30 January 2002

S1M-2353 Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Presiding Officer (Sir David Steel): As there are no Parliamentary Bureau motions today, we will proceed to the next item of business, which is a debate on motion S1M-2353, in the name of Ross Finnie, on the general principles of the Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): I find myself in a rather alarming position today. First, Phil Gallie got up—I paraphrase him—and said, "Mink are a menace." I agree with Phil on that. Following the argument that we used to have in my logic and metaphysics class, mink are a menace, Phil Gallie is a menace, therefore Phil Gallie is a mink. If Phil Gallie is included, we should work towards eliminating mink that are at loose in our communities.

Ross Finnie had an extremely entertaining morning, I presume, because he has come to the chamber a little friskier than usual. I hope that he gets as much out of further debates in committee on land reform as he clearly got this morning. He set out to tease SNP members on our attitude to the Fur Farming (Prohibition) (Scotland) Bill. However, at least that gives me the opportunity to quote myself—and there is no better authority. I see that Ross Finnie is yawning. Presiding Officer, would it be in order to cross the chamber and deal with him?

On 4 December I clearly indicated, as can be seen at column 2525 of the Rural Development Committee Official Report, the support of the SNP for the substantive proposals that are encapsulated in the bill. The Minister for Environment and Rural Development, Alex Fergusson and others made much of the fact that we are debating this issue at all, as did my colleague Richard Lochhead, and addressed the issue of Sewel motions. We should note that rather than Sewel motions being exceptional, we have had 31 Sewel motions but we have passed only 30 bills in this Parliament. Such motions are becoming the norm, and the Scottish Parliament is diminished because of it.

We have a principled attitude to Sewel motions. We oppose them, because we believe that all matters that affect Scotland, and which it is competent for us to debate, should be debated here. We also take the pragmatic attitude that when it is necessary and expeditious and in the interests of the people of Scotland, we will cede on occasion to Westminster if that progresses things.

Bristow Muldoon (Livingston) (Lab): Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: In a minute.

In reality, it would have been much more interesting this afternoon to debate the substance of the Adoption and Children Bill or the Police Reform Bill than to debate fur farming. Nonetheless, we are debating fur farming.

Ross Finnie: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: The minister's colleague intervened first. I will come back to the minister.

Bristow Muldoon: Could Stewart Stevenson explain why it is not expeditious to agree to a Sewel motion for this bill?

Richard Lochhead: He did that.

Bristow Muldoon: No, he has not explained that.

Stewart Stevenson: This Parliament should debate and decide on anything that it is competent for us to do. It is not our choice that we are spending 90 minutes on this subject. That is the key point.

Ross Finnie: An absolute nonsense is being perpetrated in the Parliament this afternoon. Richard Lochhead, the SNP spokesman, accused me indirectly of causing there to be an hour-and-a-half debate on a subject that does not deserve it. However, when this matter came before us, it was the SNP business managers who did not want there to be a Sewel motion on this bill. The only people responsible for the Parliament giving an hour and a half to the debate are the SNP members, and it is hypocrisy for Mr Stevenson to claim otherwise.

Stewart Stevenson: I thank the minister for his comment, but I return to the core principle that we are not debating important issues such as the adoption of children or police reform; we are debating fur farming in Scotland, which affects no one. The SNP would insist on debating everything. The principal position is perfectly clear and I suspect that even my colleagues in the Conservative party can understand that.

I shall move on and turn to Jamie McGrigor. He said that mink are eaten and that that is a legitimisation of farming for mink. I cannot help feeling that at the core of that argument is the idea that we should eat any living being.

Ben Wallace: Will the member take an intervention?

Stewart Stevenson: In a second.

I suggest therefore that perhaps Jamie McGrigor is advocating that we even approve of cannibalism as it is still practised in some parts of the world. I suspect that his moral argument does not stretch that far.

Ben Wallace: I am grateful to the member for giving way. Given his experience and large number of jobs, has Mr Stevenson got vast experience of mink farming? He seems to speak with such authority.

Stewart Stevenson: No, I do not have vast experience of mink farming, but I recognise that society, the world and our morals evolve over time. I suspect that my Conservative colleagues do not recognise that. My mother had a fox fur stole. Today that is entirely unacceptable and I oppose it. I confess that, 20 years ago, I bought my wife a mink coat. Today I would not do that. Morals have evolved.

Mr McGrigor: The figures I quote earlier show that, last year alone, demand for fur rose by 30 per cent through retail outlets and furriers. That completely contradicts what Mr Stevenson has just said.

Stewart Stevenson: My colleagues are saying "Not in Banff and Buchan" and that is clearly true. I do note, however, that the Scottish Parliament information centre briefing gives the information that only 2 per cent of the population are in favour of farming exclusively for the sake of having fur.

