Keith Vaz is a British Labour Party politician a Member of Parliament for Leicester East and has been the Chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee since July 2007. He was appointed as a member of Her Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council in June 2006.
Early lifeKeith Vaz was born in 1956 in Aden, Yemen to parents who originally hail from the Indian state of Goa. He moved to Bradford in England with his family in 1965. He was educated at Latymer Upper School, Hammersmith followed by Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge where he studied law and obtained a BA(1979), MA (1987), MCFI(1988).
FamilyVaz lives in London with his wife and his two children; Luke and Anjali.
EmploymentPrior to beginning a political career, Vaz was a practising solicitor. In 1982, he was employed as a solicitor to Richmond Council; and later as a senior solicitor to the London Borough of Islington. This position lasted until 1985 when he moved to Leicester and was employed as a solicitor at the Highfields and Belgrave Law Centre in Leicester. He remained in this role until his election to Parliament in 1987.
Political lifeVaz has been a Labour member since 1982.
In 1983, Vaz stood in the general election as the Euro-Parliamentary candidate for Surrey West. He stood again in 1984 in the European elections.
On 11 June 1987, Vaz was elected as the Member of Parliament for Leicester East with a majority of 1,924. He was then re-elected in 1992 (majority of 11,316); in 1997 (majority of 18,422); 2001 (majority of 13, 442) and most recently in 2005 (majority of 15,867).
Vaz has held a variety of parliamentary posts. Between 1987 and 1992 he was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, of which has been the Chair since July 2007. Between 1993 and 1994, he was a member of the Executive Committee Inter-Parliamentary Union. Finally, between December 2002 and July 2007, Vaz acted as a Senior Labour Member of Select Committee fro Constitutional Affairs.
In 1992, Vaz was given the role of Shadow Junior Environment Minister with responsibility for planning and regeneration, his first frontbench role. He remained in this position until 1997, when he was given his first Government post as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General and Solicitor General. This appointment was clearly influenced by Vaz’s legal background.
Vaz then served as the Parliamentary Secretary to the Lord Chancellor’s Department for a brief period between May and October 1999. This was quickly followed by his appointment as the Minister for Europe, Foreign and Commonwealth Office. He served in this position from October 1999 and June 2001.
Other positions currently held include as an elected member of the National Executive Committee and as the Vice-Chair of Women, Race and Equality Committee of the Labour Party. He has held both of these positions since March 2007. Since 2000, he has been a patron of the Labour Party Race Action Group and in 2006 he was appointed the Chairman of the Ethnic Minority Taskforce.
Vaz was the first Asian Member of Parliament since the 1920s and remains the longest standing Asian Member of Parliament.
Filkin inquiryIn February 2000 the Parliamentary standards watchdog Elizabeth Filkin began an investigation after allegations that Vaz had accepted several thousand pounds from a solicitor, Sarosh Zaiwalla, which he had failed to declare. The allegations were made by Andrew Milne, a former partner of Zaiwalla and were denied by both Vaz and Zaiwalla. Additional allegations were made that Vaz had accepted money from other businessmen.
Vaz wrote to Filkin on 7 February 2000 to deny the allegations, and Filkin and Vaz went on to exchange letters until April 2000 in which Vaz responded to Filkin's queries. Geoffrey Bindman, who was acting as Vaz's solicitor, wrote to Filkin on 18 May to ask how much longer her inquiry was to take and Filkin produced a list of 48 questions she wanted answered on 29 June.
On 19 October Filkin wrote and asked for details about properties owned by Vaz, who replied that he owned three properties. However, evidence was later found by BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Vaz failed to disclose all his property interests to Filkin, and that documents showed that he owned four rather than three properties at the time. It was also discovered that he had transferred the ownership of a fifth property in London to his mother on 27 October, eight days after Filkin requested details of all his properties. Vaz said that the timing was a coincidence and the property was put on the market by Mrs Vaz 6 months after the transfer. Land Registry documents showed that Vaz had become the owner of the property on 5 August 1988, and the Electoral Register showed that it had been Vaz's address in 1988 and 1999. Between February 1992 and February 1996 the property was the address of Reza Shahbandeh, who Vaz denied all knowledge of when asked.
