Keith Brown has insisted Michael Matheson is a man of “integrity and honesty.” despite admitting that his colleague has lied to the press over an £11,000 data roaming bill. 

The SNP depute leader also urged MSPs seeking answers over the iPad scandal to wait until the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body has finished their probe.

The Health Secretary referred himself to the cross-party group responsible for running Holyrood last week.

It is not entirely clear what the terms of reference for any SPCB investigation will involve. 

READ MORE: Matheson refuses to quit over £11k data scandal

The Conservatives are threatening to table a vote of no confidence in the beleaguered minister.

They will push for Mr Matheson to make a second statement in the chamber as a “significant” number of questions remain “wholly unanswered.”

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Brown said he had known Mr Matheson for many years, and described him as a man of “integrity and honesty.”

“I would give Michael the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “This has been a mistake. It's been a very difficult period for him, but I also understand that there are questions to answer and that's why I think he's quite right to defer this to the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body.”

He said: “There’s absolutely no shortage of opportunities for not just the Tories, any party, any individual MSP, to make inquiries of this through the proper channels in the Parliament.

“I think the wise thing to do is to wait until the Scottish Parliamentary Corporate Body has a look at this, and comes back to this with all the information that people may want.”

Mr Brown added: “I’ve known Michael for a very long time, before he entered Parliament when he worked in social work.

“It’s my view, and I’ve seen nothing to change this view, is that Michael is somebody of integrity and honesty.”

READ MORE: Still 'significant' questions for Matheson over £11k data scandal

Last week, Mr Matheson blamed his teenage sons for the huge bill.

He told MSPs that the boys had been watching football during a family trip to Morrocco at the start of the year.

Mr Matheson claimed he only learned about their use of his parliamentary iPad on Thursday 9 November, following days of media scrutiny over the staggering expenses claim.

However, on Monday 13 November, when asked directly if there was "any personal use" of the device during the family holiday, he told reporters: "No”.

When asked if anyone else could have used the device, he, again, said, "No".

The Herald:

Asked if Mr Matheson had lied to journalists, Mr Brown said his friend was trying to “protect his family.”

He said: “Well that's a question that has to be put to Michael and has been put to Michael but what I would say is we heard from him last week in a very open and personal statement and giving his reasons for the answers that he's given before now, and also his attempt to try and protect his family which would be the instinct of any parent.

“So that's the Michael situation and once again, I would say that, let's hear from the Scottish Parliament's Corporate Body as to the facts in relation to this. It's quite right for somebody independent both of him, and of the government looks at this and that's what he's done by referring it to the corporate body."

Asked if he had full confidence in the health secretary, he replied: “I do and I mentioned before, I've known Michael for a very long time before he entered parliament when he worked in social work and it's my view and I've seen nothing to change this view that Michael is somebody of integrity and honesty.

“And I think that's not enough for me to say that I understand that people have to have independent assurance and that's why it's right that the corporate body should look at this and come back with any further information.”

Asked if a minister should resign if they lied, he answered: "Well, I think we've discussed that. They've given all the reasons why Michael has sought to protect his family. I think many people will relate to that. But as I say, let's see what the corporate body come back with.”

READ MORE: DANI GARAVELLI: Matheson undermined Holyrood and humiliated those he loves the most

Scottish Conservative deputy leader Meghan Gallacher said: “Keith Brown repeatedly insisted that Michael Matheson was a man of integrity and honesty, while twice conceding he had lied over how his iPad bill was racked up.

“The SNP deputy leader’s argument that Mr Matheson hadn’t technically ‘claimed’ the expense was laughable, when everyone knows he refused to pay a penny of his recklessly-accrued £11k bill from his own pocket until he got found out and was shamed into a U-turn.

“Keith Brown says there’s no shortage of opportunities for us to question Mr Matheson on the many unanswered questions on this scandal – so I look forward to the SNP Government agreeing to the Scottish Conservatives’ request for a parliamentary debate this week.

“He also claimed the Health Secretary will no longer be hiding from media scrutiny on his day job, so the minister must start explaining how he’s going to tackle the unacceptable waiting times in Scotland’s NHS.

“Keith Brown may want to give the ‘benefit of the doubt’ to a minister who lied to the country and tried to cover it up – but others won’t.”