrs Gresty's state of health and said that she was engaged in legal proceedings against his wife. Mr Vaz also suggested a possible explanation for Mrs Gresty's reference to gifts of frozen food—namely that it was Mrs Gresty herself who had been the recipient of such goods, from Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes's own freezer.

76.  Mr Vaz accepted that, in common with other Members of Parliament, he had attended social functions at the invitation of the Hinduja brothers. But, as he correctly stated, such hospitality would not constitute a registrable interest unless its value to an individual Member exceeded the relevant monetary limit in force at the time,[86] or the function in question was organised for the personal benefit of the Member.

77.  The Hinduja brothers also rejected Mrs Gresty's claim that they "showered" Mr Vaz and Ms Fernandes with invitations and that they provided the Vaz's with benefits in the form of flowers. They insisted that the immigration and nationality casework carried out by Ms Fernandes on their behalf did not involve preferential treatment and was paid for at normal rates. And they denied that they had asked Mr Vaz to approach Mr Mandelson about the Millennium Dome.

78.  Particularly when set against the strenuous denials of both Mr Vaz and the Hinduja brothers, the information I have received from Mrs Gresty does not amount to proof that Mr Vaz received registrable benefits from the Hinduja family or business of the kind she has suggested, nor that Ms Fernandes sought to obtain favourable treatment for passport applications on behalf of the Hinduja family by making use of Mr Vaz's position as a Member of Parliament.

79.  Although, as I have indicated, Ms Fernandes is not herself the subject of any complaint, she is a witness in a Parliamentary inquiry and, as such, has a duty to be co-operative and open in answering any questions. When, during our interview on 4 July 2001, I first asked her about the immigration and nationality cases she had conducted for clients on behalf of the Hinduja brothers or their business interests she told me that her professional duty of confidentiality prevented her from answering. At her request I subsequently wrote to her, on 10 July 2001, asking her to approach the relevant clients to seek their consent to her providing me with the details I required.

80.  As was clear from my letter of 10 July, I was not seeking access to details of the personal handling of the cases connected with the Hinduja brothers, but simply a breakdown of their nature and the fees charged. I assumed that her clients would waive confidentiality for this purpose since they had already been frank with me about the work Ms Fernandes had undertaken on their behalf.

81.  A month after I first wrote to her, Ms Fernandes told me that she would need to take legal advice but that she would let me have a reply when she had done so. No such response was forthcoming and I was obliged to send her a reminder letter on 11 October 2001. In her reply Ms Fernandes merely repeated the position concerning client confidentiality but without stating whether she was prepared to approach her clients to seek a waiver.

82.  As the Hinduja brothers had already supplied me some details of their professional dealings with Ms Fernandes it is hard to believe that, if approached directly by her—their legal adviser—they would have refused to allow her to disclose related information to me. Since after more than four months Ms Fernandes has failed to indicate even whether she is prepared to put my request to her clients, I am obliged to conclude that she has no intention of co-operating with my investigation. This unhelpful attitude towards a Parliamentary inquiry is regrettable.

83.  Moreover, although Mr Vaz had told me in a letter dated 21 March 2001 that he would speak to his wife about this matter he appears to have failed to do so. As a result he has not corrected the statement which he made to the then Chairman of the Standards and Privileges Committee in his letter of 20 March 2001 stating "Neither my family nor I have received any payments from the Hinduja brothers". Mr Vaz also replied to me in his letter of 26 March 2001 saying:

    "I have not received any payments from the Hinduja family; neither has my family, as far as I am aware".

84.  Mr Vaz said he would check these matters with his wife and I regard his failure to do so and, if necessary, to provide a correction as misleading. Consequently Mr Vaz's inaccurate statements to the then Chairman and to me remain on the record of this inquiry. I deal with this aspect of the complaint against Mr Vaz in more detail in my conclusions.[87]

c)  Allegation that Mr Vaz received free office accommodation at the Hinduja Foundation

85.  As I have already indicated,[88] on the basis of the information I received concerning the allegation that Mr Vaz had been provided with free office accommodation at the Hinduja Foundation, I decided that it was not necessary for me to put the matter to Mr Vaz.

84   See paragraph 14. Back

85   Emphasis added. See paragraph 19. Back

86   0.5% of a Member's annual parliamentary salary. Code of Conduct and Guide to Rules relating to the conduct of Members HoC 688 24 July 1996. Back

87   See paragraphs 832-836. Back

88   See paragraphs 60-63. Back

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