Great stuff from Sky’s Sophy Ridge, who has spent the day standing outside Number 10 shouting at Cabinet ministers. Miller’s face…
John Mann has used his urgent question to not unreasonably request that all recordings of Standards Committee meetings are made public. How did the Committee come to the decision to give Miller such soft censure? Which members of the troughers’ union fought her corner? Shining the light on the processes of the Standards Committee is the very least that can be done to improve transparency. Worth noting that Leader of the House Andrew Lansley warns there could be more pre-2010 expenses scandals still to come…
Zac Goldsmith, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Peter Bone are also using Miller to raise the issue of recall once again. Which begs the question what do Basingstoke residents think of the claim by Miller’s former constituency campaign manager Phil Heath: “whenever we had a meeting there was no family so that was definitely her second home.”
69% of the public agree with Guido that MPs should not be allowed to sit on the committee that judges whether politicians are guilty of fiddling their expenses, according to a Survation poll for Breitbart London. 47% say Maria Miller makes them less likely to vote Tory in 2015, 55% say Dave has handled it badly and the same number say Miller is the worst expenses cheat since 2009. But you keep on fighting for her, Prime Minister…
It’s not just Maria Miller that has gone to ground – where is her Shadow? Who, Guido hears you ask, even is the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport? Harriet Harman has not really been seen since that brutal outing on Newsnight over her PIE past…
Having been through the mill with Dromey, it would appear Harman is lying low, leaving Labour attacks to that big hitting Eagle. Some Labour MPs have a different theory though, with one wearily confiding to Guido that this probably has more to do with Harman’s inverted logic that Miller is one of the sisterhood so should not be touched. Either way, her silence has not gone unnoticed…
It is not just the chairman of the Standards Committee who is a trougher of the highest order. Sir Kevin Pork Barrel is aided and abetted on the troughers’ union by nine other MPs including Tory Christopher Chope, who was exposed during the expenses scandal for charging the taxpayer £881.25 to transport a sofa 85 miles from his second home to his constituency in order to have it reupholstered. Expenses piggy Chope also repaired the roof of his house on the taxpayer at a cost of £10,377, and installed a £2,600 bathroom paid for by us. Not satisfied with his fill, Chope also tops up the family income by employing his wife as his secretary.
Shamed former LibDem armed forces minster Nick Harvey is another member of the committee. Harvey stuck two fingers up at servicemen when he claimed £7 on expenses to attend a Remembrance Service. A furious Royal Navy officer marched up to Harvey and gave him the cash in an envelope in disgust. He only lasted a few more months in the job.
Also on the homework marking committee is Labour MP Alan Whitehead. Whitehead was found by the fees office to have overclaimed for his mortage interest in 2009, submitting a bill for £380 when should have claimed £198.66. Caught with his hand in the till, Whitehead was ordered to make a reduced claim the following month. Not only that, he then made a £89,400 profit when he sold his taxpayer-subsidised London home.
Then there is Tory Paul Beresford, who doubles as a dentist when he isn’t hard at work representing his constituents in Mole Valley. Beresford designated his surgery as his second home, putting three-quarters of the running costs of the property on the taxpayer, a total of £25,627.
Last but not least, Labour MP and people’s champion Tom Clarke designated the posh Sloane Club in Chelsea as his second home, claiming £1,500 a month while in London. Also on the committee is Geoffrey Cox who is not averse to being “overly legalistic” when he banks legal fees of almost £400,000 in outside earnings.
The PM has changed his tune this morning, he now says he is “very open to suggestions” for reforming the Standards Committee. Firing these troughers and bringing in properly independent arbiters to make judgements on allegations against MPs would be a start…
Labour have written to the Labour MP who let Maria Miller off the hook. Labour’s Shelia Gilmore has written to Labour’s Kevin Barron, who Guido covered in some depth earlier, to formally complain about Miller’s apology.
Dear Mr Barron,
I am writing to make a formal complaint over the personal statement given by Mrs Maria Miller to the House of Commons on Thursday 3rd April. This was inadequate to the point of being contemptuous of your Committee’s report and the Members’ Code of Conduct.
You will agree that adherence to the Code of Conduct and due respect for the Committee on Standards are essential to uphold trust in public life. Mrs Miller has demonstrated neither and the subsequent public condemnation of her behaviour highlights the risk to public trust such behaviour creates.
The Code of Conduct states that “Members shall cooperate, at all stages, with any such investigation by or under the authority of the House”. Your report concludes, however, that “Mrs Miller’s exchanges with the Commissioner repeatedly show a failure to provide information asked for, or to respond adequately to the Commissioner’s questions.”
Your report also states that, “Much of the delay and difficulty in this case has arisen from incomplete documentation and fragmentary information. Mrs Miller has to carry significant responsibility for that.”
These specific points were unaddressed and remain unexplained following Mrs Miller’s abrupt 32 second apology to the House last week.
Following the focus on Members’ expenses and subsequent reform to the system in 2009 there is now a higher bar for all Members to demonstrate the integrity of their conduct in public life. We must act at all times within the spirit as well as the letter of existing guidelines. It is clear that Mrs Miller fell foul of this not just in her conduct during the inquiry but in her apology to the House.
