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Last Updated: Thursday, 6 January, 2005, 18:40 GMT
McConnell defends Wark friendship
Jack McConnell
Mr McConnell said he and Ms Wark were old friends
First Minister Jack McConnell has been challenged to make a statement to MSPs over his Hogmanay holiday with the BBC broadcaster Kirsty Wark.

Questions had been raised after Mr McConnell and his family spent New Year at Ms Wark's holiday home in Majorca.

The first minister insisted there was "no question" the friendship influenced their jobs and said no conduct rules had been broken.

But opposition parties have called for a statement in Holyrood.

Mr McConnell also dismissed suggestions the relationship cast doubts over the journalist's impartiality.

"I think there has never been any question about Kirsty Wark's impartiality in the 20 or so years that she has been a broadcaster," he said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Mr McConnell said: "What we have is one family with a son and a daughter staying with another family with a son and a daughter in their house - family friends for nearly 20 years.

"No question that there was anything wrong or anything has ever influenced either Kirsty Wark or I in our jobs.

Code of conduct

"I think it would be a very, very sad day if politicians or broadcasters dropped their friends, dropped families that they were closely associated with just simply because of their positions."

Mr McConnell said it was a matter for the BBC if Ms Wark should anchor its general election coverage in Scotland.

A spokeswoman for the first minister confirmed that Mr McConnell had previously been on holiday with Ms Wark and her husband Alan Clements in Majorca in 2003.

Kirsty Wark
The McConnells stayed at Ms Wark's holiday home
Opposition parties have suggested that under parliamentary rules Mr McConnell should have declared the visits.

Rules for MSPs state that overseas visit not "wholly met" by the member must be declared and where a member receives a gift or benefit of any kind worth more than 250, that should also be declared.

But a spokeswoman for Mr McConnell said there had been no breach of the code.

She said: "The McConnells did go on holiday with the Clements family previously about two years ago.

"The first minister is very well aware of the rules and regulations that are in the various ministerial and MSPs codes of conduct and is very clear that he does not have to declare either of these visits as a gift."

Mr McConnell owes an explanation to parliament as to the failure of his non-disclosure
David McLetchie
Scottish Conservative leader
The Scottish National Party's Holyrood leader Nicola Sturgeon insisted that Mr McConnell should make a further statement on the issue.

Ms Sturgeon said: "Parliament returns from the Christmas recess next week, he has the opportunity to make a brief statement in parliament simply setting the record straight, making it clear what hospitality he's had and why he failed to register that in line with the codes of conduct.

"Then, I think everybody would be prepared to move on, but the onus is very clearly on him."

David McLetchie, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, also urged the first minister to clear things up.

He said: "Mr McConnell owes an explanation to parliament as to the failure of his non-disclosure.

"He should be seeking to assure us, and more importantly the wider public, that his position as first minister is not in the least way compromised by his friendship and by the gifts he has received."

The SNP has written to the BBC's governors asking if they intend to take action on the matter.

A BBC spokeswoman said: "Any potential conflicts of interest are a matter for individual programme editors."


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Listen to the interview with Jack McConnell



SEE ALSO:
McConnell fury at tapes impasse
01 Apr 04 |  Scotland
Merger for Scottish TV companies
25 Mar 04 |  Scotland
Wark signs three-year BBC deal
14 Dec 01 |  Entertainment


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