The power gap: Keith Vaz MP contrasts UK and US politics

The influential chair of one of Parliament’s most prominent Select Committees explained its work on a visit to QE – but lamented the fact that it had neither the power nor resources of its US equivalent.

Keith Vaz MP, who has been Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee since 2007, came to the School to give a Politics Society talk organised by Year 12 pupils Adrian Burbie and Ragul Premanathan.

A former Minister for Europe and a Privy Councillor, the high-profile Mr Vaz, who represents Leicester East, is the longest-serving Asian MP.

Born in Aden to parents from the Indian state of Goa, he moved to Twickenham with his family in 1965 and went on to take a first in Law from Gonville and Caius, Cambridge.

""His talk, which was intended to complement the AS and A-level Politics syllabus, focused on the role of select committees and the work they do in scrutinising the executive in Parliament. Among the insights he gave was that Theresa May is the hardest Home Secretary to deal with in terms of “getting answers out of her which can be used against her”.

He spoke with particular emphasis on the contrast between the British Parliament’s Select Committees and Congressional Committees in the US.

""Congressional Committees have the power to “cause Presidents to quake”, block bills and budgets, while their equivalents here have little power – they can only make recommendations. “When you go to Washington, you can just feel the power,” he said.

Furthermore, he felt British Select Committees were woefully under-resourced, comparing them again unfavourably with the US situation. His committee only had six part-time staff, while Congressional Committees had at least 30 full-time staff.

When asked by Adrian Burbie whether he would support George Osborne’s proposed sugar tax in the Budget, he said: “Well actually, George Osborne supports my sugar tax.” Mr Vaz has been a long-time campaigner on diabetes prevention, being a diabetic himself. He therefore strongly approved of the tax’s introduction – the only part of the Budget that he actually liked.

""He was questioned by Liam Hargadon, Head of Year 12, on whether he thought Parliament needed to be more diverse and representative of the wider population. Mr Vaz, who is seen as a voice for the British Asian community, responded that Parliament had made great strides in representing ethnic minorities and women, but that work remained to be done.

Light relief was provided in an impromptu competition staged by Mr Vaz, who had brought along prizes: Big Ben pencils, a signed copy of one of his recent reports and a coveted coaster from high-flying Leicester City FC.

""The questions and answers were:

  • Who is the President of the European Commission? (Jean-Claude Juncker)
  • Which Republican candidate dropped out of the race recently? (Marco Rubio)
  • Who scored the winning goal for Leicester City’s in their game against Watford? (Riyad Mahrez)

Callum Murphy, of Year 13 and Neelay Sumaria-Shah, of Year 12, were among the winners.