What, me Sir? Keith Vaz denies rumours of knighthood

June 14th, 2008 - 2:38 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, June 14 (IANS) Indian-born MP Keith Vaz has denied rumours that British Prime Minister Gordon Brown offered him a knighthood ahead of a knife-edge parliamentary vote on a piece of anti-terror legislation. “It’s nonsense, utter absolute,” Vaz told IANS Saturday after the Labour government scraped through with a razor-thin margin of 11 votes.

The Tory deputy whip, Andrew Robathan, made a reference to the alleged offer during Wednesday’s debate on the bill that seeks to extend the pre-charge detention period of terror suspects from 28 to 42 days.

“Will he take the opportunity to crush the churlish and ridiculous rumour that at some stage in his discussions with the home secretary and the government, the issue of knighthoods or anything like that was mentioned?” Robathan teased.

Vaz, the longest-serving Asian MP in Britain, replied: “If a knighthood is on offer, it would sit better on the shoulders of the honourable gentleman, representing as he does a county seat in Leicestershire.”

With a few hours still to go before the vote, Vaz added: “No, it was certainly not offered - but I do not know; there is still time.” Robathan and Vaz are political rivals in county of Leicestershire.

But while Vaz’s constituency of Leicester East is a part of a modern city - one of Britain’s most multi-ethnic - Robathan’s Blaby is a traditional ‘county constituency’, which are predominantly rural.

The exchange took place amid widespread reports in the British media that Brown had offered sweeteners to MPs to vote for the bill, which was opposed by 36 rebel Labour MPs.

Vaz, who is chairman of the parliament’s home affairs committee, had indicated his opposition to the bill last year but later came around to the government view.

At Wednesday’s debate, he praised the government for putting forward safeguards that will give parliament a decisive say in any decision to invoke the new powers.

“The procedure to my mind is a very simple procedure: it is a procedure that will allow the house to make the decision as to whether or not to endorse what the home secretary is proposing and that is good enough for me.”

Vaz cited the director general of the British security agency MI5, Jonathan Evans, who warned that at least 2,000 individuals are believed to be a direct threat.

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