McLeish faces 'cash for rent' inquiry

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Indy Politics

Henry McLeish, Scotland's First Minister, was fighting for his political life last night, possibly facing a lengthy parliamentary investigation into fresh revelations about his finances.

Mr McLeish tried to draw a line yesterday under so-called "Officegate" affair and his failure to declare £9,000 received from renting out his office while he was an MP at Westminster.

Less than 24 hours before a debate in the Scottish Parliament on the affair, he said he had been responsible for "a muddle not a fiddle" and tried to set out in full the income he had received from sub-letting his constituency office.

But the move backfired spectacularly when he revealed he had received a total of £36,000 from five tenants over 14 years.

The Tories and the Scottish National Party called on Mr McLeish to resign, seizing on his offer to pay back some of the money from his pocket despite at the same time claiming he had not personally benefited from the "mistake".

More ominously, Elizabeth Filkin, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, yesterday denied Mr McLeish's claims that she had cleared him of wrongdoing and warned she was ready to conduct a full inquiry. "I didn't investigate Mr McLeish's possible over-claim on his expenses. I got a statement of concern about it. I put it to him and he said he would sort it out with the [Commons] fees office," Mrs Filkin said. "The election intervened so I could no longer pursue the matter as he was no longer an MP.

"But the [Commons] Standards and Privileges Committee has far wider powers than me so it could receive complaints about anyone, whether a sitting or former MP. It could then ask me to investigate."

Downing Street said Tony Blair had "complete confidence" in Mr McLeish and his ability to do his job because no one had suggested there had been any impropriety. The Inland Revenue and Fife police are now looking into the affair.