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Thursday, 1 November, 2001, 19:11 GMT
McLeish issues office row challenge
Fife constituency office
The row centres around Mr McLeish's Fife office
First Minister Henry McLeish responded to calls for a personal statement on a row over his office expenses by challenging opposition parties to set aside their own time for the matters to be debated.

Both the Tories and the Scottish National Party challenged the first minister to answer questions about his office costs.

But Mr McLeish told Tory leader David McLetchie he should either "put up" time to debate the issue or "shut up".

He rejected SNP demands for a personal statement but said opposition parties could raise issues relating to his record in a debate in their own parliamentary time.

Sir David Steel
Sir David Steel: Standing orders

The "office-gate" affair began with allegations that Mr McLeish sublet part of his Westminster constituency office in Glenrothes but continued to claim full expenses.

Last week the first minister admitted he made "an error" and agreed to pay back 9,000 to the Commons Fees office.

The latest row centres on the Labour Party's use of Mr McLeish's Fife office during local government elections in 1994 and 1995.

Mr McLeish denied the allegations but the party admitted that it did give his office address as a contact point.

Presiding officer

However, both allegations relate to a time when Mr McLeish was an MP in the House of Commons and the Presiding Officer Sir David Steel ruled that any attempt to raise the issue during First minister's Questions at Holyrood would be ruled out of order.

He said under parliamentary rules, ministers can only be questioned on matters for which they have general responsibility.

But despite the presiding officer's ruling, a highly-charged First Minister's Questions was dominated by opposition attempts to quiz Mr McLeish about the office row.

The first minister said that he could not answer questions but invited opposition parties to use their time to have a debate if they wish.

David McLetchie
David McLetchie: Debate
He said: "I would be delighted to defend my record as First Minister."

He claimed that would enable Tory leader David McLetchie to stop "grubbing around in the gutter".

Earlier Sir David Steel admitted making a mistake at Questions last week.

He ruled Conservative leader David McLetchie out of order for raising the subject of office expenses but then allowed Mr McLeish to answer.

He said that should not have happened.

There are two ways the matter can be raised at Holyrood - either in a personal statement from first minister or if the opposition parties set aside some of their own debating time.

Political editor Brian Taylor reports
"Henry McLeish's critics say he is digging himself deeper into a hole of his own making"
See also:

30 Oct 01 | Scotland
Pressure builds on first minister
30 Oct 01 | Scotland
Labour admits McLeish office 'error'
23 Oct 01 | Scotland
McLeish pays back expenses
21 Oct 01 | Scotland
McLeish reveals report card trauma
04 Oct 01 | Scotland
Minister faces expenses scrutiny
13 Jun 01 | Scotland
McLeish standards inquiry dropped
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