Page last updated at 17:09 GMT, Saturday, 6 February 2010

Alex Salmond cancels auctioned lunches

Alex Salmond
Mr Salmond insists he has not broken parliamentary rules

Scotland's first minister has cancelled four Holyrood lunch appointments which had been sold at auction to raise funds for the SNP.

It emerged last week that Alex Salmond and Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had each sold lunch dates at a party event in Glasgow.

The SNP has now said Mr Salmond also auctioned a further three lunches.

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray accused Mr Salmond of "systematic abuse" of his position.

They have both insisted no parliamentary rules were broken.

The Scottish Parliament is expected to issue new guidelines over the practice in the coming weeks.

I am cancelling all lunches in parliament as a result of party activity as we await the Corporate Body providing new advice
Alex Salmond
First minister

Last Thursday, the parliament stated that the restaurant at Holyrood must not be used for "any other purpose" than parliamentary duties.

Mr Salmond has written to Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson regarding the issue.

In his letter, he said: "I am cancelling all lunches in parliament as a result of party activity as we await the Corporate Body providing new advice.

"I have identified four such lunches, and Nicola Sturgeon has identified one lunch and a tour - since none of them have taken place, there is therefore no difficulty in the Corporate Body considering the issue as a matter of principle. Nor indeed have any of the donations been given."

But Mr Salmond wrote that he was "extremely concerned that as things stand it would be unwise to proceed with charity lunches or indeed a range of other lunch uses of the restaurant which might potentially fall foul of the parliament statement released last Thursday."

"Clearly, this would be undesirable. My next charity lunch is as a result of the Northsound 'Cash for Kids' auction, on Thursday 25 February," he said.

"Many other members will be in a similar position, and what I propose is that the Corporate Body, at its meeting on Wednesday, consider issuing interim advice that charity lunches can continue until such time as the whole matter can be fully discussed and comprehensive new advice issued to members."

'Systematic abuse'

Scottish Labour leader Iain Gray said: "Rather than draw a line under the issue of 'cash for access' it would appear now the first minister and his deputy Nicola Sturgeon were systematically selling access for private meetings in order to raise party funds.

"Now we know this was not a one-off occasion. Alex Salmond has to answer for this rather than trying to cloud the issue. This is not about charity lunches in the parliament but extremely serious allegations over the systematic abuse of the first minister's office."

Bill Johnston, a member of the Labour Party from Edinburgh, has reported Mr Salmond and Ms Sturgeon to the Scottish Parliamentary Standards Commissioner.

The SNP said Amin Hussein paid £9,000 for a lunch with Mr Salmond during a Glasgow Central SNP event last week.

Human rights lawyer Aamer Anwar paid £1,000 for a lunch with the first minister at the Glasgow Central SNP candidate adoption meeting last year.

Mr Anwar, who said he was not a member of any political party but backed Osama Saeed, the SNP candidate in Glasgow Central, accused some Labour politicians of "staggering hypocrisy" over the issue.

He said: "I haven't actually made my donation yet, but am very happy to do so - and I'm not really bothered about having a lunch anyway."

A lunch was also won by Mr Salmond's constituency agent, Councillor Stuart Pratt, at the candidate adoption meeting in Inverurie last December, for £400.

A prize of lunch with Mr Salmond was raffled for £100 by Young Scots for Independence at the SNP's annual conference last year.

Meanwhile, Khalid Javid paid £2,000 for lunch with Ms Sturgeon, also at the Glasgow Central event. Mr Javid had previously bid £260 last year for a tour of the parliament.

The SNP said none of these events had taken place, and none of the donations had been received.

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