UK & World News

  • 7 April 2014, 18:06

PM Defends Maria Miller As Pressure Mounts

The Prime Minister has said he is "very open" to changes to the MPs expenses system as pressure continued to mount on his Culture Secretary to resign.

David Cameron agreed, amid mounting criticism of the system that allows politicians to police their own expenses, that there may need to be further changes.

However, he continued to stand by Maria Miller saying she had apologised and there was no reason she should resign or be sacked.

Lord Tebbit has become the most senior Conservative to call for the Culture Secretary to go after a weekend of mounting pressure.

The Tory grandee said her "arrogant" handling of the scandal had revived voter anger over MPs' expenses.

But Mr Cameron once again defended claims that she had been saved because she was a state-educated woman saying:  "Maria Miller is in her job because she is doing a good job as Culture Secretary."

Speaking as fresh questions emerged over tax to be paid on the £1.47m sale of Mrs Miller's previously designated second home in Wimbledon, southwest London, Mr Cameron said: "What matters is doing the right thing. I think Maria has done the right thing by repaying the money, making an apology and now getting on with her job.

"We ought to remember she was found innocent of the claim that was levelled at her at the start of this process."

Mrs Miller issued a 32-second apology on Thursday for her attitude to an investigation by the standards watchdog into her £90,000 expenses claims on the second home between 2005 and 2009. She was also ordered to repay £5,800 in wrongly claimed expenses.

It transpired that the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards Kathryn Hudson had found she should repay £45,000, however, she had been over-ruled by the Standards Committee, made up of 10 MPs and three independent members, who have no vote.

This prompted claims MPs should not be allowed to police themselves.

Mr Cameron responded on Monday by saying: "If there are further changes that people think are appropriate, I'm very open to suggestions."

His official spokesman suggested this could include giving independent members a vote.

Fresh questioned emerged on Monday morning when it emerged Mrs Miller redesignated her second house as her main home after parliamentary rule changes meant she would need to pay tax when it was sold.

The Daily Telegraph claims documents show Mrs Miller stopped claiming expenses on her second home in southwest London after being asked to sign a declaration confirming that she would pay capital gains tax when it was sold.

She bought the Wimbledon property in 1995 for £234,000, before she became an MP, and sold it in February this year for £1.47m.

Under new rules introduced after the expenses scandal that year MPs were told they could no longer escape tax on the sale of second homes. Capital gains tax of 28% is only payable on the sale of second homes.

But Mrs Miller's office has hit back, saying the newspaper's report is "factually and chronologically untrue" and she had not made the changes in order to avoid paying the tax on a sale.

An aide said she would be paying the full tax implication on the sale of the home, which could be as much as £70,000, when it was due.

It comes after a weekend of mounting pressure.

On Sunday the head of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority Sir Ian Kennedy said it was wrong that MPs should police their own expenses and politicians should no longer be able to "mark their own homework".

Sir Ian, who has fallen out with MPs over changes to the expenses system, has now been told by the House of Commons speaker he must reapply for his own job at the watchdog.

John Mann, the Labour MP whose complaint sparked the commissioner's investigation into Mrs Miller's claims, was refused an urgent question on Monday on reform of the Standards Committee by the Speaker John Bercow.

He said: "Public trust in Parliament and in the expenses system has now completely eroded, and we need a new, transparent regulatory system."

He has also made an official complaint to the Standards Committee about the way the matter was dealt with.

A spokesman for Mrs Miller denied that it had been a move to sidestep the tax ramifications and said she stopped claiming on her second home in April 2009.

He said: "It is well documented that Maria stopped claiming any accommodation allowance at all in 2009. The sale of the Wimbledon property in February, falls in a tax year that has not yet been assessed.

"She will, of course, deal with the matter in accordance with HMRC rules and pay any tax that is due."

A poll for the Mail on Sunday found nearly 80% of people thought that Mrs Miller should resign.

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