Green MSP calls for investigation into comments by Alister Jack
The Secretary of State for Scotland, Alister Jack, has “clearly and demonstrably” misled the House of Commons about Scotland’s Deposit Return Scheme, say the Scottish Greens.
This comes as Scottish Green MSP Ross Greer has written to both the Speaker of the House of Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, and Cabinet Secretary Simon Case, calling for an investigation into previous statements made by Mr Jack.
The letter highlights in particular Mr Jack's claim in the Commons on 22nd February that no request had yet been received from the Scottish Government despite a 'final detailed proposal' having been submitted more than a week previously.
In a letter to Sir Lindsay Hoyle, Mr Greer wrote
“It is abundantly clear that Mr Jack’s attempts to convince the House of Commons that the Scottish Government had not sought an Internal Market Act exemption until March of this year is simply and categorically untrue.
"It is my firm belief that Mr Jack and his Government have used the Brexit process to give themselves a new power of veto over the decisions of Scotland’s elected Parliament via the Internal Market Act. This is a direct attack on Scotland’s democracy.”
“Whilst the wider political points are of course not a matter for the Speaker, I would urge you to urgently investigate the situation I have described and outline and ask what action you will take in response to Mr Jack misleading the House of Commons.”
In the letter to Simon Case, the most senior civil servant in Whitehall, Greer asked for confirmation “that neither a formal nor an official request for an exclusion from the Internal Market Act is required.”
Ross Greer said:
“When it comes to the Deposit Return Scheme this Tory minister has misled MPs, businesses and the public. Right from the start Alister Jack has abused his position in a partisan and opportunistic bid to block the progress Scotland is making. We cannot let these mistruths continue. It's bad enough that the Tories have used Brexit to give themselves this new power of veto over the Scottish Parliament, but to mislead the public about it is simply outrageous.
“Much of what Mr Jack has said is categorically untrue and he knows it. There is no requirement for an 'official' or 'formal' request for exemption, he has simply made up a new process as some kind of sad power play against the Scottish Government. It would however be deeply worrying if he has done so with the permission of others in the UK Government, implying that they have in fact unilaterally rewritten an agreed process without informing the Scottish Government.
“The reality is that the Tories have shown a total contempt for our environment and for Scotland's democracy and have turned to misdirection and distortion to cover it up.”
The timeline of engagement that Greer has asked Simon Case to confirm is below.
- In July 2021, the Scottish Government proposed a broad exclusion from the Internal Market Act (IMA) for both Scotland’s single-use plastics ban and the proposed Deposit Return Scheme.
- Official level discussions took place in October 2021.
- The matter was discussed between Scottish and UK ministers at the December 2021 Inter-Ministerial Group meeting (IMG).
- In January 2022, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) began their processes for considering an exclusion
- In March 2022, DEFRA confirmed at an IMG meeting that a narrow exclusion had been granted for the single-use plastic ban only.
- Responding to this decision via letter, Lorna Slater, Scottish Government Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity to George Eustice, then UK Secretary of State for DEFRA, she acknowledged this decision by saying: “We must ensure that the future application of the process is informed by lessons drawn from this case. One example is in relation to work on deposit return schemes and I would be pleased to discuss our shared ambition for such schemes with you at the bilateral.”
- Following this rejection of a broad exclusion that would have covered DRS, the Scottish Government began to pursue a specific exclusion with the UK Government in October 2022. This was discussed at the November 2022 IMG, and then by officials in the subsequent months.
- Another ministerial meeting on the matter took place in January 2023.
- Concerned by the length of time being taken to reach an exclusion, the then Deputy First Minister of Scotland, John Swinney, wrote to the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up on both the need for a UK Government decision on the application of VAT to deposits and an IMA exclusion. His letter included the following line: “I am seeking your assurance now that UK Ministers will expedite a rapid solution, including an exclusion to the IMA”.
- In response, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury wrote that: “DEFRA has assured me that its officials are working closely with counterparts in the Scottish Government and BEIS to scope and understand any implications associated with the UKIMA for the delivery of Scotland’s DRS and welcome the constructive working relationships between officials as they go through these details.”
- On the 13th February, the Scottish Government presented a detailed final paper for the UK and devolved governments.