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Volume 667: debated on Thursday 31 October 2019

I beg to move,

That this House—

(1) approves the First Report of the Committee on Standards, Keith Vaz, HC 93;

(2) endorses the recommendations in paragraphs 99 and 101; and

(3) accordingly suspends Keith Vaz from the service of the House for a period of 6 months.

Today’s motion follows the publication of the first report of the Committee on Standards of this Session on the conduct of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). I have been asked to say that he cannot be here today to listen to this because he is currently in hospital. The report was agreed by the Standards Committee following a process of investigation and consideration by recognised due process, and it was published on Monday 28 October. The Government have sought to schedule a debate as quickly as possible, as is the usual practice.

It is always regrettable when a motion such as this is before the House. The matter before us today has been investigated by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, and it has now been reported on by the Committee on Standards. I thank the former commissioner, Kathryn Hudson, and the current commissioner, Kathryn Stone, for their work. I also thank the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), the Chairman of the Committee on Standards, and the other members of the Committee for their work in producing this report.

The motion approves the report of the Committee on Standards, endorses the recommendation of the Committee and proposes that the right hon. Member for Leicester East be suspended from the service of the House for a period of six months. I commend this motion to the House.

I am replying for the Opposition, Mr Speaker. Before I do so, however, may I say to you, Sir, that I want to identify myself with absolutely everything my right hon. Friend the shadow Leader of the House said in tribute to you. You have been an outstanding Speaker, and you deserve the gratitude of us all. I know that to be praised by the Opposition Chief Whip will probably not help your standing with your colleagues, but let us face it—just between the two of us—it is probably too late to make amends. I can truthfully say, Mr Speaker, that nobody is going to miss you more than I am.

To turn to the matter at hand, this is a sad day for us and for me personally, because I am friends with the right hon. Member who is criticised. However, we accept the report, we accept the findings and we accept the recommendations in full. I want to say thank you to my hon. Friend the Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green) for chairing the hearings and to both commissioners who have conducted the investigation. I also want to thank the Committee, and particularly the lay members of the Committee. The introduction of the laity into affairs of this kind was controversial, but it seems to be working well. On behalf of my party, I certainly accept the report—and the obvious consequences —in full.

Ordinarily, I would go to the other side of the House, but it seems appropriate to call the Chair of the Standards Committee first, and I hope the hon. Gentleman will accept that.

May I add my own warm tribute to you, Mr Speaker, because you have been an exceptional Speaker throughout my time in Parliament? I am sorry to contribute to this short debate, and I thank the Leader of the House for bringing forward this motion before Dissolution next week.

I assure the House that the Committee on Standards has taken the greatest possible care with all the information that was put before us. We have done our best to focus only on issues that pertain to this House’s code of conduct, and not on extraneous matters of personal and private conduct. Neither have we wanted to put any information into the public domain, other than where that has been absolutely necessary to explain the reason behind the Committee’s decision. The decision is unanimous, and we have accepted the recommendations of the current commissioner. We are grateful to her for her work, and for the work of the previous commissioner. I wish to put on record my thanks to all colleagues on the Committee, and to my Clerk and his staff.

Subsequent to our report, the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) put some information on his website. I assure the House that all the points raised in that posting are addressed within the Committee’s report. I and my Committee appreciate that constitutionally, no Parliament can bind the actions of the next Parliament but our view—we have placed this on the record in a letter to the Leader of the House which is published on the Committee’s website—is that should the right hon. Gentleman be returned to the House at the forthcoming election, we urge the incoming Parliament and the new Leader of the House to pass a resolution as quickly as possible to ensure that the full period of the proposed sanction is served. I am grateful for the chance to contribute this afternoon.

I thank you, Mr Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. Although I am the originator of the complaint to the Committee on Standards in September 2016, I rise more in sorrow than anger to comment on these matters. I, too, wish to thank the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Stone, for her diligent work on our behalf, protecting the reputation of this House. I also thank her predecessor, Kathryn Hudson, and all elected and lay members of the Committee on Standards.

After 37 months we have the report. It is 69 pages long, and it makes grim reading for those colleagues who have taken the time to wade through it. The recommendations of the Committee include the longest suspension to be handed out since records began—six months—which in normal times would trigger a recall. The Committee also said that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) should not be offered a former Member’s pass when his time in this House ceases.

