Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Maria Miller expenses - fraud on the electorate more than money?

Maria Miller - I have no doubt the press are hounding her to attack the Leveson charter. The headlines appear to overstate the case against her; but a political and a legal case to answer there certainly is. I still believe her adviser may have meant not to threaten the press, but to point out that hounding a Minister leading on press regulation would look oppressive. It seems Maria Miller has certainly given some genuine ammunition, which has been lost amid the headlines, pack circling and political opportunism of her press and political opponents alike. I finally thought I should get behind the soundbites and look at the report.

She may well have engaged in fraudulent behaviour and her conduct has further damaged belief in the integrity of politicians. That is as usual unfair on most honest and genuine politicians. She pretended her main home was in her Basingstoke constituency when it was in London (a fraud on the public), and she claimed for interest that she was not entitled to. The Committee may well be right that only £5,800 was clearly obtained in breach of the rules but Maria Miller's denial that she intended to claim interest on a £50,000 increase that she was not entitled to seems flimsy. The allowances may have been far too generous (so MPs could and can legitimately claim for very large amounts). However it still seems implausible that she didn't realise she was claiming this (much smaller than Commissioner ruled) sum of money that she was not entitled to. That would be actual fraud. The rules were certainly complex - the Commissioner highlighted that only original mortgage interest could be claimed, not on extensions to the mortgage even when that was before the claimant became an MP. This £50,000 was after so very obviously not entitled to be claimed (unless it fell under strict exemptions to the prohibition).

The full report of the Committee on Standards is here; with Appendix 1 the summary from the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards. You can click a link to each section and then back to contents etc.


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