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