It is clear why this investigation has taken so long, and the delays, deflection and confusion that the Committee believes the right hon. Gentleman to have conducted, have been quite damning on his character. He sought to drag out these proceedings so that if he does not stand at the next election, none of the punishment will be meted out to him, and he will have avoided a suspension. If the House decides to accept the recommendations, they will be in place for only a few days, not for six months, and there will therefore be no recall. Effectively, the only censure that he will face is that of not having the privilege of a former Member’s pass when he ceases to be here.

I am aware that the right hon. Gentleman is not present, but the Chair of the Committee on Standards hinted at a statement that he put on his website immediately after the publication of this report. In fairness to the right hon. Gentleman, and to inform the House, I would like to read the statement that was posted on his website on 28 October, shortly after the release of the report by the Committee on Standards into his conduct:

“The events of 27th August 2016 were purely personal and private, and occurred in circumstances where neither Mr Vaz’s public nor his Parliamentary role were engaged.

Mr Vaz has never bought, possessed, dealt with or used illegal drugs. He has a cardiovascular condition which would mean that were he to consume any non-prescribed drugs he would in all likelihood die. The Commissioner has confirmed that Mr Vaz has not committed any criminal acts. The referrals made (including by Andrew Bridgen MP) were a waste of police resources.

The transcript of the recording which the Committee and Commissioner rely on has been completed discredited by a highly qualified forensic scientist, who has cast considerable doubt on its reliability. She stated: “Overall the transcript supplied to me fell significantly short of what is expected in terms of a transcript intended for use in legal, disciplinary or similar proceedings and it cannot be considered a reliable evidential record of the speech content of the questioned recording.

Mr Vaz has cooperated at all stages of this process. At no stage during the inquiry has either Commissioner stated in writing or otherwise that Mr Vaz has been uncooperative. Commissioner Hudson stated in terms that Mr Vaz has been helpful. Mr Vaz vigorously rejects the allegation that he has failed to cooperate with the inquiry: to the contrary he holds the standards system in the highest regard and with the highest respect.”

There are then some links to reports from the inquiry that are available on the parliamentary website, and it indicates where people should look in the report for various information that the right hon. Gentleman regards as evidential to support his statement. The statement concludes:

“Keith Vaz has been treated for a serious mental health condition for the last three years as a result of the events of 27th August 2016. He has shared all his medical reports in confidence with the Committee. He has today been admitted to hospital and this office will not be making any further comments.”

I have read the report, and there is no apology from the right hon. Member for Leicester East. There is no hint of apology, no hint of regret, and a complete denial of the unanimous conclusions of the Committee on Standards. That may hint at his state of mind—he is in complete denial about the level of dissatisfaction that the public feel with the behaviour of some Members of this House, and he has certainly detracted from our reputation.

Many tributes have been paid to you today, Mr Speaker, and I wish to add my own. If you had acted on the letter that I wrote to you in September 2015—a year before the incident involving the then Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—in which I raised my concerns that if the actions and activities of the right hon. Gentleman came to light, they would risk seriously damaging—

Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. This matter was raised on a previous occasion and I am going to say, in all solemnity and with firmness, to the hon. Gentleman and to the House what the position is.

I could not have known that the hon. Gentleman intended to use this debate in the way that he has thus far—in an orderly fashion, but in a way that I could not have predicted. I certainly could not have anticipated, and the hon. Gentleman did not do me the courtesy of telling me, that he intended to address my reaction to these matters, but I will say to the House that I do recall—I do not have the detail in front of me—the hon. Gentleman writing to me highlighting his concerns about the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) and imploring me to act. I indicated to the hon. Gentleman, in terms, that both on the basis of my own knowledge, I say to the House, of the role and responsibility of the Chair, and on the strength of the professional advice of the Clerk of the House, that it was not—repeat, not—for me to intervene in any way, shape or form.

The premise upon which the request by the hon. Gentleman for me to intervene was based was entirely—I emphasise the word “entirely”—misplaced. It is not for the Speaker to get involved in the study of, or investigation into, complaints that are made about individual Members of Parliament. It is not for the Speaker to perform a second job as a kind of night-time Columbo looking into matters that one Member wants to raise about another. That is not only not necessary, but not appropriate. It is totally outwith—I say this with complete clarity and for the avoidance of doubt—the role of the Speaker.

If, after nine and a half years in this place, notwithstanding my best efforts to help the hon. Gentleman to do better, he still labours under not merely the misapprehension but the ignorant delusion that it is somehow the responsibility of the Chair to intervene, frankly, I have to say to colleagues, I cannot help him. I cannot help him. I have tried to help the hon. Gentleman and I have tried on many occasions to educate the hon. Gentleman, but if the hon. Gentleman will not be helped or educated, I cannot do anything about that.

