Maria Miller MP is the latest target of The Telegraph’s expenses investigation (Image via Demos on Flickr)
An investigation by The Telegraph that first appeared on Monday has led to a remarkable set of developments across UK politics as Number 10, the Leveson Report and the Parliamentary Commissioner on Standards have been drawn into the fray.
The investigation began with the revelation that Cabinet minister Maria Miller MP had claimed more than £90,000 in MP expenses over four years. The Telegraph reported that Miller, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, claimed ‘more than £90,000 in taxpayer-funded expenses between 2005 and 2009 for the mortgage and other expenses on a south London property used by her parents.’
Yesterday, The Telegraph released more information, including the revelation that Miller rented a home in an undeclared deal from an important Tory party donor.
But the investigation had been over-shadowed by allegations that The Telegraph was ‘warned off’ the story by the prime minister’s communications chief Craig Oliver. Oliver allegedly told the paper that the story would be ‘poorly timed as ‘she [Maria Miller] is looking at Leveson at the moment’. Miller is currently overseeing implementation of recommendations of Lord Justice Leveson on press reform. Oliver has denied that his conversation amounted to a threat or warning.
Oliver’s call came after one of Miller’s own advisers called a Telegraph reporter and The Telegraph’s public relations chief to ‘flag up’ Miller’s role in press reform.
For a good 12 hours, the high-profile intervention of political staffers risked upstaging the original expenses investigation; earlier today, the political phone call story was the second most-read item on The Telegraph’s website.
But this afternoon’s announcement by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards that he would launch an inquiry into Miller’s expenses has since returned attention to The Telegraph’s original investigation.
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After receiving information from a ‘well-placed source’, The Telegraph launched an investigation into the use of Miller’s second home in London between 2005 and 2009. Miller’s main home for the period in question was a rented property in her constituency of Basingstoke. Under this arrangement, Miller could claim taxpayer-funded expenses for the London home.
But Miller’s parents have been living in the London home since late 1996, according to the Telegraph. Miller has claimed expenses ranging from monthly mortgage instalments of nearly £1,500 to £466 for crockery.
By the time Miller stopped claiming expenses in 2009 – just days before The Telegraph broke its first story on parliamentary expenses – she had claimed £90,718, which falls £115 below the maximum claim.
The Telegraph alleges Miller’s expenses claim breached rules of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, which allows MPs to use second homes only for the purpose of their parliamentary duties. Under the Standards, writes The Telegraph, housing a politician’s parents is ‘specifically prohibited’.
Yesterday, The Telegraph alleged that Miller’s constituency home was rented from former treasurer and chairman of Miller’s constituency Conservative party, Nigel McNair Scott. The Telegraph reports that Miller paid £6,000 below its current advertised price. Miller and McNair Scott have denied that the property was rented out at ‘mate’s rates’.
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Miller’s spokesperson has denied any suggestion of questionable arrangements, claiming that Miller’s financial arrangements have been cleared by two previous audits.
The Telegraph’s ongoing investigation into MP expenses, ‘The Expenses Files’, began in 2009. Since then, it has analysed costly expenses claimed by MPs ranging from former prime minister Gordon Brown to lesser-known backbenchers.
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