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Chamber and committees

Meeting of the Parliament [Draft]

Meeting date: Wednesday, March 1, 2023


Deposit Return Scheme

The Presiding Officer (Alison Johnstone)

The next item of business is a statement by Lorna Slater on an update on Scotland’s deposit return scheme. The minister will take questions at the end of her statement, so there should be no interventions or interruptions.


The Minister for Green Skills, Circular Economy and Biodiversity (Lorna Slater)

I welcome the opportunity to update the chamber on Scotland’s deposit return scheme.

There was a time, not that long ago, when I could have said that every party in this chamber backed a deposit return scheme. There was a time when we were all united in our determination to tackle the litter that blights our streets, parks and beaches. DRS will increase recycling rates from 50 per cent to 90 per cent and cut litter by a third, and there was a time when that was the clinching argument. In 2020, this Parliament—with cross-party support—backed Scotland’s deposit return scheme. [Interruption.]

The Presiding Officer

Excuse me, minister.

At the beginning of this item of business, I said that there should be no interventions or interruptions. There will be an opportunity to put questions to the minister at the end her statement. Until that point, I would be grateful if we could conduct our business in a courteous manner.

Lorna Slater

Thank you, Presiding Officer.

I wish that I were able to say that the scheme that we will launch in August is innovative, groundbreaking and world leading, but the truth is that Scotland is following the example of other countries such as Germany and Denmark, as well as regional schemes such as the ones in Canada. That means that we can look abroad and see that the concept works. The lack of uniqueness is the reassurance that it works, and the fact we are not first tells us that we are not taking unnecessary risks.

I am delighted to say that, as of this morning, 664 drink producers—representing more than 90 per cent of the total volume of drinks containers sold in Scotland each year—have completed registration with Circularity Scotland for Scotland’s deposit return scheme. The Scottish Parliament set industry a challenge to take responsibility for the waste that it produces and to play its part in tackling the climate emergency. I am delighted that so many producers have already risen to that challenge.

I understand that there are still concerns among producers, particularly the smallest companies that are affected by the scheme. We understand those concerns, and I have consistently said that the Scottish Environment Protection Agency will take a flexible approach where possible. It is important that the producers that have not yet registered know that SEPA will be pragmatic in its approach. That means that producers can continue to register even now, after yesterday’s deadline.

Today, we move to the next stage of registration, with Circularity Scotland’s announcement of the launch of registration for return-point operators—the corner shops, supermarkets and other outlets where customers can return empty containers and reclaim their deposits. As Parliament knows, in response to industry feedback, we previously updated guidance and support to make it clearer, easier and quicker for retailers who wish to apply for an exemption to operating a return point.

I know that concerns remain about the scheme, particularly from smaller businesses, and we have been systematically working to resolve those real concerns. For example, in a package of help that is worth £22 million, Circularity Scotland has removed the day 1 and month 1 charges for all producers, up to a threshold of 3 million units per year. Above the 3 million unit threshold, the day 1 payments for producers that are using United Kingdom-wide barcodes has previously been reduced by two thirds. In addition, Circularity Scotland is providing two-month credit terms on deposits and fees, up to the same volume threshold, to reduce the working-capital impact on all producers.

I pledge today that we will continue to listen, which is why I confirm that my officials will work at pace to explore any further feasible, fair and legal options that are available to support all producers to comply with the scheme, including the potential to have a grace period if needed.

Introducing any form of grace period raises questions, which must be fully explored, about how it would work operationally, fairly and legally for businesses and communities. There are questions about definitions, registration and enforcement, which must all be worked through. While that consideration is being given, it is still essential that all producers register for the scheme, if they have not already done so.

I turn to the exclusion in relation to the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020. For weeks, we have been addressing legitimate concerns that producers and retailers have raised with us. Many good-faith critiques, suggestions and proposals have been made, including by some parties in this chamber.

However, others have not acted in good faith. Some have sought to exploit the real concerns among producers, and some have sought—unfortunately, with some success—to turn the scheme into a political wedge issue, using misinformation and deception.

