That the Parliament agrees that the current expensive implementation proposals for the Urban Waste Water Treatment Directive (91/271/EEC), in so far as they apply to the Scottish fish processing industry in North East Scotland, will effectively close many of the companies engaged in the industry, which provide thousands of skilled jobs; and also agrees that implementation of these proposals should be delayed to allow for proper consideration of the technical review currently being undertaken to produce cost effective solutions for the industry, enabling the industry to continue as a major employer in Scotland.
Excuse me, Mr Davidson. Please resume your seat for a second. In fairness to the member who has the debate, I ask members who are leaving to please do so quickly and quietly.
I repeat that I appreciate the privilege and honour of having the first piece of members' business in the Parliament since we adopted our full powers.
This issue is very dear to me and to the area I represent, North-East Scotland, and I am pleased that there are representatives of the fish processing industry in the gallery today. For them, the past year has been one of great anxiety about the implementation of the waste water directive. The motion is self-explanatory. Because of the implementation of a piece of legislation from Europe, and perhaps the manner of that implementation, the industry will suffer tremendously. We want the Parliament to recognise the need for delay.
Fish processing is a vital industry. In the north-east, businesses range in size from 50 to 500 employees; in some villages and communities it is the basis of the local economy. It is of equal importance to the catching community; the markets of Aberdeen, Peterhead and Fraserburgh, for example, provide a ready place for the fish to go, which encourages catchers to the area. That gives vitality to the ports as well as to the companies that service the industry.
If the solutions that are being offered go ahead, many firms will fold. Some will suffer a twentyfold increase in their waste water charges; many cannot cope with that. As a result, a great many jobs are at stake. In Aberdeen, around 5,000 people are employed in the industry and several thousand other employees are scattered along the north coast. My argument also applies to the fish
When, a year ago, I went to see Lord Sewel on behalf of the industry, he said that the polluter must pay. The industry does not dispute that; its concern is that it has received no help or assistance in meeting the directive. The only assistance on offer was a four-hour consultation-two hours on the premises, two hours to write it up and then the bad news. When I asked for European aid, I was told that it was not available, even though it appears to have been available in other countries. Lord Sewel is no longer the minister responsible, so I hope that the current ministerial team will take up where he left off.
Last Saturday, I had the privilege of attending the launch of an Aberdeen initiative; it is well written up in the Scottish Parliament information centre sheet on the industry, as are the facts and figures, and I commend the paper to members. It also gives the statistics, so I do not need to repeat them. Aberdeen City Council, in partnership with the industry and others, has come up with an alternative scheme to that proposed by the North of Scotland Water Authority. It will produce benefits for the industry by establishing a separate system.
We are talking about an organic product. It came from the sea and it can go back to the sea, because we are blessed with high flows of water around the coast-unlike Denmark, where any waste must be treated in a more expensive way.
The Aberdeen scheme would benefit the industry-the projected net costs would be 50p per cubit metre of effluent in 2003. Under the NOSWA scheme, the cost-approximately £2.50-will be five times that amount. That is serious money. I congratulate the partnership, but it is running out of time. Everybody is telling us that we must deal with the problem now, but I am asking for a full year. The Aberdeen harbour scheme-a model scheme-will take exactly one year to get through planning procedures and be put into action.
We should also consider Peterhead and Fraserburgh, where NOSWA wants to build giant machines to mix human effluent with fish processing waste, which is then unfit to be put out to sea and has to be commercially treated. That scheme is vastly expensive. We need to consider constructive, pragmatic and affordable ways in which to deal with something that everybody recognises to be a problem. The industry must be able to survive, employ people and continue to offer a base for the catching sector, which is very important to the north-east of Scotland.
Mr Davidson must forgive me if I have misheard him, but this problem is not unique to the
That was a nice speech for the south of Scotland. Earlier, I said that, although this item of members' business was about the north-east, it applied to other areas of Scotland. I welcome the intervention, which highlights the problem that the sector faces.
The water authorities have been heavy-handed in their approach, but it should be borne in mind that they are under constraints as to how they are funded and how they raise capital costs. It would be good for the environment if we set up schemes to take effluent straight out to sea as a natural product. The Scottish Environment Protection Agency would control such a scheme, and the process would not be covered by the urban waste water directive.
I am concerned that the water authorities are seeking to mix the fish processing effluent with human waste. The fish processing effluent is then contaminated, which causes unnecessary additional expense. I am asking for time for NOSWA and others. A wonderful report by the environmental consultants Cordah will be published in August. The minister may insist that everything is dealt with by a certain date-there has been due warning-but evidence will be in the public domain as a result of on-going scientific reports.
