The minister in charge of overseeing Scotland’s controversial deposit return scheme has dismissed any talk of compensating businesses as “hypothetical”.
Lorna Slater refused to engage with the issue as she answered questions in Holyrood amid an ongoing cross-border row over the policy.
The Conservatives urged her to publish the Scottish Government’s legal advice on who will be responsible for compensating businesses if the DRS is axed.
Ms Slater previously suggested the scheme could be scrapped by the end of the month if the UK Government does not give it the go ahead. She said the Scottish Government would have to make a "pro-active decision" as to whether it was "viable".
Meghan Gallacher deputy leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said: “The shambolic rollout of this policy has damaged confidence among Scottish businesses – many thousands of whom have not even signed up because they fear it will be so damaging to them.”
She added: “Once again the minister is abdicating responsibility and pinning the blame on the UK Government. The deposit return scheme is a long-standing Scottish Government project which they have been responsible for and have talked about for years. It is not anybody else’s problem but theirs.
“It is time for the minister to put her money where her mouth is. If she is so confident about who is responsible for paying compensation to Scottish businesses should the scheme collapse, she should today commit to publishing the Scottish Government’s legal advice on who is liable.”
Speaking in Holyrood, former SNP minister Fergus Ewing, who is now a backbench critic of many government policies, asked Ms Slater to confirm that businesses, producers and retailers have “incurred costs as required by law, and therefore if the scheme fails they must get compensation”. He added: “Does the minister accept that that principle is simply unchallengeable?”
Ms Slater replied: “The question of compensation is a hypothetical one at this point. I am working towards getting this scheme launched, and making sure that the scheme is a success.”
Ms Slater is pushing for Westminster to agree to an exemption from the Internal Market Act (IMA) - which regulates trade in the different parts of the UK following Brexit - "by the end of May at the latest". However, UK ministers have said they are yet to assess the impact of this request.
She told MSPs: "We have been discussing an exclusion with the UK Government for almost two years, fully following the agreed process. The UK Government needs to now do the right thing and agree an exclusion now, to give businesses the certainty the need in order to prepare for the launch in March and allow investment made by businesses to be put to good use.”
She said Michael Gove, the UK Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, had written to the Deputy First Minister, Shona Robison, “thanking us for our updated analysis of the impact of the Scottish DRS” and confirming that the information is being processed.
Ms Slater added: "In that letter, Mr Gove has not indicated that there is any further or outstanding information the UK Government require to enable them to make a decision on the Internal Market Act exclusion.”
She said there is “no reason” for the exemption not to be granted.
Ms Slater said businesses had invested hundreds of millions of pounds towards the scheme, adding: “We are all systems go. We just need that last little piece of the Internal Market Act exemption, and we will carry on with the launch.”