With that in mind, I turn to the claim that the Scottish Government has not sought an exemption from the internal market act. Alister Jack, the Secretary of State for Scotland, told the House of Commons on 22 February—just one week ago today--that

“we have not been asked for an exemption for this under the rules of the UK Internal Market Act 2020 by the Scottish Government—no request for an exemption has come.”—[Official Report, House of Commons, 22 February 2023; Vol 728; c 215.]

That is not true; the Scottish Government has sought that exemption since July 2021. It was discussed in the November 2022 interministerial group meeting, in official-level meetings and at a ministerial meeting in January 2023.

Despite that, so serious was the continued failure of the UK Government to come to a decision on the IMA exemption, the issue was escalated to the Deputy First Minister, John Swinney, in January. He wrote to the UK Government in the clearest terms. He said:

“I am seeking your assurance now that UK Ministers will expedite a rapid solution, including an exclusion to the IMA if that is required”.

I have to be straight with the chamber: for the Secretary of State for Scotland to now claim that no such request has been made is not true. Indeed, the reply to John Swinney from the Treasury is explicit in saying that the UK Government is working on that very question. Therefore, Alister Jack has to answer a simple question: if we had never asked for an exclusion, why did the UK Treasury say that work was already under way?

His claims are simply not true; his story is shifting and changing with every telling. First, we had not asked; then we had not “formally” asked; and then it was not a “ministerial request”. It is all nonsense.

The scheme will go live in August, and I can say that with confidence because people have voted with their feet. Producers have registered, and I am both grateful to them for doing so and proud that Scottish businesses are rising to the challenge. They saw their legitimate concerns addressed by the Scottish Government and they decided whether to take part in the scheme. They have done so because the overwhelming majority recognise their responsibility. They do not want litter on our streets, parks and beaches either, and they recognise that the DRS is the way to end that blight.

However, their decision poses a challenge for those in this chamber who have joined the Alister Jacks of this world in their misinformation. I hear them say that they are pro-business. Well, business is on board. I hear them say that they are worried about jobs. Well, the scheme will create more than 500 jobs. I hear them say that they are concerned about investment. The DRS will see £300 million invested by the private sector in ending the blight of litter on our streets. I say to those members that, if they want to prove that they are in favour of business, investment and jobs, they should get behind the scheme now.

The choice is stark: on the one hand, we have this Scottish Parliament using its devolved powers to tackle the scourge of litter on our streets; on the other, we have Alister Jack attempting to sabotage the scheme as part of his effort to undermine devolution and Scottish democracy. It is time for them to choose where they stand. I can tell members where this Government stands. The question for the other parties is, where do they stand now?

I invite members to welcome the work by Circularity Scotland and producers, who have given an overwhelming vote of confidence in the scheme, and to recognise the work the we have undertaken in relation to the UK Internal Market Act 2020; the confirmation that SEPA will continue to work pragmatically with Circularity Scotland and producers beyond the 1 March to support businesses with compliance before the go-live date; and the commitment to look at further options that are available to support all producers to comply with the scheme, including the potential to have a grace period if needed.

The Presiding Officer

The minister will now take questions on the issues raised in her statement. I intend to allow around 20 minutes for questions, after which we will move on to the next item of business. I would be grateful if all members who wish to ask a question were to press their request-to-speak button now.

Maurice Golden (North East Scotland) (Con)

Presiding Officer, I wonder whether you would accept a motion without notice under rule 8.14.3 of standing orders to extend the period for questions under this item of business to allow all members who wish to question the minister on the statement to take part.

The Presiding Officer

I thank Mr Golden for his request. Parliament agreed yesterday to include the statement. I am not minded to accept a motion without notice, but I will do my very best to ensure that we take as many members’ questions as possible.

Maurice Golden

Thank you, Presiding Officer, and I thank the minister for advance sight of her statement.

The scheme has been falling apart for months. Even the Cabinet Secretary for Finance and the Economy says that it will cause “economic carnage”. Now, the Scottish Government is trying to pick a fight with the UK Government, which has confirmed to me in the past hour that no official request for an internal market act exemption has been received. This is a desperate attempt to shift blame for a home-made shambles.

