31 October 2019
Andrew Bridgen comments on conclusion of investigation into conduct of Keith Vaz MP

Andrew Bridgen thanks the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for the investigation and report into the conduct of Leicester East MP, Keith Vaz, and regrets that there is no apology from Mr Vaz to the people of Leicester East nor appropriate reaction from the Labour Party.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con)

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—

Mr Speaker

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.

Andrew Bridgen

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.

Mr Speaker

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.

Andrew Bridgen

Thank you once again for more help and advice, Mr Speaker.

Mr Speaker

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.

Andrew Bridgen

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.