Holyrood must tackle lack of confidence in sexual harassment reporting, MSPs say

6 June 2018, 05:29

scottish parliament

A lack of confidence in the Scottish Parliament's policies and reporting procedures on sexual harassment must be "urgently addressed", MSPs have said.

Holyrood's Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments Committee has published an initial report on its inquiry into sexual harassment at the Scottish Parliament.

The inquiry was sparked by allegations of sexual misconduct at Holyrood which emerged as part of the #MeToo movement following high-profile cases in Hollywood and Westminster.

A fifth of staff working at the Scottish Parliament have experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour, a confidential survey found.

For those who had experienced sexual harassment, 45% said it came from an MSP.

The committee report states: "The sexual harassment and sexist behaviour survey revealed a lack of confidence in the Parliament's policies and reporting procedures, and this must be urgently addressed."

The report added the committee found it "unacceptable" anyone working at the parliament would decide against making a misconduct complaint due to lack of confidence in the process.

Among intitial recommendations published by the committee are creating a single policy on sexual harassment for everyone at parliament, having ongoing monitoring and reporting of work to cut sexual harassment rates and increase reporting.

They also recommend encouraging "positive culture change" through mandatory training and having regular reports on complaint numbers and results.

The committee has postponed decisions on creating the ability to sack MSPs for gross misconduct for sexual harassment, on enabling parliamentary suspension of MSPs and on having an independent watchdog with the power to sanction MSPs.

Decisions on these will be taken once the issues are debated in parliament and considered by the joint working group on harassment.

Holyrood's powers to sanction MSPs came under scrutiny after Aberdeen Donside MSP and former minister Mark McDonald quit the SNP after admitting inappropriate behaviour towards women but retained his seat as an independent.

At present, MSPs are disqualified from parliament if they are given a custodial sentence of 12 months or more, following the same rules as Westminster.

However, there is no system of recall in place at Holyrood and the report said creating one would have "wider practical and constitutional implications".

Committee convener Clare Haughey said: "Our report explores some of the weaknesses and shortcomings we have identified with current arrangements and proposes solutions which will need to be developed in detail by the relevant parties working together.

"Key amongst our aims must be promoting a culture in which unwanted behaviour and sexual harassment is unacceptable and people have the confidence to report misconduct. Thereafter we must ensure that any complaints are effectively dealt with."

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "Any form of sexual harassment in the workplace is completely unacceptable and we welcome the steps the Scottish Parliament is taking to address any such incidents and encourage positive behaviour.

"The Scottish Government reviewed its policies on sexual harassment last year and all staff have been reminded of the reporting process if they have any such concerns, as well as the support services available."