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McAveety puts MSPs in conduct spotlight

The Scottish Parliament’s watchdog committee has been asked to write to MSPs about their conduct following the resignation of Frank McAveety over unguarded comments he made about an audience member.

The 47-year-old Glasgow Shettleston MSP was heard on microphone describing the woman as “very attractive”, with “that Filipino look” at a meeting of the public petitions committee.

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He apologised when the gaffe came to light – and he announced his resignation as committee convener and party sport spokesman on Wednesday.

To make matters worse for McAveety, it later emerged the person in question was a girl of school age on a work placement at the parliament building.

SNP MSP Sandra White, who said McAveety’s comments were “at best sexist and sleazy and at worst sexist, sleazy and racist”, yesterday urged the parliament’s Standards Committee to write to MSPs about their conduct.

She said: “It appears some of them have to be reminded they are in a position of responsibility and must behave accordingly.”

Despite the controversy, however, the Scottish Parliament’s chief executive Paul Grice has no plans to issue guidelines to MSPs.

McAveety’s comments were picked up by microphone as witnesses changed places at the committee meeting. Turning to a committee clerk, he was heard saying: “There’s a very attractive girl in the second row. Dark and dusky. I’ll maybe have to put a wee word out for her.”

He went on: “She’s got that Filipino look, you know the kind you would see in a Gauguin painting. There’s a wee bit of culture.”

As in other workplaces, MSPs do not have to undergo background checks when taking on schoolchildren doing work experience.

A spokesman for Disclosure Scotland said temporary placements such as work experience had been excluded from the regulations because there was a conscious desire not to put an obstacle in the way of something regarded as a good thing.

This was also part of a general intention to ensure that disclosure rules were proportionate.

Schools and other groups sending youngsters on placements would be expected to have policies in place to ensure child protection was taken into account, but employers who take on work experience youngsters were exempt.

A parliament spokesman said: “The Protection of Children (Scotland) Act 2003 requires organisations who employ people working in child-care positions to go through enhanced disclosure procedures.

“It is very unlikely that the requirements of this Act would have any bearing on the day to day parliamentary duties of an MSP.

“In making work placement arrangements, it would be a matter of judgment for the participating school and the individual Member to decide whether any disclosure requirements were appropriate or necessary.”

He added: “As MSPs are elected to parliament, and are not employees of the parliament, they are not subject to security checks – the same applies at Westminster.

“All passholders, including MSPs’ staff are, however, subject to security checks including criminal records checks of current and spent offences – which equates to enhanced disclosure.”

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