MSP criticised over handling of ‘confidential’ dossier

Conservative Liz Smith MSP. Picture: Jane Barlow
Conservative Liz Smith MSP. Picture: Jane Barlow
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TORY MSP Liz Smith has been criticised by Holyrood’s standards committee for forwarding a confidential dossier on allegations of bullying at George Watson’s College to the school.

Ms Smith, who was a governor of the school at the time, denied having shared information inappropriately and said she had told the parents who gave her the material she could not engage with them without a conflict of interest arising.

She forwarded their e-mail about the bullying allegations to the chairman of the board of governors at the school and to its principal.

The documents detailed specific allegations about the treatment of their child.

The parents – who asked to remain anonymous – claimed Ms Smith had disclosed information to others to which she had privileged access as an MSP.

Ms Smith, who is MSP for Mid Scotland and Fife and the Tories’ education spokeswoman, said she acted not as an MSP but as a school governor, as governors had been advised to alert the chairman and principal if they were approached by these parents.

And she said she did not believe the information she was passing on was confidential as she was certain the two school officials had seen it previously.

Ms Smith was investigated by the Ethical Standards Commissioner after the parents complained but he cleared her of breaching the MSPs’ code of conduct.

He said she was acting as a governor, not an MSP, and the code therefore did not apply.

However, Holyrood’s standards committee also considered the complaint and agreed with the commissioner that there was no breach of the code but disagreed that Ms Smith was not acting as an MSP.

Convener Clare Haughey said: “While the circumstances surrounding this complaint do not constitute a breach of the code of conduct, the complainers did ask that the material they sent to Liz Smith be treated in confidence.

“Notwithstanding this, Liz Smith forwarded the material to a third party with whom the complainers were in dispute.

“We believe that Liz Smith should reflect on her decision to forward material which she had received in confidence to a third party with whom she herself has a long-standing professional relationship.

“It is our view that members of the public have a right to expect that MSPs will normally respect their wishes with regard to confidentiality.”

Ms Smith said: “I am very content with the commission’s findings which, unequivocally, conclude that I did not breach the parliamentary code of conduct.

“I was very confident this would be the case given that, throughout the very lengthy period of the complaint, I had always taken legal advice and the advice of the parliament’s officers.”

ian.swanson@edinburghnews.com