- 7 Oct 2019
Date received: 9 Aug 2019
Date responded: 4 Oct 2019
Documentation containing outlines on Scottish Government policy on fox hunting and the protection of wild mammals in (a) 2018 and (b) 2019.
I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested.
Some of the information you have requested is available from the following sources;
Previous Freedom of Information request response: https://www.gov.scot/publications/foi-19-01648-foi-19-01649-foi-19-01650-foi-19-01651-foi-19-01652-foi-19-01654-foi-19-01655-foi-19-01656-foi-19-01657-foi-19-01658/;
Parliamentary Debate Transcript: http://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=11873&mode=html#iob_107385.
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 exceptions under regulations 10(4)(e) (internal communications) and 10(5)(d) (confidentiality of proceedings provided by law), of the EIRs applies to the information. The reasons why those exceptions applies are explained in Annex A to this letter.
Please note, on page five of the document “Release Documents – FOI 19 01915.pdf”, the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Connectivity is incorrectly referred to as “the Cabinet Secretary for the Rural Economy and Climate Change”.
Reasons for not providing information - Annex
An exception applies
An exception under regulation 10(5)(d) of the EIRs (confidentiality of proceedings provided by law) applies to some of the information requested because it is legal advice. This exception 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 exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. 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, this is outweighed by the strong public interest in maintaining the right to confidentiality of communications between legal advisers and clients, to ensure that Ministers and officials are able to receive legal advice in confidence, like any other public or private organisation. The release of the content of such legal advice is likely to be appropriate only in highly compelling cases. This has been recognised by both the Scottish Information Commissioner and the courts - see, for example, the House of Lords case, Three Rivers District Council and others v Governor and Company of the Bank of England (2004) UKHL 48.
An exception under regulation 10(4)(e) of the EIRs (internal communications) applies to some of the information because it is information and advice in relation to decision making, Cabinet information, and Ministerial briefings. This exception 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 exception. We recognise that there is some public interest in release 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. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on fox hunting in Scotland will be disclosed in the near future, when it may undermine or constrain the Government’s view on this while it is still under discussion and development.
Furthermore, 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 briefing and 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.
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.
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrews House