Parliamentarily Over-Privileged

with No Comments

Geoffrey Chaucer’s original “The Miller’s Tale”, written in the 14th century, is seen as a ribald parody that alludes to cheating, swindling, artifice, chicanery and embezzlement in the Church. Today, the story of Maria Miller’s sharp practice and deception, intended to result in personal financial gain at the tax-payer’s expense, is yet another example of the totally unacceptable impunity that has come to protect members of the British elite, such as Jeremy Thorpe (for his attempt to murder his former gay lover), from accounting for their skulduggery. In view of the fact that the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson, “established beyond reasonable doubt” that Miller claimed for mortgage interest against a mortgage significantly larger than the one required to buy her property (a property, which it turned out, was not in fact her second home and, therefore, should not have been eligible), and that a concerted effort has been made to cover up Miller’s false claims.

In 2014, after investigating, Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Kathryn Hudson, concluded that, because the former Culture Secretary, Maria Miller, MP, had claimed that her rented, four-bedroom cottage in Basingstoke was her main home, Miller considered she was entitled, under parliamentary expenses rules, to £90,718 for mortgage interest and the upkeep on what she said was a “second” home in Wimbledon, south London.

However, Kathryn Hudson discovered that Miller’s parents and children had been living in the five-bedroom Victorian house in Wimbledon the whole time, something which also gave the lie to Miller’s claim that the house had been “unused for 19 weeks of the year”.

Kathryn Hudson went on to assert that she had: “established beyond reasonable doubt that between June, 2005, and April, 2006, Mrs Miller claimed for mortgage interest against a mortgage significantly larger than the one required to buy her property,” and then added several other damning conclusions. Betty Boothroyd, Commons Speaker between 1992 and 2000, accused Miller of “bringing Parliament into disrepute”. Lord Tebbit, a member of the Conservative Party who served in the Cabinet from 1981 to 1987, referred to Miller as “arrogant and greedy”.

The total amount Miller is deemed to have over claimed by is £44,000. Normally, this amounts to a very serious and prosecutable fraud; but not, it seems, for a parliamentarian, for the separate Parliamentary Standards Committee, despite being “aghast at the tone that Miller adopted with Hudson” and that Miller “came out with lawyers and guns blazing”, simply ordered Miller to repay only £5,800 and to apologise for her attitude; something which she did with grudging brevity (see the Committee on Standards – Tenth Report – Maria Miller). This was despite the fact that the Parliamentary Standards Committee agreed with Kathryn Hudson that Miller should have “properly” declared the Wimbledon house as her main family home because she was spending most nights there.

To add insult to injury, Miller sold the large Wimbledon house for just under £1.5 million, making a profit of £1 million. It was in 1996 that she bought the house with her husband, a solicitor, for £234,000 with a 90 per cent mortgage, which she subsequently paid for by falsely claiming, as an MP, that it was her second home. It seems that Miller eventually stopped claiming expenses on her ‘second home’ in Wimbledon to avoid paying capital gains tax of 28% on its sale. Miller has refused to confirm whether she paid any capital gains tax after the property was sold in February, 2014. At the beginning of March, 2014, from the proceeds of the sale, Miller bought a sprawling £1.2 million, 16th-century, countryside home in Hampshire, complete with a main barn with four bedrooms, three reception rooms and a study; an annexe barn with another bedroom and living areas; a large cart shed and a range of outbuildings including a summer house; all set in private gardens totalling 1.6 acres.

Miller New Hampshire Home.JPG Spoils of “Greed and Arrogance”?

By cheating on their expenses claims, members of both houses of Parliament defrauded the British public. Many claimed huge allowances for second homes, based on the fraudulent claim that neither of their houses was their main address. After a parliamentary attempt at covering up these widespread crimes through the use of Freedom of Information legislation, and other ruses (including the shredding of Prime Minister Tony Blair’s expenses records ‘by mistake’ when they became the subject of a legal bid to disclose them), some members were merely sacked, de-selected, retired, suspended for a token period, or obliged to resign. Others made public apologies and simply repaid the amounts, totalling almost £500,000, that they had tried to cheat taxpayers out of. Just a few, such as David Chaytor (a £20,000 fraud), Elliot Morley (a £16,000 fraud) and three other Labour MPs were sent to prison, along with two Conservative peers: Lord Taylor of Warwick and Lord Hanningfield. Subsequently and very suspiciously, the House of Commons authorities destroyed all official records relating to MP’s expenses prior to 2010.