Small producers are appalled by the scheme’s roll-out and have not registered, which is why the Scottish Government has been forced to consider introducing a grace period. It is too late to make such fundamental changes to the scheme without creating even more complexity, confusion and cost. Now, registration is to remain open. So much for the deadline that effectively forced some producers to sign up, feeling as though a gun was at their head because they would be unable to trade otherwise.

The bottom line is that producer registration has been a disaster. The minister is desperately spinning the sign-up numbers, but in reality it works out that barely 16 per cent of the total number of producers have signed up. That is 664 out of the 4,000 producers that are operating in Scotland. It is no wonder: the legal advice that a number of companies took said that they should not do so. Why sign a blank cheque to Circularity Scotland at this point?

I have a simple question. Does the minister accept that more than 80 per cent of producers have not signed up to the scheme?

Lorna Slater

As of today, producers that are responsible for more than 2 billion drinks containers have signed up with Circularity Scotland. That represents the full range of drinks producers from global brands to small craft breweries and distilleries. That means that more than 90 per cent of the total volume of products annually—that is, 90 per cent of what we see on our shelves—is included in the scheme. The scheme has momentum towards the launch on 16 August.

As I have said already, and as I am very happy to say again, SEPA will continue to work pragmatically with Circularity Scotland and those producers that have not registered beyond today’s date to bring them into compliance. I want all those businesses to be able to continue to supply their excellent products into the Scottish market.

Colin Smyth (South Scotland) (Lab)

We want there to be a viable deposit return scheme, but today’s statement leaves more questions than answers. The minister said that producers representing more than 90 per cent of the volume of products have signed up. Big producers were always going to sign up. Will she confirm that less than 20 per cent of the total number of producers in Scotland have registered? For the many thousands that have not, because they simply do not know what they are signing up to, up until what point will they be able to register so that they can still sell in Scotland?

The minister, having voted down Labour’s call last week for a delay for small producers, now says that her officials are working at pace to come up with a delay. When will she be able to tell producers whether and when that delay will happen?

The minister said that the Deputy First Minister escalated the call for an opt-out from the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 in January. The Government first set a date for the scheme four years ago, so I hardly think that that is an escalation; it certainly does not show any urgency. What if that opt-out is not granted by August? What is plan B?

Lorna Slater

There were several points in that, and I will try to address them all.

On the question of small businesses and those that have not yet registered with Circularity Scotland and SEPA, as I have already said, SEPA will continue to be pragmatic and support those businesses to join the scheme.

I know that every business is different and that each needs its concerns to be addressed specifically to match its business. I encourage every producer that has not yet registered with the scheme to contact Circularity Scotland and SEPA to get the correct advice for its business, so that it can sign up to the scheme and register, and continue to provide its products into the Scottish market from 16 August.

The member asked about the IMA. I will repeat what I have said already: we have sought an exemption since July 2021. This is not new news. The issue was discussed in November 2022 at the interministerial group, at official-level meetings and at a ministerial meeting in January 2023. This is very serious. It was as a result of the UK Government’s continued failure to address this that, as I said before, the matter was escalated to the Deputy First Minister to make sure that a decision is taken in time.

I share the member’s frustration. There is a lack of clarity, which businesses in Scotland really need. However, even without that, businesses that produce 90 per cent of the total volume of products have sufficient confidence in the scheme to sign on the dotted line. Therefore, we have the momentum that we need to meet the launch on 16 August, and that is what we are continuing to work towards.

Fiona Hyslop (Linlithgow) (SNP)

Last week in the chamber, I called for the minister to be prepared, with the support of Parliament, to have the space to be pragmatic and flexible, and I appreciate the contents of the announcement today.

Can the minister comment on the significant investment that many businesses have made to date with the full expectation of a go-live date in August? Can she confirm that she informed the Net Zero, Energy and Transport Committee some weeks ago that there has been long-existing engagement with the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs regarding an exclusion from the United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 for Scotland’s deposit return scheme? Does she have any idea why claims that contact with the UK Government is only recent and late are being made? Does she agree that not only is that inaccurate, but it smacks of last-minute political interference from the Scotland Office?

