Maria Miller is to face an investigation into her expenses by the parliamentary commissioner for standards after the Daily Telegraph alleged that the culture secretary had breached rules over her second home.
John Lyon, the commissioner, is to open an inquiry following a complaint from the Labour MP John Mann who claimed that Miller's domestic arrangements were "identical" to those of the former Labour minister Tony McNulty, who was ordered to pay back more than £13,000.
The Daily Telegraph reported on Monday that between 2005 and 2009 Miller claimed more than £90,000 for a house in Wimbledon where her elderly parents lived with the rest of her family. Miller's office told the newspaper that her parents were living "as dependents", the arrangements were approved by the parliamentary fees office and that they were audited on two occasions.
Mann said the parliamentary commissioner ruled against McNulty on the grounds that it was not acceptable for his parents to live in his house "as dependents". McNulty's claims were also approved by the fees office.
The decision by Lyon to launch an inquiry means that Miller, who is entering an intense period as she attempts to broker a deal with national newspaper editors over the Leveson report, could face a lengthy investigation. The commissioner is not obliged to carry out an inquiry after receiving a complaint.
But Lyon could decide on closer examination not to uphold Mann's complaint. If he does accept the complaint, Lyon can either try to rectify the complaint with Miller or write a full-blown report for the Commons standards and privileges committee.
The Telegraph published further details about Miller's expenses on Thursday. The newspaper reported that she failed to declare that she rented her home in her Basingstoke constituency from a wealthy Tory donor at more than £6,000 a year below the rate at which the property is now being advertised.
Miller designated the home as her main property, allowing her to claim expenses on the other property she owned. She denied that she had been given a preferential rate.
The investigation by the commissioner will add to the pressure on Miller, who has been in embroiled in a row with the Telegraph, which reported that her special adviser had asked it to consider the minister's role in the Leveson negotiations before publishing details about her expenses. The paper quoted Joanna Hindley saying she wanted to "flag up" Miller's role in negotiating with the Telegraph editor and other national newspaper editors.
The Telegraph reported on Wednesday night that Craig Oliver, the No 10 director of communications, had threatened its editor, Tony Gallagher, in a similar way. No 10 vehemently denied this, saying that Oliver had simply raised concerns with Gallagher that the Telegraph had approached Miller's elderly and infirm father at the house before contacting Miller. Downing Street said Oliver did mention the Leveson negotiations, but this was reportedly in the context of stressing how upset Miller was at a busy time.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010
image: © Trodel