Albert Venn Dicey (February 4, 1835 – April 7, 1922) was a British jurist and constitutional law theorist whose “An Introduction to the Study of the Law of the Constitution (1885)” is considered part of the British constitution. He argued for the impartiality of the courts and insisted that not even those in the highest positions of power were exempt from law.
The “Rule of Law” ensures that leaders, who were elected by the people and whom were given the power and authority by the people, always act in the best interest of those people. Dicey, however, warned that the law must be followed by all, as people in power often thought that they were “above the law.” Dicey argued that the inner tendency of all people in power is to satisfy their personal needs out of public resources. He thus insisted that “no person is above the law and it is law that rules all.” He said:
[E]very official, from the Prime Minister down to a constable or a collector of taxes, is under the same responsibility for every act done without legal justification as any other citizen.
 [Appointed government officials and politicians, alike]…and all subordinates, though carrying out the commands of their official superiors, are as responsible for any act which the law does not authorise as is any private and unofficial person (Dicey [1885] 2006).
Unfortunately, however, the Jeremy Thorpe case demonstrates clearly that this principle is not complied with, such that a member of the Establishment can get away with (attempted) murder. Tory ministers even went so far as to pass a law to silence jurors who objected to the courtroom farce that acquitted Thorpe, by threatening them with jail for speaking out.
Jeremy Bentham: “Where there is no publicity there is no justice. Publicity is the very soul of justice. It is the keenest spur to exertion and the surest of all guards against improbity.”

The Parliamentary Standards Commissioner, in using the term ‘beyond reasonable doubt’, strongly suggests that there are solid grounds on which to prosecute Miller. Furthermore, Miller was a government minister and, as an M.P., should expect to be subject to a high level of public accountability. Thus, to ensure public faith in the fairness of the way the law is applied in Britain, it is essential the public are informed as to why Miller is not being prosecuted. Tellingly, however, the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) continues to obstruct exposure, thereby stoking suspicions of a cover up similar to that adopted in Jeremy Thorpe’s case of attempted murder. Initially it confirmed it was holding information about this matter, but repeatedly claimed exemption under Section 30(1)(a) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Section 30(1)(a) relates to criminal investigations and, by falling back on it to “protect the integrity of tried and tested investigative techniques used now and for future investigations,” the MPS effectively confirmed that an investigation did take place. In any case, the Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards has affirmed that “in December 2012, officers assessed the information” against Miller. Now, rather illogically, the MPS has adopted the stance of neither confirming or denying that the information is held. These artifices to avoid publicity simply add to suspicions that the law is not being applied equitably, thereby undermining public confidence in the administration of justice, which is essential to the rule of law.

Apparently, so contemptuous are British parliamentarians of the great public disquiet at their flouting of the law, that they are now claiming more than ever before, albeit using different ploys. After a rule change that allows MPs to spend up to 25% more on staff and employ relatives, 168 parliamentarians listed their wives, children and even parents on their expenses returns for 2013, in order to increase their household income. Of these 168, five are/were Cabinet ministers, namely Patrick McLoughlin, Chris Grayling, Michael Fallon, Stephen Crabb and Francis Maude.

UPDATE:

During a tribunal hearing in March, 2016, to decide whether or not to release information about the police investigation into Maria Miller’s conduct (an investigation which the panel agreed could not now be denied) under the Freedom of Information Act, Judge David Farrer, Q.C., clearly indicated the information being withheld (which the panel had seen) was not favourable to Maria Miller as “there would be no objection to its release” if it were exonerating.

Leave a Reply