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Programme highlights Monday, 12 March, 2001, 15:48 GMT
Vaz accused of obstruction
Europe Minister Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz will not face disciplinary action over links to business

The Foreign Office Minister, Keith Vaz, has been criticised by the Commons Standards and Privileges Committee for obstructing an official investigation into his constituency affairs.

The all-party committee said that Mr Vaz had failed to answer fully and promptly the questions posed by the Standards Commissioner, Elizabeth Filkin.

As a result, the whole inquiry took far too long - and the information only emerged after Mr Vaz had appeared before the MPs themselves.

Geoffrey Bindman, Solicitor for Keith Vaz
Bindman: Vaz did not obstruct inquiry

The Committee agreed with Ms Filkin that Mr Vaz had broken the Ministerial Code of Conduct by failing to reveal his relationship with a lawyer, Sarosh Zaiwalla, whom he subsequently recommended for an honour.

No disciplinary action, however, will follow.

Robert Sheldon, the Labour MP who chairs the Committee, told the World at One it was 'far-fetched' to imagine that the two undeclared payments of 250 could have influenced Mr Vaz to recommend Mr Zaiwalla for an honour.

But there's no doubt about the irritation felt by the Parliamentary Commissioner, whose original report was also published this morning.

'This has been an unusual case,' she wrote, 'in terms of the difficulty I have experienced in obtaining information.'


We don't think that there was a connection...we don't believe the recommendations were made because of these two small payments

Robert Sheldon

And she went on, 'For the reasons given above, I have found it necessary, even where I have not upheld a complaint, to express some criticism of Mr Vaz's approach to my inquiry.'

Cleared of other accusations

A number of other complaints arising from the MP's Leicester East constituency were not upheld.

Mr Vaz himself issued a statement, expressing delight at the 'complete rejection' of all but one of the allegations against him.


What has he got to hide?

Francis Maude

The Tory Foreign Affairs spokesman, Francis Maude, was unimpressed.

He said, 'It is quite wrong that a minister in a government that claims to be purer than pure should refuse to co-operate with Parliament's own watchdog, set up to safeguard the highest standards in public life.

Denial

Keith Vaz's solicitor, Geoffrey Bindman, said Mr Maude was 'completely off track'.


Mr Vaz did not refuse to co-operate at any stage

Geoffrey Bindman

He explained that his client had become frustrated by innumerable questions from the Commissioner, and that - because he was desperate to bring the inquiry to an end - he had offered to answer questions from the Standards Committee instead.

Mr Bindman said that the report showed that procedures in relation to investigation of MPs should be reviewed.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Robert Sheldon MP
"We do interpret the rules strictly"
Francis Maude MP
"It is quite wrong that a minister....should refuse to cooperate"
Geoffrey Bindman
"This report...has cleared him of everything"
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