Sturgeon not aware if civil servants ‘told not to be alone with Alex Salmond’

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she was not aware of female civil servants being advised not be alone with her predecessor Alex Salmond.

But she said MSPs probing the Scottish Government’s handling of sexual harassment allegations made against the former first minster were “perfectly entitled” to take up this issue.

She vowed she herself was “absolutely committed to fully complying with the inquiry”.

Her comments came after concerns were raised about “huge swathes” of information provided by the Scottish Government being “heavily redacted”.

The First Minister was pressed on the issue after the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints held its first evidence session on Tuesday – with the country’s most senior civil servant, Permanent Secretary Leslie Evans, being questioned under oath.

At that hearing, Ms Evans said she could not comment on claims that female civil servants were advised not to be alone with the former first minister.

Raising the issue at First Minister’s Questions, Tory Murdo Fraser asked if Ms Sturgeon was “herself aware of female civil servants being given that advice?”

She told him: “No, I wasn’t.”

While committee convener SNP MSP Linda Fabiani prohibited further questioning on the issue on Tuesday, Ms Sturgeon said the matter was “something the committee itself is perfectly entitled itself to take up”.

She added that Ms Evans was “happy to write to the committee to address this issue, if the committee wishes”.

Scottish Labour deputy leader Jackie Baillie noted that Ms Sturgeon had previously pledged to “co-operate fully” with the Holyrood inquiry – which was launched after the Court of Session ruled the way the Government dealt with the complaints was “unlawful”.

Ms Baillie said: “Given that swathes of documents are heavily redacted and the Scottish Government is refusing access to key documents relating to the core of the inquiry’s remit, I hope the First Minister will want to stand by her earlier commitment.”

She called on Ms Sturgeon to “instruct the full co-operation that is currently missing from the Scottish Government”.

The First Minister said: “I am absolutely committed to fully complying with the inquiry.

“I will personally attend the committee to answer questions when I am asked to do so. ”

She pledged she would “answer all questions that are put to me when the committee asks me to do, unless of course they asking me questions that my answers would breach legal requirements”.

She added that she had already submitted written evidence to the inquiry – saying it was for the committee to decide “when and to what extent” this is made public.

Ms Sturgeon continued: “I have also, given part of the committee remit is to look at my conduct, I have recused myself from any decision-making in terms of the Government’s interaction with the committee.”

For this reason, she said, she was not going to issue instructions, but added: “The Government will continue to fully co-operate, I am sure, and within the legal obligations that the Government operates under make available the maximum amount of information that it can to the committee.”

Ms Sturgeon insisted she was “respecting every aspect of this committee’s work” – as she criticised Mr Fraser, saying “within hours” of Tuesday’s meeting he had issued a press release “accusing me of not being forthcoming”.

As a result, she said: “I think he should perhaps consider that himself before he ask me who intends fully to respect every aspect of this committee’s work.”