Few people outside of Westminster have heard of Kathryn Hudson whose entire Wikipedia entry reads “Kathryn Margaret Hudson (born 28 March 1949) is the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards for the United Kingdom House of Commons. Appointed in September 2012, she will serve for five years from 1 January 2013. She was previously (from 2008) Deputy Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman. From 2004 to 2008 she was National Director for Social Care at the Department of Health.” In the first year of her new role Ms Hudson was called to deal with the case of the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and Minister for Women and Equalities and amongst other comments, she described the response from The Right Honourable Maria Miller MP to her questions and requests as being a “totally inadequate response”
The extent to which the actions of Maria Miller should lead to an apology which apparently lasted 32 seconds vary according to ones perspective. There is no doubt that she has broken rules, even she accepts that this is the case, but what seems to be in question is was this a deliberate attempt to steal public money? According to Kwasi Kwarteng, the MP for Spelthorne on BBC TVs Question Time last night when Maria Miller was criticised “She is a very capable minister, she is doing a good job” He also explained that no one is suggesting she broke the law, she has apologised fully and that she had been exonerated by an Independent Committee.
According to Mrs Miller, she overclaimed £5,800 failing to appreciate that as the interest rates were causing her mortgage payments to fall, that she needed to reduce her claims on the public purse for the same payments, on a home that according to some reports she did not actually need. According to Ms Hudson after a 14 month investigation the Culture Secretary had personally benefited from a total of £45,000 of public money and she should repay that sum. However the committee of MPs, most of whom are also claiming public funds for second homes, decided to overrule the Commissioners judgement and instead accept the lower sum and an apology from the Minister. The apology was to the House of Commons for Maria Millers failure to cooperate with the Independent Commissioner who works on behalf of Parliament as a whole.
There is a further sum which cannot be fully quantified but it is nevertheless something that needs to be considered. According to the annual report from the Commissioner, the cost of running her office is some £380,000 a year and during the last year the team investigated 7 cases of possible abuse of privilege or process. This would imply the cost of each case as £54,000 per annum. This of course is on top of the actual sum overclaimed. Finally because Mrs Miller referred her case to a Committee, there have been the costs of the Committee itself which presumably we cannot begin to estimate. So one version of the cost to the public purse would be a sum well in excess of £100,000 less the £5,800 which Mrs Miller has actually agreed to repay. That is £100,000 which could have been used to run public services, or used to pay down the public debt.
According to Kathryn Hudson and her Commission “Mrs Miller consistently responded to the commissioner’s inquiries with lengthy procedural challenges. We consider it reasonable for a Member to request information about the commissioner’s work, and to draw attention to evidential or procedural difficulties, but such challenges do not excuse failure to respond properly to the questions posed. Mrs Miller’s exchanges with the commissioner repeatedly show a failure to provide information asked for, or to respond adequately to the commissioner’s questions.” One of the responses from the Culture Secretary was “I am not sure I am able to assist further. The matter was over six years ago and I’m reluctant to speculate without attempting to locate any documents on the subject if I still have any”
Yesterday at 11am the Commons Standards Committee announced that it was overturning the conclusion of the 14 month report by Kathryn Hudson and that they would instead like to invite Mrs Miller to repay a sum that she accepted was a sum overclaimed and apologise for her failure to cooperate. These men and women appear to have misjudged the impact of their decision on the public standing of Parliament amongst the people who elect them. During last nights question time two members of the audience pointed out that if they had done what Maria Miller had done, they would not have been asked to apologise. Instead they would have summarily lost their jobs. One speaker works in the private sector, the other within the public sector as a Civil Servant. The same would be true in the charitable sector. It is vital that all 650 members of the House of Commons come to terms with their place in a society in which they appear to be complacently unaware of their reputation and standing. The comment from Kathryn Hudson could actually be applied to Parliament itself, this was a Totally inadequate response!