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.


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