On 2 November Geoffrey Bindman warned Filkin that her inquiry could be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. Filkin sent a final list of questions for Vaz to answer on 27 November, following which Bindman wrote to Filkin on 4 December that Vaz would not answer any more of her questions, but would co-operate with the Standards and Privileges Committee. Filkin told the Standards and Privileges Committee on 20 December that she had been unable to reach a conclusion on eight of the 18 allegations she had investigated.
On 12 March 2001, the Filkin report cleared Vaz of nine of the 28 allegations of various financial wrongdoings, but Elizabeth Filkin accused Vaz of blocking her investigation into eighteen of the allegations . He was censured for a single allegation - that he had failed to register two payments worth £4,500 in total from solicitor Sarosh Zaiwalla , whom he recommended for a peerage several years later. Filkin announced in the same month a new inquiry which would focus on whether or not a company connected to Vaz received a donation from a charitable foundation run by the Hinduja brothers.
Filkin was reported on 18 March as angered by the way in which Vaz had "spun" her report, saying that he had been representing the report as clearing him when in fact she failed to reach conclusions on several complaints because he obstructed the inquiry. Filkin declined to comment, saying she felt her position on Vaz was set out in her report.
Hinduja affairIn January 2001, immigration minister Barbara Roche revealed in a written Commons reply that Vaz, along with Peter Mandelson and other MPs, had contacted the Home Office about the Hinduja brothers. She said that Vaz had made inquiries about when a decision on their application for citizenship could be expected.
On 25 January, Vaz had become the focus of Opposition questions about the Hinduja affair and many parliamentary questions were tabled, demanding that he fully disclose his role. Vaz said via a Foreign Office spokesman that he would be "fully prepared" to answer questions put to him by Sir Anthony Hammond QC who had been asked by the Prime Minister to carry out an inquiry into the affair.
Vaz had known the Hinduja brothers for some time; he had been present when the charitable Hinduja Foundation was set up in 1993, and also delivered a speech in 1998 when the brothers invited Tony and Cherie Blair to a Diwali celebration.
On 26 January 2001, Prime Minister Tony Blair was accused
of prejudicing the independent inquiry into the Hinduja passport affair, after he declared that the Foreign Office minister Keith Vaz had not done "anything wrong". On the same day, Vaz told reporters that they would "regret" their behaviour once the facts of the case were revealed. "Some of you are going to look very foolish when this report comes out. Some of the stuff you said about Peter, and about others and me, you'll regret very much when the facts come out," he said. When asked why the passport application of one of the Hinduja brothers had been processed more quickly than normal, being processed and sanctioned in six months when the process can take up to two years, he replied, "It is not unusual."
On 29 January, the government confirmed that the Hinduja Foundation had held a reception for Vaz in September 1999 to celebrate his appointment as the first Asian Minister in recent times. The party was not listed by Vaz in House of Commons register of Members' Interests and John Redwood, then head of the Conservative Parliamentary Campaigns Unit, questioned Vaz's judgement in accepting the hospitality.
In March Vaz was ordered to fully co-operate with a new inquiry launched into his financial affairs by Elizabeth Filkin. Foreign Secretary Robin Cook, Vaz's superior, also urged him to fully answer allegations about his links with the Hinduja brothers. Mr Vaz met Mrs Filkin on 20 March to discuss a complaint that the Hinduja Foundation had given the sum of £1,200 to Mapesbury Communications, a company run by his wife, in return for helping to organise a Hinduja-sponsored reception at the House of Commons. Vaz had previously denied receiving money from the Hindujas, but insisted that he made no personal gain from the transaction in question.
In June 2001 Vaz said that he had made representations during the Hinduja brothers' applications for British citizenship while a backbench MP. Tony Blair also admitted that Vaz had "made representations" on behalf of other Asians.
