UK Politics

Maria Miller has done right thing, says David Cameron

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

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.

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.

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.

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Image caption 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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