Maria Miller expenses: Culture Secretary in hot water as she's ordered to repay £5,800 claim

Culture Secretary ordered to apologise to House of Commons

Deputy Political Editor

Maria Miller faced anger after she delivered a 31-second apology in response to a damning report which accused her of trying to thwart an investigation into her parliamentary expenses claims.

David Cameron stood by his embattled Culture Secretary, dismissing calls for her to be sacked over her mortgage claims.

Following a 15-month investigation, Mrs Miller was ordered to say sorry for her delaying tactics and to repay £5,800 of wrongly claimed mortgage expenses.

The rebukes were issued by the all-party Standards Committee which examined her use of the second home allowance for MPs with constituencies outside London.

Although it watered down the recommendation from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that she should return £45,000, the verdict was a grave embarrassment for the minister and a blow to her political career.

Kathryn Hudson, the commissioner, took a swipe at her for “misrepresenting” her investigation in an attempt to discredit it.

The committee accused Mrs Miller of breaking the MPs' code of conduct by adopting a “legalistic” attitude to the Commissioner's investigation and of stringing it out with “lengthy procedural challenges”.

Following the reprimand, she apologised in the Commons in a 79-word statement lasting just over half a minute.

David Cameron gave full backing to the minister, one of just four female members of the Cabinet, and insisted the matter was closed.

But the Labour MP John Mann called for her to be fired, protesting that her apology showed a lack of respect to the public, MPs and the committee.

A Conservative backbencher said: “Anyone close to Cameron or around him is given protection in a way that others aren't.

“Back in 2009 at the height of the expenses crisis, Cameron was only too happy to throw people to the wolves.“

The controversy centres on more than £90,000 of claims by Mrs Miller over four years for the London property which she designated as her second home and where her parents lived.

The committee cleared her of fiddling her expenses, but instructed her to repay £5,800 that she had inadvertently overclaimed because her invoices to the taxpayer failed to reflect cuts in interest rates.

The investigation began with the disclosure that Mrs Miller designated cottages which she rented in her constituency of Basingstoke, Hants, as her main residence and claimed expenses on her London property where her parents also lived.

The committee ruled that Mrs Miller should have nominated her house in the capital as her main home because she spent most nights there.

But it admitted that the judgement was “finely balanced” and considered she had acted reasonably in the light of the “guidance available at the time”.

It cleared her of breaking the rules on expenses by moving her parents into her family home, which had been the key charge against her.

In her statement to the Commons, Mrs Miller stressed the allegation that the taxpayer funded her parents' living costs had been ”dismissed”.

She said: “The committee did recommend that I apologise to the House for my attitude to the commissioner's inquiry and I of course unreservedly apologise.

“I fully accept the recommendations of the committee and thank them for bringing this matter to an end.”

But Mr Mann, who made the initial complaint about her claims, called on Mr Cameron to dismiss her from the Cabinet.

“Given David Cameron's strong statements on ”cleaning up expenses“ in the past, he will be accused of hypocrisy if he does not sack Maria Miller today,” he said.

“Maria Miller's apology, lasting only a few seconds, shows a lack of respect to Parliament, the Committee on Standards and the public.”

Mr Cameron's official spokesman said the Prime Minister had spoken to Mrs Miller and offered her his “full, strong, very warm support”.

He rejected suggestions her position was more secure because she was a woman.

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