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Friday 4th April 2014 | 12:49
The Chair of the Committee on Standards and the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards are issuing this joint press statement to correct misconceptions in the reporting of the inquiry into Maria Miller.
As both the Commissioner’s memorandum and the Committee’s report make clear, this case dealt with complex matters relating to the rules as they were nearly a decade ago. Both the Commissioner’s memorandum and the Committee’s report set out in full the reasoning behind their conclusions, and the evidence which they used in coming to those conclusions.
Designation of Main Home: The Commissioner considered that this designation was “finely balanced” and her memorandum notes that “Mrs Miller has informed me, and I accept, that the costs of the Basingstoke properties, had she designated them as her second homes, would have also have been above the ACA limit”. The Committee’s report sets out in detail why it made no criticisms of Mrs Miller for her error in designation, noting that at the time when Mrs Miller made the designation, it would have appeared that the number of nights spent in the home was the primary test.
Mrs Miller’s claims for mortgage interests: The Commissioner’s finding that Mrs Miller was only entitled to claim for the initial purchase costs of the property as it had been in 1996 was based on the reading of the rules as they were in 2005. The Committee’s report sets out why it rejected Mrs Miller’s claims that the Commissioner had misread the rules, but nonetheless considered that the “strict interpretation of the rules as they stood in 2005” was, to use the Commissioner’s description of the rule change, “too harsh”. The Committee noted the rule was directed at sitting MPs, not at decisions made long before someone entered parliament. No thought had been given to the reasonableness of a rule which would retrospectively bite on decisions made before someone was elected, or even before they had contemplated standing for election.
It should be noted that after the Commissioner had concluded her inquiry the Committee was able to secure further information from Mrs Miller on which to base its conclusions. The Committee required Mrs Miller to give more information about her mortgage claims, and as a result it was revealed that Mrs Miller’s mortgage had increased by over £150,000, after her election not the £50,000 that the Commissioner had discovered. The Committee’s calculations as to whether Mrs Miller’s claims were justified were all based on this higher figure.
Mrs Miller’s attitude towards the Commissioner’s inquiry: While the Commissioner criticised Mrs Miller for her response to the Commissioner’s inquiries, it was the Committee which decided that this attitude was in itself a breach of the code of Conduct and which censured Mrs Miller for her lack of cooperation, noting that the system relied on MPs responding to the Commissioner’s inquiries fully and frankly, rather than trying to argue a case in a legalistic way.
Press reporting: The Committee on Standards deals with complex matters. Its reports and associated documents provide clear, detailed explanation of its reasoning and decisions. The Committee expects its reports to speak for themselves. All journalists who have inquired about this matter have been directed by staff to the relevant sections of the report.
Kevin Barron MP, Chair of the Committee on Standards and Kathryn Hudson, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.