Maria Miller's 'non-apology', Queen visits Pope, housing bubble and Nigella's US ban

Culture Secretary Maria Miller's apology for her attitude towards an expenses inquiry provides plenty of material for parliamentary sketchwriters.

A committee of MPs had ordered her to repay £5,800 to cover over-claiming of mortgage expense, despite the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner previously having said she'd over-claimed by about £45,000.

"As I'm sure we all know from everyday experience, it's very easy to accidentally accumulate large sums of money to which one isn't entitled," begins Michael Deacon's Telegraph sketch.

Like his press colleagues, the writer was astonished at the brevity of Mrs Miller's "wail of repentance", clocking it at 31 seconds: "(At this point I must issue an unreserved apology of my own. Initially I reported on Twitter that it lasted as long as 34 seconds. I inadvertently over-claimed."

"Our editors are going to have to provide us with top-notch stopwatches," says the Daily Mail's Quentin Letts, adding that "you would have struggled to write a cheque for £5,800 in that time".

Several writers describe the "doughnut" of senior MPs surrounding Mrs Miller for support, including Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Chief Whip Sir George Young, ex-Public Health Minister Anne Milton and the PM's Parliamentary Private Secretary Gavin Williamson.

Ann Treneman, in the Times, says: "Her 32-second non-apology apology was so perfect, so empty, so totally void, that I can only conclude that it was something else entirely... There was not one ounce of 'sorry', scintilla of contrition, proton of penitence to be seen."

For Donald MacIntyre, in the Independent, it was "the parliamentary equivalent of a five-year-old's 'allrighthensorrycanihavemyicecreamnow?'" And the Guardian's John Crace reckons Mrs Miller "gave the appearance she was doing everyone a huge favour by interrupting her lunch". He adds: "If Miller had spoken less formally, she could have got her statement down to a single word. 'Whatever.'"

Royal wee dram

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"Ma'am and Papa," is how the Daily Mirror describes the Queen's audience with Pope Francis at the Vatican.

Unlike her six previous meetings with four other popes, she did not wear black, as - recognising Francis's less formal manner - both parties relaxed the rules. And Robert Hardman, in the Daily Mail, says: "Set against the dry-as-dust protocol which has traditionally governed royal visits to the Vatican, this meeting was almost riotous."

Alongside a double-page photograph of the Pope presenting the Queen with an orb, for Prince George, the Guardian's Lizzy Davies wonders: "What do you give the pope who wants for nothing? Who rejects materialism, lives in a guesthouse and likes to be driven in second-hand cars?"

The answer, as spelled out in the Daily Express, is a hamper of royal goods. The paper lists contents including Buckingham Palace honey, Windsor eggs, Sandringham plum conserve and Balmoral whisky. "As the duke held up a single malt, the Pope looked slightly taken aback," recalls Nick Squires, in the Telegraph.

The Sun pictures the Duke of Edinburgh holding aloft the bottle and imagines him asking: "Shall one crack one of one's gags?" The Queen replies: "One shall keep one's mouth shut." Several correspondents note the slightly apologetic tone with which the Queen handed over the "inevitable" gift of a signed, framed photographs of herself and the duke.

Meanwhile, the Times's Valentine Low reminds readers that the original reason for the Queen's "four hours on Italian soil" was to visit President Giorgio Napolitano who, it's said, has "a high regard for the Queen".

He writes: "The story goes that he has three photographs in his office: one of his family, one of the Pope and one of the Queen. Now, after their exchange of gifts, he has another one. But no chutney."

Bubble trouble?

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Following reports of house prices continuing to climb, the Independent says Business Secretary Vince Cable has suggested "the bubble developing in the housing market could be more serious than before the last property crash", although not quite in those terms.

"A family on an average income is nowhere near able to afford a house at the average price," Mr Cable is quoted as saying. In its editorial, the paper says Mr Cable is right in his assessment. It describes Britain's house-building rate as "pathetic, indefensible and a source of growing injustice", adding: "The solution is to do a lot more building. [Mr Cable's] challenge is to compel the government of which he is a part to stop talking and make it happen."

"Is the housing bubble trouble?" asks the Sun, describing the causes and effects of a surge in prices. It hears from estate agents who describe it as "unsustainable" and express concern at people "over-stretching themselves".

However, reviewing the papers for the BBC News Channel, financial analyst Louise Cooper said: "There is not a house price bubble outside of London, or possibly the South East, and this recovery is not based on a housing bubble."

Daily Express deputy editor Michael Booker added: "People do look at... a story on the front page of a national newspaper that says house prices are going up and they do feel it's a good thing."

Meanwhile, the Mail advises: "If you want to make the most of the property boom and sell your home, it might be best to take down any woodchip wallpaper, mirrored ceilings or nude portraits first." It says these items were identified as the biggest house-viewing turn-offs in a survey by a property website.

Turn-ons listed in the Times include fitted kitchens, wood-burning stoves and concealed appliances.

Bitter Taste?

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Several papers follow up the Daily Mail's revelation that TV cook Nigella Lawson was prevented from boarding a Los Angeles-bound flight because of her admission to a court that she'd taken cocaine.

The Independent says she's been told to go to the US embassy to apply for a travel visa and lists other British stars - such as musicians Pete Doherty and Amy Winehouse - previously barred entry. The Times says Ms Lawson may be ordered to provide "medical proof" that she's not used drugs for a year before being allowed into the US.

"Why haven't this lot been barred too?" wonders the Daily Mirror, naming comedian and former heroin addict Russell Brand, model Kate Moss, who was embroiled in a cocaine scandal in 2006, and Oasis frontman Liam Gallagher, who has admitted using drugs.

The ban will "cost her a lot of dough", reckons the Daily Star, which says it could mean "million in lost earnings" as a result of it stunting her TV career stateside. However, the Mail reckons Ms Lawson's TV cookery contest, The Taste, has already "gone off the boil". It cites TV network sources saying there's unlikely to be another series, in light of dwindling viewing figures.

And there is no sympathy from Sun columnist Katie Hopkins: "God Bless America... The Americans have the sort of strict immigration and passport controls we need to adopt here."

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