Maria Miller has done right thing, says David Cameron

David Cameron: ''We ought to remember she was (Maria Miller) found innocent of the claim that was levelled at her''

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David Cameron is continuing to stand by Culture Secretary Maria Miller, insisting she did the "right thing" by apologising to MPs for her attitude to an inquiry into her expenses.

Former Tory chairman Lord Tebbit has accused the minister of "arrogance" and called for her to resign.

But the prime minister said she should be left to get on with her job.

Mrs Miller, who has repaid £5,800, was cleared of funding a home for her parents at taxpayers' expense.

But she was criticised by the Commons standards committee for taking an obstructive attitude towards an inquiry into her expenses, which followed a report in the Daily Telegraph.

Few Conservatives have criticised Mrs Miller in public - with some believing she is the victim of a backlash prompted by her attitude to press regulation after the Leveson report.

Start Quote

I can honestly say it wouldn't be how I would have made an apology”

End Quote Esther McVey Employment minister

But others - including Lord Tebbit - say she should have shown more contrition and have criticised her 32-second apology to MPs.

Speaking on ITV's The Agenda programme, employment minister Esther McVey said "different people have different styles and do things in different ways".

She added: "I can honestly say it wouldn't be how I would have made an apology."

But Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith told the BBC that Mrs Miller was suffering a backlash for being the minister responsible for getting the bill which brought in same-sex marriage - deeply unpopular with many Tories - through Parliament.

House sale

Labour has accused Mr Cameron of letting Mrs Miller "off the hook", but has not called for her resignation.

Start Quote

Mention Maria Miller to Tory MPs and many turn gloomy. Some sound rather angry. "She's pretty low grade," says one. "But she is slavishly loyal to Dave”

End Quote

Speaking on a visit to a supermarket in London, Mr Cameron said: "Maria Miller is in her job and she is doing a good job as culture secretary.

"Also, she went through this process and the committee found that she had made a mistake in her mortgage claims. She paid back money. She made an apology and that's the right thing to do."

On Monday the Daily Telegraph made further allegations regarding Mrs Miller's home in Wimbledon, south-west London, which was sold this year for more than £1m above its 1995 purchase cost.

In 2009 she redesignated it as her main residence and stopped claiming second-home allowances on it.

This, the Telegraph says, was in an effort to avoid capital gains tax, which is payable at a rate of 28% on profits made from the sale of second homes.

Maria Miller Maria Miller has been an MP since 2005 and culture secretary since 2012

In 2009, in the wake of the parliamentary expenses scandal, MPs were advised to pay capital gains tax on the sale of any home for which they had claimed allowances.

But a spokeswoman for Mrs Miller, MP for Basingstoke, told the BBC her claims had stopped the month before she received the new advice.

Of the Telegraph's story, she said: "This is nonsense. It is well documented that Maria stopped claiming any accommodation allowance at all in 2009."

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

The row over the culture secretary's expenses dates back to December 2012, when the Telegraph reported she had claimed £90,718 in expenses towards mortgage payments on the house in Wimbledon that the MP shared with her parents.

'Crisis point'

The parliamentary commissioner for standards, who conducted an investigation into the culture secretary's expenses, ruled she should repay £45,800 but the House of Commons Committee on Standards, which has the final say on issues on ethics and disciplinary matters, cut this to £5,800.

Documents released by the committee revealed Mrs Miller told the commissioner investigating her that she might go over her head to ask MPs to intervene.

The 13-strong committee is mostly made up of MPs and its three independent members are not allowed to vote.

Labour MP John Mann, whose complaint sparked the commissioner's investigation into Mrs Miller's claims, asked Commons Speaker John Bercow to grant an urgent question on reform of the committee, but this was not granted.

'A problem called Maria'

Speaking in the Commons, he asked when there would be a debate "on the principle of self-regulation of MPs by MPs".

His Labour colleague Dennis Skinner asked: "How do you solve a problem called Maria?"

Mr Bercow replied that a discussion was possible before the Commons starts its Easter recess on Thursday, saying: "I'm very open to these matters being addressed if members want to debate them, but it must be done in an honourable way."

