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The BBC's Mark Mardell
"Certainly his position is an uncomfortable one"
 real 56k

The BBC's Guto Harri
"Keith Vaz will clearly be frustrated"
 real 28k

Shadow cabinet minister Andrew Lansley MP
"Information was not forthcoming"
 real 28k

Thursday, 22 March, 2001, 09:47 GMT
Vaz defiant as inquiry starts
Keith Vaz
Mr Vaz faces yet another investigation
Embattled Europe Minister Keith Vaz is flying to Stockholm with the prime minister on Thursday as another parliamentary inquiry into his affairs begins at Westminster.

The Conservatives seized on the new allegations by claiming they left Mr Vaz without the necessary credibility to represent Britain abroad.


This dogs him (Keith Vaz) wherever he goes. It reduces his ability to act effectively for Britain

Francis Maude
But a Labour member of the Commons standards and privileges committee said the Europe minister had been fully investigated and the system of investigating MPs should be made fairer to members.

Parliamentary Standards Commissioner Elizabeth Filkin announced on Wednesday that she had launched the new inquiry into Mr Vaz's links to a charity set up by the Hinduja brothers - following a complaint by the Tories.

Reduces ability

Shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude told the BBC Mr Vaz could not negotiate properly at the European summit in Stockholm with the investigation hanging over him.

"This dogs him wherever he goes. It reduces his ability to act effectively for Britain," said Mr Maude.

"It's important that he carries full credibility and full authority."

Last week the standards and privileges committee criticised Mr Vaz for not co-operating fully with the inquiry by Ms Filkin into 18 complaints about his business affairs.

Hard evidence

Only one minor complaint was upheld, but nine others could not be investigated fully by the commissioner because of difficulties gathering evidence.

Michael Foster, a Labour MP on the committee, said it had taken over the inquiry from Ms Filkin and had questioned all the witnesses.


I am not going to dismiss a minister when the allegations that the opposition make against him are investigated and found to be wrong

Tony Blair
And he criticised the "blunderbuss approach" of investigating MPs.

He said any member under investigation should be given a "charge-sheet" of allegations.

"Members should be told what wrong-doing is alleged, what the rule is they are supposed to have broken and what the prima facie evidence is."

Vaz surprise

Mr Vaz said he was "surprised" about the latest complaint by the Tories, which centre on payments to Mapesbury Communications, a company he says is run by his wife.

He said it was on the record that he had checked with the Registrar of Members' Interests and the then parliamentary watchdog, Sir Gordon Downey, whether he should register the company.

Andrew Lansley
Mr Lansley made a complaint
"They confirmed that this was not necessary. I have never received any benefits or payments from Mapesbury," he said.

Earlier Mr Blair said Mr Vaz had his support during a TV interview.

He said: "I am not going to dismiss a minister when the allegations that the opposition make against him are investigated and found to be wrong."

Letter

The Sunday Times alleged last weekend that a charity funded by the Hinduja brothers had paid nearly 1,200 to Mapesbury, which was set up by Mr Vaz.

The money helped to pay for an Indian spiritual leader's visit to the Commons.

But Mr Vaz said that although Mapesbury had undertaken some public relations work for a 1995 lecture by Swani Vaswami, it was only reimbursed for costs incurred.

"These costs were met by the Hinduja Foundation, which is a registered charity. There was no benefit to Mapesbury, to any member of my family, or to me personally," Mr Vaz said.

Mapesbury was initially set up to handle income from Mr Vaz's extra-parliamentary activities, but its purpose has since changed and he now has no formal link with the company.

Shadow cabinet office minister Andrew Lansley referred the matter to the standards commissioner because Mr Vaz had previously told her he had never received any financial support from the Hinduja brothers.

They are currently in India facing charges linked to a corruption scandal.

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See also:

21 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz hands Blair a new headache
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz cleared but questions remain
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects 'obstruction' claim
10 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects property claims
28 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Vaz accused of Hinduja bias
15 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects 'contempt' claim
28 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Mandelson 'rushed' into resigning
26 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Keith Vaz: Minister and networker
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