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Publication - FOI/EIR release

First Minister's trip to China: FOI release

Published: 13 Jun 2018

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

Published:
13 Jun 2018
First Minister's trip to China: FOI release

FOI reference: FOI/18/01249
Date received: 28 April 2018
Date responded: 12 June 2018

Information requested

1. All documents associated with the First Minister's recent trip to China, including schedules of all meetings, minutes from those meetings and background briefings prepared before them.

2. A breakdown of expenses for the First Minister and accompanying officials, including flights, hotels, restaurants and other purchases.

Response

Request 1

I have attached at Annex B a breakdown of the First Minister's programme for the visit. Additionally, outcomes of some of the meetings were included in daily press releases issued during the visit. These can be found on the news section of the First Minister's website at the following address: https://firstminister.gov.scot/news/.

If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

For the background briefings and notes of meetings (attached at Annex C), 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 the exemptions under the following sections of FOISA apply to that information:

  • 29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of government policy)

  • 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice)

  • 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views)

  • 30(c) (otherwise prejudice effective conduct of public affairs)

  • 32(1)(a)(i) (relations between the UK and any other state)

  • 33(1)(b) (commercial interests)

  • 36(2) (actionable breach of confidence)

  • 38(1)(b) (personal data)

The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.

The outcomes of the visit were described to the Scottish Parliament in response to a written question S5W-16645 answered on 16 May 2018. Answers to parliamentary questions can be found on the Scottish Parliament's website at:

http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/motions-questions-and-answers.aspx

Request 2

Costs associated with the visit are:

First Minister's total flight costs – £6300.62 (5 flights)

First Minister's total rail costs - £204.89 (1 train)

First Minister's total accommodation costs - £1244.86 (5 nights)

Costs for First Minister's support staff (7 people in total from Communications, Private Office, Special Advisors, Visits and Events)

Flights – £19194.87 (35 flights)

Rail - £889.51

Taxi - £92.90

Accommodation - £7037.12 (40 nights)

Subsistence – £875.02 – (includes meals).

Reasons for not providing information

Exemptions Apply.

An exemption under section 29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of government policy) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to the formulation of the Scottish Government's policy on engagement with China.

This exemption is subject to the "public interest test." Therefore, taking account of all the circumstances of these cases, 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 is in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, there is a greater public interest in high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications.

An exemption under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to provide free and frank advice to Ministers before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view.

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 allowing a private space within which officials can provide full and frank advice to Ministers and other officials, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position on matters relating to relations with China, until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, based on the best available advice, so that good decisions can be taken. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

An exemption under section 30(b)(ii) of FOISA (free and frank exchange of views) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for Ministers and officials to have a private space within which to discuss issues and options with external stakeholders before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of these discussions with external organisations on matters such as their plans for future development, potential international partnerships, and their views on domestic and international issues will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, because these stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that those views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions are still ongoing and decisions have not been taken, and/ or these discussions relate to a sensitive or controversial issue.

An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to some of the information requested. It is essential for Ministers and officials to be able to meet and communicate, often in confidence, with external stakeholders on a range of issues, including prospects for commercial activity and views on domestic and international political matters. Disclosing the content of these communications and information about these meetings, particularly without the consent of the stakeholder, is likely to undermine their trust in the Scottish Government and will substantially inhibit communications on this type of issue in the future. These stakeholders will be reluctant to participate in meetings and provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that their views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions are still ongoing and decisions have not been taken, and/or these discussions relate to a sensitive or controversial issue. This would significantly harm the Government's ability to carry out many aspects of its work, and could adversely affect its ability to gather all of the evidence it needs to make fully informed policies and decisions.

Section 30(b)(ii) and section 30(c) 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 Ministers and officials a private space within which to communicate with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of maintaining and developing trade, investment and other connections with China. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence, such as that provided by investors, universities and public bodies in China. Disclosure is also likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

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 China. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and China. In this case, the information about political trends and developments in China 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 China and its ability to protect and promote UK interests will be substantially prejudiced. States, such as China, 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 China, 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 or information which the UK Government has specifically asked us to withhold.

In addition, 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 other States. Such discussion makes for better quality and better informed policies and decisions on issues with an international dimension, such as cooperation relating to trade and investment, and aids the protection and promotion of UK interests abroad. Inappropriate disclosure is likely to damage other States' or organisations' 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 and/or the commercial interests of UK companies.

An exemption under section 33(1)(b) (commercial interests) of FOISA applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure of this particular information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the commercial interests of the companies involved and prejudice their ability to compete on the market.

This exemption is subject to the 'public interest test' as well. 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 and transparent government. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting the commercial interests of the companies involved, to ensure continuing inward investment in Scotland.

An exemption under section 36(2) of FOISA (actionable breach of confidence) applies to some of the information requested because it was obtained by a Scottish public authority and disclosing it would constitute an actionable breach of confidence. 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 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party, ie the names , and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998. 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.

About FOI

The Scottish Government is committed to publishing all information released in response to Freedom of Information requests. View all FOI responses at http://www.gov.scot/foi-responses

FOI-18-01249 - Annex B and C.pdf

2 page PDF
327.1 kB

Contact

Please quote the FOI reference

Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG