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Last Updated: Thursday, 20 May, 2004, 14:26 GMT 15:26 UK
McConnell refuses leak inquiry
Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell said the situation was "ridiculous"
The first minister has told MSPs there will not be a leak inquiry into claims he divulged confidential information about Scottish Opera finances.

In a heated chamber exchange, Jack McConnell said persistent calls for a probe were "ridiculous".

The issue was addressed after the SNP wrote to the executive's permanent secretary asking for an inquiry.

The row stemmed from a newspaper story which said Scottish Opera would be bailed out to the tune of 5m.

In a letter to staff at Scottish Opera, its chairman Christopher Barron said he deplored the publication in the Sunday Herald which gave details of the rescue.

The newspaper article did not attribute the details to Mr McConnell, although it included general comments from him on the problems of Scottish Opera.

I have no intention of ordering an inquiry into any leaks... this situation is ridiculous
Jack McConnell
First Minister
Mr Barron told staff: "The article was the result of a direct leak from the executive in which clearly the first minister has been involved.

"It contains very specific new information which directly affects staff."

The issue has plagued Mr McConnell all week with the matter coming to a head at First Minister's Questions on Thursday.

The Conservative's Brian Monteith challenged Mr McConnell to deny that he, or a member of his team, broke commercial confidentiality by revealing aspects of plans for Scottish Opera.

And SNP leader John Swinney attacked the executive's "spin culture".

Mr Swinney said: "Isn't it time that we had an inquiry that either cleared the first minister or found him guilty of deceiving the public?"

A scene from Wagner's Ring Cycle, staged last year by the company
A scene from Wagner's Ring Cycle, staged last year by the company
Mr McConnell said everything published by the Sunday Herald had already been in other papers and was public knowledge.

It would not have taken a mastermind to write that story, he said.

Mr McConnell added: "I have no intention of ordering an inquiry into any leaks.

"Scottish Opera and the trade unions have been involved in discussions over recent weeks.

"I wouldn't want some civil servant questioning them and asking what they did or did not say to a journalist. This is a ridiculous situation."

Meanwhile, Liberal Democrat Donald Gorrie raised concerns over whether the executive could afford a rescue package.

In its report, the Sunday Herald said a financial bail-out of up to 5m would be used to pay for a root-and-branch overhaul of the company which would see chorus members go part-time and Scottish Opera give up the running of its Glasgow base, the Theatre Royal.

BBC Scotland's Kirsten Campbell
"In parliament, Jack McConnell came under increasing pressure"

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