David Cameron has opened the door to tougher regulation of MPs as he was again forced to defend his Culture Secretary over her expenses.
The Prime Minister said he was ready to look at reforming the policing of politicians’ behaviour. The move came as the row over Maria Miller’s mortgage claims showed little sign of dying down.
The Commons Standards Committee has come in for fierce criticism since over-ruling an independent report recommending Mrs Miller repay £45,000. Instead, the cross-party body told her to apologise and hand back just £5,800 – sparking accusations that MPs were “marking their own homework”.
Anxiety has been increasing among Tories over fallout from the affair, while Edinburgh Labour MP Sheila Gilmore upped the pressure by making a formal complaint about Mrs Miller’s “contemptuous” 32-second apology to the House last week.
The Cabinet minister has also been forced to deny that she will seek to dodge a capital gains tax (CGT) bill potentially running into tens of thousands of pounds after making a £1.2 million profit on the sale of her part-taxpayer-funded London home. Mrs Miller bought the five-bedroom terrace property for £234,000 in 1996, and claimed around £90,000 in running costs over four years – almost the maximum allowed – after being elected to parliament in 2005.
Parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Hudson concluded she should instead have designated it her main home, and received expenses oin her Basingstoke constituency.
A spokeswoman for the MP made clear she would tell HM Revenue and Customs that the London home – sold for just under £1.5m in February – was not her primary residence between 2005 and 2009. “HMRC will present her with a bill,” the spokeswoman said. “There is no hiding anything here.”
Profits on the sale of a main home are generally exempt from CGT, but the taxman will calculate a liability based on any periods in which the property was used as a second residence.
Based on the £1.2m profit, the four years in which Mrs Miller claimed expenses against the house could leave her owing around £70,000.
The spokeswoman said: “The sale of the Wimbledon property in February falls in a tax year that has not yet been assessed.She will, of course, deal with the matter in accordance with HM Revenue and Customs rules and pay any tax that is due.”
On a visit to Clapham, south London, yesterday Mr Cameron was asked about polling which showed most Tories believed Mrs Miller should be out of a job.
“What matters is doing the right thing. I think Maria has done the right thing by repaying the money, making an apology and now getting on with her job,” he said.
Some have claimed she has remained in her post because she is a state-educated woman in a Cabinet dominated by Eton graduates.But the Prime Minister said: “Maria Miller is in her job because she is doing a good job as Culture Secretary.”
Mr Cameron stressed that regulation of expenses had been handed to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority.
He hinted that reforms could be taken further. “If there are further changes that people think are appropriate, I’m very open to suggestions,” he said.
Tory back-benchers have been privately expressing irritation that the row is disrupting the local and European election campaigns.