Letter to the Chairman of the Committee
on Standards and Privileges
from Mr Geoffrey Bindman
My client, Keith Vaz MP, has asked me to write to
you in response to your letter to him of 10 December concerning
the current investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for
Mr Vaz very much appreciates your assurance that
the Committee is as keen as he is that his point of view should
be given a fair hearing. He also appreciates that the proposals
in your letter go some way towards achieving this aim.
In her letter to Mr Vaz of 30 November enclosing
her draft memorandum and annexes amounting in all to more than
1000 pages, the Commissioner rejected his request to be given
more than five working days to provide his suggested corrections
and any further comment he wished to make.
Based on his experience of the previous investigation,
when, as now, the draft memorandum contained a large volume of
new material which Mr Vaz had no previous opportunity of considering,
he knew that this would not give him nearly enough time to put
his point of view fairly. For this reason he approached you on
the advice of Mr Sandall to seek more time.
In effect you have been good enough to grant his
request but the difficulty with the timetable as set out in your
letter of 10 December is that you appear to intend to consider
the uncorrected memorandum virtually in its current form before
the Commissioner has had a full opportunity to consider Mr Vaz's
response so that she can make any necessary amendments before
the Committee received the report. There is the further difficulty
that the uncorrected report if circulated could give currency
to false and damaging allegations under cover of privilege.
A preliminary examination of the draft memorandum
reveals that in the main the Commissioner does not uphold the
complaints. However, the document contains many defamatory and
damaging comments not only about Mr Vaz but also about his wife
and other third parties who have no opportunity of responding
to them. Mr Vaz believesin my view with good reasonthat
these comments are unjustified and can be refuted, given the necessary
time. Natural justice demands that they do not appear in a published
report and I suggest that it is the responsibility of the Committee
to ensure that before publication such material is excised. When
Mr Vaz made a similar request following receipt of the previous
draft report in December 2000, it was unfortunately ignored. The
damage this caused to Mr Vaz, notwithstanding the fact that he
was almost completely exonerated, was immense and irreparable
and the Committee should be very careful to make sure it does
not happen again.
May I therefore respectfully suggest that the matter
should proceed as follows:
1. The Commissioner is invited to consider Mr
Vaz's preliminary response to the draft memorandum, which will
be provided to her and to you before 18 December, and make any
changes to her report which she considers appropriate.
2. In January, the Committee gives detailed consideration
to the Commissioner's report, as amended.
3. The Committee at the same time gives consideration
to the further detailed observations of Mr Vaz which will be prepared
over the Christmas period.
4. Until the Committee has completed its detailed
consideration the documents referred to are kept completely confidential
as obviously any leaks to the media could be extremely damaging.
May I respectfully add one further point. The controversy
over the Commissioner's re-appointment has led to expressions
of partisanship among Members and others. Mr Vaz is concerned
that he has been identifiedfor example by David Hencke
in the Guardian on 10 Decemberas a leading "whisperer"
who is seeking to undermine the Commissioner. Mr Vaz categorically
denies that allegation. Two members of the Committee have put
their names to an early day motion supporting the reinstatement
of the Commissioner. In order to avoid any breach of natural justice
it would seem prudent for those two Members not to take part in
any deliberations or decisions of the Committee on Mr Vaz's case.
13 December 2001