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First Minister says she was not aware of female civil servants being advised not to work alone with Alex Salmond

Nicola Sturgeon - Image credit: Fraser Bremner/Scottish Daily Mail/PA Wire/PA Images

First Minister says she was not aware of female civil servants being advised not to work alone with Alex Salmond

Nicola Sturgeon has told parliament she was not aware of female civil servants being advised not to work alone with Alex Salmond while he was first minister.

Sturgeon was asked during First Minister’s Questions (FMQs) to comment on Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans’ refusal to say whether she knew of any such advice.

Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser asked whether this lived up to a pledge by Sturgeon in January 2019 that all parts of the Scottish Government would fully cooperate with the parliamentary inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Salmond.

Fraser also asked if Sturgeon herself was aware of such advice.

He said: “Does the First Minister believe that that response [from Evans] was in accordance with her commitment that there would be full cooperation from all parts of the Scottish Government and was the First Minister herself aware of female civil servants being given that advice?”

“No, I wasn’t,” Sturgeon answered, adding: “I will answer all questions that are put to me by the committee when the committee asks me to do so, unless of course they are asking me questions that my answers would breach legal requirements, but I will answer all questions.”

She added: “I’m not going to comment, because it would not be appropriate, on the evidence other people give because I think it’s important that I respect the committee in all aspects.”

The existence of any procedure or advice regarding female civil servants working alone with Salmond is disputed.

It was mentioned by witnesses during the criminal trial against Salmond in March, in which he was acquitted of all 13 charges, but other witnesses denied any such process was in place.

On Tuesday in the first evidence session of an inquiry into the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment complaints against Salmond, Permanent Secretary to the Scottish Government Leslie Evans refused to comment on whether she knew about such advice.

The question, from Fraser, was then disallowed by the committee convener, SNP MSP Linda Fabiani, as being outwith the remit of the committee’s inquiry.

At FMQs, Sturgeon criticised Fraser for issuing a “political press release” following the committee meeting.

Fraser had issued a statement saying that Sturgeon and Evans could not “pick and choose” what the inquiry investigates.

The First Minister said she was “absolutely committed to abiding by this committee’s processes” and had already submitted evidence to the committee, but suggested Fraser had already made up his mind about the outcome of the inquiry and that he was not prepared to follow the committee’s processes.

She said: “Murdo is, as I understand it, already or about to be a formal member of this committee and within hours of it having its first evidence session he issued a political press release accusing me of not being forthcoming and giving the impression that he’s anything other than independent and neutral.

“And I think he should perhaps consider that himself before he asks me who intends fully to respect every aspect of this committee’s work.”

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