Leslie Evans could be compelled to appear again before committee
Leslie Evans, the Scottish Government’s Permanent Secretary, could appear again before a committee to address questions on whether female civil servants were advised not to be alone with former First Minister Alex Salmond, after previously saying she could not comment on the matter.
Holyrood understands that the committee investigating the Scottish Government’s handling of harassment complaints will today discuss in private whether Evans can be made to appear back before the committee to answer questions on the issue.
Evans declined to answer questions on the matter when she appeared in person last week, but later wrote to the committee chair saying she is now “very willing” to discuss the issue in writing.
The senior civil servant was the first witness to appear before the committee, which was set up to investigate what went wrong with a Scottish Government probe into the conduct of Salmond during his time as First Minister.
Salmond successfully sued the Scottish Government over the probe, which the Court of Session found to be “procedurally unfair” and “tainted with apparent bias” after the government was found to have breached its own guidelines by appointing an investigating officer who had “prior involvement” with the case.
The Scottish Government had to pay over £500,000 to Salmond as a result.
Scottish Conservative Murdo Fraser, who sits on the committee, asked about a disputed claim that female civil servants had been advised not to be alone in the company of the former First Minister.
The claim was first made during Salmond’s separate criminal trial, which ended in March with Salmond being acquitted of all charges.
Evans responded by saying: “I cannot comment on that.”
The committee convener Lina Fabiani then intervened to disallow the line of questioning, which she said may not have been “entirely appropriate in relation to” the remit of the committee.
Fraser and other members of the committee protested the decision in a letter to Fabiani and the Scottish Conservatives also reported Evans to the head of the civil service.
Evans later wrote to Fabiani saying that she is “very willing” to address the issue.
She said: “I fully appreciate you will have had reasons, based on the Committee’s remit and the various legal restrictions in place, for disallowing that line of questioning.
“However, I would like to make clear that - contrary to some media reports - I am very willing to write to the Committee to address this issue”.
She added: “I was asked about the Chief of Staff’s involvement in the development of the procedure. The Scottish Government’s submission to the Committee described in complete terms the input that the Chief of Staff had to the process of developing of the Procedure. Supporting documentation has also been submitted to the Committee on this point. There is nothing further to add to the information that has already been submitted to the Committee.”
Responding to Evans’ letter, Fraser said: “Leslie Evans has certainly changed her tune since she refused to answer my question last week.
“It appears that pressure from the Scottish Conservatives and the Scottish public have convinced the SNP Government that they need to be far more honest and upfront about what they knew and when.
“But we don’t need Leslie Evans to merely write to the committee. Given her attempt to dodge the question at the first time of asking, it is only right that she now appears before the inquiry again, as soon as possible, to face the scrutiny she avoided the first time.
“There can be no hiding place behind a letter for Ms Evans on a matter as serious as when she knew about claims that female civil servants were not allowed to be alone with Alex Salmond.”