Maria Miller row: Cameron faces questions, Labour says

Mrs Miller's Commons apology was criticised by Labour as "contemptuous"

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David Cameron faces "serious questions" over a call made to a newspaper investigating Culture Secretary Maria Miller's expenses, Labour has said.

Mrs Miller has apologised to MPs after she was ordered to repay £5,800 for over-claiming mortgage expenses.

Labour said she and the PM should say "what they knew" about a call to a reporter from a government adviser who mentioned the Leveson press inquiry.

The Tories said Mrs Miller's apology had drawn a line under the issue.

'Straight answers'

Grant Shapps says there is nowhere else for the matter to go

The row originally erupted in December 2012 after the Daily Telegraph reported that Mrs Miller had claimed £90,718 in expenses towards mortgage payments on a house in south London that the MP shared with her parents.

A parliamentary commissioner, who conducted the initial investigation, ruled she should repay £45,800 but this was cut to £5,800 by the House of Commons Committee on Standards.

However, the newspaper has now released a taped telephone conversation between the culture secretary's special adviser Jo Hindley and a reporter investigating the expenses claims in which Ms Hindley refers to the Leveson Inquiry into press regulation.

It comes a day after the prime minister's official spokesman, Craig Oliver, said former Telegraph editor Tony Gallagher's claim that he had made a similar call was "utterly false".

In its leader column, the Telegraph said the reference to Mrs Miller's involvement in deciding press legislation was made in order to convince it to back away from getting "straight answers".

Maria Miller Maria Miller apologised to MPs for her attitude towards an inquiry into her expenses

In the tape Ms Hindley said another reporter from the paper had "doorstepped" Mrs Miller's father, who had just come out of hospital, at the south London house.

Analysis

Both Maria Miller and Downing Street would have hoped that her repaying nearly £6,000 and making an albeit brief apology to the House of Commons would have put this saga to bed.

But several things have conspired against their desire to move on.

First, the decision by the committee of MPs to reduce the amount Mrs Miller had to repay - from nearly £46,000 - has been seen by the opposition as too lenient.

Second, the publication of some of the correspondence between Mrs Miller and the committee, which led them to say she'd breached the ministerial code through her attitude, has allowed her critics to widen their attack on her beyond the details of her expenses claims.

Third, the emergence of the tape recording, released by the Daily Telegraph, in which Mrs Miller's adviser appears to link the Leveson inquiry into press standards with the paper's investigations into Mrs Miller's expenses, has opened up yet another front for attack over the correct behaviour of her special advisers.

The push back from Maria Miller and the government has been firm. All the adviser was doing was pointing out that the paper should not have gone to Mrs Miller's house when her elderly father was there and had just come out of hospital, they say.

Can it continue? Yes, Labour will persevere in applying pressure. The sooner it all fades from the front pages, the more secure Maria Miller's position becomes.

She added: "Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors' meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I'm just going to flag up that connection for you to think about.

Labour's shadow leader of the House of Commons Angela Eagle said the release of the recording raised "serious questions" for Mrs Miller and the prime minister.

"They urgently need to make clear what they knew about these calls and what action they took about them. There is also the important question of whether there has been a breach of the code of conduct for special advisers or the ministerial code," she said.

'Perverse'

Meanwhile, emails released by the Commons Standards Committee reveal Mrs Miller told the commissioner investigating her that she might go over her head to ask MPs to intervene.

In one email, Mrs Miller said: "It may be that I shall need to refer this to the supervisory jurisdiction of the standards committee but I hope this can be avoided."

In another, she said a decision to uphold the complaint would be "irrational", "perverse" and "unreasonable".

In its report on Tuesday, the committee said Mrs Miller's submission of "incomplete" evidence to the inquiry had breached the MPs' code of conduct and, in addition to ordering her to repay £5,800, said she should apologise to MPs "for her attitude to the commissioner's inquiries".

Mrs Miller made her apology on Thursday and, responding to the latest revelations, Conservative Party chairman Grant Shapps told the BBC: "She has made the apology, but not for the substantive point for which she was reported in the first place by a Labour MP, and it does rather draw a line under the whole thing."

John Mann MP, Labour: "It is quite astonishing that Maria Miller remains in the Cabinet"

However, Labour MP, John Mann, said no line could be drawn under the issue until Mrs Miller had resigned.

Mr Mann made the original complaint that Mrs Miller allowed her parents to live in the property on which she had claimed the £90,718 in second home allowances between 2005 and 2009.

The committee rejected the charge that she or her parents had benefited financially from the arrangements.

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