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Keith Vaz, embroiled in 'escorts scandal', returns to work at Commons

Published 05/09/2016

Keith Vaz said he did not want there to be any distraction from the work of the Home Affairs Select Committee
Keith Vaz said he did not want there to be any distraction from the work of the Home Affairs Select Committee

Keith Vaz has returned to work in the House of Commons little more than a day after becoming embroiled in a scandal linked to male escorts.

The Labour MP arrived in the chamber around 15 minutes into Home Office question time and took his usual seat on the backbench before asking a question to Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

Mr Vaz is facing a possible investigation by Commons sleaze watchdogs as the fallout from reports that he paid two male escorts for their services threatens to overwhelm his career.

The high-profile Leicester East Labour MP indicated that he will stand aside as chairman of the powerful Commons Home Affairs Committee at a meeting on Tuesday after publicly apologising to his wife and children for the "hurt and distress" he caused them.

Mr Vaz welcomed the new Home Secretary to her role and asked about the terror suspects who have fled Britain to join IS (Islamic State), also known as Daesh, while on police bail.

Speaking in a calm voice with no hint of the scandal that has embroiled him, he referred to the case of Siddhartha Dhar, who was alleged to have appeared in a propaganda video released by IS after fleeing Britain in 2014 despite having been arrested six times.

Mr Vaz said: "Could I warmly welcome the Home Secretary to her post, and I hope she has a long and successful turn as Home Secretary.

"As she knows, earlier this year Siddhartha Dhar left the country having not handed over his passport to local police officers and he went to fight for Daesh.

"She has, or her predecessor, the Prime Minister, changed the Police and Crime Bill to make the situation tougher for those who seek to go abroad.

"Will she follow the advice of Mark Rowley, the head of counter terrorism, and expect suspects to hand over their passports as a precondition for bail?"

Ms Rudd thanked Mr Vaz for " raising this very important matter" and added: "It was a very distressing case where he was able to go away, on bail, and go away to do such damage and join Daesh out in Syria.

"So he's absolutely right, this is something that the former home secretary addressed and we are looking at the best way to implement it and may well be following the particular route he has said, but rest assured that we do take it very seriously."

Theresa May announced in April, when she was home secretary, that terror suspects who attempt to flee the country or fail to hand over their passports will face jail under new measures to toughen up the pre-charge bail regime.

Andrew Bridgen has received a letter from law firm Howard Kennedy accusing him of "maliciously spreading false and highly defamatory scuttlebutt" about Mr Vaz.

It warns the Tory MP, who represents the neighbouring North West Leicestershire constituency, he is being put " on formal notice that if this shabby behaviour continues our client will no longer turn a blind eye".

Mr Bridgen has been highly critical of the Labour MP and is expected to write to Scotland Yard calling for Mr Vaz to be investigated for misconduct in a public office and conspiracy to supply controlled substances.

A source close to Mr Bridgen said the legal letter was " desperate ".

"It's an attempt to close down any further investigation and suppress information. It's a badly worded, hurried and fairly shabby letter."

Mr Vaz went on to ask another question in the Commons during a discussion about the war in Yemen - a conflict in which both sides have been accused of breaches of humanitarian law.

Mr Vaz told the Commons he is one of three MPs born in Yemen and "our fear is that Yemen is bleeding to death".

He added: "There is a massive humanitarian crisis, the worst in the world. Could (the minister) tell the House what is being done in order to get food into the population of Yemen and to make sure that that happens as quickly as possible?"

Foreign Office minister Tobias Ellwood said Mr Vaz had raised a "huge concern, which the House shares, about the humanitarian catastrophe that is unfolding there".

Mr Ellwood called or more aid routes to be opened.

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