Vaz given one-month Commons suspension

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Indy Politics

Keith Vaz was banished from the Commons for a month yesterday for seeking to obstruct an investigation into his financial affairs by Parliament's sleaze watchdog.

In one of the most severe punishments imposed on an MP, the former minister for Europe was suspended without a vote by MPs.

Moments earlier, he had apologised to the House and accepted the findings of a damning report by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee, which accused him of breaching the MPs' code of conduct by providing false information to the parliamentary standards watchdog.

The committee also accused him of "recklessly" making a false allegation to police about a women who had made a complaint against him.

However, in his apology speech, the former minister angered the committee's chairman, Sir George Young, by claiming that he had co-operated fully with the investigation by Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.

Mr Vaz also said he had been cleared "of all the main allegations against me". In a jibe at Mrs Filkin's work, the MP for Leicester East wished her successor well with the words: "I hope that we will have a new era where the rules of natural justice and fairness are applied firmly."

The Labour backbencher, who was embroiled in controversy in the months before he left office in June last year, said: "I believe I have co-operated in every possible way and have sought legal and other advice through this process to ensure that I have done so.

"I have given hundreds of answers and numerous supporting documents. There is little point in having rules of procedure written by the commissioner and agreed by this House on April 5, 2000, which appear not to have been adhered to."

However, Sir George lambasted the MP for criticising and obstructing the inquiry by Ms Filkin. He said: "The commissioner described his approach to the inquiry as one of obfuscation, prevarication, evasiveness and delay."

Sir George added: "His strategy appears to have been to throw mud at the commissioner in the hope that some would stick on the committee. The House is a forgiving place if an honourable member owns up and admits he has made a mistake. Even at this stage the honourable member seems unable to recognise that he has done anything wrong and he has still failed to apologise to Miss Eggington [about whom he contacted the police] for what happened."

Sir George said the police had cleared Eileen Eggington of making any malicious telephone calls.

Eric Forth, the shadow Leader of the House, called on the Government to examine the "increasingly obvious necessity" to co-ordinate the codes of conduct for MPs and for government ministers.

Robin Cook, the Leader of the House of Commons, hinted at changes to the ministerial code of practice to prevent MPs serving as ministers while they were facing serious allegations of misconduct.

Mr Cook said that the suspension of an MP would have "very severe implications" on their ability to continue working as a minister.

¿ The junior trade and industry minister Nigel Griffiths should face no further action over an office expenses row, the Commons standards committee said. Mr Griffiths faced calls for his resignation after he claimed £10,000 a year in allowances since 1997 for an office in Edinburgh he had bought. The committee found he had made a "technically defective" claim but did not receive money to which he was not entitled.

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