Page last updated at 14:02 GMT, Thursday, 15 January 2009

Probe into Holyrood comments row

Mr Fergusson made a statement at the end of First Minister's Questions

The Scottish Parliament's presiding officer has ordered an inquiry amid continued claims that ministers have been misleading parliament.

Alex Fergusson said he recognised growing concerns among all MSPs, and has asked Holyrood's standards committee to look into the issue.

But he pointed out that the veracity of statements made in parliament by members was not a matter for him.

His comments came in a statement at the end of first minister's questions.

The move came amid an on-going row over whether First Minister Alex Salmond misled MSPs over the continuation of funding for the Inter Faith Council.

He has denied accusations from the Liberal Democrats he told parliament the issue was resolved before it had been.

However much he wants to, the first minister cannot just make stuff up in response to parliamentary questions
Tavish Scott
Scottish Liberal Democrat leader

The inquiry - which is almost certain to be agreed by the committee - will examine the way in which the accuracy of all MSPs' comments are policed, whether they are ministers or not.

Meanwhile, Mr Salmond has referred the row over the Inter Faith Council to former Holyrood presiding officers Lord Steel and George Reid, who agreed earlier this year to provide independent scrutiny on matters relating to the Scottish ministerial code.

Mr Fergusson told MSPs that the presiding officer "never has been, is not and cannot possibly be responsible" for the veracity of what was said in the chamber.

He went on: "That said, I do note the frequency of such points of order are on the increase, which does indicate to me a growing sense of frustration among members.

"Parliament is ultimately ill-served, I believe strongly, by this type of exchange and I believe also that all members must play their part in ensuring we have the highest standards of probity, scrutiny and accountability."

The presiding officer also stressed his action did not relate to any specific case and was an issue of procedure, rather than standards.

Mr Salmond declined to apologise over the Inter Faith Council row during question time when challenged by Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Tavish Scott.

Mr Scott pointed out the first minister last week told parliament the issue had been resolved - but added that public safety minister Fergus Ewing was still trying to sort it out at a meeting earlier this week.

"However much he wants to, the first minister cannot just make stuff up in response to parliamentary questions," said Mr Scott.

Mr Salmond, who said the complaints were "totally unjustified", explained an earlier funding assurance was given to the Inter Faith Council, adding: "When a minister gives a commitment, that commitment is met. That's how the processes work.

"On 20 December, when Fergus Ewing gave that commitment, then this issue was settled, I believe, in the best interests of the organisation."

Meanwhile, more than 40 Liberal Democrat, Labour and Conservative MSPs have signed a Lib Dem parliamentary motion urging the first minister to apologise and urging the presiding officer to "play a constructive and appropriate role in ensuring this happens".

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