Paxman sorry for Kennedy drinking questions

Jeremy Paxman, the presenter of the BBC's Newsnight, has apologised to Charles Kennedy after he subjected the Liberal Democrat leader to "highly personal" questions about his drinking habits and private life.

Mr Paxman took the unusual step of apologising to Mr Kennedy for asking him "one question too many" about drinking during an interview broadcast on Wednesday.

Mr Kennedy was taken aback at the end of a political interview when he was bombarded with questions about alcohol. The presenter asked: "How much do you drink? ... Do you drink privately? At home alone, do you finish off a bottle of Scotch?"

The 41-year-old MP, who is known as one of Westminster's bon viveurs, was astonished when Mr Paxman said that there were doubts among other politicians that he would turn up sober for the Newsnight interview. He replied: "I drink socially and moderately, as you well know."

Mr Paxman then asked Mr Kennedy, who is due to marry his long-term girlfriend Sarah Gurling this weekend, what his motives were for deciding to get married. The exasperated MP replied: "Because I'm in love."

Robin Cook, Leader of the House of Commons, urged the BBC not to try to "compete with the bottom end of the market". He said there was a danger that MPs would be tarnished by such questions even if they were answered frankly and openly.

The Labour MP Jonathan Shaw said the questions were "highly personal" and "completely irrelevant".

Mr Paxman said: "I have always found Charles Kennedy an affable chap. I am sorry if any offence has been caused. Maybe there was one question too many on drink."

A spokeswoman for Mr Kennedy admitted yesterday that the party leader had found the questions "deeply offensive" but had not complained. "He thought they were silly questions, extraordinary questions," she said, "but he chose to answer them."

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