What I can do something about—I have sought to do so for 10 years—is securing compliance with the procedures of this House. It is absolutely legitimate for the hon. Gentleman to speak in this debate if he thinks it is proper to do so. If the hon. Gentleman feels that the general approach that he has adopted to these sorts of matters—allegations of misconduct against other Members—enhances his standing in the House, it is entirely for him to make that judgment. If he thinks it makes him a more popular or respected Member to spend quite a lot of time writing to the Standards Commissioner to complain about this one, that one or the other one—if that is the approach to parliamentary service, or a part of the approach to parliamentary service, for which the hon. Gentleman opts—that is his privilege. If he wishes to speak in this debate, including when I have resumed my seat, he is welcome to do so. He might usefully make a judgment about whether the House wants to hear him at great length when there is a clear judgment by the Committee that has been accepted and endorsed by the Opposition Chief Whip, but if he still feels he wants to speak at some considerable length, if it makes him feel better and if he thinks what an excellent contribution he has made, that is his prerogative.

What the hon. Gentleman will not do is to breach the rules of this House and tell me—I say this not least to members of the public—what the job of the Chair is. I know what the job of the Chair is and I have done it to the best of my ability. To err is human, so I make my mistakes, but I have done it to the best of my ability for over a decade. I do not simply assert or suggest but state with complete confidence that it is not part of my job to make representations to a Member that, because of this rumour or that rumour, or this allegation or that allegation, or this person disliking him or that person disliking him, it would be best if he stood down from the chairmanship of his Select Committee. That is not the responsibility of the Speaker of the House of Commons. If the hon. Gentleman still thinks otherwise, I fear he is beyond redemption in the matter. I would like to help him, but he just does not want to be helped.

Mr Speaker, I thank you for your advice, as always. For the past 10 years you have advised me on many occasions, but had you waited for my conclusion, you would have seen that I was going to extol your decision not to get involved in this matter. Had you done so, we may well have protected the reputation of this House, but I doubt that we ever would have got to see the full report that is now before us.

Despite this report being public knowledge—it has been available for Members to read for several days—the right hon. Member for Leicester East remains a member of the Labour party. He has the Labour Whip. He is still a serving member of the Labour national executive committee and he is still currently the candidate for Leicester East at the forthcoming election. That, of course, is a matter for the Labour party, and it is also, I believe, a matter for the public we all serve in our constituencies, not least in Leicester East. I believe—I think that many other people do—that Leicester East deserves rather better, Mr Speaker.

We can recall what we have done in the past and the way we have voted. We will all be held to account for that very shortly, on 12 December. Only a month after the right hon. Member for Leicester East rather reluctantly resigned, following the rent boy and cocaine scandal, from the chairmanship of the Home Affairs Committee, he was nominated by the Labour party to serve on the Justice Committee. That was only four weeks after he had considered himself unsuitable to continue as Chair of the Home Affairs Committee.

Order. I am sorry, but I must invite the hon. Gentleman to resume his seat and I will tell him why.

The hon. Gentleman tries to demonstrate how fair he is being by saying that, belatedly, he agrees with me, which he has never previously given any indication of at all. If that is what he now says, I am glad he has come to recognise the error of his past ways and the extreme folly, as well as the sheer nastiness, of making repeated representations to the Chair to intercede in a matter in which the Chair should not, of course, intercede.

What the hon. Gentleman is doing now is what he attempted to do on the occasion of the debate about the nomination of the right hon. Member for Leicester East to the Justice Committee. What the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) is seeking to do is to drag into this debate, as he dragged into that debate, material that it is not appropriate to share with the House in the context of the debate. This is a short debate on a report. The reason why the hon. Gentleman’s point is not relevant or appropriate is, first of all, that he is going back on matters to do with the Justice Committee, of which I think the report does not treat. The report does not get involved in that. That is a historical matter. It was a matter of political opinion and parliamentary debate at the time; it is not relevant to the Standards Committee’s report.

Secondly, I am afraid that the hon. Gentleman, who is a party politician and a campaigning party politician—I acknowledge that—just cannot resist getting into the subject of whether it is or is not appropriate for a particular person to be a candidate in a given election. The hon. Gentleman gives his view—he obviously thinks it is enormously important and interesting, although it may not be enormously important or interesting to anyone else—as to whether the health of the people of Leicester East is best served by representation by its current right hon. Member or by someone else. I have to say to the hon. Gentleman that I am not interested in that. Frankly, I do not think that the House is interested in that. If the hon. Gentleman wants to say, “Look, I complained and I was right, and the report has criticised, censured and punished, or proposes to do so, the right hon. Gentleman,” he could have done that and sat down by now.

