ALISTER Jack has refused to appear at a Scottish Parliament committee to give evidence on the delayed Deposit Return Scheme (DRS).

It is the third committee appearance the Scottish Secretary has declined an invite to during this parliamentary term.

Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) minister Rebecca Pow also refused to appear to speak to MSPs about the collapse of the scheme, after the UK Government refused to allow Scotland an exemption for glass in the Internal Market Act (IMA) earlier this year.

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MSPs also wanted to speak to Jack and Tory ministers about intergovernmental relations between Westminster and Holyrood.

Edward Mountain, chair of Holyrood’s Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee and Tory MSP, said MSPs were “disappointed” that Jack passed on the invitation to appear to Defra, who then subsequently refused.

In a letter to Mountain on July 20, Jack said that as the committee is “most interested in hearing how a UK-wide DRS will operate in practice” as well as “interoperability” across the UK, he said it would be “more beneficial” if Therese Coffey, Defra Secretary of State, was invited instead.

However, Coffey (below) did not provide a response to the committee.

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Instead Pow refused on the department’s behalf.

On August 22, she wrote that as the minister with responsibility for DRS, she “politely declined” the invitation.

After the snub, she wrote: “The UK Government believe it is essential that all DRSs across the UK are interoperable. We want to ensure that the schemes operate seamlessly for businesses and consumers across the UK. Defra is working closely with devolved administrations at pace on the next steps to achieve this.”

In response, Mountain said that the way the UK Government handled the invitation was “frustrating”.

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“It is not helpful to be passed from pillar to post by two arms of the same government, when a coordinated response agreed between your two departments setting out whether the invitation could be accepted ought, in the Committee’s view, to have been possible,” he wrote in a letter to Jack.

He added that neither letter from Jack or Pow gave “substantive reasons” for turning down the invitation to appear at the committee and that it was “reasonable” of MSPs to expect an explanation.

Requesting a response by September 30, Mountain added: “I request that further consideration is given to our invitation.

“If this issue sits outwith your Cabinet portfolio, I would be grateful if you could make internal representations to ascertain whether a UK minister is available to appear at committee.”

The National: Tory MSP Edward Mountain.

Following the release of the correspondence, Mountain (above) commented that “difficulties” around the DRS and the “taxpayers potential financial exposure” as a result are of “great public interest and concern in Scotland.

“Delays and set backs on the scheme also laid bare that intergovernmental relations need sharpened up. Ways of enabling this must be discussed and implemented at speed,” he added.

“This is why we are disappointed that the Secretary of State for Scotland referred our invitation to Defra – only for Defra to ‘politely decline’.

“Being passed from pillar to post by two arms of the same government is both frustrating and unhelpful.”

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Mountain said he hoped for a “positive response” to his September 30 deadline.

It is not the first time Jack and UK Government ministers have refused to speak to Scottish Parliament committees.

The Scottish Secretary previously refused to give evidence on his use of a Section 35 order to block Scotland’s gender reforms from becoming law at both the Constitution Committee and Equalities Committee at the Scottish Parliament.

Women and Equalities Minister Kemi Badenoch also rejected an invitation from the Equalities, Human Rights, and Civil Justice Committee.

Elsewhere, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt rejected a request to attend the Finance Committee to discuss UK fiscal matters with MSPs via his chief secretary earlier this year.

A UK Government spokesperson said: "We welcome the Scottish Parliament's Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee interest in the Scottish Government's paused Deposit Return Scheme - and about how a UK-wide DRS could work in practice.

"We continue to work with the Scottish Government, and the other devolved administrations, to develop an approach to making DRSs across the UK interoperable. We will update stakeholders, including the committee, as plans develop. 

"The UK Government remains unwavering in its commitment to improving the environment, while also upholding the UK’s internal market. The Scottish Government paused its DRS so that it starts at the same time as the UK Government’s scheme. Schemes need to be interoperable across the whole of the UK, to provide a simple and effective system for businesses and consumers." 

Defra have been contacted for comment.