He added that the "concerns" raised were "widely shared by our constituents".

Conservative MP Nicola Blackwood - a ministerial aide - said Mrs Miller was faced with "most serious" questions and her response could have been "clearer".

She told BBC Radio Oxford: "I have to say if I was faced with the kind of questions that she is faced with I would be really quite worried indeed... Clearly it's very unhelpful for this to drag on in the way that it is."

A petition calling for Maria Miller to repay £45,000 of expenses or resign has attracted over 100,000 signatures. The document was drawn up by a Labour Party activist and local election candidate.

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    Radcliffe Camera

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  63.  
    06:41: Tuition fees: 'British promise' Norman Smith BBC Assistant Political Editor

    Norman Smith tells BBC Radio 4's Today programme that the drive to reduce tuition fees is something "very personal" for Ed Miliband, who has been pushing this policy for "a long, long time now". It's to be paid for by curbing pension tax reliefs - and indeed, "the manner in which he's going to pay for this is almost as interesting as the policy itself". The Labour leader will try to sell the policy on grounds of "inter-generational fairness", which in reality means he will be asking "tomorrow's pensioners to dip into their pockets to pay for their children". Ed Miliband's "British promise" is that every generation should be able to prosper more than the preceding one.

     
  64.  
    06:40: Question Time re-cap
    Panellists on Thursday's Question Time

    It was a lively Question Time last night, with top billing given to the revelations that UK net migration reached 298,000 in the year ending September 2014. UKIP's Mark Reckless was scathing, while Conservative chairman Grant Shapps conceded the figures were "disappointing". Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary Rachel Reeves argued that more needs to be done for migrants earning less than the minimum wage, while Lib Dem Tessa Munt joined her party leader Nick Clegg in saying David Cameron's initial vow to reduce immigration was "a silly promise to have made".

     
  65.  
    06:27: UKIP conference
    Nigel Farage speaking in the United States

    UKIP's two-day gathering in Margate comes at a crucial time for the party, will polls suggesting it could win a number of seats - including several in Kent - on 7 May. Among those speaking on Friday include deputy leader Paul Nuttall and health spokeswoman Louise Bours. Party leader Nigel Farage will also address activists at about 16.00 GMT. He has had a busy few hours. On Thursday, he addressed the Conservative Political Action Conference in the US state of Maryland, sharing a stage with Tea Party movement star Sarah Palin.

     
  66.  
    06:26: Farage's fortunes Robin Brant Political Correspondent, BBC News
    Nigel Farage

    The BBC's Robin Brant says UKIP's spring conference in Margate is a "rallying cry" for Nigel Farage, with the UKIP leader contesting neighbouring Thanet South in the general election. A win there is "essential for his survival".

     
  67.  
    06:25: Miliband's tuition fees pledge
    Ed Miliband

    Ed Miliband is to set out Labour's plans to cut £9,000 university tuition fees by a third. In a speech in Leeds, he will reveal how a Labour government - which originally introduced fees in 2006 - would find the money to pay for such a reduction. The rising level of student debt has been a "disaster for the future of Britain", he will say. After warnings from some quarters that a reduction in fees would lead to a funding gap for universities, the Labour leader will reveal today how he would cover the costs.

     
  68.  
    06:14: Good morning

    Hello and welcome to the BBC's Live Page coverage for Friday 27 February. The business in the Commons today is almost entirely focused on the official reading of legislation - but don't think that means it'll be a quiet day in the political world. We're coming in to spring conference season: UKIP's kicks off in Margate today, and the Lib Dems gather in Cardiff for the last meeting of party activists before the general election. Labour leader Ed Miliband will set out his party's plans to cut tuition fees to £6,000 if it is elected. Chancellor George Osborne will be in Manchester to talk devolution of NHS services but is also likely to face questions about a report from MPs that says his claim last year to have halved the UK's £1.7bn EU budget surcharge is "not supported by the facts". We'll bring you all the latest news, views and analysis during the day - from the BBC and beyond.

     

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