A leading businessman involved in talks about a possible alternative bid for HBOS said he hopes the situation will not descend into political “mud-slinging”

Jim Spowart, the founder of Intelligent Finance, has held talks with Scottish Secretary Jim Murphy regarding a possible second bid for the Edinburgh based bank.

HBOS is already the subject of a proposed £12?billion merger with Lloyds TSB.

However after it emerged there could be an alternative bid, SNP politician Alex Neil accused Mr Murphy of leaking information about that.

He claimed that was a breach of the ministerial code of conduct – and called on Prime Minister Gordon Brown to investigate.

Mr Neil, a member of the Scottish Parliament’s Finance Committee, said: “If he has broken the ministerial code he’s not fit to be a minister, he’s not fit to be in the Cabinet.”

A spokesman for the Scotland Office insisted Mr Murphy had “at no point divulged any commercially sensitive information”.

And while Mr Spowart said he was disappointed news of the possible alternative bid had been made public, he stressed the situation must not develop into “mud-slinging and scoring political points”.

Mr Spowart, who was responsible for Direct Line Financial Services and Standard Life Bank as well as Intelligent Finance, stated: “I’m disappointed that information has come into the public domain at this early stage. This has not been helpful.

“But the stakes are too high to allow the situation to develop into mud-slinging and scoring political points – too many livelihoods depend on a favourable outcome of this situation. For the sake of the negotiations I think we have to draw a line under it and now proceed in a professional manner for the sake of the general well-being of our economy.”

Mr Spowart told how the possible alternative bid from “a big foreign concern” emerged after discussions with a merchant banker.

And he said: “It became clear we would have to seek assurances from the Government that they would allow another bid. I managed to speak to the Secretary of State and asked him how another bid would be treated. He said he would be neutral and everything would go forward on that basis.”

However Mr Neil accused Mr Murphy of breaching the ministerial code. The Nationalist MSP said: “I think Gordon Brown has to carry out an inquiry.”

There are an estimated 17,000 HBOS jobs in Scotland and Mr Spowart has already said that he believes the possible alternative bid could keep more of those, as well as retaining more decision making functions north of the border.

A Scotland Office spokesman said: “We have repeatedly made clear the Secretary of State at no point divulged any commercially sensitive information. He is, correctly, not privy to the detail of any potential future bid.

“He merely confirmed that Mr Spowart had contacted him.”