Publication - FOI/EIR release

Documents regarding ministerial engagements in November 2018: FOI release

Published: 29 May 2019

Information request and response under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002.

Published:
29 May 2019
Documents regarding ministerial engagements in November 2018: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/19/01123
Date received: 24 Apr 2019
Date responded: 23 May 2019
Information requested

You asked for any minutes or other official documents in relation to the following nine ministerial engagements in November 2018 which I have added below in the table:

Minister Date   Organisation/Individual met with / Subject
Nicola Sturgeon 14/11/2018 Meeting Adrian O'Neill - Ambassador of Ireland to the United Kingdom/Scottish and Irish Relations
Ben McPherson 23/11/2018 Meeting Baiba Braze, the Ambassador of Latvia/Brexit
Fiona Hyslop 07/11/2018 Meeting His Excellency Michael Zimmermann, Austrian Ambassador to the UK/Scotland's relationship with Austria
15/11/2018 Meeting Mr Fabio Monaco, the Italian Consul General for Scotland and NI/Scotland's relationship with Italy
17/11/2018 Meeting Ms Anne Hidalgo, Mayor of Paris and Chair of C40 Cities/Scotland's relationship with France
17/11/2018 Meeting Mr Pascal Lamy, the former Director of the World Trade Organization/Brexit
28/11/2018 Meeting Danuta Huebner MEP/Scotland’s relationship with the EU
29/11/2018 Meeting Declan Kelleher, the Irish Permanent Representative to the EU/Scotland’s relationship with the EU
29/11/2018 Meeting Philippe Lamberts MEP and Alyn Smith MEP/Scotland’s relationship with the EU

 

Response

I enclose a copy of most of the information you requested in Annex B.

 While initially scheduled, the meeting with Anne Hildago did not go ahead due to a change in Ministerial diaries and was mistakenly included in our proactive release.

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested because exemptions under sections s.38(1)(b) (personal information) and 32(1)(a)(i) (international relations) of FOISA applies to that information.  The reasons why that exemption applies are explained in Annex A to this letter.

Reasons for not providing information - Annex A
An exemption under section s.38(1)(b) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested.  An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to a small amount the information requested because it is personal data of a third party, ie names and contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the General Data Protection Regulation and in section 34(1) of the Data Protection Act 2018.  This exemption is not subject to the ‘public interest test’, so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

An exemption under section 32(1)(a)(i) of FOISA (international relations) applies to some of the information requested.  This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland as well as the United Kingdom and Austria.  The effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and other foreign governments.  In this case, the information about fisheries policies and Brexit negotiations was given to the Scottish Government on the understanding that it would be treated as being in confidence.  If the Scottish Government does not respect this confidence, the UK Government’s relations with the Republic of Ireland as well as Austria and its ability to protect and promote UK interests will be substantially prejudiced.  States such as Ireland and Austria are likely to be more reluctant to share sensitive information with Scotland or other parts of the United Kingdom in future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications with the UK.

This exemption is subject to the ‘public interest test’.  Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.  We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemption.  We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate.  However, there is a greater public interest in ensuring that the UK Government is able to maintain good relations with the Republic of Ireland and Austria in order to protect and promote UK interests abroad.  There can be no public interest in jeopardising those relations by the Scottish Government disclosing confidential information.

There is a vital public interest in allowing Scottish Ministers and officials a private space within which to engage in full and frank discussions with their counterparts in Ireland and Austria.  Such discussion makes for better quality and better informed policies and decisions on issues with an international dimension, such as fisheries policies and Brexit negotiations and aids the protection and promotion of UK interests abroad.  Inappropriate disclosure is likely to damage other States’ confidence and trust in the UK and thus undermine future discussions and international relations more generally.  There is no public interest in releasing information which might damage UK interests.

Exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank advice and exchange of views) apply to some of the information requested.  These exemptions apply because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation.  The exemptions recognise the need for Ministers to have a private space within which to seek advice and views from officials before reaching the settled public position which will be given in whatever final lines to take are used.  Disclosing the content of free and frank briefing material on Brexit negotiations will substantially inhibit such briefing in the future, particularly because discussions on the issue are still ongoing and final decisions have not been taken.

These exemptions are subject to the ‘public interest test’.  Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of this case, we have considered if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemptions.  We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemptions.  We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate.  However, there is a greater public interest in allowing a private space within which officials can provide free and frank advice and views to Ministers in lines to take.  It is clearly in the public interest that Ministers can properly answer Parliamentary questions, provide sound information to Parliament (to which they are accountable), and robustly defend the Government’s policies and decisions.  They need full and candid advice from officials to enable them to do so.  Premature disclosure of this type of information could lead to a reduction in the comprehensiveness and frankness of such advice and views in the future, which would not be in the public interest.

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