ALEX Salmond gave muddled and confused information in a TV interview about whether his Government sought legal advice on Scotland's status in Europe after independence, but didn't breach the ministerial code, a report has found.

Independent adviser Sir David Bell criticised the First Minister for his comments to broadcaster Andrew Neil in March last year, but cleared Mr Salmond for a sixth time of breaking the rules.

The affair provoked a major row at Holyrood, with Mr Salmond forced to deny to MSPs that his Government obtained legal advice on an independent Scotland's potential EU membership after a tape of the interview surfaced in October.

Sir David's ruling criticised the SNP leader's BBC interview, saying he had come across as muddled and confused by implying legal advice had been taken.

Sir David also recommended a tightening up of the ministerial code of practice as political opponents expressed surprise Mr Salmond had once again escaped censure.

The former senior civil servant was appointed to adjudicate on claims Mr Salmond broke the code following a complaint by Labour MEP Catherine Stihler.

Sir David, the vice-chancellor of Reading University, wrote: "I have not found you, or the Scottish Government, to have breached the ministerial code in respect of any complaints made by Ms Stihler. I have, though, recommended that the Scottish Government considers revising those parts of the code relating to legal advice."

Mr Salmond said: "I would like to thank Sir David for his very thorough and detailed report, the findings of which clearly demonstrate that there was no breach of the ministerial code.

"Sir David recommends the Scottish Government considers whether the section of its ministerial code relating to legal advice provided to ministers should be redrafted to make it clearer.

"That is a recommendation I am happy to accept."

Labour's Paul Martin said: "Alex Salmond misses the point. The point isn't whether he broke a ministerial code – which he writes. The point is, did he mislead the people of Scotland when he said he had legal advice? He clearly did."

Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie said: "Muddled, incomplete and confused is harsh, damning criticism in the moderated language of civil servants.

"Alex Salmond bragged that he has been cleared by his own committee but Sir David Bell's words tell a different story.

"He clearly misled over whether he had legal advice on an independent Scotland's place in the EU and was caught red-handed."

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson said: "This was a sham process to brush off legitimate questions about the First Minister's conduct.

"Alex Salmond was caught out, and in response resorted to appointing the judge and jury for his own trial."