Rather than meaningfully address the arrogant and evasive attitude that characterised her behaviour during the inquiry, she chose to reinforce it in the House of Commons, revealing Mrs Miller to not be apologetic at all.
I want to ask whether you consider Mrs Miller’s apology sufficient given the significance of this issue and whether you would consider asking Mrs Miller to return to the House of Commons to address the specific issues raised in your Committee’s report.
Sheila Gilmore MP
What a sorry mess – this highlights just how bonkers this system is.
Labour are cautiously upping their attacks on Miller because they cannot escape the fact that it was a Labour chaired committee that watered down the Standards Commissioner’s report. Once again the Barron of the Troughers’ Union has ridden to the protection of an MP. Not only has Kevin Barron recently blocked attempts by IPSA to reform the expenses structure, his own history is hardly a shining beacon of purity. Thanks to Sir Kevin, MPs can still claim:
- A £15 evening meal when Parliament sits after 19:30
- Hospitality tea and biscuits
- Hotels before 01:00
- Taxis home before 23:00
- Contents insurance for a second home
- Installing a TV in a second home
He blocked IPSA’s attempts to scrap the lot last year.
Back in 2009, Guido pointed out to Barron’s face that he was not fit to lead the Standards Committee given his own tendency to overclaim:
He called Guido a very rude word after the TV ding-dong but did nothing to change his ways. After selling his taxpayer funded home for for a £500,000 profit, Barron began charging the taxpayer £1,500-a-month to rent a three-bedroom London home (also called “contriving a tenancy” by benefit fraud investigators) owned by shadow cabinet office minister Jon Trickett. Last week Trickett was trying to clamp down on MPs’ outside earnings, but presumably not income channelled from public money.
To top it all off, Barron also employs his wife Andrea part time in his office. Which is nice little £15,000 boost for the family income.
You can see why Barron did not go public during the threats from Miller and her lawyers – the MP who marks other MPs’ homework is a trougher of the highest order. Labour are struggling with this story because they were in cahoots to undermine Kathryn Hudson. Barron could have blown the whistle at any time during the last year. Guido would never suggest the gong that Sir Kev got during the negotiations had anything to do with his unwillingness to rock the boat.
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…
LibDem president Tim Farron wastes no opportunity to line his party’s coffers with taxpayers’ money. Last year re-renter Farron was one of the guilty men exposed for funnelling parliamentary expenses to his local Westmoreland and Lonsdale party, claiming £6,000 in the last financial year to rent a building owned by his local LibDems and letting them cream off the cash. Now Guido can reveal Farron has recently submitted a £1,554 expense claim for a staffer in his constituency, and guess what, the money was paid to Westmoreland and Lonsdale Liberal Democrats.
Taxpayers are subsidising Farron’s local party to the tune of thousands of pounds a year, with zero checks on whether public money is funding party political activity. It gives him a publicly-funded advantage over any opponent. The LibDems are the most cunning at this and that’s because they are taught how to fiddle centrally – in 2008 they gave a presentation to their MPs urging them to maximise expenses for party benefit.
What about releasing the report into her dodgy expenses claims on Budget Day? The Standards and Privileges Committee has taken a very long time to reprimand Miller over those £90,000 second home expenses claims that landed her with a potential six figure profit. A source familiar with the investigation suggests that the delay has been due to gathering more evidence, but why are they taking such a long time to publish a decision? Could it be that Tories on the Committee are looking for a good time to bury bad news? A cynic might think Budget Day might be a good time to get it out…
IPSA has today announced its latest proposals for reform of the MPs’ expenses scheme. Some of them are not bad ideas, such as publishing MPs’ landlords’ names and addresses each year, publishing details of contingency payments and further scrutiny of MPs’ mortgage interest subsidy and capital gains repayments. Most of these reforms would not be implemented until after the election however. Even then they do not go far enough.
Guido has said it before that a House of Commons debit card is the best way to regulate legitimate expenses. The transactions would as normal be electronically recorded automatically and could thus be published online automatically, the spending limits would be automatic and bureaucracy would be minimal. The idea was proposed in Disinfecting Parliament, a 2009 report from the Sunlight Centre that recommended a number of measures based on best practice in the private sector that could easily be transferred to IPSA. MPs have called for a fairer and simpler system, what could be easier than the debit card plan?
IPSA have forced a trough-full of greedy MPs to repay £40,000 worth of expenses for claims that were in breach of the rules. New figures for October and November last year show 50 MPs were made to pay back cash. Some of the weirder repayments include £1,300 from Jack Straw for a year-long sublet of his constituency office for the Blackburn Labour Party and £1,250 from Vince Cable for subletting his office. Eric Joyce tried to get away with claiming hundreds of pounds for hotels which were not allowed under the IPSA scheme. Cheapskate Jamie Reed was told nine of his £3 claims for petrol would not be granted. Several MPs blew their expenses budget allowance and had to pay back the overspend, including £4,010 from Mike Crockart, £4,551 from Daniel Kawczynski and £933 from Debbie Abrahams. Still, who can blame a greedy expenses trougher for trying…
Parliament’s taxpayer-subsidised bars, cafes and restaurants have introduced a pudding loyalty scheme for MPs, journalists and staff. Once you buy a pudding from all four of the eateries taking part, you get one free. Caught almost literally with their snouts in the trough…[…] Read the rest