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Sunday, 4 November, 2001, 18:18 GMT
Taxman to probe 'Officegate'
First Minister Henry McLeish
The first minister has been urged to make a statement
Scotland's First Minister is to give information to the taxman following the row over his constituency office expenses.

Henry McLeish has instructed his accountant to provide relevant information to the Inland Revenue as "Officegate" rumbles on.

The controversy began when it emerged he had sub-let part of his constituency office, in Glenrothes, to a legal firm but continued to claim the full allowance.

He has agreed to repay the House of Commons Fees Office 9,000 in allowances he received to run his office while he was MP for Central Fife.

Office sign
The row centres around Mr McLeish's Fife office

Critics have continued to call on Mr McLeish to make a full disclosure of his office income.

But his spokesman Tom Little said: "Mr McLeish's accountants' advice was that this income was tax neutral, i.e. no tax was due on it.

"This is because every penny that came in was spent running the constituency office for the benefit of constituents.

"However, Mr McLeish has instructed his accountant to place all the relevant information before the Inland Revenue to seek confirmation of his position."

Reports that Mr McLeish could be interviewed "within days" by Fife Police, have not been confirmed by the constabulary.

The force has received a complaint over the "Officegate" row.

Mr Little said Mr McLeish had already made it clear he would co-operate fully with any inquiry if asked.

'Personal statement'

He added: "However, no such approach has been made."

The Scottish Tories have taken up a challenge from the first minister to use their time in parliament to hold a debate on the affair on Thursday.

Tory MSP Bill Aitken said he was prepared to go a long way to give Mr McLeish the benefit of the doubt.

Gordon Jackson QC
Gordon Jackson believes the issue has been blown out of proportion

"But unless these questions are answered on Thursday or before, then quite frankly I think he is in a position of great difficulty," he added.

Fiona Hyslop, the SNP's parliament spokeswoman, said the ongoing row was overshadowing the role and office of first minister.

She added: "I asked for a personal statement 10 days ago and quite frankly that's what he has to do."

However, Mr McLeish found support from back bench Labour MSP Gordon Jackson QC.

"To turn it into the sort of major issue that the feeding frenzy is turning it into is political opportunism, it is loosing all sense of proportion," he said.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Political correspondent Kirsten Campebll reports
"One McLeish supporter said teh issue was becoming a witch hunt"

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