Theresa May speaks out over Keith Vaz reports

Houses Of Parliament

Theresa May has intervened in the row over Keith Vaz’s conduct by pointedly calling for MPs to maintain the public’s confidence or consider their positions.

The prime minister chose to speak out at the G20 summit in China after a Sunday tabloid reported that Vaz, the Labour MP who chairs the home affairs select committee, had paid for the services of male prostitutes and had asked one of them to bring along poppers, a sex-enhancing drug that the government came close to banning in a law passed this year.

May said: “What has been clear throughout my political career and what is important for people is that they feel they are able to have confidence in their politicians, and that is what we have a duty to apply for those who elect us.

“What Keith does is for Keith and any decisions he wishes to make are for him. But overall what people want is confidence in their politicians.”

Vaz has apologised for any hurt to his family, but condemned the tactics of journalists at the Sunday Mirror.

On Monday he returned to the House of Commons chamber to take part in questions to the home secretary, Amber Rudd. He welcomed her to her role and without mentioning the newspaper reports asked about terror suspects who had fled Britain to join Islamic State while on police bail.

Vaz is said to be still considering whether to stand down permanently or temporarily from his committee role. The committee is investigating prostitution and has often produced reports on legal and illegal recreational drugs.

The MP for Leicester East could face investigation by the commissioner for standards over the claims in the Sunday Mirror. It was alleged that he met eastern European male sex workers in a flat he owns in north London. According to the paper, Vaz asked one of the men in a text message sent before the encounter to bring poppers.

Vaz has argued in parliament that poppers should not be included in a list of substances banned by the Psychoactive Substances Act, and in the paper he is quoted as telling the escorts that he did not use them himself.

Vaz reportedly told the men his name was Jim and that he was a washing machine salesman. He is quoted discussing with the men the possibility of obtaining cocaine for the next time they met, although Vaz reportedly said he would not want to take the drug himself.

Following claims by Vaz’s friends that the MP may have been drugged during the sting, the Daily Mirror released new details last night of the alleged encounter, which the paper claims was the second meeting between Vaz and the two male sex workers. It included a transcript of Vaz allegedly ordering them to take up sexual positions. The Mirror claims it is proof that he was in control of the situation.

The Charity Commission said on Monday that it was examining claims made by the Sunday Mirror that an individual “linked to the diabetes charity Silver Star”, set up by the MP, paid money into an account used by one of the escorts. There was no suggestion in the newspaper report that the charity’s money was used, or that the person who transferred the payments knew the purpose of those payments.

“The Charity Commission has asked for any evidence to be submitted and has contacted the charity as a matter of urgency this morning,” a commission spokesman said.

Silver Star has denied that any payments were made from the charity in relation to the claims against Vaz.

On Saturday night when the story first broke, Vaz gave a statement to the Mail on Sunday saying he was “genuinely sorry for the hurt and distress that has been caused by my actions in particular to my wife and children”, and he would be “standing aside” from chairing home affairs committee hearings with immediate effect.

On Sunday morning his office released a statement to the media that said nothing about being sorry or standing aside, but which criticised the Sunday Mirror and said he was referring the allegations to his lawyers. His office refused to say whether he stood by the comment issued to the Mail on Sunday.

On Sunday afternoon Vaz issued a further statement signalling that he intended to duck out of the limelight. “At this time I do not want there to be any distraction from the important work the home affairs select committee undertakes so well,” he said.

The committee is scheduled to take evidence from the immigration minister Robert Goodwill, and on Wednesday it will question Rudd. Vaz’s office and the committee’s spokesperson were unable to say who would chair those sessions.

Responding to Vaz’s comments, a spokeswoman for the Sunday Mirror said the paper “stands by the story”.

The two-bedroom flat in Edgware at which Vaz allegedly met the sex workers was bought outright for £387,500 in June, according to land registry documents. The Mail reported that Vaz’s solicitor, Mark Stephens, claimed it was bought with the help of a personal loan that would be repaid once Vaz had sold a house in Leicester.

The family living in Vaz’s Leicester home claimed to know nothing about any sale of the house, it was reported. Later on Monday, Stephens said the family may not have understood questions from reporters because English was not their first language.

Stephens said that contrary to reports in the Mail, Vaz’s loan to buy the London flat came from a financial institution, not an individual.

Vaz’s property empire has attracted attention from his critics before. He has a family home worth more than £2m close to the flat, and has also owned properties in Kennington, south London, and Pimlico, south-west London.

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Rajeev Syal and Rowena Mason, for The Guardian on Tuesday 6th September 2016 00.40 Europe/London

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