Alex Johnstone: Mr Stevenson said quite clearly that morals evolve. I agree with him. However, would he accept that, if we allow the bill to be introduced for what is primarily a moral argument, by allowing morals to evolve in that way we could threaten activities that are legitimate in rural Scotland today because morals might subsequently evolve to make those activities immoral to the Executive?

Stewart Stevenson: I think that the point that is being made is whether it is proper that we debate the evolution of morals, and I say that it is proper. It is clear that, according to the Parliament, the time of mink farming has passed.

I turn to the substance of the bill and ask whether it is necessary for the Parliament to proceed on the subject at all, or at the pace it has done and with the urgency that it has shown. As a result of the English legislation, there is the danger that the fur farms could migrate to Scotland, but that danger is relatively remote. We have no indication that it is going to happen. Suppose that, after the English legislation had been enacted, we had heard that that migration was going to happen, how long would it have taken us to respond and to legislate? Would it have taken days or weeks? It would certainly not have been months if it was a matter of urgency. There is therefore no need to propose such a bill at the present time.

There is one interesting point about the bill and about the debate. There has been the most effective campaign in favour of the bill that I have ever seen. The campaign has achieved its objectives without a single picket outside Parliament, without a single letter to ministers, without a petition to Parliament. If only all campaigns could be so simple, we could do so much.

We have talked a bit about morals. I come from the position that mink are pests, as Phil Gallie said. They are a threat to the environment, and even if we gentlemen and ladies feel uncomfortable about the moral argument, the environmental argument is unassailable. John Farquhar Munro said that we have been unable to eliminate mink from the Western Isles. The Executive has put £1.65 million aside to do so.

The SNP will support the bill.


17 January 2002

S1M-2472 Europe's Energy Capital (Aberdeen)

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): The final item of business is a members' business debate on motion S1M-2472, in the name of Richard Lochhead, on promoting Aberdeen as Europe's energy capital.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament recognises the City of Aberdeen's role as Europe's oil and gas capital and the long-term contribution that the offshore sector will continue to make to the Scottish economy; believes that every effort should be made to ensure that the city evolves into Europe's "Energy Capital" thereby benefiting from the industry's enormous economic and environmental potential that can place Scotland in the vanguard of renewable energy business internationally; considers that the Scottish Executive should produce specific strategies aimed at supporting Scotland's oil and gas sector and renewable energy sector that also promote Aberdeen as Europe's energy capital, and further considers that the Executive should promote measures to ensure that, as far as possible, the new energy revolution is driven by indigenous interests.

... ... ... 17:32

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): It seems to be a convention that motions for members' business debates are relatively uncontroversial. It is good that there is support for the motion across the chamber. Or is there? Not one Labour member—members would not expect ministers to be included in my criticism—has signed the motion and the only Labour member who has so far contributed to the debate did not indicate whether she supported it. That is a shame. She represents an oil constituency and is convener of the oil and gas special interest group in the Parliament. The Labour response may tell us more about Labour whips than about anything else.

Elaine Thomson: Will the member give way?

Stewart Stevenson: No. The member would not take my intervention when I wished to make that point to her, so I will not take her intervention now. In future, Labour members should consider the merits of a motion and then sign or not sign.

Let us turn to the substance of the motion. When I went to Aberdeen in the 1960s as a student, it was a very different place from the place it is now. When I first flew from Aberdeen, the airport consisted of two Nissen huts. In the hour and 40 minutes that I spent at the airport, only one flight other than mine departed.

This debate is not only about Aberdeen. The prosperity that oil and gas have brought to Aberdeen spills out across Aberdeenshire and further into the north-east. My constituency is a big beneficiary of the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen. Fifty per cent of the UK's oil and gas comes ashore at St Fergus; Peterhead is the biggest oil service base in Europe and perhaps the world; a large amount of the UK's oil comes ashore at the Cruden bay terminal at Whinnyfold; and Transco has just completed a major upgrade to the gas infrastructure with a pipeline from St Fergus to Garlogie, just outside Aberdeen. Energy success in Aberdeen is success for an area much larger than the city. This year, the industry may contribute £3.3 billion to public finances.

Richard Lochhead talked about independence and immediately the cry went up that that was an irrelevance. Curiously, the more independence is ignored, and the more we fail to act independently in defence of our industries, the more compelling is the argument for independence. One of the little wrinkles of the settlement that was made in the UK Parliament's legislation is that Scotland gets no guaranteed share of the revenue. Curiously enough, however, the Isle of Man does—those are the benefits of an independent legislature that is determined to stand up for its economy at a time when it really matters.

What do we need to ensure that Aberdeen continues to grow in importance as Europe's energy capital? We need investment, not just warm words. For example, my constituency is one of the few mainland constituencies with no railway—Peterhead is the biggest town in Scotland with no station and Fraserburgh may be the second biggest. There are 20 lorries a day, carrying 10 to 20 tonnes, on the road between Peterhead and Aberdeen—we have no railway and no other option.

