Shamed Vaz banned from Commons over sleaze

Marie Woolf,Chief Political Correspondent
Saturday 09 February 2002 01:00
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Keith Vaz is to be suspended from the House of Commons for a month after he committed "serious breaches" of the MPs' code of conduct, provided false information to Elizabeth Filkin and tried to obstruct an inquiry into his activities.

The former Europe Minister was also rebuked by a powerful committee of MPs for "recklessly" making an untrue and damaging allegation to the police against a witness who made a complaint against him.

He was also accused of undermining Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary commissioner for standards, and of wasting police time. The House of Commons standards and privileges committee ruled that the Labour MP, who has consistently enjoyed the support of Tony Blair, was guilty of "contempt" of the Commons by "wrongfully interfering with the House's investigative process."

The punishment – the harshest meted out to a Labour MP – is to be approved by the Commons next week. It will prove hugely embarrassing to the Labour Government and further undermine public confidence in Parliament.

Mr Vaz was also rebuked for failing to answer MPs' questions about his business affairs, and misleading the inquiry with inaccurate information. The scathing report follows an exhaustive second inquiry by Elizabeth Filkin, who leaves her job next week, into Mr Vaz's tangled financial affairs. The standards committee upheld only three of 11 allegations made against Mr Vaz, two of which were not seen as serious.

But it was his failure to cooperate and apparent attempts to intimidate witnesses that led to the decision to suspend him. "Mr Vaz failed in his public duty under the Code of Conduct to act on all occasions in accordance with the public trust placed in (him)," the committee said. "By wrongfully interfering with the House's investigative process he also committed a contempt of the House."

Some MPs on the Labour dominated Standards and Privileges Committee wanted Mr Vaz suspended for more than a month. The punishment, which was also inflicted the Tory MP Teresa Gorman two years ago, will mean he is barred from debates but can continue to act as a constituency MP when the decision is rubber-stamped next week. Yesterday Mr Vaz withdrew his name from a string of Commons motions. He was unrepentant and claimed the report had been rushed through by Elizabeth Filkin, ahead of her controversial departure. In a thinly-veiled attack on her, he implied that her successor would have a more balanced approach to the job. He pointed out that most of the allegations against him had been thrown out. "Two minor one have been sustained, to do with the law centre many years ago and a donation which I subsequently put on the record."

Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith said: "For Keith Vaz to be suspended from the House is a very serious charge indeed. It means he has misled the House and the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards. I think Tony Blair also has to answer some questions because he was the one backing up Mr Vaz before the general election."

Last year Mrs Filkin had accused Mr Vaz of deliberately obstructing her inquiries. In yesterday's report the MP was not only accused of failing to co-operate but of supplying misleading information.

Both inquiries investigated Mr Vaz's links with millionaire Indian industrialists, the Hinduja brothers. He claimed, in the first inquiry, that the Hindujas had never made a donation to Mapesbury Commun- ications, a company he set up to receive earnings from activities outside Parliament. His wife, Maria Fernandes is the sole shareholder.

But the Hindujas have now told the Commissioner that they had made "several payments through their businesses" to the firm.

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