Lorna Slater

With regard to the investment, it is estimated that £300 million has been invested by the private sector in Scotland to end the blight of litter on our streets as we have moved towards the scheme. That is a substantial investment, and the scheme will create over 500 jobs. That is a significant contribution to our circular economy.

As I set out in my statement, there is an agreed and published process between the UK Government and devolved Governments for excluding certain areas from the internal market act. We have been following that process for excluding the deposit return scheme regulations from the act, and that has been the subject of discussions with the UK Government for many months. It is disappointing that some UK Government ministers are trying to portray this as recent and late, given the level of productive engagement that we have had with DEFRA and other UK departments on this subject. Yesterday, we took the unusual step of publishing the correspondence with the UK Government, as well as a detailed timeline, to confirm what I have been saying in this chamber. That process is the same one that we went through to protect from the internal market act Scotland’s ban on many single-use plastics, which we passed last year.

Liam Kerr (North East Scotland) (Con)

The DRS scheme will add up to 40p per container at the point of sale. Can the minister tell the chamber of any investigations that have been done, and any conclusions that have been reached, on the impact that that will have on both inflation and consumer purchase behaviours?

Lorna Slater

The member will know that, during the committee sessions—way back before 2020 and before these regulations were passed—all the evidence for the business case for the deposit return scheme was looked at in great detail by the committee. I recommend that the member goes back and looks through the record for the detail that he is interested around the business case.

The deposit return scheme, as I set out in my statement, is similar to other schemes around the world. There is precedent for how such a scheme works and is implemented. I am looking forward to Scotland’s scheme going live. When people pay their extra 20p to buy their juice, return their bottle and get that 20p back, they will be doing the right thing not only for the environment but for their communities.

Jackie Dunbar (Aberdeen Donside) (SNP)

As the minister said, regulations for a deposit return scheme received cross-party support in 2020. According to research by Zero Waste Scotland, 70 per cent of the Scottish public supported the introduction of a DRS. Given the context of the on-going climate crisis, does the minister think that the case for the scheme remains as strong now as it was then?

Lorna Slater

Absolutely. The benefits of a DRS are clear to see. I walk along the streets in Edinburgh all the time and see cans and bottles on the ground and think to myself, “scheme article, scheme article”. That litter will not happen once our scheme is in place. That is why so many countries around the world have operated similar schemes for years and why the European Union is requiring all its members to have one in place by 2029.

The facts remain clear. Our scheme will reduce littering by a third and increase recycling rates of single-use drinks containers towards 90 per cent. It will reduce CO2 emissions by 4 million tonnes over 25 years, which is the equivalent of taking 83,000 cars off the roads.

Daniel Johnson (Edinburgh Southern) (Lab)

There are two important questions that the minister has not answered. The scheme has registration not by litre but by company. What proportion of all drinks producers, or drinks companies, does the figure of 664 represent, not by output volume but in terms of the total number of producers?

Secondly, although I appreciate that a grace period is being considered, if I were a small drinks producer, I would not know whether this scheme applied to me. When will they know that? When will that work conclude?

Presiding Officer, can I also ask you for one point of guidance? In her statement, the minister referred to parties in the chamber giving descriptions of the scheme that she characterised as being based on “misinformation and deception”. Can you provide guidance on whether you think that that language is parliamentary or not?

The Presiding Officer

Before I pass over to the minister, I will say that the content of contributions is generally a matter for the member concerned, but I remind all members of the need to treat one another with courtesy and respect at all times, including in the language that we use in the chamber.

Lorna Slater

On the member’s point about the grace period, I will repeat what I said earlier. Introducing any form of grace period raises questions that must be fully explored about how that would work operationally, fairly and legally for businesses and communities. There are questions about definitions, registration and enforcement, which must all be worked through. Therefore, while that consideration is being done, it is still essential that producers register for the scheme.