This chamber must insist that an indigenous industry that is a major part of our economy-it is a way of life in many communities-is dealt with in a less heavy-handed way. We are too quick to gold-plate European regulations. We need time, clear and unbiased thought and professional input. I have given permission for many members to speak; I hope that, collectively, we can get the message across to the new ministerial team about the importance of the matter and the need for a year's delay.
I congratulate David Davidson on securing the first item of members' business since yesterday's historic events and for choosing jobs in the fish processing industry as the subject. I am also delighted that we are again discussing fishing
Mr Davidson has eloquently expressed the concerns of the fish processing industry. I do not want to repeat what he has said in detail. I want to put on record the fact that, although the industry agrees with all the aims and objectives of the urban waste water directive, it is concerned that implementation will threaten many jobs in the north-east of Scotland.
The industry seeks a lasting and cost-effective solution. I can see no reason why NOSWA would oppose a delay in the implementation of the directive. There is nothing to prevent the minister from negotiating with Brussels for such a delay; it is a question of political will and determination. This is a new Parliament, the minister has a new position and she can decide to stick up for the industry by flying to Brussels to discuss with the relevant EU officials this important matter, which affects the livelihoods of many people in the north-east of Scotland.
The industry is asking for a breathing space. Even in the past few weeks there have been developments on this issue. Mr Davidson referred to a number of them. Labour-controlled Aberdeen City Council decided to proceed with its widely supported plans for the industry in that city. Today, Aberdeenshire Council is also discussing proposals to help the industry. The area's political representatives are doing what they can to support the industry's demands and industry leaders, some of whom we have with us today, are doing what they can for the employees.
It would be a great pity if Sarah Boyack did not do what she could to help. The key to arriving at an agreeable solution is in the minister's hands. If the minister does not decide today to bring a fresh approach from the Government, there could be job losses throughout the north-east of Scotland. NOSWA's bills could rise even higher. The north-east already pays the highest water bills in the country, but if the private finance initiative projects go ahead, the people of the north-east will pay money that is simply profit for the shareholders of those companies, such as Yorkshire Water, that are proposing to fund the projects. The people of the north-east will not accept that. If the minister takes no action, she will be getting off to a very poor start.
I make four requests of the minister. First, when she winds up the debate, I ask her not to use the dog-eared brief that was used by her predecessor in Westminster. We want to see a fresh approach. Secondly, I ask the minister to show determination and political willingness to negotiate with the EU representatives in Brussels at the earliest opportunity. Thirdly, I ask her to instruct NOSWA
In the run-up to the European election, our party's slogan was "In Europe, not run by Europe."
It proved quite popular with the electorate. I submit that this European waste water directive is an example of what we were talking about. It has been landed on the industry without consultation and its implementation will be disastrously expensive for the Scottish fish processing sector, whose 230 units provide 43 per cent of the sea fish processing employment in the UK. The industry is a vital employer in a region that has been decimated by the downturn in the oil and agriculture industries.
The directive will obviously affect the fishing industry as a whole, because the extra costs will push up the price of fish products in the shops, which will make them less competitive than other food products. Many processors will go out of business. Not only will jobs be lost, but some skills, such as the filleting of small fish, will disappear. Such skills are specific to the north-east; if they are lost now, they will be difficult to replace.
My friend, David Davidson, has talked about white fish in the north-east, but I would like to draw attention to Scottish salmon and trout producers and processors. The industry provides thousands of jobs in the Highlands and Islands and 38 processing units in Scotland deal only with salmon and trout. Recently, the hard-pushed salmon industry has been hit hard by the outbreaks of infectious salmon anaemia. It is nearly impossible for farms to obtain insurance against the value of their stocks because of the policy of destroying all fish stocks in an infected farm. That is not the case in other fish-producing countries such as Norway, so the Scottish product is already becoming less competitive.
It is vital that we do not simply accept a European directive that damages an enormously important Scottish industry. I ask for support in allowing time to digest the technical review, which, I hope, will provide less costly solutions for the
I, too, welcome the opportunity to focus on an industry that is a major provider of jobs in my constituency and elsewhere. The fish-catching sector attracts a good deal of public attention but, in providing jobs onshore, jobs for women and part-time jobs for lone parents who want to work-as well as in maintaining a range of skills in a traditional industry that provides a vital link in the food chain-the fish processing sector demands equal attention and status.
