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Monday, 30 October 2017

Sturgeon seeks cross-party review amid Holyrood sexual misconduct claims

Written by Catriona Webster

Nicola Sturgeon has proposed a cross-party review of parliamentary procedures amid allegations of sexual misconduct at Holyrood.

Scotland's First Minister has written to presiding officer Ken Macintosh to suggest ways in which the current arrangements could be strengthened.

Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson has said her party is reviewing its procedures in the wake of the "deeply troubling" allegations.

Human-rights lawyer Aamer Anwar has said women ranging from MSPs to interns had complained of sexual abuse or harassment in the Scottish Parliament.

He accused politicians of maintaining an "abject silence" on the issue and urged party leaders north of the border to reveal how many reports of sexual harassment they have dealt with.

In her letter to Mr Macintosh, Ms Sturgeon expressed her "deep concern" at reports that have emerged of "absolutely reprehensible" behaviour at Westminster.

She said: "We cannot and must not be complacent about the position at Holyrood.

"We need to do everything in our power to make sure that the Scottish Parliament is a workplace where there is zero tolerance of such unacceptable behaviours.

"As part of that, it is vital to ensure that robust procedures are in place so that individuals who raise concerns have confidence that they will be fully investigated in an appropriate manner.

"Indeed, we should expect a similar standard of protection to exist in every place of work across Scotland.

"The existing code of conduct for MSPs is clear that it is unacceptable for MSPs to subject staff to sexual harassment.

"However, in light of these recent developments I would be grateful to learn what additional steps the Parliament might consider taking to strengthen the level of reassurance for staff and all others who come into contact with Parliament.

"It may be that convening a cross-party meeting would be one way to review the current arrangements and to offer recommendations on how these might be strengthened.

"I know that you will be concerned to ensure that our Parliament is able to demonstrate that it operates to the highest possible standards at all times.

"You can be assured of my full support in that regard."

Ms Davidson said her party took such issues "extremely seriously" and was reviewing its procedures to provide reassurance for staff.

She said: "The allegations that have emerged in recent days are deeply troubling. Sexual harassment in the workplace is wrong and must not be tolerated.

"Those in positions of power, like MPs and MSPs, have an even greater responsibility to lead by example and show respect for all members of staff."

A support service was set up by the party in 2011 so that those with concerns could raise issues in confidence with a specially-trained member of staff, not the party whip.

Ms Davidson added: "In the light of this weekend's allegations, I have asked for those procedures to be reviewed so we can be certain that everyone who works for us feels reassured.

"We cannot be complacent. Our politics will be deeply diminished if young people are deterred from getting involved because of fear of harassment."

She made the comments after Mr Anwar claimed those responsible for the abuse would "probably appear on the sex offenders' register" if their behaviour had taken place outside of Holyrood.

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Andrew Cowan / PA Wire.