New measures planned to create ‘zero tolerance’ of harassment at Scottish Parliament

Scottish Parliament. Picture: TSPL
Scottish Parliament. Picture: TSPL
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Complaints of sexual harassment against MSPs and former MSPs will be investigated independently and no longer time-barred under changes designed to introduce a culture of “zero tolerance”.

The Joint Working Group on Sexual Harassment recommends that complaints against MSPs be referred to the Commissioner for Ethical Standards and that the one-year limit on raising complaints be scrapped.

A report published yesterday says complaints against former MSPs or former members of staff should also be investigated.

However, it notes that in such cases parliamentary sanctions can no longer be applied, citing a case where Holyrood’s standards committee decided it couldn’t do anything.

Earlier this year, the committee found there was a lack of confidence in the way complaints are handled.

It followed the resignation from the SNP of former minister Mark McDonald after he admitted causing a woman “considerable distress” after sending inappropriate text messages.

Former First Minister Alex Salmond is currently taking legal action against the Scottish Government after it initiated complaint proceedings following allegations of sexual misconduct. Mr Salmond has denied any wrongdoing.

Following a confidential survey of people working at Holyrood, the new report calls for the introduction of “an overarching policy on sexual harassment,” setting out a zero tolerance policy.

It calls for the creation of an independent support service as a route which people can use to make a formal complaint.

And it says formal complaints should be investigated independently of parliament and political parties, meaning by the Commissioner for Ethical Standards for MSPs.

A joint letter to staff from Presiding Officer Ken Macintosh and Scottish Parliament chief executive Paul Grice said: “Important as policies and procedures are, we each have a duty to ensure our own behaviour meets the standard expected and to challenge the behaviour of others that falls short.

“And, while we want to ensure that any complaint is dealt with sensitively and fairly, we remain focussed on our goal of preventing sexual harassment happening in the first place. Achieving that will require the combined efforts of the parliament, the political parties and all those who work in and visit Holyrood and we are grateful for your continued support.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We are committed to ensuring that everyone has the right to live their life free of abuse, harassment and intimidation, and expect all employers to provide safe and supportive environments for their employees.”