When we talk to industry leaders, such as those from Aberdeen who are with us today, we must listen to their concerns about the implementation of the directive. Although I take Mr Robson's point, I think that there is particular concern in the north of Scotland, because of the scale and expense of the proposed plant. The population factor means that fewer people and firms would pay for the plant that we need. That is why so many of the firms in the Aberdeen area face difficulties.
It is clear that my colleagues in Aberdeen City Council have been listening to the concerns that have been raised. I would like to congratulate the council and the Aberdeen Fish Curers and Merchants Association on working together on a practical scheme-the first in Scotland-to implement the regulations at a price that the industry can afford.
Will the minister confirm that the Aberdeen harbour scheme for trade effluent treatment that was announced last weekend will meet the requirement of the European regulations and so have the support and approval of the Scottish Environment Protection Agency? Will the ministerial team acknowledge that the fish processing industry is not opposed to the environmental standards that we have agreed with our European partners?
The industry recognises that those standards must be implemented; indeed, it seeks to meet those standards. Will the minister consider what support can be given to upgrade the industry's premises in order to reduce the cost of trade effluent treatment, whoever provides it? The more effective the industry is in dealing with its own effluent-other industries, such as the meat industry, have the same problem-the less it will be charged, either by the Aberdeen harbour scheme or by NOSWA, to deal with it.
It would be too easy to say that if Europe sets the standard it must foot the bill. However, we
It is too easy to get into a party slanging match and to talk about ministers acting with too much haste, dog-eared proposals and all the rest of it. We should focus on the positive agenda of what this ministerial team and this Parliament can deliver for our industry-that is the key. The timetable is critical and I urge ministers to meet representatives of the industry with the information that is required as soon as possible. Time is important, but getting it right is even more important, and I ask the ministers to arrange matters as soon as it is practical.
In summing up, will the Minister for Transport and the Environment consider the pressures that apply to NOSWA, given that there is already a preferred bidder for the scheme? I also ask her to consider whether the commercial considerations of preferred bidder status will have any implications for the innovative public-private partnership that has been suggested for Aberdeen-and for other schemes, both in Aberdeenshire, which would deal with Fraserburgh and Peterhead, and elsewhere in Scotland. Will she allow time for the Aberdeen proposal, and those suggested for other areas, to be implemented? I am a little concerned that, as preferred bidder status has already been agreed, commercial considerations might preclude other private arrangements outwith the NOSWA proposal.
I congratulate Mr Davidson on raising this important issue, which many members have expressed concern about over the past few weeks since we came to the Parliament. The minister's response today is important in the context of those concerns.
I thank Mr Davidson for recognising that this is not just a problem for the north-east of Scotland. In Shetland, there are 603 direct and indirect jobs in the fish processing industry, which is worth about £57 million to the Shetland economy. It is a considerable factor in our economy and, in that sense, we have the same interests, although on a different scale.
Mr Davidson made an important point about the
We need to think a little about the strata of the industry. It is not just a question of the fish processors-who can be seen as the middlemen-as it reaches both up and down the line. The control and power that supermarkets have today mean that the price of the product in the shop will not change. Down at the bottom level, it is the primary producer who may ultimately see the price of his or her product fall. In that context, it affects salmon farmers, pelagic boats and white-fish boats.
Lewis Macdonald made a good point about waste water treatment plants. In Shetland we have tried to tackle investment with the local enterprise company and the council. However, the trouble is that the scale of the increases that NOSWA is looking to put into place is much more than can be offset by the improvements that the processing factories in Shetland are trying to implement.
The briefing that came from the library was useful. The group treatment process that will be established in Aberdeen, if successful, is important, but there are advantages of economies of scale there which are not available in many parts of the Highlands and Islands, where factories may not be geographically close to one another or where there may be other disadvantages of scale. It is important that we consider what will have to be done in parts of the Highlands and Islands to implement the directive. There may not be the opportunity-if that is the right way of describing it-that exists in Aberdeen to deal with this particular problem. As Richard Lochhead said, it is important to ask questions and to ensure that the minister responds to these needs, and that she uses her office in an imaginative way to tackle these problems.
As regards NOSWA, will the minister also bear in mind that water and sewage services should be given back to local control, in the circumstances where they can be administratively and economically delivered in a more efficient manner? That could be a solution that would help the situation in the northern isles.
