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Friday, 2 November, 2001, 19:20 GMT
Swinney urges first minister to act
First Minister Henry McLeish
The first minister has been urged to make a statement
Scotland's First Minister Henry McLeish has been urged to draw a line under an expenses row - or face the prospect of it becoming a resignation issue.

Scottish National Party Leader John Swinney said Mr McLeish's handling of questions on the issue during BBC's Question Time on Thursday had illustrated the need for the first minister to make a statement.

In the programme Mr McLeish said he did not know the total sum of money involved from sub letting his constituency office in Glenrothes, Fife, when he was a Westminster MP.

However, he said he had made no personal gain from what had happened.

John Swinney
John Swinney: Bad advice

The first minister said: "I have apologised and I have said this was an error, and I take full responsibility.

"I regret very much what has happened but I don't want that to detract for a minute from the achievements of the second year of devolution."

But speaking on BBC Radio's Good Morning Scotland programme Mr Swinney said: "Yesterday he had the opportunity to close it down when I asked him some very reasonable questions.

"He decided to extend it by another week by inviting the opposition to have a debate on the issue.

'An honest man'

"He could have closed it down last week when we asked him to make a personal statement, but he just goes on and on and on, digging himself into greater trouble.

"I think Henry McLeish is an honest man - I would not question that for a minute. But the way he has handled this whole sequence of events has been disastrous."

The onus is on Henry McLeish to stand up and give a statement to parliament

John Swinney
Mr Swinney said the first minister had made himself "look ridiculous" to UK viewers by failing to express himself properly on Question Time and it had been a "humiliating" experience for him.

He said: "The onus is on Henry McLeish to stand up and give a statement to parliament. At the heart of this is a situation of trust and you have got to be able to trust the first minister.

"And from what we have seen over the past few days it is not possible to do that."

Mr McLeish refused to answer repeated questions on the matter on Friday as he arrived at Drumchapel in Glasgow to announce plans to consult tenants on council house transfer proposals.

He told journalists: "I think, colleagues, we have had plenty of opportunities to ask questions on this matter.

"But today is a matter for Glasgow, an important day for Glasgow, and I thank you for your interest on this subject and we will have plenty more opportunities to answer questions."

Political correspondent Kirsten Campbell reports
"The public at large now have questions for Henry McLeish"
John Swinney, SNP leader
"The first minister has expressed himself very poorly"
See also:

02 Nov 01 | Scotland
McLeish fails to quell expenses row
01 Nov 01 | Scotland
McLeish issues office row challenge
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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