The minister and a warning to the Telegraph before expenses story
Maria Miller’s advisers warned The Daily Telegraph to consider the minister’s role in implementing the Leveson Report before this newspaper published details of her expenses.
By Claire Newell and Holly Watt
10:00PM GMT 11 Dec 2012
The Culture Secretary’s special adviser said she wanted to “flag up” the Cabinet minister’s connection to press regulation after reporters established that Mrs Miller’s parents lived in her taxpayer-funded second home.
On Monday after initially refusing to answer questions about the controversial claims, Mrs Miller and her advisers indicated that this newspaper had timed its disclosures to overshadow Monday’s announcement about same-sex marriage.
The Daily Telegraph has decided to disclose details of the private conversations amid widespread concern about the potential dangers of politicians being given a role in overseeing the regulation of the press.
This newspaper first approached the Culture Secretary’s office on Thursday afternoon last week, a day before David Cameron announced that the Government would be backing gay marriage and allowing ceremonies to take place in some churches.
When a reporter approached Mrs Miller’s office last Thursday, her special adviser, Joanna Hindley, pointed out that the Editor of The Daily Telegraph was involved in meetings with the Prime Minister and the Culture Secretary over implementing the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson.
“Maria has obviously been having quite a lot of editors’ meetings around Leveson at the moment. So I am just going to kind of flag up that connection for you to think about,” said Miss Hindley.
Miss Hindley also said the reporter should discuss the issue with “people a little higher up your organisation”.
Miss Hindley immediately contacted The Daily Telegraph’s head of public affairs to raise concerns about the story. The newspaper decided to delay publication in order to ensure the facts were correct.
Having carried out further checks, the newspaper concluded that the story was accurate and decided to publish the article at the first opportunity, meaning it appeared on the day same-sex marriage was debated in the Commons.
Miss Hindley also accused The Daily Telegraph of harassing Mrs Miller’s father, John Lewis.
In fact, reporters had a brief conversation with Mr Lewis in order to establish how long he had lived with Mrs Miller. Over the course of the conversation, Mr Lewis said he enjoyed reading The Daily Telegraph.
Mrs Miller also contacted The Daily Telegraph to complain about her parents being approached.
“Irrespective of whatever you are investigating, I cannot see a justification for this family intrusion. I should be grateful if you could confirm that you now understand the basis of my concern and that on reflection this could have been handled differently,” wrote Mrs Miller.
She also claimed that the journalist had not identified herself at the start of the conversation, which was inaccurate.
Mrs Miller was on Monday reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards by the Labour MP John Mann.
Mr Mann said that the arrangement was “identical” to that of the former Labour minister Tony McNulty, who in 2009 was required to pay back more than £13,000 in expenses claimed on a second home occupied by his parents.
Mrs Miller claimed more than £90,000 on a house in Wimbledon, south-west London, between 2005 and 2009, where her parents lived with her family.
A spokesman for Mrs Miller said the parents lived with the family “as dependants.” The parliamentary commissioner John Lyon stated in his report on Mr McNulty that this was unacceptable.
Aides for Mrs Miller also insisted that her arrangements were approved by the parliamentary fees office and audited twice. Mr McNulty’s expenses were also approved by the fees office, while Sir Thomas Legg, who carried out an audit of MPs’ expenses, emphasised that his review was limited in scope and pointed out that the fees office was “vulnerable” to MPs’ interests.
Sir Thomas concluded that MPs, including David Laws, who subsequently resigned from the Government over his expenses, had no issues.