I think that one of the Liberal Democrat members mentioned the other day that he thought that he was the only person in this Parliament who had worked in a fish factory. I am afraid that he was wrong. Like many Aberdeen students, I spent
As colleagues from all parties have said, we recognise the difficulties in which smaller fish processors find themselves through the implementation of the EU urban waste water treatment directive. I join my colleagues in welcoming the initiative of Aberdeen City Council and the Aberdeen Fish Curers and Merchants Association in the treatment of fish waste water. I hope that the proposal will meet environmental requirements and ensure not only the survival of smaller fish processors, but their economic viability.
We also have to recognise environmental concerns. Survey after survey has shown that the general public's prime concerns about water are clean beaches, clean seas, clean rivers and good-quality drinking water. My constituency of Aberdeen North is bounded on the east by the beach running up to Balmedie and on the south by the River Don. Those are valuable and valued resources for my constituents for recreation and sporting activities which demand a clean environment and clean water.
The directive is in response to the concern about the environmental health of our seas and marine environment. Many are worried about the health of the North sea and of the organisms within it, whether fish, shellfish or marine animals such as the dolphins in the Moray firth. We all want clean seas and a healthy marine environment with healthy fish. A healthy fish stock is also an essential requirement for the continuation of the fish processing industry.
We have to help the fish processing industry to continue to modernise so that it can more easily meet EU requirements and produce high-quality, high-value products to compete effectively with competitors in Europe and elsewhere.
I urge the ministers to consider sympathetically the fish waste water scheme proposed by Aberdeen City Council and AFCAMA and also to meet representatives of the fish processing industry so that we can meet the twin objectives of a healthy marine environment and a viable fish processing industry.
This has been an intelligent and useful debate and I thank Mr
The charges set by NOSWA for dealing with waste water containing trade effluent will rise very substantially if we do not take action and resolve the issue. I want to put on record the two main factors behind the increase in charges. First, NOSWA is now fully implementing the Mogden approach to setting waste water charges. Secondly, as several members have said, the implementation of the European directive on urban waste water treatment requires NOSWA to provide secondary treatment for significant discharges by the end of 2000. That means that those who discharge trade effluent into the urban sewerage system will have to pay for secondary treatment.
That is where we have to begin this debate. I appreciate Elaine Thomson's comments about environmental issues. I suspect that most people would be alarmed by the amount of raw sewage that we pump into our rivers and seas with all the resulting problems for bathing waters and public health.
In NOSWA, 65 per cent of sewage is dispersed into our waters with minimal treatment. I am sure that we would all agree in principle that we cannot tolerate that in this day and age. Investing in necessary treatment will mean higher charges for us, but I believe-and I hope that the whole Parliament will agree-that this is a price that we have to pay if we really care about looking after our environment.
On setting charges, NOSWA inherited various approaches from the previous regional authorities. The idea of moving to the Mogden formula is that it is the fairest approach. It has been endorsed by the Confederation of British Industry. Under the Mogden formula, the level of the charge depends on the volume and strength of the liquid that is discharged. Essentially, the greater the pollution, the higher the charge. It is now a standard throughout the water industry and in Scotland people are already paying charges using this formula. The cost of treating waste water has to be paid either by those who discharge the effluent or through cross-subsidy from other customers. The Mogden formula ensures that the polluter pays and there is no cross-subsidy between customers of the water authorities. We welcome NOSWA's efforts to move towards a proper and fairer cost recovery system.
At the same time we have to address the issue of the European urban waste water treatment directive to ensure that specified levels of treatment are provided to meet specified deadlines. In many coastal areas, this means introducing sewage treatment for the first time. In Fraserburgh, Peterhead and Aberdeen, where most of the fish processors are based, there is a requirement for secondary treatment by the end of 2000. That backdrop means that we do not have a long time to debate this issue. Conservative members have suggested that we delay the implementation of this directive to allow consideration of a technical review now being undertaken. I do not believe that a delay would be a sensible option for us to pursue. Failure to implement the directive in time would mean that the UK ran a serious risk of infraction proceedings from the European Commission in the European Court of Justice. We are aware that the European Commission is keen to pursue this issue.
On the point made by Richard Lochhead about trying to receive derogation on this issue, the previous Administration under Lord Sewel attempted to get derogation for Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire to prevent us from having to address this issue. It was given the clear understanding by other European states that this would not be acceptable, so we have attempted to get derogation.
No, I will not take an interruption.
