Holyrood inquiry session with Salmond called off

3 weeks ago
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alex salmond

Reuters

Alex Salmond will not appear at the Holyrood inquiry on the government’s handling of harassment complaints on Tuesday as had been planned.

The former first minister is locked in a dispute with the committee over what material can be published.

A spokeswoman for the parliament said Mr Salmond had “raised a number of issues for clarification, and that Tuesday’s session would not go ahead.

She said the committee would continue to have talks with his representatives.

MSPs took more evidence from SNP chief executive Peter Murrell on Monday morning, and will discuss the issue of Mr Salmond’s appearance afterwards.

Some members had called for an emergency meeting of the committee on Friday, with Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton saying the group was “in crisis”.

The inquiry was set up to examine what went wrong with the government’s investigation of two internal harassment complaints against Mr Salmond.

The government conceded its process had been “unlawful” and agreed to pay the former SNP leader £500,000 in expenses after he launched a judicial review action in the courts.

The committee had originally hoped to take evidence from Mr Salmond in December, but had failed to agree a date amid a long-running dispute over whether they could obtain certain evidence from the Crown Office and whether they would publish all of his submissions.

The issue seemed to have been settled after MSPs accepted an offer from Mr Salmond to appear this week, with his successor Nicola Sturgeon due to give evidence a week later.

However, the session has now been put off again after the parliament refused to publish a submission Mr Salmond made to a separate investigation into whether or not Ms Sturgeon broke the ministerial code in her dealings with him.

In it, Mr Salmond claimed Ms Sturgeon repeatedly misled parliament and gave evidence to the committee which was “simply untrue”. These are claims Ms Sturgeon said she “entirely rejects”.

Alex Salmond and Nicola Sturgeon

PA

Parliamentary officials do not want to publish the submission in full, and now say a redacted version could not be published as the document had been posted in full elsewhere online.

The spokeswoman said Mr Salmond had not confirmed his appearance on Tuesday, and had “raised a number of issues for clarification” meaning the meeting could not go ahead.

She said: “Mr Salmond had been contacted to make it clear that he can speak freely in committee about all of his contact with Nicola Sturgeon and his views on her actions.

“He was given the opportunity to make a lengthy opening statement on Tuesday and would have had four hours to answer questions in public. He was also invited to send more written evidence for publication after the meeting.

“The committee has already published two lengthy submissions from Mr Salmond and many, many pages of records and documents from him that he has been invited to speak freely about in parliament on Tuesday. All of this written and oral evidence could then be reflected in the committee’s report.

“The committee continues to communicate with Mr Salmond’s representatives.”

‘Confusion created’

Mr Salmond’s lawyers have told MSPs that he can give evidence at any point up until Ms Sturgeon’s mooted appearance on 16 February – provided the submission is published.

They said that the decision not to publish summed up “the confusion and legal difficulties created by the committee”, saying Mr Salmond was “still in the dark about the parameters of his evidence”.

They added: “Our client cannot take his oath to tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth unless and until you properly address in writing the legitimate concerns set out.”

There have been reports that the former first minister may opt to hold a press conference instead of attending at Holyrood.

Monday’s committee meeting saw heated exchanges between Mr Murrell and Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser, who accused the SNP chief of giving “false information having sworn an oath” in his previous session.

Mr Murrell, who is married to Ms Sturgeon, said he would “absolutely refute” the claims, insisting there was no contradiction in his evidence – and “no conspiracy” against Mr Salmond.

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