As I have already set out, as of today, producers that are responsible for more than 2 billion drinks containers, which is 90 per cent of the volume of products on the market, have registered. Ninety per cent of what we can see on the shelves today is covered, and we are working pragmatically and practically to bring all the remaining products on board with the scheme, so that they can continue to be sold in Scotland from 16 August, which, of course, is what we all want.

Alasdair Allan (Na h-Eileanan an Iar) (SNP)

Retailers in my island constituency are generally supportive of the scheme, but they want to know who will uplift items and how regularly that will be done. Questions have been put to me about the fact that, in very rural areas, although small shops sell only a relatively small proportion of items in the community compared with supermarkets and online orders, they will end up having to process and store the bulk of all items locally. What more can the Government do to engage with small rural retailers on those points?

Lorna Slater

Circularity Scotland Ltd, the scheme’s administrator, has, after an extensive tender process, contracted Biffa to manage the collection of DRS material. Biffa, along with Circularity Scotland, is responsible for identifying the needs of individual businesses that will operate as return points in order to ensure that collections are appropriately tailored to each individual business’s needs, no matter where it is in Scotland.

Regarding small retailers, we are continually engaging with businesses of all sizes to ensure that their concerns are addressed. For example, in January, Circularity Scotland announced an increase of 19 per cent in the return handling fees for retailers, following consultation with industry.

Liam McArthur (Orkney Islands) (LD)

After a torrid few weeks, it is a bold strategy for the minister to come out swinging and to condemn MSPs from across the parties and companies from across the country for raising legitimate concerns. Last night, I was contacted by two producers in Orkney. One is desperately seeking advice on what to do, and the other made it clear that it would not be registering. Given the minister’s and the Government’s recent track record of positing dubious statistics, can the minister please clarify that it is not 90 per cent but less than 20 per cent of producers that have registered?

Lorna Slater

Again, I will try to touch on all the questions that the member raised. I take the legitimate concerns of small businesses very seriously. That is exactly why we have been working with them on pragmatic measures to ensure that they can fully participate in the scheme. In relation to the businesses that contacted the member, looking for advice, as I said, each business needs advice that is specific to its needs and business model, so I would advise them to contact Circularity Scotland and SEPA directly to get the right advice.

In what I have said, I have been clear that what we have registered with the scheme right now is businesses that represent more than 90 per cent of the annual volume of products. On the shelves in shops around Scotland, 90 per cent of the items are now incorporated into the scheme. That builds significant momentum for the 16 August launch date—[Interruption.]

Let us hear the minister, please.

We are committing from today to work to bring in the remaining businesses so that all businesses in Scotland can participate.

Willie Coffey (Kilmarnock and Irvine Valley) (SNP)

Can the minister clarify the arrangements for returning cans and bottles for people who have to do their weekly shop online from home, by reason of infirmity or disability that prevents them from returning their recycling materials in person?

Lorna Slater

That is an important question. We will shortly bring forward amendments to the DRS regulations so that only the largest grocery retailers will initially be obliged to provide an online take-back service and all other businesses will be exempt. That is in response to industry concerns about those matters—we have listened to industry. We also plan to phase in the take-back obligations on the largest retailers. Therefore, before amending regulations are introduced, further work will be undertaken to identify how elderly and disabled people who may not be able to get to a physical return point will be protected during the phasing in of take-back. That is to ensure that no one is disadvantaged by the scheme.

The revelations that we have heard this afternoon about the secretary of state are truly shocking. His comments are misleading and he should resign. [Laughter.]

Let us hear the member, please.

Mark Ruskell

Thank you, Presiding Officer. I have more to say.

Three years after the Scottish Parliament approved our deposit return scheme, the UK Government has, in recent months, made tentative suggestions that there will be a separate scheme for England from 2025. Some members immediately called for the Scottish scheme to be dropped so that we could align with a non-existent UK Government scheme. Does the minister agree that that path would have been disastrous for the environment and businesses?

Lorna Slater

I absolutely agree. The UK Government’s announcement, although welcome, came just seven months before our launch date. To have hit the brakes at that point would have been devastating, given how far we have come and the significant investment that has been made.

