The Committee finds that by expressing willingness to purchase cocaine for another person to use, Mr Vaz showed disregard for the law, and by failing to co-operate fully with the inquiry process, he showed disrespect for the House’s standards system. His actions caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole.
The Committee considers this a very serious breach of the Code, and recommends that the House should suspend Mr Vaz from its service for six months. It notes that such a suspension would trigger the provisions of the Recall of MPs Act. It further recommends that if Mr Vaz ceases to be an MP, he should not be eligible for a former Member’s pass.
The Committee’s aim throughout has been to establish whether the rules of the House have been complied with, not to investigate Mr Vaz’s private life or to pass judgement on issues of sexual morality.
The Committee’s work follows an inquiry by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, whose detailed memorandum is appended to the report. Associated evidence is published on the internet.
The complaint against Mr Vaz arose from an article in the Sunday Mirror on 4 September 2016. This alleged that he had met two men at his London flat on 27 August 2016 to engage in paid-for sex, and that during this encounter (which was covertly audio-recorded by one of the men) Mr Vaz offered to buy illegal drugs for a third person to use. It was alleged that Mr Vaz had breached paragraph 10 of the MPs’ Code of Conduct 2015, relating to conflicts of interest, because the Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC), which Mr Vaz chaired, had been conducting inquiries into drugs and prostitution; and that he had also breached paragraph 16, which required MPs “never to undertake any action which would cause significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole, or of its Members generally”.
The inquiry took place under two successive Commissioners (initially Kathryn Hudson, and since January 2018 Kathryn Stone OBE). It has been subject to delays arising from (a) two referrals to the Metropolitan Police, who on each occasion decided not to proceed with a criminal investigation, (b) the general election of 2017 and (c) Mr Vaz’s ill health. The present Commissioner supplied the Committee with her findings in July 2019. She concluded that Mr Vaz did not breach paragraph 10 (conflict of interest) but committed two breaches of paragraph 16 (reputation of the House).
The Committee took oral evidence from Mr Vaz in September 2019, and since then has received further written evidence from Mr Vaz and (at the Committee’s request) the Commissioner.
With regard to the events of 27 August 2016, the Committee dismiss Mr Vaz’s claim that the covert audio-recording, and the transcript subsequently supplied by the newspaper, are not to be relied upon for purposes of the inquiry. Mr Vaz further claimed that the purpose of his encounter with the two men was to discuss the redecoration of his flat, not to engage in paid-for sex; he also claimed to have suffered memory loss as to the incident, and argues that he may have been given a spiked drink.
The Committee concludes that:
- Mr Vaz’s explanation of the incident on 27 August 2016 is not believable and, indeed, ludicrous;
- on this occasion Mr Vaz expressed a willingness to procure a Class A drug, cocaine, for the use of another person;
- on this occasion Mr Vaz engaged in paid-for sex.
The Committee finds the evidence in support of these conclusions to be compelling. It supports the Commissioner’s conclusion that because of Mr Vaz’s willingness to procure cocaine, he had shown disregard for the law, which was a breach of paragraph 16 of the Code.
The Committee supports the Commissioner’s conclusion that Mr Vaz also breached paragraph 16 by failing to co-operate fully with the investigation process, thereby showing disrespect for the House's standards system. It states that the Commissioner provided convincing evidence of Mr Vaz being evasive or unhelpful during her inquiry, including that he failed, repeatedly, to answer direct questions, gave incomplete answers and an account that was, in parts, incredible.
The Committee notes that if Mr Vaz had given a candid and co-operative account of the incident on 27 August 2016 from the outset, rather than an unbelievable one, the inquiry could have been resolved long ago. It concludes that ”much of the welter of documentation and procedural challenges which has emanated from Mr Vaz has been designed, in our opinion, to ‘throw dust in the eyes’ of the Commissioner and the Committee”. It further concludes that although the core issues in the inquiry are relatively simple, “Mr Vaz has done his best to complicate, obfuscate and confuse the inquiry through arguments of little merit and documentation of dubious relevance.”
The Commissioner’s decision not to uphold the complaint of a breach of paragraph 10 of the 2015 Code (conflict of interest) is supported by the Committee, although it notes that Mr Vaz was “less than completely candid” in his evidence to the Committee in defence of his argument that HASC’s inquiry into prostitution was definitively concluded by 27 August 2016.
The Committee gives detailed consideration to specific arguments advanced by Mr Vaz in his defence, including the claim of amnesia, the argument that he was entrapped by a newspaper ‘sting’ operation, and that a correct interpretation of the Code does not permit the complaints against him to be upheld. The Committee sets out in full its reasons for either rejecting these arguments or (as in the case of the claimed amnesia) not regarding them as relevant to its conclusions.
In considering what sanction to recommend to the House for Mr Vaz’s breaches of the rules, the Committee has taken into account mitigating and aggravating factors. It regards as a mitigating factor that Mr Vaz resigned as Chair of HASC in early September 2016: “even if undertaken reluctantly, this was at least a prompt and decisive action”.
It regards as aggravating factors, first, that Mr Vaz was Chair of a very senior select committee, HASC, and thus ought to have set a particularly good example to other Members in obeying the rules of the House; and second, that this is not the first time he has been found to have committed a serious breach of the Code. In 2002 he was found to have made a damaging and untrue allegation and to have wrongly interfered with the House’s investigative process. On that occasion the House suspended him for one month. The Committee notes that although 2002 is a long time ago, the finding of contempt was a very serious one, effectively that of perverting the course of justice, and that such behaviour, if treated with impunity, may strike at the heart of trust in any standards system.
The lay members of the Committee, who have full voting rights, played a full and active part in drawing up the Committee’s report, with which they are in agreement. The report was agreed unanimously.