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Lunchtime at Holyrood

Brian Taylor | 14:47 UK time, Thursday, 4 February 2010

In the event, it was very far from being the main course.

It was more by way of an amuse bouche. But still Labour's Iain Gray contrived to produce a sklenting reference to parliamentary lunching.

Perhaps Mr Gray felt that - on the day the Legg report was published at Westminster - he should mostly steer clear of political finance.

Perhaps he felt that he would lay himself open to a reprised attack on the topic of a fund-raising barbecue in his constituency, apparently assisted by the loan of a council marquee.

(He did: also in an aside from Alex Salmond.)

Perhaps he felt that there were more significant matters to address - such as the topic of literacy which he chose to pursue.

Either way, Mr Gray set aside advice from some in his team and decided against majoring on the story in The Herald about lunches offered by the first minister and his deputy in return for donations to party funds.

Auction event

However, he managed a reference, noting en passant that there was no such thing as a free lunch.

The basics? It appears Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon each offered to host a lunch in the parliamentary restaurant.

These were presented as items in an auction held at a party fund-raiser in Glasgow Central.

Mr Salmond's lunch seemingly went for £9,000, while the gavel came down on Ms Sturgeon's hospitality at £2k.

Labour has objected, describing the offer as "industrial scale fundraising using Parliamentary facilities and an abuse of public money".

The SNP is adamant no rules have been broken - but is now writing to the Scottish Parliament Corporate Body to seek clarification.

The present rules make no explicit mention of the parliamentary dining room.

Standards question

However, they do read as follows:

"Parliamentary resources are provided by the SPCB to support members with their parliamentary duties.

These include items such as office equipment, IT (including the e-mail system), furniture, meeting rooms and all other SPCB provided resources.

These resources must not be used for any other purpose, including any significant party political purpose."

Critics, including the former standards committee convener Mike Rumbles, question whether that rule has been strictly observed in the case in question.

The SNP points out that clarity is required: that lunches are regularly offered as auction items, for example in aid of local constituency charities; that donors may visit parliament separately without their donation being directly linked to hospitality.

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