In fact, it is positive for the rest of the UK that we are going first in Scotland and developing the solutions. That will facilitate the development of a deposit return scheme for the rest of the UK.

It is also important to understand that the English scheme, unlike our own, the scheme in Wales and many other deposit return schemes around the world will exclude glass. Including glass will deliver significant environmental benefits, so the UK Government’s decision will result in a narrower scheme in England that will be at odds with our scheme and the one that is being developed in Wales.

Brian Whittle (South Scotland) (Con)

Today, I was given sight of a letter from a well-known Scottish drinks producer to Circularity Scotland, which highlights the producer’s concerns about the continued lack of clarity on advance payments, particularly given the comments from Scottish National Party leadership candidates, whose views on the scheme all seem to be different from that of the minister. The letter states:

“The methodology is not clear and has not been shared with us, so we do not know how our potential exposure can be calculated”.

The letter goes on to make it clear that the company has signed the producer agreement only because it has been left with no alternative if it wants to still have a Scottish business after 16 August.

Does the minister consider it acceptable that producers are so frustrated by the lack of detail about the scheme that they are prepared to sign up to it only at economic gunpoint?

Lorna Slater

As the member will know from a letter that he will have received from Circularity Scotland, Circularity Scotland is a not-for-profit organisation that was established by 27 producers, retailers, wholesalers and trade associations. Circularity Scotland exists to help Scottish businesses to comply with the regulations that were passed by the Parliament.

I am delighted that the business that the member mentioned was able to contact Circularity Scotland to ask for information, and I encourage it to continue to work with Circularity Scotland to get that information and implement the scheme in a way that works for its business.

John Mason (Glasgow Shettleston) (SNP)

My constituents and I are frustrated at the amount of litter that we see around us in the end east of Glasgow. Glasgow City Council workers cannot possibly pick it all up. A week past Saturday, I took part in a litter pick. Within an hour, I had picked up 17 glass bottles, not to mention a number of cans and plastic bottles. Can the minister give me an absolute assurance that she will tackle the litter problem through the deposit return scheme?

Lorna Slater

I can, absolutely, assure the member of that. I share his concerns when I walk down streets and see cans, bottles and broken glass. Such litter is a blight on our streets. From 16 August this year, we will be able to reduce the amount of litter significantly, because those items will no longer be waste—they will be a scheme article that will be worth 20p—so it will be worth picking up such items and returning them to a return point.

Scotland’s deposit return scheme will account for a reduction in litter of about a third, and it will increase recycling rates of cans and bottles from 90 per cent.

The minister has told us that 664 drinks producers have signed up to the scheme. What is the total number of drinks producers in Scotland?

Lorna Slater

So far, 664 producers have signed up to the scheme, which, as I said, represents more than 90 per cent of the total volume of businesses.

Members: No!

Let us hear the minister.

Lorna Slater

What we need to be clear on is that the volume of materials and the significant number of producers that have signed up mean that we now have a viable scheme, with momentum to our 16 August start date, because businesses have committed and signed on the dotted line.

We will continue to work with businesses that have not yet signed up to bring them online—[Interruption.]

Thank you, members.

—because we want all Scottish producers to participate in the scheme. As we move towards 16 August, we will work towards getting the figure to 100 per cent of the volume.

Fergus Ewing (Inverness and Nairn) (SNP)

Is the minister aware, and is the permanent secretary aware, of the huge extra costs that must necessarily be incurred by businesses between now and mid-April—being when a new First Minister and Cabinet could halt the scheme?

Businesses have told me today and yesterday that, between now and April, those extra costs will amount to £15 million for convenience stores and between £10 million and £20 million for hospitality. A leading craft beer and wine online retailer based in Scotland has stated that it will cost it comfortably a six-figure sum in the next six weeks, which will all be wasted if the scheme is halted in April.

Will the minister therefore avoid that wasted expense by calling a halt now, saving massive costs by doing so? If not, is she trying to protect the interests of Biffa, a company with a dubious environmental record according to a report in Scotland on Sunday last Sunday, and those of other large companies? Is she the great friend of the biggest business and the enemy of Scotland’s small businesses?

