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Alex Salmond could display 'bullying and intimidatory behaviour', says former Permanent Secretary

Scottish Government

Alex Salmond could display 'bullying and intimidatory behaviour', says former Permanent Secretary

A former Scottish Government Permanent Secretary said that he was aware of “bullying and intimidatory behaviour” by Alex Salmond during his time as first minister, but added that he knew of “no suggestion” of any allegations of sexual misconduct.

Sir Peter Housden, who was the most senior civil servant in Scotland between 2010 and 2015, told a committee that during his time in the job that he had various “informal discussions” with civil servants about ministers’ behaviour, including people who had been “on the receiving end” from Salmond.

But he revealed that no formal complaints had been made against any ministers over his five year tenure.

Housden appeared before the Scottish Parliament committee looking into the handling of a 2018 Scottish Government probe into harassment complaints made against Salmond.

The committee was set up to investigate what went wrong after the Court of Session found the probe to be “unlawful” and Scottish Government was made to pay over £512,000 in legal costs to Salmond as a result.

It is not re-investigating the substance of any claims made against Salmond.

Housden was asked to appear before the committee following his written evidence submission in July in which he said that he “took actions” over ministers’ behaviour during his time as Permanent Secretary.

He was in the position over the last four years of Salmond’s time as first minister and told the committee on Tuesday that he had worked in “very close” proximity to Salmond’s office.

Asked about whether he knew of any concerns about the behaviour of ministers, Housden said : “I knew that the former first minister could display bullying and intimidatory behaviour.”

He said that he had had conversations with people “on the receiving end of that”.

But he added that he knew of no “indication” or “suggestion” of sexually inappropriate behaviour on Salmond’s part.

He said: “There was no indication at any stage in my time in the Scottish Government, or indeed before, of any suggestion of sexual misconduct.”

He could not say whether he had spoken to Nicola Sturgeon about this at the time and that he was bound by civil service code from going into more detail.

When questioned by committee member Alex Cole-Hamilton of the Scottish Liberal Democrats on whether he had personally experienced or witnessed bullying or shouting behaviour from Salmond, Housden said that he had not.

He also said that he had no recollection of the current Permanent Secretary, Leslie Evans, ever coming to him with to say that she had been shouted at or bullied by the former first minister.

Women did not seem more likely to be bullied or shouted at than male colleagues, Housden said, nor was he aware of any specific changes to working patterns that came as the result of concerns about the behaviour of ministers.

Part of the committee’s investigation is looking into whether the current procedures for handling complaints of bullying and harrassment are fit for purpose.

Housden appeared before the committee in the weeks following evidence sessions from Evans as well as from HR bosses involved with updating an internal Scottish Government complaints procedure, which was expanded to make it possible to complain about the behaviour of former ministers.  

He said that although he had not considered updating the procedure in this way himself, that he was of the opinion that the change was a positive one following the ‘Me Too’ movement of 2017, which he described as a “most powerful piece of learning”.

Asked about the new policy, he said: “I've referred to 'Me Too'…I think one of the most powerful pieces of learning, for me, or I guess many others, has been to understand the kinds of cues and pressures on women who have experienced sexual assault that can, in many cases, defer or prevent them from coming forward to recount their experiences in a formal way.

“And the kind of triggers that enable them to do that. And it can be argued that a formal procedure is one of those safeguards that would make it more likely.

“But what you did see in in ‘Me Too’, in a whole series of different environments, was a very considerable time delay in women coming forward.

“And in those circumstances to enable those complaints, to be made against former ministers seems to me to be quite right.

He added: “If you run the tape in the other direction to say, well, ‘you can never make a complaint against a minister, unless he or she is actually in post’ that would seem highly restrictive.

“So yes, it seemed to me to be an important step in terms of recognising and protecting the circumstances of particularly women, and particularly those who have been subjected to sexual assault.”

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