NICOLA Sturgeon criticised a high number of lorries on one of Scotland’s main motorways despite a red alert having been issued not to travel unless absolutely necessary.

The First Minister sent a “blunt” message to transport company bosses, who had continued to send drivers out on to the roads after an official warning from the Met Office.

She told MSPs traffic cameras covering the M80 - where hundreds of drivers were trapped in their cars on Wednesday night into Thursday after a combination of extreme weather and jack-knifed lorries blocked the road - showed “there were far more HGVs on that road than there should have been when a red warning was in place”.

She added: “I saw some branded HGVs in pictures yesterday and given the branding on them I would struggle to say that their transport was unavoidable. So that is a message I think should go out very strongly from this chamber to companies who use HGVs during weather conditions like this.”

She spoke out yesterday at First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood - which went ahead despite the severe weather conditions.

Although the red level warning put in place for much of central Scotland was lifted earlier yesterday, the Met Office extended the high level amber alert over many parts until this morning.

The First Minister said: “That means the advice today for the general public remains do not travel unless it is unavoidable...While everything possible will be done to keep roads clear and open, if you do travel during this period you do face significant risk of encountering blocked roads and possibly becoming stranded.”

She said the situation on the M80 was “improving” and praised the police, fire service, mountain rescue teams, volunteers and others for efforts to keep the stranded travellers safe.

The Scottish Government’s resilience committee - the equivalent of the UK Cobra emergency committee - has been meeting regularly to monitor the situation, with efforts focusing on helping essential workers such as NHS staff get to work.

The weather conditions featured prominently at First Minister’s Questions with Richard Leonard asking whether the Scottish Government would consider banning winter evictions. He raised the case of a man who died a mile from Holyrood on Thursday last week while sleeping outdoors.

The Scottish Labour leader said the campaign group Living Rent was proposing a change in the law to ban winter evictions, and that in France a version of the law runs from November 1 to March 31.

Leonard said his party was considering a ban as part of its housing reform policy, and called on the First Minister to do the same.

The First Minister said: “I will commit my government to doing exactly as Richard Leonard has just said there in considering that as a step we can take to help us tackle what we all accept is a very, very serious issue.” The Scottish Government has set up a homelessness and rough sleeping action group to look at measures needed to eradicate rough sleeping.

Meanwhile, the severe weather conditions forced the Scottish Conservatives to cancel their conference, which had been due to take place on Friday and Saturday in Aberdeen. Theresa May was due to speak on Saturday.