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.