I give him a final warning, and it is a warning: I am not going to have the House abused by the way in which the hon. Gentleman chooses to behave. If he has a sentence or two that he wants to utter as to why he thinks that this is a decent report and he agrees with it, that is fine. If he wants to launch a further ad hominem attack on the right hon. Member for Leicester East, this is not the time or place to do so.

I say in all sincerity and kindness to the hon. Gentleman: show some antennae, man, for the will of the House, and show some sensitivity. You have made your point in making a complaint, which you had every right to do, and the Committee has determined the matter. It would be, I think, seemly if the hon. Gentleman speedily brought his speech to a conclusion.

Order. The hon. Gentleman will resume his seat. It is not help and advice; I am telling him what the position is. Don’t mix it with the Chair. If you have a couple more sentences to utter, you will do so; if you want to dilate at length, you will not.

Mr Speaker, I will bring my remarks to a conclusion, but it is clear to me, and it will be clear to the public, that to the fag-end of your tenure in that Chair, you are defending the indefensible and your very close relationship with the right hon. Member in question. The House can come to its own conclusions. The Standards Committee has come to its own conclusions. And, Mr Speaker, the public will come to theirs. Thank you very much.

I am quite sure that the public will come to their own conclusions. Let me say to the hon. Gentleman that he can try to smear me; he will get the square root of nowhere. I am friendly with the right hon. Member for Leicester East, as I am friendly with the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope), the right hon. Member for Aylesbury (Sir David Lidington), and the hon. Members for Stroud (Dr Drew) and for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I am friendly with a great many Members, having served in this place for 22 years. I do not get involved in matters appertaining to standards. There is a machinery for deliberation on those matters in the form of a Parliamentary Standards Commissioner and a Committee. They deal with those matters.

The hon. Gentleman, only a few moments ago, was saying, in what he thought was a frightfully clever twist, that he had come to accept that I was right to say that I could not get involved. If he is now saying that, in fact, my close relationship shows that I am trying to defend the right hon. Member for Leicester East, he is contradicting himself not within days, weeks or months; he is contradicting himself within minutes. I am not trying to defend the conduct of the right hon. Gentleman. What I am doing, on behalf of and in support of the House, is—colleagues; members of the public—defending the integrity of an independent process. If the hon. Gentleman cannot or will not grasp that fact, with the very greatest of respect to him—or such respect as I can muster—that says more about him than it does about me.

I, and I hope the whole House, wish that the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) recovers and that his health is restored.

I strongly support the motion, which says that the House

“approves the First Report of the Committee on Standards …HC 93”,

and that we endorse

“the recommendations in paragraphs 99 and 101”

and the suspension from the service of the House for a period of six months.

I served with others on the Standards Committee in the early 2000s, when Elizabeth Filkin was the Standards Commissioner. She was badly treated by the House and treated even worse by the right hon. Member for Leicester East. Paragraph 97 of the report states:

“Mr Vaz has previously been found to have been in serious breach of the Code and in contempt of the House. In 2002 the Standards and Privileges Committee found he had recklessly made a damaging and untrue allegation against another person, which could have intimidated them, and had wrongly interfered with the House’s investigative process: in particular that ‘having set the Commissioner on a false line of inquiry Mr Vaz then accused her of interfering in a criminal investigation and threatened to report her to the Speaker’”.

It goes on to other points that he made.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) rightly read out some of the words on the right hon. Gentleman’s website, which are totally contradicted by the report that I have in my hand. I think that someone who has done that after the report has come out should have the suspension doubled to a year.

I say this: this is not a party point, but the right hon. Gentleman should not be nominated. If he is nominated, he should not be elected, and if he is elected, he should be suspended for a very long time.

I had not intended to participate in the debate, but I am a member of the current Committee. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) will recognise, serving on the Standards Committee is one of the less pleasant responsibilities that falls to Members, but that is the position I have been in for quite a long time. I can recall a time when we passed sentence, in a sense, on my right hon. Friend the Member for Basingstoke (Mrs Miller), saying that she should make an apology to the House. I was in the House when she made her apology, and I recall the sense of outrage that her apology was not as full as some people might have wished. As a result, she suffered additional penalties in her constituency—it was a long time ago and I am sure that has all been forgiven.

