THE UK Government has been urged to explain the “striking coincidence” of a £20,000 donation from a trade body after changing their position on including glass in deposit return schemes.

Following the UK Government’s decision to only allow Scotland an exemption to the Internal Market Act (IMA) if it excludes glass from its recycling scheme, there have been calls for greater transparency over how much influence industry lobbying had on the decision by a leading anti-corruption organisation, environmental campaigners and the SNP.

Tory ministers have been accused of engaging in “sabotage” and trying to wreck the Scottish scheme, with First Minister Humza Yousaf suggesting the policy will have to be scrapped if there is no U-turn from Westminster.

READ MORE: Timeline: How the row over including glass in the deposit return scheme developed

A Sunday National investigation has found that just six weeks after the UK Government first signalled its intention to exclude glass from the schemes in England and Northern Ireland, the Conservative party accepted a £20,000 donation from an industry lobby group.

The Wine and Spirits Trade Association (WSTA) have been vocal in calling for glass to be excluded, including in government consultations on the topic, and called for a UK-wide approach to the scheme.

In the days following the UK Government’s announcement, WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said: "Not including glass within the scope of DRS is not only better for the environment but also better for businesses and consumer choice.

"All schemes must now be introduced at the same time to avoid confusion and unnecessary price increases.”

WSTA are one of a number of industry bodies, including the Scottish Whisky Association, who have lobbied for glass to be excluded from the scheme.

The UK Government first vowed to introduce a DRS in 2018, under then-environment secretary Michael Gove, but following two consultations, signalled a change in position in a document published on March 26 2022.

In a summary of responses to a consultation to move the cost of dealing with packaging waste on to the producer, the UK Government stated that glass would not be included in the schemes in England and Northern Ireland for the first time. Wales however, it noted, would still include glass in its scheme.

It states that concerns were raised about the way glass is collected and crushed in reverse vending machines would result in “poorer quality glass” than is collected through kerbside collections, increased handling costs, that the machines would need to be emptied more, and health and safety risks.

“The weight of glass and the potential for breakages also pose consumer safety issues in transporting glass bottles to return points,” the document stated.

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“Taking these concerns into consideration, England and Northern Ireland will not include glass in their DRS.”

On May 12 2022, the WSTA made a one-off donation to the central Conservative Party for £20,000.

The trade body also acts as the secretariat for an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Wine and Spirits, chaired by Tory MP and chairman of the backbench 1922 committee Sir Graham Brady (pictured below). The APPG has been in operation since July 2017, and has registered £10,500 of “benefits in kind” through the group, excluding 2021 and 2022 during the Covid-19 pandemic.

At time of publication, WSTA has not responded to our request for comment.

Juliet Swann, senior policy officer at Transparency International UK, said: "Policy positions can change for a number of reasons, but the striking coincidence of this U-turn by the Conservative party in close proximity to a donation from an industry body interested in securing that policy change does prompt questions.

"To avoid the perception of purchasing policy changes, all lobbying of parliamentarians should be transparent, and the amounts spent recorded.”

Swann urged the WSTA to update its entry in the Scottish Lobbying Register, as they are down as “inactive” and that the UK Government must “share the reasoning for the policy change in this area”.

"It is therefore impossible to tell if the lobbying they are doing at Westminster is replicated at Holyrood,” she added.

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“Not only is it vital for public trust for decision making to be transparent and decision makers to be accountable, but this change in policy also risks substantial costs to the public purse.”

The extent and impact of lobbying from industry on this policy change was raised in the House of Commons by a Tory MP in May 2022, shortly after the WSTA donation was made.

Philip Hollobone, MP for Kettering, told the Commons that the case for excluding glass was made by lobbyists who had a “vested interest” in ensuring it was not part of the scheme.

Henry Swithinbank, policy and research manager at Surfers Against Sewage, said that the UK Government’s decision to “throw a spanner in the works” of Scotland’s DRS is “massively disappointing”.

“We agree that a UK-wide Deposit Return Scheme makes sense, but the UK government should be raising their ambition to the same level as Scotland and Wales, not dragging them down,” he told the Sunday National.

“The UK public want a Deposit Return Scheme that has the best impact for the environment. “But it seems instead of listening to the public, environmental experts, their own civil servants and many leading businesses they have capitulated to lobbying from a small subset of business driven to wreck the scheme.”

In Scotland, Tory MSP Maurice Golden, who infamously tweeted that to do a DRS “properly” it must include glass in 2019, has now changed his position in line with the UK Government’s.

According to the Scottish Lobbying Register, Golden was repeatedly approached by groups with an interest in the scheme, and on 19 occasions meetings were logged where the topic of discussion included glass.

READ MORE: Mark Drakeford: England is the 'outlier' in excluding glass from DRS

Five of these meetings were with the British Glass Manufacturers’ Confederation, three meetings with Perspectiva Consultants, who stated the meeting was to “request the exclusion of glass”, and two meetings with the Scottish Whisky Association on the same issue. Golden also had one meeting with Friends of the Earth (FoE) Scotland, who supported the inclusion of glass.

The Sunday National approached the Scottish Tories and asked if Golden had changed his position due to lobbying from industry.

Golden (pictured below) said: “If the Scottish Government wants to include glass in DRS, it needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with some firm proposals that takes businesses and consumers along too.

The National:

“If SNP and Green ministers can be bothered to do that, I’ll be more than happy to look again at the idea.”

SNP MSP Jackie Dunbar said: “The stark revelations raise a number of very serious questions for the Tory government.

“Voters will understandably be concerned by these reports, so now it’s up to the UK government to come clean with the public about what was behind this calculated decision to undermine Scotland’s Parliament.

READ MORE: Humza Yousaf: Rishi Sunak should rethink DRS glass exemption

“What’s already crystal clear however is Westminster’s sheer contempt for Scotland’s democratic will as the Tories seek to dismantle devolution at any given opportunity – while Labour watches on in silence.

“Ultimately, it’s only with independence that Scotland can lead its own future and protect our democracy.”

A Defra spokesperson said: “These allegations are completely untrue. Our approach ensures consistency across the UK, which is the best way to provide a simple and effective system for both businesses and consumers.
“Including glass in the scheme would have led to additional costs and complexity as well as increased consumer inconvenience, as glass weighs more than other materials, takes up space and creates more risks from breakages.”