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The BBC's Carole Walker
"The government will be relieved that this report clears Mr. Vaz of all the main charges against him"
 real 56k

Keith Vaz's lawyer Geoffrey Bindman
"Mr Vaz was absolutely desperate to have this enquiry ended"
 real 28k

Tory Foreign Affairs spokesman, Francis Maude
"Mr Vaz refused to co-operate"
 real 28k

Martin Bell, Independent MP
"I dont think he [Mr Vaz] has been vindicated"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 13 March, 2001, 07:36 GMT
Vaz cleared but questions remain
Commons committee report
The report took more than 13 months to prepare
Europe Minister Keith Vaz has rejected claims that he obstructed an official investigation into his dealings with businessmen.

An inquiry by the parliamentary standards watchdog upheld one out of a total of 18 charges of wrongdoing against Mr Vaz.

The present procedures give too much latitude to the purveyors of lies and malice

Keith Vaz
However, its report criticised the minister for not answering "fully and promptly" questions from standards commissioner Elizabeth Filkin.

The committee's report reveals that eight of the charges were not fully investigated because of problems getting evidence from Mr Vaz and other witnesses.

Complaint upheld

The committee upheld a complaint that as an opposition MP Mr Vaz recommended a businessman for an honour without declaring the financial links between them.

The committee recommended that no disciplinary action be taken against him.

Mr Vaz said he was delighted at the "complete rejection" of all but one of the allegations.

But in a statement on Monday evening, the minister said he was surprised to be accused of obstructing the inquiry.

His office released a copy of a letter sent to Mr Vaz by Ms Filkin last year.

Commissioner for parliamentary standards, Elizabeth Filkin
Ms Filkin: Recommends further action
The letter, dated 7 June, 2000, states: "First may I record that Mr Vaz has been helpful in discussing these matters with me and in providing me with the right replies and information and you are correct in saying that Mr Vaz had already responded to all the allegations save one."

But the report quotes Ms Filkin as saying: "This has been a particularly unusual case in terms of: the difficulty I have experienced in obtaining information; the contradictory statements made by some witnesses; and the failure on the part of Mr Vaz to provide full and accurate answers to certain of my questions."

She said this had happened, in some cases, throughout the inquiry.

Inquiries incomplete

"As a result, my memorandum is, in a number of respects, not as complete as the committee would expect and as I would wish it to be," said Ms Filkin.

She was unable to finish her inquiries on eight complaints against the MP after his solicitors wrote and said Mr Vaz did not want to answer any further questions from her, the committee reported.

Ms Filkin recommended the committee consider summoning witnesses and evidence to "resolve any outstanding uncertainties or fill any remaining gaps in the evidence".

The committee also said officers of the Labour Party in Mr Vaz's Leicester East constituency had shown a "consistently unhelpful attitude" towards Ms Filkin in a bid to "frustrate the commissioner's investigation".

Backing for minister

Mr Vaz has recieved the "full support" of the Prime Minister, according to a spokesman.

And Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, welcoming the report's findings, said Mr Vaz's private affairs had been "crawled over exhaustively", and not one serious complaint stood up.

"I hope he can now be allowed to get back to doing the job that he does very well," he added.

The report's publication comes days after Mr Vaz was cleared by Sir Anthony Hammond's separate inquiry into the unrelated Hinduja passport affair, which brought down former cabinet minister Peter Mandelson.

Mr Vaz criticised the way the complaints were investigated and said he was right to involve his solicitor, Geoffrey Bindman.

"Whilst I fully support the need to ensure that MPs maintain the highest possible standards of probity, the present procedures give too much latitude to the purveyors of lies and malice," he said.

Committee chairman and Labour MP Robert Sheldon told BBC News there were "certain areas" where Ms Filkin was "not able to obtain full answers".

But he insisted there was no evidence of "sleaze" and the matter was now closed.

Tory attack

However, the Conservatives seized on the committee's criticism of Mr Vaz's dealings with them, calling it an "extraordinary" breach of the ministerial code.

Francis Maude
Francis Maude: Questioned Mr Vaz's position
"You have got to ask yourself, 'What has this man got to hide?'", shadow foreign secretary Francis Maude told BBC News.

He questioned Mr Vaz's ability to represent Britain abroad and declared: "How can his position be sustainable against that sort of background?"

But Mr Bindman said the Tory spokesman was "completely off track" and insisted his client "did not refuse to cooperate at any stage".

After 10 months of "innumerable" questions from the commissioner Mr Vaz became frustrated and decided to deal direct with the committee, Mr Bindman said.

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker called for a shake-up of the ministerial code of conduct to clarify what he called its "blurred edges".

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See also:

12 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Keith Vaz: The allegations
06 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz set to escape censure
10 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects property claims
06 Feb 01 | Talking Politics
Viewpoint: Vaz coverage is racist
06 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Asians rally to embattled Vaz
06 Feb 01 | Talking Politics
Vaz: Is the coverage racist?
26 Jan 01 | UK Politics
Keith Vaz: Minister and networker
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