Finnie fights for survival after fresh gaffe

ROSS Finnie was battling for his future as a minister last night after being forced to apologise for giving wrong information to the Scottish Parliament.

Opposition MSPs demanded that the beleaguered environment minister should resign for what they regard as his latest gaffe - just days after the controversy over his description of a leading business figure as an "English prat".

Mr Finnie admitted he was "extraordinarily embarrassed" after wrongly telling MSPs during a crucial debate yesterday on the recent water crisis affecting areas of Glasgow, that sheep were no longer grazing on the banks of Loch Katrine, which provides the city with its drinking water.

A report into a previous health scare last year had recommended that all livestock should be removed from the shores of the loch, amid fears they could be the source of the cryptosporidium bug.

After Mr Finnie yesterday gave his assurance to MSPs that the sheep had been removed, Scottish Water contradicted the minister by admitting that around 3,000 sheep were still there - although they would be sold off by 16 September.

Mr Finnie later insisted he had not made his statement recklessly or tried to mislead the parliament. He said he had made inquiries before the debate and his clear understanding in good faith was that there were no sheep left.

Stressing that the mistake had been caused by an error in communication, he said: "I must confess I am extraordinarily embarrassed by it."

The SNP demanded that Jack McConnell, the First Minister, sacks Mr Finnie because he was no longer in control of his brief. The Scottish Tories condemned his "shambolic" performance.

But Mr McConnell is expected to stand by the minister, acknowledging that he moved quickly to correct a mistake.

Last week, the First Minister demanded that Mr Finnie apologise over his "English prat" remark, made following a controversial speech by Digby Jones, director general of the Confederation of British Industry.