Maria Miller expenses inquiry launched by watchdog

Probe follows complaint that Culture Secretary had claimed more than £90,000 in second home allowances towards the cost of a house where her parents lived

The Culture Secretary Maria Miller is facing a parliamentary sleaze investigation over allegations that she allowed her parents to live rent-free in a property paid for by the taxpayer.

David Cameron today declared his “full support” for Ms Miller, who has insisted that her expenses were “absolutely as they should be”.

However in an interview she admitted that one of the two “independent” audits of her Parliamentary claims between 2005 and 2009 had actually been led by Mr Cameron’s chief of staff.

She was also unable to explain why she stopped claiming on her Wimbledon home in 2009 — just as the expenses scandal erupted.

Her case will now be investigated by John Lyon, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, who said he was opening an inquiry into allegations that Mrs Miller had claimed more than £90,000 in second home allowances towards the cost of a house where her parents also lived.

Labour MP John Mann complained to Mr Lyon earlier this week about the arrangements, which he said were “identical” to those of former Labour minister Tony McNulty, who in 2009 was required to pay back more than £13,000 in expenses claimed on a second home occupied by his parents.

In that case, the Commissioner said Mr McNulty had effectively “subsidised” his parents from the public purse by allowing them to live rent-free.

Interviewed by the Evening Standard, Mrs Miller said one of the two audits was carried out by former civil servant Sir Thomas Legg - who was called in to review all MPs’ claims at the height of the expenses scandal - and the other by the Conservative Party.

Asked whether Sir Thomas was aware that her parents were living at her designated second home, Mrs Miller said: “I obviously spoke to the Fees Office about my claims and they were happy that everything was in order.”

Arriving in Brussels for a European Council summit Mr Cameron backed his Culture Secretary.

“Maria Miller does an absolutely excellent job as Culture Secretary and she has my full support,” he said.

“A newspaper has asked her a number of questions. So far as I can see, she has got excellent answers to all those questions.

“I am sure she will answer them and then get on with her job, which is what she should do.”

Ms Miller is currently involved in drawing up plans for a new system of press regulation in the wake of the Leveson report and some in Government believe that the timing of the allegations against her were politically motivated.

Today she took part in all-party talks on the Parliamentary response to Leveson which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport described as “constructive”.

Meanwhile the Cabinet Office Minister Oliver Letwin is finalising a plan for a new press regulator, enshrined in a royal charter, that would see a group of heavyweight public figures – such as eminent academics – with no links to newspaper publishers given the job of overseeing the new body.

The Letwin plan is expected to be unveiled next Tuesday, on the same day Conservative ministers plan to publish an alternative draft bill that is intended to show that press regulation by statute would not work.

Letwin’s “verifiers” – it is not clear how they will be appointed – will not be led by a serving judge, in contrast to the statutory-backed plans proposed by Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman and LibDem peer Lord Lester.

The idea is they would meet every few years to certify whether the new regulator was effective.