Page last updated at 18:37 GMT, Thursday, 4 September 2008 19:37 UK

MSPs vote against Alexander ban

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MSPs vote on Wendy Alexander's ban

Former Scottish Labour leader Wendy Alexander will not be banned from parliament for breaking Holyrood rules.

Ms Alexander quit the job after failing to declare donations to her leadership campaign on her MSP register of interests in time.

MSPs voted against a recommendation to exclude her from parliament for one day by 70 votes to 49 with two abstentions.

The result came after a heated debate, during which Holyrood's standards system was called into question.

Following the concerns, Holyrood Presiding Officer Alex Fergusson promised to review aspects of how parliament polices itself.

The recommendation for a ban was made by the parliament's standards committee, which investigated the claims against Ms Alexander, before the summer recess.

Today is a victory for the law, for natural justice and for common sense and I welcome that
Wendy Alexander

The cross-party committee ruled that the Paisley North MSP should have declared several donations to her leadership campaign last summer on her register.

Ms Alexander, who later updated the register, has insisted she always acted on advice from Holyrood officials.

She told BBC Scotland after the vote: "I welcome this decision. I said in June that my pursuers had sought political victory with little thought to the standing of the parliament and that I'd hope wiser heads would prevail.

"They have done so today. Today is a victory for the law, for natural justice and for common sense and I welcome that."

Standards committee convener Keith Brown earlier told MSPs that Ms Alexander had failed to declare 10 donations above the 520 threshold within the 30-day deadline.

He said she had received written advice from the committee clerks that these donations did not need to be registered.

'Prejudice' fears

However, the SNP MSP added: "That advice was sought after the deadline for around half of the donations had passed."

Labour MSP Jackie Baillie, a close ally of Ms Alexander, said her colleague paid a high price for a report which some described as "partisan".

"Some in this chamber may regard what they have done as a political victory, but wiser heads will reflect on the consequences for this parliament and democracy," she said.

Nationalist MSP Christina McKelvie said MSPs had "an absolute responsibility" to register donations.

Wendy Alexander
Ms Alexander said her pursuers sought only political victory
She went on: "In the case that comes before us, there can be little doubt that the member at the heart of the report has still not accepted responsibility for her actions, or those taken in her name, and still seeks to avoid any sanction."

Standards committee member Jamie McGrigor said it had an air of "partisan alignment".

And he asked: "How many members in this chamber would feel comfortable to be judged by such a committee so lacking in parliamentary experience?

"I am proud of the fact that I based my judgement purely on the evidence before me without anyone from my party telling me what I should do."

Liberal Democrat Robert Brown said he was unhappy with the committee's conclusion that the episode gave the appearance of "prejudice" to a fair-minded and impartial observer.

"Would the non-registration of these donations really lead an informed member of the public to think Wendy Alexander was prejudiced by that fact?" he asked.

Green MSP Patrick Harvie said there was no clear reason to overturn the recommendation of the committee.

Meanwhile, Mr Fergusson said officials were looking at calls for guidance on the registration of gifts and the possibility of providing MSPs with private legal advice.

He also said the review would look at whether the system fully complied with human rights law.


SEE ALSO
'Free vote' call on Alexander ban
02 Sep 08 |  Scotland
Labour leader faces one-day ban
26 Jun 08 |  Scotland
Alexander 'broke Holyrood rules'
25 Jun 08 |  Scotland
Alexander quits as Labour leader
28 Jun 08 |  Scotland
SNP denies Alexander bias claims
29 Jun 08 |  Scotland
Standards watchdog defends role
29 Jun 08 |  Scotland

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