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Monday, October 25, 1999 Published at 20:05 GMT 21:05 UK

UK: Scotland

Minister to appear before standards watchdog

The committee wants Jack McConnell to testify

Finance Minister Jack McConnell and his secretary have been asked to appear before the Scottish Parliament committee investigating the Lobbygate controversy.

The parliament's standards committee has been investigating newspaper allegations that the lobbying arm of public relations company Beattie Media was alleging privileged access to ministers.

Mr McConnell, who has had business links with Beattie Media in the past, has been invited to appear before the committee under oath on Wednesday.

[ image: Jack McConnell: Watchdog date]
Jack McConnell: Watchdog date
The committee said it wants to question Mr McConnell, and secretary Christina Marshall - a former Beattie Media employee - about the handling of an invitation to appear at an awards ceremony.

An executive of Beattie Media, Alex Barr, told an Observer journalist pretending to be a potential client that he was able to phone Christina Marshall and ask her to put the awards ceremony in the finance minister's diary.

Giving evidence to the committee under oath, Mr Barr said the minister's secretary had said words to the effect that if he did not hear back by the following day to consider it done.

The commitee has decided its has no further interest in questioning Enterprise Minister Henry Mcleish or the Deputy Minister for Communities, Jackie Baillie.

They were also among other ministers whose names were mentioned during a secretly filmed meeting between the journalist, Mr Barr and his Beattie colleague Kevin Reid, the son of Scottish Secretary Dr John Reid.

Highest standards

Mr McConnell said he looked forward to reassuring the committee that his offices were run to the highest standards.

The committee has also begun an inquiry into allegations against Labour MSP Mike Watson over his proposals to ban fox hunting.

Tory MSP Ben Wallace said Lord Watson did not declare that he received financial support from the anti hunt lobby when he was preparing his private member's bill.

Lord Watson said he has written an eight page letter to the committee outlining his position.

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