Labour have finally found someone beyond John Mann to go on the attack over Maria Miller. Pity that it’s only the perpetually useless Shadow Cabinet Office minister Chi Onwurah, but still:
“Letting Maria Miller off the hook speaks volumes about David Cameron’s leadership. His weakness and double standards on the issue of Maria Miller’s expenses are totally unacceptable and completely out of touch. He should not offer “warm support” to a cabinet minister criticised by a Parliamentary committee, but be making clear she should have cooperated fully with this inquiry. We had a contemptuous 32 second response from a cabinet minister followed by a pat on the back from the prime minister. It is yet another example of how Cameron only looks after his one of his own and always stands up for the wrong people. We must have the very highest standards in public office. There can be no going back to the bad old days of expenses.”
They’ve responded quicker to this than they did to the Budget. Better late than never.
The Standards Committee report finds “We are concerned that Mrs Miller did not pay as close attention to the rules of the House”. Contrary to the rules Miller “increased the facility on her mortgage on at least two occasions without consulting the House”, and she is also found to have “not only claimed for the entire mortgage interest charged, but appears to have claimed slightly more than that interest.”
The report noted that “Miller’s interactions with House tends to show a pattern in which officials would press her for information”, Miller offered minimal information herself. Tellingly “most of Mrs Miller’s mortgage claims were justified”, but not all. “If the Commissioner had been able swiftly to establish the facts … this might have been a relatively minor matter” – Miller blocked it. Most damningly the Committee found “Mrs Miller has also breached the current Code of Conduct by her attitude to this inquiry.”
They warn that the “system relies” on MPs “responding to Commissioner’s inquiries fully and frankly, rather than trying to argue a case in a legalistic way… It should not have required our intervention to produce the material and explanations required to complete the investigation.”
She will make a personal statement to the House at midday…
The Standards Committee report into Maria Miller is out at 11am, with the Culture Secretary expected to be ordered to repay £5,000 of the £90,000 she claimed in mortgage payments for a second home lived in by her parents. Labour minister Tony McNulty resigned in 2009 over a similar arrangement and Miller has so far offered no explanation for why she suddenly stopped claiming when the MPs expenses scandal broke. If it was legit at the time why stop?
Oh and she is briefing that she simply ‘forgot’ to change the morgage claims when there was a change in rates. Whoopsy daisy.
It’s the cover-up that makes this the real issue: Miller used her role in charge of press regulation to threaten journalists reporting the story. If as a Secretary of State she is also found to have failed to cooperate with the inquiry into her expenses, how does that not cross the line? And how clever to put out the Plain Packaging statement at the same time as the report.
What time was the decision made to rush out the plain packaging announcement to coincide with the Maria Miller report, and why?
Last month Guido revealed that Maria Miller was making a potential six figure profit on the second home – lived in by her parents – that she had claimed mortgage payments for on expenses, in clear breach of expenses rules. The Telegraph today reports she has sold the home which she bought in 1996 for £234,000 for £1.47 million, trousering a taxpayer-subsidised profit of over £1 million. Despite claiming £90,000 for the second home on expenses she will only have to repay £5,000. This was a case of a Cabinet minister blatantly breaching expenses rules, resulting in significant personal gain, yet the impotent Standards Commissioner is giving her a mere slap on the wrist…
UPDATE: A DCMS source gets in touch:
“Maria has co-operated fully with the inquiry, asked for by the Labour Party, which has now been going on for a year and a half amidst constant unfounded speculation. We hope it will conclude soon. It is not surprising that London houses go up in value well over a decade after they are first bought . It is also not unusual for people to move house.”
These days our crooked MPs are either promoted to the Cabinet or serve half of their paltry sentences. Back in the day the punishments were a little more fitting for the crimes. According to Chris Bryant’s new book Parliament: The Biography, Giles Mompesson the MP for Great Bedwyn ‘was fined, expelled from parliament and told to parade up the Strand “with his face in a horse’s anus” for extortionately abusing his royal monopoly for the licensing of inns and manufacture of gold thread in 1621.’
Guido would settle on just bringing back the stocks.
When John Bercow was elected Speaker in 2009, his campaign team said:
“The Speaker can either be a road block to reform or an agent of reform and change and there’s no doubt about it that John Bercow will be that agent of change.”
After five years in the £142,000 job, the only thing that has changed is the size of Speaker’s bill. Not happy with just his coat of arms, Bercow has grown his team to a nine-strong entourage of helpers at a cost of £383,000 a year. As Guido revealed in yesterday’s Sun, they include a £42,000 train-bearer whose job it is to carry his ceremonial cloak:
- Speaker’s Secretary: up to £93,380
- Assistant Speaker’s Secretary: up to £61,255
- Chaplain: up to £61,255
- Trainbearer: up to £42,401
- Diary Secretary: up to £35,723
- Personal Secretary: up to £29,330
- Secretary: up to £29,330
- Ad hoc Adviser: up to £15,512
- Cleaner: up to £15,042
Add that to the £37,500 a year on jet-setting around the world and his £8,000 annual expenses bill and Bercow has creamed the taxpayer for more than £2 million since 2010. The ‘agent of reform and change’ is hardly short changed…