UK & World News

  • 8 April 2014, 15:24

'Serious Questions For PM Over Maria Miller'

Ed Miliband has said the Prime Minister has "serious questions to answer" over Maria Miller as pressure from Tory MPs for her to be removed from her job intensifies.

In his first comments on the growing scandal, the Labour leader pointed out that "people in his own Government don't seem to be supporting her" and as a result he had to "answer those questions about her status in the Government".

Mr Miliband'sremarks come after the prominent Tory MP, Zac Goldsmith, said he was "surprised that Mrs Miller had not stepped down" but agreed that it was a matter for Mr Cameron.

London Mayor Boris Johnson repeatedly sidestepped questions over whether the Culture Secretary should go.

Speaking on the Radio 4 Today programme he finally said: "I don't know the facts of the case in great detail but it seems to me she is being hounded quite a lot and I suppose my natural sympathies go out to people being in a hounded situation. How about that?"

The Employment Minister Esther McVey criticised Maria Miller's 32-second apology but said it was for the Prime Minister to decide on the Culture Secretary's future.

Ms McVey said: "I can honestly say it wouldn't be how I would have made an apology.

"But different people have different styles and do things in different ways."

Asked if Mrs Miller should keep her job, she told ITV's The Agenda: "David Cameron has the final say on this. He's standing by her."

The Tory MP Mark Field also said that Mrs Miller's apology had been "unacceptable".

One Tory MP told Sky's Political Correspondent Sophy Ridge: "It's what people want to talk about on the doorstep and in the pub, everyone has the same view except the Prime Minister."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said: "He's (Mr Cameron) got serious questions to answer about Maria Miller's failure to co-operate with the initial inquiry.

"He's got serious questions to answer about her failure to provide more than a perfunctory apology to the House of Commons.

"He's got serious questions now to answer about the fact that people in his own Government don't seem to be supporting her.

"So I think the ball is in his court - he's got to answer those questions about her status in the Government."

Parliament's sleaze watchdog ordered Mrs Miller to apologise and repay 5,800 following an expenses investigation six days ago.

The Culture Secretary, who on Tuesday morning attended the Cabinet meeting and refused to answer questions from the press, gave the briefest of statements in the House of Commons to voice her regret over her attitude to the inquiry into allowances claims she had made for a second home.

The Prime Minister has continued to offer Mrs Miller his "full confidence" and said she had "done the right thing" and urged the press to "leave it there".

A ComRes survey commissioned by Conservative Grassroots, an organisation founded by senior party activists, found that 75% of voters thought Mr Cameron should have sacked Mrs Miller.

An online petition calling for Mrs Miller to repay 45,000 or go has now amassed 145,000 names.

Mr Cameron is due to address the influential Conservative backbench 1922 committee on Wednesday, where he is likely to face a rough ride. He spoke yesterday with its chairman, Graham Brady.

Conservative Grassroots Chairman Robert Woollard, a former constituency party chairman, said: "Mr Cameron's support of the Culture Secretary is completely irrational.

"When David Cameron spoke about the need for the actions of those in Parliament to pass the smell test, it was exactly for such occasions as these.

"Well this whole issue stinks and as this poll finds, it is incredibly damaging to our party and the PM personally."

The Culture Secretary has agreed to pay back 5,800 wrongly claimed on a second home in Wimbledon, southwest London.

However, it emerged the Commissioner for Parliamentary Standards had found she should repay 45,000 but been over-ruled by the Standards Committee, made up of 10 MPs and three independent members who have no vote.

It has sparked calls for further changes to a system that allows MPs to police their own expenses, including from the chairman of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Sir Ian Kennedy.

Mrs Miller has also been forced to deny she will seek to dodge a capital gains tax bill on the 1.47m sale of her partly taxpayer-funded Wimbledon home.

A Number 10 source admitted some MPs had concerns over Mrs Miller, but added: "There are plenty of MPs who have got in touch to say they strongly back Maria as well."