On 11 June 2001 Vaz was officially dismissed from his post as Europe Minister, to be replaced by Peter Hain. The Prime Minister's office said that Vaz had written to Tony Blair stating his wish to stand down for health reasons.
In December 2001 Elizabeth Filkin cleared Vaz of failing to register payments to his wife's law firm by the Hinduja brothers, but said that he had colluded with his wife to conceal the payments. Filkin's report said that the payments had been given to his wife for legal advice on immigration issues and concluded that Vaz had gained no direct personal benefit, and that Commons rules did not require him to disclose payments made to his wife. She did, however, criticise him for his secrecy, saying, "It is clear to me there has been deliberate collusion over many months between Mr Vaz and his wife to conceal this fact and to prevent me from obtaining accurate information about his possible financial relationship with the Hinduja family".
Suspension from House of CommonsIn 2002 Vaz was suspended from the House of Commons for one month after a Committee on Standards and Privileges inquiry found that he had made false allegations against Eileen Eggington, a former policewoman. The committee concluded that "Mr Vaz recklessly made a damaging allegation against Miss Eggington to the Commissioner, which was not true, and which could have intimidated Miss Eggington or undermined her credibility".
Eileen Eggington, a retired police officer who had served 34 years in the Metropolitan Police, including a period as deputy head of Special Branch, wanted to help a friend, Mary Grestny, who had worked as personal assistant to Vaz's wife. After leaving the job in May 2000, Grestny dictated a seven-page statement about Mrs Vaz to Eggington in March 2001, who sent it to Elizabeth Filkin. Grestny's statement included allegations that Mr and Mrs Vaz had employed an illegal immigrant as their nanny and that they had been receiving gifts from Asian businessmen such as Hinduja brothers. The allegations were denied by Mr Vaz and the Committee found no evidence to support them.
In late 2001, Vaz complained to Leicestershire police that his mother had been upset by a telephone call from "a woman named Mrs Egginton", who claimed to be a police officer. The accusations led to Ms. Eggington being questioned by police. Vaz also wrote a letter of complaint to Elizabeth Filkin, but when she tried to make inquiries Vaz accused her of interfering with a police inquiry and threatened to report her to the Speaker of the House of Commons. Eggington denied that she had ever telephoned Vaz's mother and offered her home and mobile telephone records as evidence. The Commons committee decided that she was telling the truth. They added: "Mr Vaz recklessly made a damaging allegation against Miss Eggington, which was not true and which could have intimidated Miss Eggington and undermined her credibility."
A letter to Elizabeth Filkin from Detective Superintendent Nick Gargan made it plain that the police did not believe Vaz's mother ever received the phone call and the person who came closest to being prosecuted was not Eggington but Vaz. Gargan said that the police had considered a range of possible offences, including wasteful employment of the police, and an attempt to pervert the course of justice. Leicestershire police eventually decided not to prosecute. "We cannot rule out a tactical motivation for Mr Vaz's contact with Leicestershire Constabulary but the evidence does not support further investigation of any attempt to pervert the course of justice."
The complaints the committee upheld against Mr Vaz were:
- That he had given misleading information to the Standards and Privileges Committee and Elizabeth Filkin about his financial relationship to the Hinduja brothers.
- That he had failed to register his paid employment at the Leicester Law Centre when he first entered Parliament in 1987.
- That he had failed to register a donation from the Caparo group in 1993.
Nadhmi AuchiIn 2001 it was revealed that Vaz had assisted Anglo-Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi in his attempts to avoid extradition to France. Opposition MPs called for an investigation into what one dubbed "Hinduja Mark II".
Anglo-Iraqi billionaire Nadhmi Auchi was wanted for questioning by French police for his alleged role in the notorious Elf Aquitaine fraud scandal which led to the arrest of a former French Foreign Minister. The warrant issued by French authorities in July 2000 Auchi of "complicity in the misuse of company assets and receiving embezzled company assets". It also covered Auchi's associate Nasir Abid and stated that if found guilty of the alleged offences both men could face 109 years in jail.
