Keith Vaz is facing the longest suspension in history after the Commons Standards Committee found he had breached the MPs’ Code of Conduct by paying two male escorts for sex and offering to cover the cost of cocaine for a third man. The Committee – which is made up of MPs and lay members, said he had ’caused significant damage to the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons as a whole’, and said it represented ‘a very serious breach of the Code’.
This brings to an end a row which has gone on since August 2016, when Vaz met the two men in his flat. One of them was covertly recording the encounter, and the story was printed by The Sunday Mirror. It included Vaz describing himself as a washing machine salesman named Jim (which he spelt for the men).
Today’s report is striking for a number of reasons. Firstly, the sanctions it recommends are very stringent indeed. Vaz should be suspended from the Commons for six months, which will trigger the Recall of MPs Act 2015, thus setting up a recall petition in his constituency. If he stops being an MP, he will not be allowed a former member’s pass, which gives access to large parts of the parliamentary estate to ex-MPs and is often highly-prized by those who go onto work as lobbyists and other satellite industries.
Secondly, the way in which Vaz engaged with the inquiry into his behaviour is quite remarkable. He claimed that he was suffering from amnesia and that his drink may have been spiked and was therefore unable to recall what happened. Yet when he was interviewed by the then Standards Commissioner Kathryn Hudson, he made comments which ‘implied that he did recollect what had happened: for instance, his comments to Ms Hudson that the media report “bore no relation to what actually occurred” and that it was “heavily embellished and largely inaccurate”.’
He also made the ludicrous claim that the two men were in fact visiting him because he was planning to redecorate his flat. The report outlines his excuse:
‘Because this work had to be done at short notice, and because Mr Vaz had a crowded diary of engagements (which he has supplied us with), the only date and time at which he could see the prospective decorators of his flat was at 11.30pm on Saturday 27 August. Mr Vaz argues that his busy schedule means that he often arranges working meeting during the evening and that there was nothing out of the ordinary in this arrangement.’
The Committee rather dryly responds to this by saying that ‘no reasonable person who has listened to the audio-recording of that incident or read the transcript could believe his claim that the purpose of the two men’s visit was to discuss interior decoration’.
Vaz argued both that he had not wanted any sexual activity, and also that had it taken place, it would have been part of his private and personal life and therefore not subject to the Code of Conduct.
The system for dealing with allegations against MPs has long come under criticism for being run in part by MPs themselves, with all the risks that come with members marking their own homework. But today’s decision shows quite how embarrassed MPs have been by Vaz’s behaviour: when one MP does something inappropriate, it has a knock-on effect on the general public view of politicians. The problem is that with an election looming, it’s not clear whether Vaz will serve the suspension recommended, or whether there will be time for a recall petition.