Keith Vaz plans to stand aside as chair of the House of Commons home affairs committee after he was accused of paying for the services of male prostitutes in a Sunday newspaper sting operation.
The Labour MP and former Europe minister, who has chaired the high-profile committee for nine years, apologised to his family for the distress caused and condemned the conduct of the Sunday Mirror as “deeply disturbing”.
Vaz’s committee is carrying out an inquiry into prostitution, focusing on whether “the balance in the burden of criminality should shift to those who pay for sex rather than those who sell it”. In July, it published an interim report saying it was not yet convinced that buying sex should be outlawed, but that soliciting by [prostitutes] should be decriminalised.
In his statement to the Mail on Sunday about the Mirror story, Vaz reportedly said: “I am genuinely sorry for the hurt and distress that has been caused by my actions in particular to my wife and children. I will be informing the committee on Tuesday of my intention to stand aside from chairing the committee with immediate effect.”
According to the Sunday Mirror, which has illustrated its report with a picture showing Vaz with a man said to be one of the [prostitutes], the MP met two eastern European male [prostitutes] eight days ago 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, the sex-enhancing drug used by gay men that the government came close to banning in a law passed this year.
Vaz 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 [prostitutes] that he did not use them himself.
Vaz, who reportedly told the men his name was Jim and that he was a washing machine salesman, is also 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.
The paper says two payments of £150 each were made into a bank account before the 27 August encounter after one of the escorts supplied the account details to Vaz.
In a statement, Vaz said: “It is deeply disturbing that a national newspaper should have paid individuals to have acted in this way. I have referred these allegations to my solicitor Mark Stephens, of Howard Kennedy, who will consider them carefully and advise me accordingly.”
According to the Mail on Sunday, although Vaz is standing aside as chair of the Commons home affairs committee, he wants to see how much support for him there is on the committee before making a decision about whether to resign fully.
A Labour party spokesman said Vaz had been elected chair of the committee and that his future on it was a matter for him and the Commons.