Transcript of the tape of an interview
by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards with Sir Peter
Soulsby on Thursday 23 March 2000
MS FILKIN: Thank you Sir Peter Soulsby for coming
to see me; it is very good of you. I want to ask you, if I may,
some questions about Mr Vaz, because I have had complaints that
he took monies from people in Leicester and did not record those.
Would you like to give me some background and then give me any
information, any facts you have which relate to that?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It would be helpful if I
give you some background because I really ought to say right from
the outset that Keith and I have a long history of quite a difficult
relationship and it does date back initially to the period when
he was selected as the prospective candidate in Leicester back
in about 1985. At that time, shortly after he was selected he
obtained a job with a council funded law centre, the Belgrave
Law Centre. It was something which I found very uncomfortable
because there were suggestions at the time that the job had not
been properly advertised and so on and as Council LeaderI
had in fact been Council Leader since 1981for the Labour
controlled council, this was of some embarrassment to me as the
council was funding the project. I was then further embarrassed
when allegations were made that he was operating as a solicitor
without a proper practising solicitor certificate. There were
several complaints from the Law Society and so on. Then complaints
from political opponents that the office was effectively being
used as his campaign headquarters. I found myself having to field
some very difficult questions for which I did not have proper
answers. That was perhaps the first strain in our relationship.
The second strain in our relationship was in 1987 when he was
elected to Parliament when, despite a number of requests from
me and from the Town Clerk, Keith delayed resigning from his post
and continued to draw his salary for, I think it was, about eight
months after his election. That to me as Council Leader and to
the Town Clerk, who was actually the departmental head with responsibility
for it, was a very difficult period indeed. When he did eventually
leave I was told that he took the secretary with him and all the
filing cabinets, which clearly was a further embarrassment to
me and a further strain on our relationship. Over the subsequent
years there was then a series of issues which caused problems
between us, particularly with regard to his office, which he subsequently
set up at 144 and 146 Uppingham Road in Leicester: problems with
the planning permission, with an unauthorised sign, more recently
with his electoral registration, his claims he lived at the office,
when it was suggested that he did not, he was not paying council
tax at the officea whole series of difficulties between
us. The first issue which raised Keith to a national profile,
you may recall, was the BCCI issue. While there are all sorts
of allegations still widely spread about that period, I have no
knowledge at all of the financial interest he might or might not
have had in that and certainly cannot comment on it. There have
actually though been a number of subsequent difficulties between
us. Keith has a very effective, some would say crude, constituency
machine which I would say to my knowledge, having been Council
Leader for the best part of 20 years, is almost unique in the
extent to which it sought to control the selection of council
candidates. You will see the relevance of this in a little while.
His mother was found a safe seat and there are several transcripts
and tapes which were taken of him discussing these issuesnot
taken with his knowledge, I hasten to say, nor with mine at the
timewhich show the extent to which he was seeking to control
the council candidates who came forward for the Labour Party from
the wards in his constituency. I shall explain the relevance of
this in a little while. Considerable concern was expressed over
constituency finances and about the way in which membership of
the party in Leicester East was paid for. I have records of the
auditors' reports, from that period and indeed have the transcript
of a discussion between the person who was the treasurer of the
constituency party and Ian Murray of The Times about the period
1990 onwards, about the way in which the finances of the constituency
MS FILKIN: What does that show?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I can certainly pass this
to you. How can I summarise it? It alleges that block memberships
were purchased in certain wards by people who in some cases were
not aware that they were being signed up to the Party. It suggests
that Merlyn Vaz, Keith's mother, who was by about this time a
councillor for one of the wards, was personally involved in paying
cheques for other people's memberships. I shall pass this over
to you. The relevance will become more evident in a minute. It
is really that in 1991 Merlyn Vaz, Keith's mother, became Chair
of the Property Committee of the City Council. That was after
considerable pressure from her and others for her to get that
job. I tried to replace her in 1992, but the person whom I tried
to put in her place resigned within a few days of having accepted
it under considerable pressure from Keith and Merlyn. The relevance
of all of this is that Leicester has three constituencies. Leicester
East provided more than its share of councillors and Keith had
an unusual degree of influence over the councillors from that
constituency and therefore over the council and the Labour group
in particular. As I say, his mother became Chair of Property in
1991 and remained Chair through to 1993. One of the most contentious
issues in front of it at that time was the development of the
Hamilton area of the city, which had been proceeding slowly in
the years up to that stage, but on which it was suggested the
council should permit the development, on its own land or on land
which it could sell to groups, of some places of worship. The
crucial time when this was under discussion was while Merlyn was
Chair of the Property Committee. There were two issues with regard
to that land: one was the disposal of property, the second issue
would have been the granting of planning permission to build there.
