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Friday, 26 January, 2001, 11:02 GMT
Keith Vaz: Minister and networker
Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz was the first Asian minister in the Commons
Keith Vaz is under pressure to disclose the role he played in helping the Hinduja brothers secure UK passports.

He made inquires to the Home Office about the Hinduja passport applications and is believed to have written to Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson on their behalf.


I am a leading member, if not the leading member, of the Asian community in this country

Keith Vaz
However, Mr Vaz says he has done nothing wrong adding that he is often asked "for support" by members of the Asian community.

"I am a leading member, if not the leading member, of the Asian community in this country. All kinds of people ask me for support," he said recently.

Mr Vaz has certainly been a prominent member of the Asian community since his election to parliament in 1987.

Brushes with controversy

A solicitor, turned barrister, turned MP, Mr Vaz has been described variously as "charming"; "witty, shallow, hardworking"; "kind and generous"; and "a show off".

The Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine once described him as "the most incredible networker I have ever met".

Elected by the voters of Leicester East in 1987, Mr Vaz was first appointed to the Labour frontbench five years later as a junior environment spokesman.

He was appointed Minister for Europe at the Foreign Office by prime minister Tony Blair in 1999 becoming the first Asian minister in the Commons.

In recent months, he has been a strong voice in the government's campaign to fight anti-Europe claims from the opposition and the Eurosceptic media.

Mr Vaz is a strong pro-European. He came under fire last year after threatening to hound Eurosceptics out of the Labour Party.

In one leaked letter, he was said to write: "We know who you Eurosceptics are and we're coming to get you in your constituencies."

While a backbencher Mr Vaz introduced a number of private members bills into the Commons and is regarded as a hard working MP.

Strong line against racism

He has taken a strong line against racism and has concerned himself with immigration issues urging successive governments to do more to speed up the application process.

He has been vocal on other matters too. In 1989, he accused Mrs Thatcher's government of a "conspiracy with muggers and rapists" because it had failed to boost police numbers in Leicester.

That same year, Mr Vaz was active in protests against Salman Rushdie's Satanic Verses book.

However, he came in for criticism when it emerged that he was leading anti-Rushdie marches one week only to telephone the author to sympathise the next.

In February 1990, he wrote in the Guardian newspaper urging Salman Rushdie not to publish the book in paperback because "there is no such thing as absolute freedom of speech" and the book had already provoked a huge section of the Muslim community.

That month, he caused outrage when he suggested that an IRA bomb in Leicester may have been planted by the army.

Denies allegations

There have also been allegations of ballot rigging and interfering in local council affairs in Leicester. He strongly denies the accusations.

He is also adamant that he did nothing wrong when he made inquiries regarding the Hinduja brother's passport applications.

An ambitious MP, Mr Vaz will hope the affair will do nothing to damage his future prospects.


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