Lorna Slater

The position of the Scottish Government is that the scheme will launch on 16 August. The member has outlined why that must be so: because businesses in Scotland have invested about £300 million toward its launch. Those businesses that have made that investment will get the return on that investment—their return handling fees—when the 20 pences start flowing. No one with any credibility speaking for industry would be considering a delay. We need those 20 pences to start flowing so that the investment is well made.

We know that businesses are on board with the scheme, and a critical mass of businesses have signed up to the scheme to deliver it. Those producers are taking responsibility and are responding to the challenge that the Parliament has set them. Will they step up and play their part in responding to the climate emergency? They have signed on the dotted line and have said that they will. The scheme will create more than 500 jobs. Those who are concerned about investment in jobs need to back the scheme and back its launch on 16 August.

Is the number that the minister is not prepared to give Parliament 84 per cent—84 per cent of producers have not signed up to her disastrous scheme?

The member is misunderstanding what makes the scheme viable and what builds momentum. [Laughter.]

Members, can we please conduct ourselves in a courteous manner?

Lorna Slater

Who contributes to the deposit return scheme is based on proportionality; therefore, the largest producers contribute most to the scheme. Having the largest producers on board builds the momentum that we need towards the 16 August deadline. That is why today’s announcement is excellent news.

We will continue to work to bring on board all those small businesses. We all agree that we want those small businesses to be fully on board with the scheme so that they can continue to trade from 16 August. I have said it over and over again, and members may not be hearing it, but we are working with those small businesses to bring them on board.

Christine Grahame (Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale) (SNP)

I will quote a business in my constituency. It has said:

“We have not signed the contract with Circularity Scotland. Our solicitors said we would be at risk of being derelict in our duties as directors as we would be signing a contract without due care. We have not been given terms and conditions and have not been given any costs from SEPA or Circularity Scotland.”

Would the minister comment, please?

Lorna Slater

Yes—I am happy to comment.

As of today, 664 businesses have signed up. That represents the full range of drinks producers, from global brands to small craft breweries and distilleries. Those 664 businesses have confidence in the scheme and confidence in the agreement. I would absolutely recommend that any producer that has questions about the agreement work through them with Circularity Scotland, which is more than happy to answer any questions and to go through the detail with them.

There are three members remaining who wish to ask a question. If questions and responses can be brief, we will have time.

I am interested in what we have learned from other countries. My understanding is that 45 other countries have taken forward a DRS.

Lorna Slater

I thank Emma Harper very much for that question.

The Scottish Government and other organisations engaged with countries that operate deposit return schemes through the design, business case development and consultation processes for Scotland’s DRS, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia and Germany. It also engaged with organisations that have broad expertise in international deposit return schemes, such as Reloop. Circularity Scotland is maintaining engagement with other schemes around the world.

Miles Briggs (Lothian) (Con)

I hope that the minister will reflect on her performance today, because the fact is that more than 80 per cent of companies have not signed up to her scheme. I have met many of them—they include our constituents here, in Lothian, who have been desperate to get meetings with the minister but have been ignored. They are small businesses. They are people who are having sleepless nights over the scheme, and they are people who believe that it could drive their business to the wall. Therefore, will the minister reflect on that, and will she also apologise to those businesses?

Lorna Slater

I very much hope that businesses will actually be reassured by today’s announcement that the scheme has the confidence of their colleagues and competitors, and that they will, if they wish to continue to trade in Scotland, engage with the Circularity Scotland and SEPA in order to participate fully. As I have said—I hope that this will prevent sleepless nights—we will allow producers to continue to register with the scheme. I encourage them to do so, so that they can continue to trade in Scotland.

Murdo Fraser (Mid Scotland and Fife) (Con)

The minister might not want to listen to the Opposition parties or to candidates for the SNP leadership, but she needs to listen to the voices of Scottish business. In response to her statement, Scottish Chambers of Commerce has just said:

“The Ministerial Statement on the Deposit Return Scheme has completely ignored concerns from Scottish firms. Our call was to pause the scheme and redesign it with the business community and that call has been rejected by the Minister.