The thing which was of interest to Keith, and I have letters from
him relating to it from slightly after this period, but nonetheless
showing continuing interest over a considerable period of time,
was the disposal of the land to some particular groups. I shall
again pass you the letters so that you will see the context. Initially
it was intended by those involved with property, and Merlyn was
one, that the disposal should be to four groups. I and others
insisted that we ran the process so that it could be transparent
and it could be clear as to how these people were selected. The
process resulted in three of the same four groups being selected.
Merlyn very openly took credit for that position and it was intensely
controversial. The two Conservative councillors for that ward
resigned and fought a by-election in 1993 or 1994 and it is at
this period, with that level of influence by Keith and his mother,
that it was alleged to me by Jaffer Kapasi, one of the successful
groups and a person whose name I cannot remember ... that Keith
and Merlyn had asked for a contribution of £1,000 from them.
I have a file note to myself from a slightly later period, April
1994, I think it must have followed from some further conversation
with Jaffer Kapasi, when I had drawn this to the attention of
the Town Clerk. However, I do know in a subsequent discussion
I had with Jaffer Kapasi that he was not prepared to repeat that
at that time.
MS FILKIN: But he definitely said it to you.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: He definitely said it to
me; I am absolutely certain of that.
MS FILKIN: You have been helpful in confirming
SIR PETER SOULSBY: He has absolutely definitely
said it to me. I wrote a file note to myself and I drew it to
the attention of the Town Clerk and that was probably in writing
and that will probably be in the Town Clerk's files if they go
back that far.
MS FILKIN: Who was the Town Clerk at the time?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It was Arthur Price Jones.
Arthur has now retired.
MS FILKIN: Is that Price with a "y"?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: P-R-I-C-E Jones.
MS FILKIN: It will be in the files.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It will be somewhere in the
files. I took that note to myself on 21 April 1994.
MS FILKIN: Do you have a copy of that?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes, I have a copy of my
note. What I do not have, I could not actually find, is the letter
I sent; I have the draft of the letter which is what I kept. Who
wrote it and whether my secretary typed it at the time or I did,
I really do not know, but I have the note which is from 21 April
MS FILKIN: Whatever you have.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It is in that context really
which I told you the rest about the extent of Keith's influence
and perceived influence over the councillors in Leicester East,
over the constituency party in Leicester East and Merlyn's responsibility
as Chair of the committee which was actually leading
MS FILKIN:responsible for allocating
SIR PETER SOULSBY:responsible for allocating
the land and both for general policy and indeed for the specific.
She would certainly have been involved in discussions directly
with the leaders of those groups who wanted to buy this land.
MS FILKIN: Did Mr Kapasi say the £1,000
was for being on the short list or for planning permission? Did
he tell you what the £1,000 was for?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It was something like, "Keith
and Merlyn have said to me `We are getting you this land'".
MS FILKIN: For the land.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I am fairly sure it was that
rather than planning permission.
MS FILKIN: Rather than the planning permission
SIR PETER SOULSBY: And "This is the least
you can do" or something to that effect.
MS FILKIN: Did he tell you it was actually paid
to both of them or to one of them?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: To the best of my recollection,
he had paid it directly to Merlyn.
MS FILKIN: Not to Keith?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Not to Keith to the best
of my recollection. It was put to me that the request had been
made jointly by one or other and paid to one or other but I think
it was Merlyn to whom the money had actually been paid. I think
the request was for £1,000 and £500 had been paid.
MS FILKIN: Are there any other specific instances
of this that you are aware of?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Few of the other things I
am aware of are as specific as that. It is perhaps also worth
saying that my relationship with Keith deteriorated still further
because, being aware of that, I was involved in removing Merlyn
from the Chair of Property in 1993 after the AGM. Again I shall
pass you by way of background a copy of the letter Keith wrote
to me after that really instructing me what I ought to do in terms
of appointing Merlyn to something else. You will find it quite
"unusual" is the best way of describing it.
MS FILKIN: I do not know how "unusual"
applies to the leader of a council.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It does give you something
of an insight into the background and to the personality anyway.
