Britain’s Culture Secretary Maria Miller resigned from the government of Prime Minister David Cameron on Wednesday, stating that the controversy over her parliamentary expense claims had become a “distraction” to the “vital work” of the government.
She had been forced to repay £5,800 in mortgage payments she over-claimed on her parliamentary expenses.
Responding to Members of Parliament during question hour, Mr. Cameron, who had stood by his minister and party colleague while the pressure on her to resign built up over the last week, defended his decision not to sack her. He said that she “did do something wrong,” but had apologised to the House of Commons.
In the House, Labour Party leader Ed Miliband accused the Prime Minister of a “terrible error of judgment” in handling the row, which had “undermined trust in politics.”
Sajid Javid, Conservative MP, has been named the new culture secretary, a promotion from his current position as Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
Following a complaint by Labour MP John Mann that Ms. Miller had claimed expenses towards mortgage expenses in breach of the existing rules, the Parliamentary Commissioner for standards Kathryn Hudson opened an investigation into her expense claims last year.
Ms. Hudson concluded that Ms. Miller over-claimed expenses towards mortgage interest payments and council tax by £45,000, and recommended that she repay the amount. Ms. Hudson also criticised the cavalier and uncooperative attitude of Ms. Miller towards the investigation.
The Commissioner’s recommendation went before the Commons Committee on Standards, which comprises members of Parliament.
After considering the matter, the Committee recalculated Ms. Miller’s dues at the considerably reduced figure of £5,800. The Committee also said that Ms. Miller should apologise to the House of Commons because her “attitude” towards the inquiry had breached the parliamentary code of conduct.
Ms. Miller’s perfunctory 32-second apology to the House only fuelled the demands from her detractors for her resignation.
In Britain, the expenses scandal of 2009 that engulfed all sections of the political establishment has left a bitter aftertaste, with the public intolerant of even a whiff of corruption at the tax-payers’ expense.
Ms. Miller’s resignation was not unexpected. With elections to the European Parliament due next month, and general elections next year, the Conservative Party could not afford to be seen as condoning irregular conduct by its ministers, especially when it relates to fudging expense claims.