The western peripheral route is important not just to Aberdeen and the continuing prosperity of the city as an energy capital, but to the hinterland. Aberdeen's prosperity can lead to Scotland's prosperity. The motion neatly encapsulates what we require in Aberdeen and the north-east. I commend Richard Lochhead for bringing it to our attention.


S1M-2274 Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill: Stage 1

The Deputy Presiding Officer (Mr Murray Tosh): Good morning. The first item of business is a debate on motion S1M-2274, in the name of Jim Wallace, on the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Bill.

... ... ...

Stewart Stevenson (Banff and Buchan) (SNP): The debate has been entertaining and informative and I intend to bring one or two new points to it.

A desire to keep information is always an expression of someone's self-interest—generally someone in public service. Given that, David McLetchie missed the point. At present, all information is retained unless a decision is taken to release it. We are moving to a new start, whereby information will be released unless it is decided to keep it secret and in the system. Such decisions will be accountable, auditable and kept under review.

The present system and its practical implications harm individuals, companies, the national interest and, on occasions, democracy. I will give a particularly ironic example that extends back to the 1960s and 1970s and which came to light in 1997. To be fair to my Labour colleagues, that happened because of the Labour party's commitment to freedom of information, which the SNP has shared for a long time. My example relates to what appears to be a technical subject, but it is important in the modern world. The subject is cryptography. Although that statement woke up almost no members, cryptography is important technology that protects information. It is at the heart of the modern economic miracle, which came through electronics, and it underpins the security of nations. Cryptography secures a person's transactions from an automated teller machine as much as it secures a multinational company that makes a large electronic payment for a multibillion-pound oil rig.

Where did the technology come from? The conventional history begins with Whitfield Diffie and his colleagues Hellman and Merkle, who developed the asymmetric key idea. They developed something that, curiously enough, Mary, Queen of Scots used to converse with her lovers. However, there is no time for that story, even in an extended debate.

Gordon Jackson: That is a shame.

Stewart Stevenson: I will tell Gordon Jackson the story over a coffee after the debate.

In 1977, the mathematicians Rivest, Shamir and Adleman apparently developed the mathematics that made the idea possible. That was a case of Americans leading the way with technology that is integral to the modern world and which protects our commercial and security interests. The reality was very different and became apparent only at a conference in November 1997. Government Communications Headquarters developed the technology, but, because of the culture of secrecy, the world became aware of that only in 1997. James Ellis, who was employed at GCHQ, developed the public key concept in 1969; Clifford Cocks developed the mathematics in 1973; and in 1974, Malcolm Williamson completed the development with a key distribution system. That commercial asset is worth not hundreds, thousands, millions, or even billions of pounds; over the life of the technology, it will be worth—

Brian Fitzpatrick: Zillions.

Stewart Stevenson: No, the next figure is probably trillions of pounds. A culture of secrecy denied this country the rights to that technology. It is thanks only to Phil Zimmerman and the different climate in the States that the matter was brought into the public domain.

I have a point about costs. In the Justice 1 Committee's deliberations on the bill there is reference to the Data Protection Act 1984, which was a way of securing and protecting data, which gave citizens the first statutory right of access to data and introduced a charging mechanism. Typically, the cost was around £10. The interesting thing is that even with that quite modest charge, the access requests to large commercial companies with large databases are numbered in single figures.

I suggest that in considering the bill we take a genuinely radical step and make public access by individuals free and charge only for commercial access. If it is necessary to protect the integrity of the inquiry system, let us make it a criminal offence for a commercial operation to purport to be an individual.

Let me give John Farquhar Munro a little glimmer of hope. The parliamentary draftsmen may have opened a little crack on PFI. I refer to section 6(2)(a)(ii) of the bill, which states that a company is wholly owned by the Scottish Ministers if it has no members except

"persons acting on behalf of the Scottish Ministers or of such companies."

We can take that to mean that if a PFI company is established solely for one contract—and I am thinking of BEAR Scotland Ltd in particular—it is acting wholly and exclusively on behalf of the Scottish Executive. For the purposes of the bill, it is therefore a public body. I do not imagine that that is what was intended, but perhaps we could brush up on that little part of the bill and ensure that that is its practical effect.

I am cognisant of the answer that the Deputy Minister for Enterprise, Transport and Lifelong Learning gave to Andrew Wilson on 14 January in response to his question about Amey Highways Ltd and BEAR Scotland Ltd. There is a willingness to be open on that subject.

In conclusion, Jim Wallace said that sensitive information must be protected. I am going to be radical and say, "No, Jim, it is precisely—in the generally understood sense of the word sensitive—sensitive information that must be available." We are currently denied the sensitive information.

As my colleague Alasdair Morgan indicated, we are debating a change of law, but we must also bring with that a change of culture and practice.

I say to Murdo Fraser that the mindset of Sir Humphrey Appleby is alive and well. I think that Francis Bacon said that he who hath a secret to keep must keep it secret that he hath a secret to keep.


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