That actually was the time when I was appointed to the Audit Commission
and on the day that I was appointed in 1994 Keith, according to
Andrew Foster, actually phoned the Commission to say that I was
a most untrustworthy person and ought not to be given any confidential
information, etcetera, etcetera. I have, again which I shall pass
to you, a letter from the then Chair, Sir David Cooksey, saying,
"You may well be aware that the Commission has received a
complaint about your activities from Keith Vaz" and he goes
on. I had to go to explain the situation, with a lot more of the
background even than I am able to give to you, to him at that
time. It was really quite astonishing. It did result in a lot
of national coverage and an investigation by the Labour Party
into a whole range of things, a number of them financial, but
essentially things to do with the way in which the Labour Party
in Leicester East was run, on which Claire Ward, now a Member
of Parliament sat; she was a representative of the National Executive.
I know that Claire was very unhappy about the way in which the
investigation was conducted and did subsequently press for it
to be properly completed. It was actually stopped after the first
day and although the whole inquiry team had arranged to come back
the following week, they never re-emerged.
MS FILKIN: Why do you think that was?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I can only speculate; Claire
could perhaps tell you more if you were to ask her because she
has been a member of the NEC and I know she tried to raise the
issue with the NEC and ask why it was stopped. Certainly informed
guesses at the time were that it was producing things which were
very embarrassing to the Party. I also recall actually visiting
what was then Walworth Road headquarters to speak to one of the
Labour Party's officers and being told that Keith had been virtually
camping on the doorstep trying to get things stopped. He did have
one or two influential friends who were determined that the inquiry
was never ever going to be completed. I do not think it was in
any sense completed and certainly never reported. A number of
the things I have mentioned to you and many others were brought
to its attention at the time. In fact Claire wrote to the then
General Secretary of the Party complaining about the abuse she
had received from Keith subsequent to the inquiry and I have copies
of that but you might like to ask Claire, to follow up that with
MS FILKIN: Yes.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: The next issue I really just
wanted to mention to you was really just to raise a question with
you, because I actually do not know whether there is any impropriety
involved in this. Keith became the Chairman, which was the description
he gave himself, of City 2020, which was something which was established
while he was Opposition spokesman, Shadow Minister for Planning
and Regeneration, between 1992 and 1997. It was essentially a
road show which travelled around the country. It was not taken
particularly seriously, I have to say, but it travelled round
the country. Very recently, I think it was September of last year,
it published that book which I think it is unlikely is a book
for sale. It is a publication.
MS FILKIN: So you think it was sponsored?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think it has been sponsored
and I think the whole of City 2020 was sponsored.
MS FILKIN: If it was sponsored, to answer the
question you posed, and Keith Vaz got paid for it, then he has
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I would not know for certain.
MS FILKIN: If there is any way in which he might
have benefited from help or from publicity ...
SIR PETER SOULSBY: What I would suggest, and
I really know little more beyond what I have told you, is that
it is just that there was such an initiative, that it was quite
an active initiative, it involved a lot of travel, a number of
meetingsit has produced a publication which is quite an
expensive publicationand I am not aware, which does not
mean to say it has not but I am not aware, that any accounts have
ever been published of where the money came from or how it was
spent. While there may be such accounts and there may be no personal
benefit, no difficulty at all with it, I think that it may be
MS FILKIN: Does it have an office?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I do not know; it is a somewhat
nebulous organisation as far as I am aware. It may be worth asking
the other members of the shadow ministerial team from that period.
MS FILKIN: Anybody in particular?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think it may be worth particularly
talking perhaps to Frank Dobson and asking him and Hilary Armstrong.
MS FILKIN: What are you suggesting they should
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It may be worth asking them
whether they are aware of how this 2020 initiative was funded
and on what the money was spent and indeed whether they have ever
had concerns about these monies.
MS FILKIN: One of the other allegations which
I have put to him in relation to this matter is an allegation
that councillors in Leicester East were required to make contributions
to Keith Vaz's party machine or to Keith Vaz directly over a period
of time and most of them did; not all of them, but most of them.
Do you have any evidence of that?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I do not have any evidence
of that except that they have complained about having to do it.
MS FILKIN: Complained to you?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: No, they just moan about
the fact that they are expected to contribute towards him, this
was particularly the case when Keith was operating both 144 and
146 Uppingham Road.
MS FILKIN: They complained that they had to
fund that building?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: That they had to fund the
building. One of the buildings was the one he had problems with
as an office, the other was essentially his residence at that
MS FILKIN: Did they complain that they had to
pay this money to Keith Vaz or that they had to pay this money
for this building?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think the complaint was
actually that it was not possible to distinguish between the constituency
finances and the personal finances of Keith. Had they been asked
to contribute towards the constituency finances, they would not
necessarily have objected. The objection was that payments were
being made in a way and indeed the constituency finances were
being operated in a way which was not transparent.