If we were taken to infraction by the European Commission, the money would be taken from the Scottish block. There are already two examples where countries are being taken to the European Court of Justice on the issue of dealing with waste water treatment-Italy and Belgium are both being taken to court-so there is an imperative to implement the directive on time.
I am sure that members who have talked to the food processing industry will know of the lengthy history of this issue. Some firms have begun to address it and NOSWA has attempted to encourage the fish industry to prepare in advance. There has been an extensive information programme, advice packs, consultation documents and there have been hundreds of meetings. NOSWA is sympathetic to the position of the fish processors and has for some time been advising industrial dischargers to attempt to reduce their future charge increases by investing in cleaner technology or minimising the use of water. I understand that some firms have been able to do that. NOSWA has also agreed to phase in the increased charges over a number of years.
I thank the minister for allowing me to intervene. The industry is looking for more than sympathy from the new Administration. Does the Administration not have faith in its own ability to do a better job than the previous Administration on negotiating derogation in Europe?
That is a flattering point but that is not the situation. We have attempted to address this issue through the route suggested by Mr Lochhead and we have not been successful.
I will now talk about the solutions that are available. The difficulty of this debate is that we do not have a long window of opportunity. There has been a lot of joint work among NOSWA, local councils, enterprise companies, trade associations and others to try to address the issues of waste minimisation and to offer advice on best practice. NOSWA has contributed £25,000 to a waste minimisation programme for fish processors, and it continues to offer them advice.
Some fish processors have been able to reduce the charges that they will face, but I accept that for many of the smaller ones it has been extremely difficult to do so. I appreciate the anxiety that the increases in the estimated charges has caused to fish processors, and I am concerned about their potential impact on the fish processing sector as a whole.
A number of suggestions have been made on practical ways of taking the debate forward. One suggestion was the development of a separate plant specifically to treat trade effluent. I understand from NOSWA that Mr Davidson's point about its having developed a giant scheme under PFI is inaccurate. The scheme has been developed to deal with the situation in Aberdeen. Storm water, and not just trade effluent, is the key
If traders do not need to use the plant, the PFI scheme will operate in such a way that the charges can be accommodated. That is the risk that the PFI bidder takes on in accepting this project.
Mr Brian Adam made a point about the PFI project as well. The scheme is one potential way to proceed and it would be dealt with by the Scottish Environment Protection Agency under its regulation and control schemes. However, we urge caution. In the immediate future, I want to have a detailed discussion with people in the fish processing industry and with my colleague John Home Robertson to find a possible way forward.
A lot of what we are hearing from the minister is common knowledge about the waste water directive for dealing with the disposal of human waste. I hope that she will discuss ways of dealing, whether through NOSWA or some other agency, with waste water from the fish processing industry. Such waste is natural and organic; whenever possible, we do not want to put it into ordinary sewers. I accept that sometimes it will not be possible to avoid that, but the Seafish Authority has produced documentation that gives good advice on the subject. In areas such as Peterhead harbour where there are many small fish processors, there could be a scheme linking only the fish processors to an outfall system in which the waste required the minimum of treatment. I do not see that as part and parcel of what the minister is discussing. The minister is discussing the global issues of human waste water; we are here to talk about the fish processing industry.
I hope that it is in order for members to prepare their thoughts in advance of coming into the chamber and to amend them while speaking, as I am doing.
Mr Davidson's motion asks us to delay dealing with the urban waste water treatment directive. That option is not available to us: we have to address the directive. It was enacted in 1991, so there is a long history to this debate. We have to get our treatment schemes in place by the end of 2000. I am keen to have discussions with the fish processing industry. There is going to be a consultation paper on the new criteria for giving financial aid, which will be put in place from next year. We can examine and discuss a number of issues. However, delaying is out of the question. We need to work out effective solutions.
No, I am winding up. The strategic review study will offer us a number of opportunities to examine this issue. Time is short; but in my ministerial position and with my other ministerial colleagues, I am keen that we talk to people to discover what we can do. As everybody has made plain, it is a complex issue with no easy solution. Had there been an easy solution, I am sure that the Conservative Government would have solved it when in power. We need to comply with European directives; we cannot ignore them. We have to work out strategies to help the industries and communities, which will be difficult.
I suggest to Mr Lochhead that, if we are trying to bring a fresh view to the debate, we have to consider the long-term strategic implications of any initiatives. We should not ignore the implications and pretend that they are not going to happen, but we should address them in Parliament and in our committees to ensure that we meet our obligations under the European directives, and that we meet them in a way that is sensible and will benefit our whole community.