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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 18:21 GMT 19:21 UK

UK: Scotland

Dewar defends ministers in sleaze row

Donald Dewar said the ministerial code was not broken

Scotland's First Minister Donald Dewar has sought to defend his ministers against sleaze allegations in the 'cash-for access' row.

BBC Scotland's Political Editor Brian Taylor assesses the day's events
Mr Dewar said allegations relating to ministers mentioned in Sunday's lobbying story were groundless and that no minister had broken the ministerial code.

He made the statement to the Scottish Parliament after the standards committee said it would investigate the allegations.

First Minister Donald Dewar's speech on the 'cash-for-access' row
They centred around a meeting between representatives of the public relations company Beattie Media's lobbying arm and a journalist posing as a businessman.

Mr Dewar said suggestions by the company's representatives that they had direct access to Scottish Executive ministers were nothing more than "tittle-tattle".

[ image: Jack McConnell: Former Beattie employee]
Jack McConnell: Former Beattie employee
The first minister conceded that the allegations relating to the meeting had raised ethical questions for the parliament.

However, he told MSPs: "I think it is fair to describe the exchanges as a sales pitch by Beattie Media.

"My particular concern is the claims about the conduct of Scottish ministers and those comments are the subject of this statement."

BBC Scotland Political Editor Brian Taylor reports on Donald Dewar's statement
Mr Dewar, who has faced calls for a statement on the matter since the story appeared in Sunday's Observer, said he did not receive transcripts of filmed meetings involving the Beattie Media staff and the journalist until Wednesday afternoon - after The Observer had handed copies to the standards committee.

He then sought to refute and at times ridicule suggestions by Beattie Media that they had influenced members of the executive.

These included Education Minister Sam Galbraith, Enterprise Minister Henry McLeish, Jackie Baillie, the Minister for Social Inclusion and Finance Minister Jack McConnell - a former employee of Beattie Media.

Transport minister

He also said he had spoken to UK Transport Minister Lord MacDonald, whom the Beattie Media representatives referred to as "very, very useful".

In all instances, said Mr Dewar, none of the company's claims had any substance.

He added that a statement by Beattie Media, which was issued shortly after the story broke and apologised for any embarrassment caused to ministers, was proof they were not at fault.

The company subsequently announced it has shut down the lobbying arm of its operation.

[ image: Henry McLeish: Named in story]
Henry McLeish: Named in story
Mr Dewar told the parliament: "I have concluded on the evidence available and in the light of the assurances that have been given to me that there has been no breach of the ministerial code in relation to any of the claims made by representatives of Beattie Media.

"I believe that the ministers concerned have acted in every respect properly and have held to the very high standards laid down in the ministerial code, as I would have expected them to do."

Scottish National Party Leader Alex Salmond questioned the administration's commitment to the inquiry and said he hoped Beattie Media's apology would not be considered the end of the matter.

Mr Salmond also said it was not surprising that the ministerial code of conduct had not been breached.

The code, he said, referred to matters such as ministers not accepting honours from foreign governments but made no mention of lobbying organisations in Scotland.

Scottish Tory leader David McLetchie said it was important that the damage done should be repaired.

"We have to be seen to be cleaning up the stables," he added.

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