Fish Processing Industry

Part of the debate – in the Scottish Parliament at 12:56 pm on 2nd July 1999.

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Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat 12:56 pm, 2nd July 1999

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 manner of the directive's implementation. In future, the Parliament's committees, such as the European Committee, the Transport and the Environment Committee and other appropriate committees, will have a crucial role in considering that.

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.