MS FILKIN: Who complained about that to you
directly? Who have you heard say that?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Let me see. I know that Margaret
has moaned about it. Who else? The other person who used to complain
about these sorts of practices was Paul Sood but unfortunately
he is dead. Kamal is the most obvious one who comes to mind.
MS FILKIN: He has told me that.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: He says he complained about
it at the time.
MS FILKIN: I wondered whether there was anybody
else who complained to you.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: No, but they would be unlikely
to, given the history.
MS FILKIN: Yes, I understand.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Most of them were recruited
to the enemy as it were.
MS FILKIN: I take the point. Anything else you
can think of?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think those are the only
things I can think of. There are other things I am aware of, but
I do not think any of them are the sort of things which I could
provide you with support for.
MS FILKIN: That has been terribly helpful. If
I could have any of those pieces of paper that would also be very
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes, of course. Let me tell
you what I have over here which might be of interest to you.
MS FILKIN: You have copies.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes. These are really just
by way of background. I told you that there were transcripts of
tapes, of conversations with Keith and these provide some flavour
at least. You are welcome to hear the whole tape, for what it
MS FILKIN: Who has the tape?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I have a copy of the tape.
It was made by a Councillor Hanif Asmal.
MS FILKIN: Can you spell that?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: A-S-M-A-L. First name H-A-N-I-F.
He made them surreptitiously during telephone calls.
MS FILKIN: Is he still about?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I should say former councillor.
He was a councillor at the time in Leicester East. He is still
around in Leicester certainly, yes.
MS FILKIN: Would he be willing to sign a transcript
of the tape to say that he made it?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I think he did something
of the sort for the Sunday Times; no, the Despatches programme,
because Despatches used it quite extensively. That was in November
of 1995, something like that.
MS FILKIN: Yes.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: These are just by way of
extracts and obviously they are taken out of context but nonetheless
I think they do reflect the ... This is the report which Paul
Gosling and Pat Stoddart produced as the auditors for Leicester
East about their concerns about the way in which the constituency
funds were being operated. That was back in 1991 to my knowledge
and it is perhaps only of interest as background.
MS FILKIN: It is background.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Of interest as background
rather than directly. Again as background is the transcript of
an interview between Bharat Sachdev, who was constituency treasurer
in Leicester East for quite a short period of time, with Ian Murray
of The Times. That extract perhaps gives some indication of motivation
which could be behind Keith's wish to see three Asian groups having
places of worship in Hamilton, which produced that headline in
The Sun. Those are the ... [Reading] Those are the minutes
of Leicester City Planning Committee and the other side has the
Property Committee which is the one Merlyn was Chair of and that
is the period while she was in the Chair of it. This is a copy
and I did not actually check back on the originals; they are just
ones I have taken out. Those were decisions which were taken at
MS FILKIN: I see. That was this batch going
back to square one.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: That is right. Letter from
Keith Vaz to the Director of Resources, who was responsible for
property, about the land at Hamilton. You will see there is an
element there of Keith facing both ways on it because he is clearly
also writing that for an audience of constituents who are very
hostile to it. You will see that at the end it says something
about "subject to local people agreeing", when in fact
local people were very much not agreeing with it - which was not
to say that it was not in many respects quite an admirable scheme
to try to produce a site where you get a Hindu, a Muslim and a
Sikh group with places of worship on the same site; it is very
admirable in many respects. It is just
MS FILKIN:how you do it?
SIR PETER SOULSBY:one has to doubt the
motivation and the method of achieving it. I do not think that
adds very much. That was just a letter from David Cooksey.
MS FILKIN: I see; that is interesting.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: This is one of the most astonishing
letters I have ever received in my life, the one I referred to
where Keith as a Member of Parliament seeks to tell me what to
do. I recommend you read it at your leisure. It has been much
MS FILKIN: I shall. "I hope its contents
will also be kept confidential".
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I actually wrote back to
him a very polite letter about three paragraphs long and just
sort of said
MS FILKIN: Go away.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: There is a bit in there where
Keith says "I hope you won't consider this a cheek".
MS FILKIN: You said, "But I do".
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Or words to that effect,
though I said it rather more politely than that.
MS FILKIN: "And my mother will chair the
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes. This is a Member of
Parliament to a council leader; quite astonishing. And I had just
removed her from the Chair of the Property Committee because I
felt that what she was getting involved in was improper. So he
wanted me to create another committee specially for her.
