Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Annex ii80

Letter to the Chairman of the Committee on Standards and Privileges, from Mr Keith Vaz MP

I am sorry to write to you so soon after my letter of 9th October 2001. I am writing to you about the procedure not the substance of the inquiry.

Last Saturday a journalist from the Sunday Telegraph called Rajeev Syal telephoned my Agent who was in China and my solicitor Geoffrey Bindman to tell them that at the Committee meeting tomorrow a member of the Committee would be calling on me to apologise to the House for not providing the Committee with certain information that they requested. My solicitor explained that this was simply untrue and questioned how he would know about a meeting that had not taken place.

I have repeatedly asked Mrs Filkin to explain her relationships with the various journalists involved in particular Chris Hastings and Rajeev Syal. She has distanced herself from any inquiries that they make by telling me that she has had nothing to do with them. I have accepted her assurances. However today I received a letter from her dated 19th October 2001 informing he that she had asked them to provide her with information.

The involvement of journalists in the inquiry process in this way puts MPs in an impossible position especially when these journalists seek to benefit from the relationship by seeking to publish "exclusive" articles about inquiries. They are not acting in the public interest they are seeking to boost the sales of their newspapers. In the former inquiry these two journalists were witnesses. All their allegations were rejected by the then Committee. They now continue to be involved and apparently believe they have Mrs Filkin's protection. Every time I consult my solicitor there is additional expense. In addition the whole process is brought into disrepute.

I ask for the Committee's ruling on this point.

These inquiries should be conducted in a confidential and fair manner. Journalists should not be involved in gathering information for the Commissioner. Where they are asked to perform that task the Member should be informed. This is especially so when the very same journalists are witnesses (under Mrs Filkin's definition). As witnesses they should be forbidden from contacting other witnesses. If they publish the information they have obtained on behalf of the Commissioner they should be in contempt of Parliament.

In the last Parliament I raised the contempt issue with the Clerk of the House, The Speaker and I understand that the Committee consulted the Law Officers on this point.

I have responded to all Mrs Filkin's questions, save the ones I have received today. However the continued involvement of the media in this way is causing great complications to an already complicated system.

I look forward to hearing from you.

22 October 2001

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