Maria Miller expenses scandal: Tory MPs warn Culture Secretary's continued presence in Cabinet is damaging the party as she tells constituents 'I have let you down'

Mrs Miller's parliamentary private secretary claims her boss is the victim of media 'witch hunt' because of her role in implementing the Leveson Report on newspaper standards

deputy political editor

Some politicians claim they are “too busy” to worry about their standards of behaviour, three independent members of the Commons anti-sleaze watchdog warned as they demanded a sweeping overhaul of how MPs police themselves.

Their intervention came as David Cameron faced open rebellion on the Tory benches over his decision to stand behind the Culture Secretary Maria Miller after she was forced to apologise over her parliamentary expenses.

The issue is set to come to a head tomorrow night at a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Conservative MPs which will be addressed by the Prime Minister.

As several MPs went public over the damage the episode is doing to the party, Mrs Miller's ministerial aide mounted a fight-back, accusing newspapers of indulging in a “witch-hunt” because of the Culture Secretary's role in overseeing the press.

A former Commons Speaker, Baroness Boothroyd, called for Mrs Miller’s resignation. She said warned of “the toxic damage this is doing to the reputation of Parliament” and added: “It’s a matter of honour and she should go.”

Pressure for reform of the system of self-regulation of the Commons has grown since MPs on the Standards Committee watered down a recommendation from the Standards Commissioner that Mrs Miller repay £45,000 of mortgage overpayments.

The committee's three lay members, who take part in discussions but are not allowed vote on its reports, added their weight to the calls with a stinging analysis of its operation.

In a joint statement, they demanded an urgent “fundamental rewrite” of the Code of Conduct governing MPs' behaviour to ensure it is “seen to be fit for purpose and future-proofed for the digital world and for the next Parliament”.

The trio - Sharon Darcy, Peter Jinman and Walter Rader - said the Commons needed to prove it was “not just paying lip service to the importance of high standards” and reported: “Several of those we have met have said that elected members were often 'too busy to spend much time on standards'.”

Ms Miller kept a low profile when she arrived for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street this morning, 8 April 2014. She has received the backing of the Prime Minister David Cameron (Reuters) Ms Miller kept a low profile when she arrived for a cabinet meeting in Downing Street this morning, 8 April 2014. She has received the backing of the Prime Minister David Cameron (Reuters)

They also disclosed that some committee meetings had even been abandoned because no MPs turned up.

Downing Street sources have insisted that Mr Cameron would not bow to growing demands for Mrs Miller to be fired over her expenses claims.

The Culture Secretary sought to repair some of the damage caused by her brief apology to the Commons last week by telling her constituency newspaper, the Basingstoke Gazette, of her remorse over the saga. She said: “I am devastated that this has happened, and that I have let you down.”

Her parliamentary private secretary, Mary Macleod, claimed her boss was the victim of a media “witch hunt” because of her role in implementing the Leveson Report on newspaper standards and legislating for same-sex marriages.

“In some of the newspapers it has been like a witch hunt where they don't like the work that Maria has done on Leveson and gay marriage,” Ms MacLeod said.

“Therefore what they are trying to do is to find a way to get her out of the job.”

However, a succession of Conservative MPs broke their silence to warn that Mrs Miller's survival in the Cabinet was damaging the party.

In his first public comments on the controversy, the Ed Miliband said Mr Cameron faced “serious questions” over the issue.

“The ball is in his court - he's got to answer those questions about her status in the Government,” the Labour leader said.

‘Extremely damaging’: Tory MPs on Miller case

Zac Goldsmith, MP for Richmond Park “I am surprised Maria Miller hasn’t stepped down. This is a decision for her to make or it is a decision for David Cameron to make.”

Philip Davies, MP for Shipley “Whether she resigns is a matter for her but obviously the whole thing is extremely damaging for the Conservative Party, it’s damaging for Parliament as a whole... we all get tarnished by the same brush.”

Matthew Offord, MP for Hendon “Knocking on doors in my constituency this weekend, people did raise the expenses issue, and they believe nothing has changed.”

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