It’s been clear to the business community for some time that operating this poorly designed scheme in its current form is impossible and is adding unnecessary cost pressures on businesses.”

Why is the minister not listening?

Lorna Slater

Today’s announcement that 90 per cent of the volume of products are registered with the scheme is a significant milestone for the scheme. It means that the scheme is viable to go live on 16 August this year.

I speak to business all the time. Yesterday, when I was speaking to producers that are looking at finishing their registration with the scheme, they were saying to me, “The one thing we need from you, minister, is to make sure this scheme goes live on 16 August. That is what we need from you—a commitment to that date—so that, when we sign on the bottom line, we know what we’re signing up to.” That is absolutely what I am committing to—what businesses have asked of me, which is to go live on 16 August.

Fergus Ewing

On a point of order, Presiding Officer. I will raise a point of order, of which notice was given to your office.

With regard to standing orders as a whole, particularly under chapter 14, on laying and publication of documents, and also having regard to the clearly defined duties that are incumbent on the permanent secretary as the accountable officer as prescribed in the “Scottish Public Finance Manual”, annex 1, paragraph 2, may I ask whether there are any means by which the permanent secretary can be called here to make a statement and to answer questions from MSPs from all parties who have serious concerns with regard to the duties? As the accountable officer, the permanent secretary has a specific duty. Where any one of the four tests of regularity, propriety, value for money and feasibility are breached, he must—he must—seek from Scottish Government ministers a ministerial direction.

On 15 February, my MSP colleagues Maurice Golden, Claire Baker and Liam McArthur and I wrote to the permanent secretary, asking that he seek a ministerial direction in respect of the Scottish Government’s deposit return scheme and the plan to implement it in August. A fortnight ago, out of courtesy, we provided him with that letter in private, with a fair opportunity to reply to our request for a meeting to discuss the matter. I have had no such reply. This morning, as is only courteous, I notified the Presiding Officer that I would make a point of order regarding the permanent secretary today.

The scheme might decimate small producers; hike beverage costs—as even the chief of CSL admits; damage the environment with millions of extra car miles and a reduction in the amount of glass that is recycled for bottles, which will go to landfill instead; penalise local authorities; and cause massive job losses in small businesses, whose life’s work will be ruined.

Therefore, I ask this. Is the Permanent Secretary, who, it is reported, earns a starting salary of up to £180,000 a year, going to come here to explain whether he has sought such a direction? If not, why not? If there is no way, in procedural terms, that he can appear—willingly or otherwise—before a plenary session, can he, in fact, be called the “accountable officer”? In that circumstance, he would, by definition, be unaccountable.

If there is no way in procedural terms that he can appear—willingly or otherwise—before a plenary session, can he, in fact, be called the “accountable officer”? In that circumstance, he would, by definition, be unaccountable.

The Presiding Officer

I thank Fergus Ewing for advance notice of his point of order.

The Parliament may require a person to give evidence concerning any subject for which a member of the Scottish Government has general responsibility, but it would be for a relevant committee to consider whether it would seek to use those powers.

In terms of plenary sessions, the terms of the Scotland Act 1998 mean that only members of the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish law officers may participate in proceedings.

Douglas Ross (Highlands and Islands) (Con)

On a point of order, Presiding Officer.

Repeatedly, the minister failed to answer the same, or a similar, question from across the chamber about the total number of producers in Scotland who could sign up to the scheme. We know that 664 have done so. Either the minister and the Scottish Government do not know that figure, or the minister has repeatedly refused to give that figure in the chamber this afternoon.

I therefore ask whether the Presiding Officer will investigate whether the Scottish Government knows what the figure is? If it does, will the Presiding Officer recall the minister to answer the questions that she has refused to answer this afternoon?

The Presiding Officer

I reiterate that the content of members’ contributions is a matter for the member unless it contravenes standing orders.

Scrutiny is a matter for all members of the chamber, and they may employ all the various mechanisms that are available to them.

At this point, I conclude the item of business. I will allow a moment for members to reorganise themselves before we move on to the next item of business.