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Programme highlights Thursday, 15 March, 2001, 16:43 GMT
Criticisms mount, but Vaz insists he's cleared
Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz insists matter is now over
Keith Vaz MP has spoken for the first time at length about the report into his constituency affairs published this week, brushing aside all criticisms and insisting he's been cleared.

He denied failing to co-operate with the inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin and dismisses allegations in today's Guardian that he obstructed a Labour Party inquiry into the running of his constituency seven years ago.

His interview was during a visit to Cambridge, where he spoke to Gerald Main from BBC Radio Cambridgeshire.

"Inquiries not completed"

Whilst Vaz insists that he was "cleared" by the Committee, on one account a complaint against him was upheld - a lack of openness with Ministers when making a recommendation for an honour.

Elizabeth Filkin
Elizabeth Filkin

But on eight other complaints, the report was not able to come to any conclusions because Ms Filkin was "unable to complete her investigations because some witnesses have refused to provide her with the information she needed."

The World at One understands that most MPs investigated by the Commissioner encourage witnesses to provide all possible evidence. That did not happen in this case.

Lack of cooperation

The Committee was unable to uphold the complaint that Mr Vaz received undeclared payments from a solicitor, Mr Soresh Zaiwalla, because witnesses, including Mr Vaz himself, were unco-operative.

Sarosh Zaiwalla
Donations: Mr Sarosh Zaiwalla

Then there was the problem Ms Filkin had in investigating a PR company called Mapesbury Communications, run by Mr Vaz's wife, Maria Fernandes.

One reason given was that the reasons given were that the person responsible for filing the accounts had died.

The lack of information about Mapesbury, made it impossible to uphold a complaint that it might have provided Mr Vaz with funds from undisclosed sources to support his parliamentary office.

We deprecate the behaviour of those witnesses who could have helped the Commissioner but did not do so.

Committee Report

Powers need strenthening

Sir Gordon Downey, Elizabeth Filkin's predecessor, added his voice to the debate today, obsering that - "in the light of recent events" - the Parliamentary Commissioner's powers need bolstering.

The system, he told the Today programme, would not work unless MPs recognised their responsibility to co-operate fully with any investigations.

New allegations emerge

And today, the Guardian has pulished letters written in 1994 following an internal inquiry by the Labour Party's NEC into the workings of Leicester East constituency.

The letters, written by Clare Ward (now an MP herself, for Watford), accuse Mr Vaz of treating the members of the inquiry with contempt - an allegation he scornfully dismissed today.

Clare Ward MP
Allegations: Clare Ward MP

But that story struck a chord with Cllr Mustafa Kamal. He is the subject of one of the complaints against Mr Vaz that was NOT upheld: it involved regular monthly payments of small sums of money to Leicester East Labour Party. Today he told me his reaction to the Guardian story.

Cllr Mustafa Kamal. Elizabeth Filkin, the Commissioner, is constrained from talking about individual cases, though we may - as I suggested - learn more about her views with the publication of annexes to her report tomorrow. The Standards and Privileges Committee, too, has laid down its official line on the basis of her report. But one member of the committee, the Tory MP Peter Bottomley, listened to Mr Vaz's interview this morning and was prepared to express publicly a measure of his surprise.

Keith Vaz MP insists he was cleared despite criticisms
Keith Vaz claims he cooperated fully
Peter Bottomley MP: 'Vaz cleared himself before report published'
Keith Vaz insists no questions remain unanswered
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