Select Committee on Standards and Privileges Fifth Report

Annex i7

Letter to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards from Mr Keith Vaz MP

Thank you for seeing me last Tuesday 20th March concerning the complaint made by Andrew Lansley MP, the Shadow Minister at the Cabinet Office. As you know, before seeing you I had already replied to the chairman of the Committee on 20th March in response to his letter of the same date. In addition to the points he raises in his letter to Ms Fernandes, I have as agreed at our meeting, incorporated the points in my original response as well as the answers to the verbal requests you made for as much information as possible assist you in considering this matter.

In giving you the information I hope that you will bear in mind: (i) the fact that this event took place 6 years ago; (ii) that it was one of numerous events which I have attended over the last six years; (iii) that I have therefore asked others to obtain information for me; (iv) that I have no personal knowledge of the details of the organisation of the event in question other than that it took place and I was present; (v) that I have taken it upon myself to obtain as much information from the company as possible to save you having to go through this process; and (vi) in doing this, I believe that I had your approval in taking this action.

I therefore propose to look at the specific questions and the points in Mr Lansley's letter.

1.  The purpose of the payment

The payment was made by the Hinduja Foundation to cover the costs of a lecture given by Dada J P Vaswami of the Sadu Vaswami Mission. I enclose a copy of the invoice which I have obtained for you from the Mission (Annex A). As you aware there are no copies held by the company. The costs of the event are listed. The donation from the Hinduja Foundation was solely to cover the costs of the event.

2.  The details and date of the event

The event was a lecture which took place on 6th July 1995 in the Jubilee Room of the House of Commons. Annex B sets out who Dada Vasmami is. I have met him only once (at this event). The title of the lecture was "World's Greatest need-Love in Action". The event was attended by a number of Members of Parliament including: Toby Jessel MP, Sir Rhodes Boyson MP, Greville Janner MP, Lord Butterfield, and the High Commissioners for India and Bangladesh. I suggested in my previous letter that Mr Bottomley had attended. Have now checked this and although he was invited he did not attend this event but another Hinduja event (see below). Annex B also sets out the purpose of the mission. The meeting was co-chaired by myself and Nirj Deva MP the Conservative MP for Brentford. How this worked in practice I simply cannot recall but the meeting was jointly convened by us.

You will note that this Swami is not the same Swami that has been mentioned in the press. The second Swami was Sri Chinmoy (I have attended many meetings for religious figures). But this event had nothing to do with the Hinduja Foundation.

My only other dealings with Dada J Vaswami was a request made by the Mission when he celebrated his 80th Birthday. I do not know whether the text of this message was published but I reproduce it for what it is worth (Annex C).

3.  The terms and the amount of the payment / the amount, the date paid and details of the account it was paid into / Did the Hinduja Foundation make a payment to Mapesbury

I am not sure that there were "terms" if there were I had no knowledge of them. Mr Mahmoud would have dealt with the event himself possibly with volunteers in my office, since I would not have regarded this as a priority. The amount of the payment was £1196.10p (this is confirmed in the books of the Charity Commission). I have no personal knowledge of this. I have been told that the reasons for the reprint was that there several spelling mistakes in the original invitation.

I understand that the payment was made to "Mapesbury Communications" (this was the information on the invoice). If verification of this is important I will request a statement, but I have no reason to doubt that this was the case. There was no benefit to the Company from this payment since it only covered costs incurred. In fact, the company made a loss that year. The company accounts will bear this out but clearly, I do not have them to hand.

4.  Did Mr Vaz sponsor the event?

Both Nirj Deva and I issued the invitations: we were joint sponsors. I have asked the Serjeant at Arms to check which of our offices booked the room but computerised records go back only 2 years. We both acted as Co-Chair as this was an all party event. Neither Mr Deva, his office, or myself or my office benefited from this event.

5.  Extract from the list of clients

The extract read "Dada J Vaswami event-lecture and reception". There were no funding details. In its report of 9 March, the Committee "appreciated the difficulties of obtaining information about the early years of the company's operations".

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.

I consulted the Registrar about an event which took place in September 1999. This was an event held in honour of the Lord Chancellor and was also to welcome me as "Minister of the Lord Chancellor's Department". A copy of the invitation is at Annex D. I asked whether this constituted a benefit. The Registrar informed me that events of this kind would only be a benefit if the person was involved in drawing up the guest list. Neither I nor the Lord Chancellor was involved in this process. Indeed Mr Bottomley attended this event, and though I have the greatest respect for him I would not necessarily have him on a guest list of an event designed to promote me. I have been told that when I was Secretary of the Indo-British Parliamentary Group and Toby Jessel was Chairman we served ex-officio as members of the Advisory Board of the Hinduja Foundation along with Sir Richard Luce, Lord Slynn of Hadley, and Elizabeth Estelle of the Vand A. I am not aware of attending any meetings of the Advisory Board. There was no remuneration and no activity as far as I am aware.

A week after this event another event was held in honour of William Hague and the Shadow Cabinet which may or may not have been attended by Mr Lansley, I do not know. However I think that the advice of the Registrar on this party was probably the same as that given to me. This was verbal advice. I have not had an opportunity to write to the Registrar.

Turning now to Mr Lansley's points, Paragraph 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and 6 are narrative of existing statements and are repetitions of what has already been said.

Page 2 Para 1 restates the facts but does not refer to the fact that two chartered accountants have stated that neither I nor my office has benefited from this company.

Paragraph 3 is a little confused setting out a number of arguments but not a complaint. It is difficult to comment on three different scenarios. My approach to the Commissioner as it is to you or the Registrar is that if a benefit should be registered I will do so. This does not apply in this case. I have received no benefit from this payment as set out above. I was not involved in the details of the arrangements for the visit and I do not believe that the company benefited, even if it had (which it did not) the benefits did not accrue to the director or shareholder as there has never been a dividend. 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 any payments or benefits. The answer to this question is no.

Please let me know if you wish me to provide any further information.

I look forward to seeing you.

26 March 2001

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