Maria Miller quits: Cameron defends 'honest' Parliament

David Cameron says the anger over expenses was "very raw and needs to be acted on"

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David Cameron has defended the reputation of Parliament after Maria Miller's resignation, saying it is full of "good and honest" MPs.

The prime minister said expenses rules had been improved since 2010, although more could be done to put Parliament's integrity "beyond doubt".

But Labour leader Ed Miliband said the PM did not "get" public anger over the former culture secretary's conduct.

He accused Mr Cameron of being "an apologist for unacceptable behaviour".

Mrs Miller quit the government after a week of negative headlines about her expenses claims between 2005 and 2009, her lack of co-operation with an independent inquiry and her brief apology to Parliament last week.

She has been replaced as culture secretary by financial secretary to the Treasury Sajid Javid, reducing the number of women in the cabinet from four to three.

In other developments:

  • Mrs Miller is donating the £17,000 pay-off she is entitled to on leaving the cabinet to charity
  • In a mini-reshuffle, Treasury minister Nicky Morgan has been promoted and also made minister for women
  • UKIP leader Nigel Farage called for residents of Basingstoke to hold a "recall" vote on Mrs Miller's future as their MP
  • Tory MP Michael Fabricant tweeted that he had been sacked as Conservative Party vice-chairman for his comments about Mrs Miller and his opposition to the HS2 rail link
'Step forward'

Speaking at Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Cameron said it had been right for him to stand by Mrs Miller, as she had been cleared of the main charge against her and had apologised for her behaviour to MPs.

View from Basingstoke

The large North Hampshire town of Basingstoke is famed for its many roundabouts among other things and, despite being a Conservative stronghold, for most constituents Maria Miller's resignation from cabinet is the right outcome, even if it materialised in a roundabout way.

A common theme that came back time and time again, is that the claiming of these expenses was wrong and she should have resigned earlier, or indeed been sacked.

This constituency of just over 75,000 people is not used to being in the glare of national media and the "drama" is perceived to be unwelcome attention.

Historically, Basingstoke has been a Conservative safe seat.

Having served as their MP for nine years, people on the High Street were quick to point out the good work Miller had done locally, serving with commitment and enthusiasm.

The acid test of this opinion will be revealed at the ballot box come the next election.

To get rid of someone "at the first sign of trouble" would have been a sign of weakness, not leadership, he insisted.

"I hope the one lesson that won't be learnt is that the right thing to do as soon as someone has to answer allegations is to instantly remove them rather than give them a chance to clear their name and get on with job," he told MPs.

But the prime minister acknowledged the row showed public feeling about MPs' expenses was still "raw" and "needed to be acted on".

All complaints about current expenses claims were now dealt with by an independent body, he said, while "legacy" cases, which related to claims made before 2010 - such as Mrs Miller's - were ruled on by a committee of MPs which had non-MP "lay members" on it, he argued.

He said he was willing to meet other party leaders and the Commons authorities to discuss further steps.

"We should do everything we can to show this is a good and honest Parliament, with good and hard-working people in it. That is the assumption I start (with) and I make no apology for that," he said.

'Bandwagon'

But Mr Miliband said the prime minister had made a "terrible error of judgement" in supporting Mrs Miller and had been the "last person in the country to realise her position was untenable".

Ed Miliband accused the prime minister of a "terrible error of judgment"

"This is about him, the fact he still does not understand what she [Mrs Miller] did wrong.

"This is about the members of this country absolutely appalled about the conduct of his government over the last week. It is about members of the public who cannot understand why he did not act".

The affair had undermined public trust in the government and in politics in general, Mr Miliband added.

Start Quote

This decision is a defeat for a minister who believes she has been found not guilty on the central charge of asking the taxpayer to pay for a home for her elderly parents”

End Quote

He said he would hold talks with the prime minister about reforming the system, but claimed Mr Cameron needed "to learn profound lessons about how he runs his government".

"In opposition, he (David Cameron) was an apostle for better standards but he has spent the last week being an apologist for unacceptable behaviour," he told MPs.

Mr Cameron accused Mr Miliband of "jumping on this bandwagon after the whole circus has left town," asking the Labour leader why he had not called for Mrs Miller's resignation when she still had her job.

'Distraction'

Maria Miller: "I wish I could have stayed"

The former culture secretary insisted she took "full responsibility" for her decision to quit amid speculation that she had been forced out by No 10.

Conservative chairman Grant Shapps insisted it had been culture secretary's decision to leave office.

The BBC's Political Editor Nick Robinson said he understood "someone senior" had talked to Mrs Miller on Tuesday about the row and its wider ramifications before she informed PM of her decision to quit.

However, he said it may never be known whether she took the decision herself or told to go.

Mrs Miller was cleared of funding a home for her parents at taxpayers' expense following a 16-month inquiry, but was told to repay £5,800 of the expenses she claimed by the Commons Standards Committee.

The independent parliamentary commissioner for standards had previously recommended she repay £45,000, a discrepancy that has led to calls for change to the way investigations are conducted.

Reshuffle

Nigel Farage says David Cameron's support of Mrs Miller shows "how disconnected he is from public opinion"

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg told the BBC that all expenses investigations should be carried out using Parliament's current rules.

He said: "There is a legitimate issue to ask whether we could accelerate that change for those cases which are still hanging around from the past."

Amid the fallout from Mrs Miller's resignation, Labour claimed that Mr Cameron had put a man in overall charge of women's policy.

Nicky Morgan's new role as minister for women does not come with a seat in cabinet - but she will attend cabinet meetings where necessary.

Downing Street said that she will have a brief to monitor women's issues across government and report directly to David Cameron - rather than Mr Javid.

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