Vaz was a director of the British arm of Auchi's corporation, General Mediterranean Holdings, whose previous directors had included Lords Steel and Lamont, and Jacques Santer. Vaz used his political influence on GMH's behalf; this included a party in the Park Lane Hilton to celebrate the 20th anniversary of GMH on 23 April 1999, where Lord Sainsbury presented Auchi with a painting of the House of Commons signed by Tony Blair, the Opposition leaders, and over 100 other leading British politicians. Lord Sainsbury later told The Observer that he did this "as a favour for Keith Vaz". In May 1999 Vaz resigned his post as a director after he was appointed a Minister. In a statement to The Observer, a GMH spokesman said that Vaz had been invited to become a GMH director in January 1999, yet company accounts showed Vaz as a director for the financial year ending December 1998.
Labour confirmed in May 2001 that Auchi had called Vaz at home about the arrest warrant to ask him for advice. A spokesman said that Vaz "made some factual inquiries to the Home Office about the [extradition] procedure." This included advising Auchi to consult his local MP. The spokesman stressed that Vaz acted properly at all times and was often contacted by members of Britain's ethnic communities for help. In a Commons answer to Liberal Democrat MP Norman Baker earlier the same month Vaz confirmed that "details of enquiries by Mr Auchi have been passed to the Home Office".
Since 2003 he has been a Member of the Constitutional Affairs Select Committee.
Speculation over Counter-Terrorism BillVaz’s backing for the 42 day terrorist detention without charge “was seen as crucial by the Government.” During the debate the day before the key vote, Vaz was asked in Parliament whether he had been offered an honour for his support. He said: “No, it was certainly not offered—but I do not know; there is still time.” The Daily Telegraph printed a hand written letter to Vaz, written the day after the vote, Geoff Hoon wrote:
“Dear Keith... Just a quick note to thank you for all your help during the period leading up to last Wednesday’s vote. I wanted you to know how much I appreciated all your help. I trust that it will be appropriately rewarded!... With thanks and best wishes, Geoff.”
Vaz wrote to the Press Council complaining the story was inaccurate, that the letter had been obtained by subterfuge and he hadn’t been contacted before the story was published. The complaint was rejected as the article made it clear that the reports of an honour were just speculation which Vaz had already publicly denied.
Home Affairs Select CommitteeVaz was elected Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, replacing John Denham, on 26 July 2007. He was unusually nominated to the Committee by the Government, rather than by the quasi-independent Committee of Selection which, under the Standing Orders of the House, nominates members to select committees. The Leader of the House argued that this was because there was not sufficient time to go through the usual procedure before the impending summer recess. The Chairman of the Committee of Selection told the House that the Committee had been ready to meet earlier that week, but had been advised by the Government that there was no business for it to transact.
Conflict of interestIn September 2008 Vaz faced pressure to explain why he failed to declare an interest when he intervened in an official investigation into the business dealings of a close friend, solicitor Shahrokh Mireskandari, who has played a role in several racial discrimination cases against the Metropolitan Police, and who was representing Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur in his racial discrimination case against Scotland Yard Commissioner Sir Ian Blair.
The Solicitors Regulation Authority began an investigation into Mireskandari's legal firm, Dean and Dean, in January 2008 after a number of complaints about its conduct. Vaz wrote a joint letter with fellow Labour MP Virendra Sharma to the authority's chief executive, Anthony Townsend, in February 2008 on official House of Commons stationery. He cited a complaint he had received from Mireskandari and alleged "discriminatory conduct" in its investigation into Dean and Dean. The Authority was forced to set up an independent working party to look into whether it had disproportionately targeted non-white lawyers for investigation.
Liberal Democrat deputy leader Vince Cable said that Vaz should make a public statement to clear up his role in the affair. "It is quite unreasonable that an independent regulator should have been undermined in this way. I would hope that the chairman of the home affairs select committee will give a full public statement."
