A group of MSPs have complained to the chair of the new parliamentary committee investigating the Scottish Government's handling of historic sexual harassment claims.

Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton, Labour MSP Jackie Baillie and Conservative MSP Murdo Fraser wrote to Linda Fabiani clarifying their interpretation of the committee's remit and what they regard as acceptable lines of questioning following Tuesday's committee session.

READ MORE: Leslie Evans reported to UK civil service over 'refusal' to answer key question

Here is the letter in full:

Dear Linda

The remit of our committee and acceptable lines of questioning.

We write further to your exchange with Murdo Fraser and Alex Cole-Hamilton at yesterday’s meeting, around the issue of whether the Permanent Secretary was aware of any informal understanding that the former First Minister, Alex Salmond was not to be left alone with female members of staff. You stated that such a line of questioning was not within the remit of our committee and prevented any further discussion of this matter.

Several members have stated on repeated occasions, in preparatory meetings of the committee, that an understanding of the culture that existed in the organisation and how concerns were dealt with informally before they became subject to formal procedure was essential to our committee’s work. At no point did you or any other committee member dissent from that view. As such we were taken aback that you were so vociferous in your opposition to this line of questioning.

We are well aware of the legal issues surrounding our inquiry and have been well briefed by Parliamentary lawyers. We do not seek to examine the substance of allegations that have been tested and acquitted in court, but simply to understand the recollections of those involved in the creation of the procedure and those who were responsible for the day to day handling of complaints and concerns (either formally or informally) in the civil service at that time.

It is clear, both from the 2016 People Survey and from the submissions we have received from trade unions, that during that period when the procedure was created, there was little confidence in the formal complaints process amongst Government staff. As such, it seems that ‘concerns’ as the Permanent Secretary described them were commonly dealt with in an informal matter. We believe that an understanding of that reality is essential to our committee’s work going forward.

At the time our Committee was established, the First Minister stated several times across three separate dates, that she, the Scottish Government and any officials involved would fully co-operate in any inquiry that takes place. Of most significance to this matter is the statement she made on 17th January 2019 when she told parliament: 

'The inquiries will be able to request whatever material they want, and I undertake today that we will provide whatever material they request. That is the definition of full, thorough and open inquiries. It will not be for me to decide what material the parliamentary inquiry, when it gets under way, wants to request. My commitment is that the Government and I will co-operate fully with it, which is, I think, appropriate.'

(Official Report, 17 January 2019, link).

We believe that this statement captures the spirit in which our committee was established and would hope you would agree that for us to effectively discharge our responsibilities, then we need to go where the evidence takes us and hear a full account of how complaints, or concerns were dealt with both formally and informally before, during and after the establishment of the procedure.

We look forward to confirming this approach with you prior to our next public meeting.

Kind regards 

Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP

Murdo Fraser MSP

Jackie Baillie MSP

P.S Given the public interest in this specific point, we have agreed collectively to publish this letter.