Claims of sweeteners ‘bizarre’: Keith Vaz

July 3rd, 2008 - 5:18 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Gordon Brown
By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, July 3 (IANS) British Member of Parliament Keith Vaz Thursday described as “bizarre” a claim that he was offered a peerage or knighthood in return for backing the government on a controversial anti-terrorism bill last month. “Why on earth would anyone want to give up a seat with majority of 53,000, one of the safest Labour seats in the country, for a peerage?”

“This is bizarre, to the say the least,” Vaz, who represents Leicester East constituency in the southeast of England, told IANS.

The claims surfaced after the Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that Labour’s chief whip, Geoff Hoon, in a hand-written letter, had thanked Vaz for helping Prime Minister Gordon Brown during the June 11 vote.

The government, which was seeking to extend the upper limit of the pre-charge remand period for terrorist suspects from 28 to 42 days, won the vote by a razor-thin majority of nine.

Prime Minister Brown had staked his political future on the vote, and the support of Vaz, as chairman of the influential parliamentary select committee on home affairs, was considered crucial to the government win.

Vaz, who stated his opposition to the bill last year, came out in favour at the second reading stage saying the government had addressed his reservations and his speech at the commons debate was thought to have swayed several Labour MPs.

The Daily Telegraph, in its report said Hoon had written to Vaz a day after the vote saying: “I wanted you to know how much I appreciated all your help. I trust that it will be appropriately rewarded!”

Denying any sweeteners were offered, Vaz put it down to Hoon’s “dry sense of humour”.

“In any case, the letter was written after the vote,” he added.

Nevertheless, the leak of the letter is seen as an embarrassment to the Labour government, with Tory leader David Cameron grilling Brown over it in prime minister’s question time Wednesday.

Asked what Hoon meant by “rewards”, Brown said: “He meant that he was thanking the chairman of the home affairs committee for doing exactly the right thing.”

A friend of Hoon told the Daily Telegraph: “There had been mischievous references during the Terror Bill debate to the possibility of Keith Vaz getting a knighthood. Geoff was merely making a jokey reference to that.”

The pro-Labour Guardian newspaper said: “If the Tories had got their hands on a letter written the day before the 42-day vote, saying that Vaz would be “appropriately rewarded” for voting the right way, then Hoon would have already handed in his resignation.

“But Hoon’s letter does not prove that Vaz was offered anything at all. In fact, you could argue precisely the opposite. Hoon would not need to tell Vaz, even in jest, that he “trusted” his support would be “appropriately rewarded” if an offer had already been made.”

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