MS FILKIN: For her to chair?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: You will see he makes suggestions
for some of his other friends as well, creating an economic committee
for Culdipp Bhatbi and Gordhan Parmar, making one of them Lord
Mayor, and the other a roving ambassador.
MS FILKIN: That was another thing I was going
to ask about. A number of these people like Mr Kapasi have honours
and have been made Deputy Lord Lieutenant or something.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes. I have not heard it
from them directly but it is widely said in Leicester that both
Atwal and Kapasi got their honours as a result of Keith's intervention.
I have to stress that I have not heard that directly from either
of them. That is just "Everybody says Keith did it".
It does not mean to say he had any involvement at all.
MS FILKIN: Or that he did anything improper.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: No; quite.
MS FILKIN: He might have done it because he
thought they deserved it.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Absolutely. Atwal's honour
came much earlier; it may have been in the late 1980s or early
MS FILKIN: You have never heard any of them
saying that they had had to provide money for that.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: No, no, I have not heard
anything like that, although Atwal was a very close confidant
of Keith's in the late 1980s and indeed I went with Keith to visit
him when there was a threat of a Sikh candidate standing against
Keith, because Atwal is a Sikh, before what must have been Keith's
second general election. Was it 1987?
MS FILKIN: 1987 and then in 1990; there is another
one, 1993 or something like that.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Whichever one it is. It cannot
have been quite as late as that. Whenever it was. In the early
1990s I went with Keith and it was very clear that there was a
very close relationship because I was actually taken to Atwal's
house late at night to try to persuade him, for us together to
try to persuade him not to allow a Sikh to stand. There was clearly
a very close friendship, but again not necessarily anything improper.
What else do I have? A few more bits from the tape which provide
some background and finally again one of many press cuttings I
have, just to give you one which summarises some of the difficulties
between Keith and myself. Again I stress that I am certainly not
going to be seen by others as being impartial, because I have
had a very long series of difficulties.
MS FILKIN: Yes, I am just looking for the truth.
Thank you for telling me properly about the context, because that
is obviously proper that you have done that. Obviously what I
want are facts and that is what you have done.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: That is certainly what I
have sought to do. I wanted to stress to you that there is this
history of difficulty between us and I would not want you to be
surprised about that if somebody challenged anything I had said
later. That is all.
MS FILKIN: No, no. I am very grateful to you.
If there is anybody to whom afterwards you think it might be worth
me writing and asking what they know, it is quite clear to me
from what has happened already that people are not replying to
my letters or not everybody is replying to my letters themselves
in a straightforward way. It is all being in some ways orchestrated.
That may be perfectly benign, that is people talking to each other
and being supportive of each other. It may not be.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: You mentioned you had had
contact with Hanif Asmal. The other person I have noted, apart
from the ones I have already mentioned, is one of the people who
signed that audit report with Paul Gosling.
MS FILKIN: Yes. He has made a complaint to me.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Has he now?
MS FILKIN: So I have this complaint.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Very reliable, very well
respected journalist and I am sure he will be utterly straight.
Two there might be less interest in talking to would be Colin
Hall and Maralyn Hall. I do not have their addresses but they
were both very active in Leicester East's politics for many years.
MS FILKIN: Do you think you might have an address
SIR PETER SOULSBY: I can get it.
MS FILKIN: Could you?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes; quite easily. Across
the political divide, the only two who occur to me, certainly
on the Hamilton issue, would be Councillor Roman Skuplak. S-K-U-P-L-A-K.
He is actually leader of the Conservative group on the City Council.
MS FILKIN: Is he leader at the moment?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: He is the current leader
and it was he and John Mugglestone who resigned
MS FILKIN: Because of what happened.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Because of the, as they saw
it, imposition of these places of worship within their ward. They
fought a by-election and won it overwhelmingly.
MS FILKIN: Are they likely to have any evidence
that money was given to achieve this?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: What they might have done,
would be to have checked the election expenses at the time of
their election. They may or may not.
MS FILKIN: It might be worth writing to them.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It might be worth it.
MS FILKIN: What was the other one called?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: John Mugglestone. M-U-G-G-L-E-S-T-O-N-E.
MS FILKIN: Is he still a councillor?
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Yes, they are both.
MS FILKIN: So I can write to them at the Town
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Those are the only names
which immediately come to mind, apart from the ones you have mentioned..
MS FILKIN: Thank you very much indeed. I am
sorry to take your time.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: It is quite all right.
MS FILKIN: That is immensely helpful.
SIR PETER SOULSBY: Thank you for that.
MS FILKIN: Thank you.
(Agreed as correct by Sir Peter Soulsby,
14 July 2000)