As many of you already no doubt are aware, Maria Miller, Conservative MP and Culture Secretary, was today slapped rather tamely on the wrist, ordered to apologise and repay £5,800 after being found to have overclaimed the money on her mortgage in 2009. Despite a hugely critical report by Kathryn Hudson, Standards Commissioner, Ms. Miller is still in her job and in the Cabinet.
Needless to say, I think the decision is ridiculous and Maria Miller, at the very least, should be resigning immediately from both the Cabinet and Parliament. But what really astounds me is that the decision was made by a group of her peers - ie. other MPs who sit on the House of Commons Committee on Standards, and not an independent body or the Police. It’s frankly ludicrous that this group was allowed to decide on this matter. So it got me wondering, who exactly sat on this Committee?
Well, thanks to this document (Page 5) I can tell you that the current membership of the Committee is as follows:
For some reason that I cannot explain, the list set off some alarms bells in the deep recesses of my brain. Whether is was something I’d read during the expenses scandal, or something more recent, I’m not sure, but a couple of the names jumped out at me. So, at a little after midnight this evening, I decided to do a little Googling and see what I could find on these members of the “Standards Committee”.
And I was astounded at what I found. Let’s go through them one by one, shall we?
Rt Hon Kevin Barron MP (Chair)
Mr Barron claimed £1500 a month to rent from a colleague, as reported by the Telegraph here. This is the man who sits as CHAIR of the Standards Committee, and yet is found to be doing this.
Sir Paul Beresford MP
Sir Paul, one of the most influential dentists in the country, designated his West London home, which included his surgery, as his second home on his parliamentary expenses. He claimed thousands on this “second home” according to the Telegraph here.
Mr Robert Buckland MP
Mr Buckland was elected to the House of Commons in 2010. This, of course, means he was not part of the expenses scandal that we all saw in 2009. He has, however, been criticised for claiming energy bills on expenses (see the comments at the bottom for details of his claim).
Mr Christopher Chope MP
Well, where to start? Mr Chope not only claimed over £800 to strip down and recover a sofa, he also claimed £10,000 to re-roof a property owned jointly with his wife. He claimed £136,992 in 2007/08. The report is here. And he sits on the Standards Committee??
Rt Hon Mr Tom Clarke MP
Mr Clarke designated the Sloane Club in Chelsea as second home, and claimed about £1,500 a month while in London. Claimed £400 a month for food, according to the Telegraph.
Mr Geoffrey Cox MP
Whilst Mr Cox has been quite open and transparent regarding his expenses claims, questions have been raised about the amount of money Mr Cox earns from his second job.
Sir Nick Harvey MP
Sir Nicholas Barton Harvey claimed money for renting a property in London whilst also renting out his own property, as the Huffington Post revealed here. He also, shamefully, accepted £7.20 in expenses for attending a Rememberance Sunday parade.
Fiona O’Donnell MP
In 2010 Ms. O’Donnell had to defend expenses that were the highest in Scotland, with over £14,500 in a three-and-a-half month period. She was elected in 2010.
Heather Wheeler MP
Mrs Wheeler was elected in 2010. She was criticised over claiming energy bills last year.
Dr Alan Whitehead MP
Dr Whitehead claimed mortgage interest payments of up to £730 per month on his second home in London. Also claimed £1,942.98 for a replacement boiler according to the Telegraph.
Annette Brooke MP
Mrs Brooke has been criticised in her local press for having the highest expenses claims in Dorset. She also claimed expenses for fizzy drinks and chocolates, despite leading a fight against obesity.
So, despite a couple of notable exceptions, all of the so-called House of Commons Committee on Standards have previously had their own issues with expenses and parliamentary standards. Not exactly the impartial group you’d want to be conducting this sort of investigation into one of their peers, is it? And it’s also noteworthy that over half the Committee are Coalition members, who I have absolutely no doubt will have wanted to support their colleague.
It’s simply not good enough, and there are definite questions that need to be answered here.
Not least being why the hell is the Committee on Standards made up of people who have fallen so badly foul themselves of the rules on standards themselves?