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Friday, 8 February, 2002, 17:09 GMT
Blair takes flak over Vaz support
Iain Duncan Smith
Mr Duncan Smith has questions for the prime minister
Prime Minister Tony Blair is expected to come under fire over his support for embattled ex-minister Keith Vaz.

Tony Blair as prime minister was right to give Keith Vaz support

Peter Bottomley, Conservative MP

Mr Vaz is facing a one-month Commons ban for failing to co-operate with an investigation into his conduct.

Downing Street has refused to get involved in the row, saying it is a matter for Parliament.

But Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith is expected to call on Mr Blair to clarify his relationship with Mr Vaz, when the prime minister returns from his diplomatic mission to Africa.

Still absolute?

The Tory leader said: "Keith Vaz has been found guilty of a very serious offence, which raises important questions.

"Mr Blair made it very clear both leading up to the general election and during the general election that Mr Vaz had his full support.

"Perhaps he will now make it clear whether his defence of Mr Vaz is still absolute."

Parliament 'in the dock'

Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker, who led calls for an inquiry into the Hinduja passport affair, said Mr Vaz's punishment was "appropriate" given the seriousness of the issue.

He said MPs should not have the right to silence when they "clearly have important questions to answer".

But he added: "Today's [Friday's] decision also brings into question why Mr Vaz was allowed to remain in ministerial office for as long as he did.

"Parliament is in the dock at the moment and it is vital that it is seen to be capable of regulating itself.

"Otherwise voters will continue to see the House of Commons as nothing but a talking shop."

However, Peter Bottomley, the Conservative member of the Commons standards and privileges committee, said Mr Blair had done nothing wrong.

"I think it is fair to say that Tony Blair as prime minister was right to give Keith Vaz support, unless there was something which meant he should withdraw it," he told BBC Radio 4's The World at One.

See also:

06 Feb 02 | UK Politics
Sleaze watchdog named
22 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz defiant as inquiry starts
11 May 01 | UK Politics
Mrs Vaz ordered to submit papers
11 Jun 01 | UK Politics
Vaz inquiry widens
13 Mar 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects 'obstruction' claim
10 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Vaz rejects property claims
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