The Scottish Government is preparing to abandon its moratorium on fracking after next year's Holyrood election, Labour has claimed.

MSP Neil Findlay said a freedom of information request had revealed that ministers and officials met representatives from Ineos, the owners of the Grangemouth petrochemical plant, 13 times before the moratorium was announced.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon had talks with them on the day of the announcement, he added, while Deputy First Minister John Swinney has met the company twice since.

Ineos is building a new tank, designed to hold ethane gas produced by hydraulic fracturing - also known as fracking, and brought in from America at its Grangemouth site.

The company has also acquired fracking exploration licences across 700 square miles of central Scotland.

But in January energy minister Fergus Ewing announced a moratorium on granting planning consents for such developments, to allow for a full public consultation on the controversial process.

Raising the issue with ministers at Holyrood, Mr Findlay said: "A freedom of information response that I have received shows Government ministers and officials met 13 times with Ineos prior to the moratorium on fracking and Nicola Sturgeon met with them on the very day the moratorium was announced. Since then John Swinney has met with them twice.

"Given this and the construction of the large holding tank currently being built, isn't it clear that as soon as the election is over the moratorium will be over and fracking will begin in Scotland?

"Or have Ineos just blown a big pile of cash on licences they will never use?"

Environment minister Aileen McLeod told him: "Ministers have held meetings with representatives of environmental and non-governmental organisations, community groups, industry bodies and local government.

"These meetings have helped us to prepare for the research and public consultation processes and as a result we have planned a robust and thorough research process and a wide ranging and participative consultation process.

"The impact of unconventional oil and gas on our environment, communities and economy needs to be fully understood.

"The Scottish Government's moratorium will allow time for careful examination of the issue and proper engagement with the public in considering these."