Detention without charge inquiryIn July 2007, Vaz was appointed chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Select committee members are usually proposed by the Committee of Selection, but Vaz was the only nomination made by Commons Leader Harriet Harman.
In September 2008, Vaz came under pressure when it was revealed that he had sought the private views of Prime Minister Gordon Brown in connection with the Committee's independent report into government plans to extend the detention of terror suspects beyond 28 days. The Guardian reported that emails suggested that Vaz had secretly contacted the Prime Minister about the committee's draft report and proposed a meeting because "we need to get his [Brown's] suggestions". An email was sent in November 2007 to Ian Austin, Gordon Brown's parliamentary private secretary, and copied to Fiona Gordon, at the time Brown's political adviser. Another leaked email showed that Vaz had also sent extracts of the committee's draft report to the former Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, for his comments; according to Parliament's standing orders, the chairman of the Select Committee cannot take evidence from a witness without at least two other committee members being present.
Shami Chakrabarti, director of human rights group Liberty, compared it to a judge deciding a case privately emailing one of the parties to seek their suggestions.
Vaz denied that he invited Brown to contribute, except as a witness to the committee.
Parliamentary ExpensesVaz’s total expenses of £173,937 in 2008/2009 were ranked 45th out of 647 MPs with office running costs and staffing costs accounting for 70% of this. The register of Member’s interests shows he owns the constituency office.
His second home expenses, ranked 83 out of 647 at £23,831 in 2008/2009 were the subject of a Daily Telegraph article. Vaz who lives in Stanmore, a 45 minute journey time from Parliament, claimed mortgage interest on a flat in Westminster he bought in 2003.
In May 2007, after claiming for the flats service and council tax, he switched his designated second home to his constituency office and bought furniture. The report into the Parliamentary expenses scandal by Sir Thomas Legg showed 343 MPs had been asked to repay some money and Vaz was asked to repay £1514 due to furnishing items exceeding allowable cost. New expenses rules published by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority which came into force after the 2010 general election limit the second home allowance to £1,450 a month, i.e. the Westminster cost of renting a one bedroomed flat. Profits made on existing second homes will be recouped.
Alternative medicineHe is a supporter of homeopathy, having signed several early day motions in support of its continued funding on the National Health Service sponsored by David Tredinnick.
Video game violenceFollowing the February 2004 murder of a fourteen year old boy, Vaz asked for an investigation between the video games and violence, saying the parents of the victim believe that the killer was influenced by the video game Manhunt. Although the police dismissed the claim and the only copy found belonged to the victim, Tony Blair said the game was unsuitable for children and agreed to discuss with the Home Secretary what action could be taken. The sequel Manhunt 2 described by the British Board of Film Censors as “distinguishable ..by its unremitting bleakness and callousness of tone” became the first video game banned by the in the UK for 10 years. Vaz said: "This is an excellent decision by the British Board of Film Classification, showing that game publishers cannot expect to get interactive games where players take the part of killers engaged in 'casual sadism' and murder."
Vaz has also criticised Bully, which had a pre-release screenshot showing three uniformed pupils fighting and kicking. In 2005, he asked Geoff Hoon: "Does the leader of the house share my concern at the decision of Rockstar Games to publish a new game called Bully in which players use their on-screen persona to kick and punch other schoolchildren?" The game has a BBFC 15 rating in the UK.
In 2009 Vaz called for a ban on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, because of scenes in which undercover soldiers pose as terrorists and are asked to help shoot civilians. No action was taken.
In October 2010, Vaz put down an Early Day Motion (EDM) noting that the race shootings in Malmo, Sweden "have been associated with the violent video game Counter-Strike." The EDM also noted that the game was previously banned in Brazil and was associated with US College Campus massacres in 2007. It called on the Government to ensure the purchase of video games by minors was controlled and that parents were provided with clear information on any violent content.