Holyrood Committee publishes sexual harassment and inappropriate conduct inquiry recommendations


Holyrood’s Standards, Procedures and Public Appointments (SPPA) Committee has published its initial inquiry recommendations on preventing, reporting and investigating reports of sexual harassment in the parliamentary workplace.

The Committee makes a number of key recommendations, and believes that the following measures need to be the subject of immediate action:

  • A central policy on sexual harassment applying to all campus users.

  • Ongoing monitoring and reporting of work to reduce the incidence and promote the reporting of sexual harassment.

  • Regular reporting about complaint numbers and outcomes.

  • Encouraging positive culture change through mandatory training.

The Committee will also return to the following issues for detailed consideration following any relevant outputs from the Parliament’s Joint Working Group on harassment and in light of the debate in Parliament in which all MSPs will have the opportunity to contribute:

  • further detailed consideration of whether to establish an independent investigatory body with powers to sanction elected members.

  • consideration of an ultimate sanction for MSPs akin to dismissal for gross misconduct

  • consideration of a process for suspension of MSPs

  • changes to the Code of Conduct for MSPs.

SPPA Committee Convener Clare Haughey MSP said:

“This Committee is responsible for recommending any changes to the Code of Conduct for MSPs. 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.”

SPPA Deputy Committee Convener Patrick Harvie MSP said:

“There is clearly still much work to be done to put in place a new central policy on sexual harassment that applies to all campus users, and there are some more substantial issues that this Committee will return to once MSPs have had an opportunity to contribute their views during the chamber debate on the Committee’s report.”

Background information

The Committee recommends that the Joint Working Group established to consider any actions that need to be taken on sexual harassment and sexist behaviour develops a central, stand-alone sexual harassment policy which applies to all campus users regardless of employment status. This will, of course, include MSPs and the Code of Conduct will be revisited to ensure that MSPs are formally bound by the Central Policy.

The Central Policy on sexual harassment should encompass:

  • a zero-tolerance statement centred on unacceptable behaviour – not on the individuals experiencing it so that it is clear whose actions are the focus of the policy.
  • a code of behaviour for everyone working in or visiting the parliamentary complex
  • definitions and examples of what is and is not harassment covering a range of behaviours. Most witnesses agreed that the Equalities Act 2010 definition was a good one but that the Parliament’s policy should expand on it to provide more detail and examples. The Equality Act 2010 definition of sexual harassment is: “unwanted contact of a sexual nature which has the purpose or effect of violating someone’s dignity, or of creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment for them”
  • a balance between confidentiality and anonymity of the complainer and fairness for the accused
  • clarity about the degree to which confidentiality and anonymity can be expected at each stage of the process – so that complainers can decide whether to proceed with their complaint on an informed basis
  • clear protocols for reporting if harassment is witnessed and an encouragement of bystander intervention to report or intervene, with the agreement of the victim
  • a commitment to place the complainer at the centre of any processes following a complaint
  • support available for both the complainer and the accused.

Full report is available here.

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