In that context, when I listened to my hon. Friend the Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) reading out what is on the website of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), it filled me with horror, because it is totally contradictory to the findings of the Committee. What does not come across in a report such as this is the detail that has been gone into by the members of the Committee—including lay-members, who do it for love, really—the commissioner and her predecessor. An enormous amount of work has gone into this, and we reached a conclusion:

“We are satisfied from the evidence we have considered that Mr Vaz did on 27 August 2016 offer to procure and pay for illegal drugs for use by a third party.”

Paragraph 54 states:

“On the basis of the evidence supplied by the audio-recording and the transcript, we reach the following conclusions germane to the Commissioner’s findings…that Mr Vaz’s explanation of the incident on 27 August 2016 is not believable…that on this occasion Mr Vaz expressed a willingness to procure a Class A drug, cocaine, for the use of another person…that on this occasion Mr Vaz engaged in paid-for sex. We consider that the evidence supporting these conclusions is compelling.”

On that basis, I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) in asking whether it would be reasonable, if the right hon. Gentleman is returned following the next general election, for the Standards Committee to revisit this issue, having regard to what is on the website now. I commend the work of the Standards Committee and particularly that of its Chair, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), but it seems to me that what is on the website is designed to bring the work of the Standards Committee into disrepute.

I am extremely grateful to the hon. Gentleman, who has expressed himself with his customary courtesy. I think that the answer to that question—I am looking plaintively in the direction of the Chair of the Standards Committee, the hon. Member for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green)—is that that is a matter for the Committee. It would be quite wrong for me to seek to influence it any way, and I do not do so. It is absolutely not a matter for me or, indeed, for any occupant of the Chair. It is, I think, a matter for the Committee. I say this by way of explanation and attempted intelligibility to observers: the Committee has authority in this matter and, if you will, ownership of it. Committees are in charge of their own inquiries. It would be a matter for the Committee, but obviously not in this Parliament. That is the best way to leave it.

Obviously, although I heard the recital—I do not use the term “recital” in any disobliging sense—by the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) of what was on the website, it is not something that I have studied, and I hope people will understand that it is not something that the Speaker would have studied. There is no reason to expect that I would have done so. It is a matter for the Committee. It has a range of sanctions available to it, and it makes the judgment as to which sanction or set of sanctions it wishes to recommend to the House. If, for whatever reason, the Committee does not recommend an apology, an apology is not required. If, on the other hand, it does, it might be. A very different matter was recently brought to my attention in relation to a non-Member and the allocation of a pass, and I had to point out that there was not an unpurged contempt. A person had behaved badly and been criticised, but he had not failed to apologise when instructed to do so. For whatever reason, he had not been instructed to do so and was therefore not required to do so. My understanding is that that is the case in this instance. Whether that is the right thing or the wrong thing is a matter for the Committee.

On a point of order, Mr Speaker. On that point, we notice that the motion is in the name of the Leader of the House, so were the person concerned to be re-elected, we would not have to wait for the re-establishment of the Standards Committee. The Leader of the House could re-present a motion in the same terms, and if, subsequently, the Standards Committee wanted to take further action, that would then follow.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. It might help the House if I explain that the Standards Committee has specifically asked that the next Leader of the House—or me, if I continue in office in the new Parliament—bring the suspension forward as soon as the House reassembles, so that it is not, in effect, only a two-day suspension. That has been specifically requested by the Committee.

Forgive me, but I was myself perfectly clear on that point, although I am grateful to the Leader of the House for making it clear to colleagues. It was always intended that, if the House accepted the report, the suspension would take effect after the election. Whether the Committee wishes to revisit the issue, in the light of what the hon. Member for Christchurch (Sir Christopher Chope) and others have said, is, if he will forgive me saying so, a slightly different point.

Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. My understanding is that in the event that the right hon. Member is returned, we would like the next Leader of the House to bring forward a motion to continue the suspension, but neither this Parliament, this Leader of the House nor any Member of this Parliament can compel that. It would be a matter for the next Parliament. In so far as the next Committee is concerned, any Member is at liberty to make a complaint about the conduct of a Member at the time that he was serving as a Member. We have recently introduced new provisions around historical cases, but the Committee would be a new Committee, and would not be able simply to pick up an old case conducted by our current Committee.

Thank you. That was by way of a public information notice from the Chair of the Committee, which I hope is helpful to colleagues.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House—

(1) approves the First Report of the Committee on Standards, Keith Vaz, HC 93;

(2) endorses the recommendations in paragraphs 99 and 101; and

(3) accordingly suspends Keith Vaz from the service of the House for a period of 6 months.