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Programme highlights Friday, 26 January, 2001, 16:22 GMT
Vaz dismisses passport affair criticism
Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz spoke to reporters at some length
Keith Vaz, the Minister for Europe, has today brushed aside suggestions that he might suffer the same fate as Peter Mandelson.

 Click here to watch Keith Vaz's statement in full

This morning the papers are full of detailed analysis of Mr Vaz's contacts with the Hinduja brothers over several years, with many suggesting that he may have exercised undue influence on behalf of people who were not his constituents.


Some of you are going to look very foolish when this report comes out

Keith Vaz - speaking to reporters
He has never denied his contacts with the Hindujas, and the Prime Minister remarked today that it was perfectly natural for a British Asian MP to make representations on behalf of other leading members of the Asian community.

But the precise nature of the relationship is now the subject of intense political speculation: and it is also under investigation by Sir Anthony Hammond QC, who was appointed by Tony Blair to look into the entire saga.

Statement

Mr Vaz himself had an appointment at the Indian High Commission this morning, and stopped to talk to reporters at unexpected length.

Responding to the charge that the Hindujas' passport applications were dealt with much more swiftly than the average, he said it was "not unusual" for people who invest in this country to be given naturalisation quickly.

Some of his accusers, he said, would look foolish when Sir Anthony Hammon's report comes out.

"We must wait until the inquiry has had a chance to look at the facts. I am very happy if Sir Anthony wants to publish my letters," he said.

Referring to his connection to the brothers themselves he said: "I will not apologise for my links with the British Asian community, I am proud of my community."

Prime Ministerial support

The Government, having set up an inquiry, would like to forget about the whole thing until the report is delivered.

That was certainly the Prime Minister's line when he spoke to reporters in his Sedgefield constituency this morning.

Tony Blair
Tony Blair criticised the row as a "media feeding frenzy"
"From the look of the papers I have seen I cannot see anything wrong with what has been done.

"Keith is a prominent Asian MP, they are prominent people from the Asian community - he made representations on their behalf.

Mr Blair added: "I cannot see anything wrong in him making representations on other members of the Asian community," he added.

As far as the Hinduja brothers are concerned, they have flatly denied any connection between their attempts to win British citizenship and their relationships with Ministers.

But the history of the last ten years has provided mountains of material for journalists and Labour's political opponents.

Two of the brothers - SP and GP - had their passport applications turned down in the early 90s.

Both re-applied and both received their new papers within six months, one in 1997 and one in 1999.

And along with a third brother, they are fighting the possibility of corruption charges in India.

Answers

What will be established, it seems, is the precise nature of the contacts and correspondence between ministers and the Home Office.

Mr Vaz says he is perfectly content to be judged by what emerges - and Peter Mandelson, before retiring from sight, insisted that he'd done nothing wrong.

One Tory MP who serves on the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee said that it shouldn't take more than a fortnight for Sir Anthony Hammond to complete his work.

The World at One asked the Liberal Democrat MP, Norman Baker - whose parliamentary questions first brought the issue into the open - whether we should all wait for the report.

"We need to know exactly who lobbied whom and when, and for what purpose," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
LibDem MP Norman Baker
"Why was a minister intervening in a matter relating to another department?"
World at One reporter, Jon Manel
On the Hinduja brothers business style and lobbying attempts
Links to more Programme highlights stories are at the foot of the page.


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