'Urgent action' call on Holyrood harassment

Image caption,
The inquiry was sparked by allegations of sexual misconduct at Holyrood

A report into sexual harassment at the Scottish Parliament has called for policies and procedures to be "urgently addressed".

It follows claims that a fifth of parliamentary staff - including one in three women - had experienced sexual harassment or sexist behaviour.

Holyrood's standards committee said there was a lack of confidence in the way complaints were currently handled.

It also recommended MSPs underwent training on harassment awareness.

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.

Decide against

In March, a confidential survey at the parliament found that 45% of those who had experienced sexual harassment said it had come from an MSP.

The committee's provisional report stated: "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 that it was "unacceptable" that anyone working at the parliament would decide against making a misconduct complaint due to lack of confidence in the process.

Image caption,
A harassment reporting hotline was set up at Holyrood amid concerns about behaviour

Also among the recommendations was a call to encourage "positive culture change" through mandatory training for all those responsible for staff at the parliament, including MSPs.

The committee said a single policy on sexual harassment should be created for everyone at Holyrood, as well as ongoing monitoring and reporting of work to cut sexual harassment rates and increase reporting.

'Weaknesses and shortcomings'

The issue came to the fore when Aberdeen Donside MSP and former minister Mark McDonald quit the SNP after admitting inappropriate behaviour towards women. He has 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.

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."

The committee postponed a decision on creating the power to sack or suspend MSPs for gross misconduct for sexual harassment, or on having an independent watchdog with the power to sanction MSPs.

Decisions on these will be taken once they have been considered by a joint working group and the issues have been debated in parliament.

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