Publication - FOI/EIR release

Places of worship COVID-19 guidance: FOI release

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

Published:
9 Feb 2021
Places of worship COVID-19 guidance: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202000094719
Date received: 3 Oct 2020
Date responded: 19 Nov 2020
Information requested

Information that was used in the preparation of guidance for the meeting of churches as we moved into phases 2 and 3. Specifically all information concerning the following matters:

1. Data/information concerning the decision of the Scottish Ministers
a. that singing could not take place in churches and
b. to what extent the wearing of masks was considered to not mitigate that risk

2. Data/information concerning the decision of the Scottish Ministers to fix a maximum capacity of 50 in a church building, irrespective of building size, ventilation and presences of appropriate other measures such as social distancing and hand cleaning etc

3. Data/information that the Scottish Ministers took into consideration when placing more restrictive measures on churches than on other sectors such as gyms, schools and hospitality

4. Information the Scottish Ministers took into account when considering whether the published guidance for churches was a proportionate and justified restriction of the rights of church goers under Article 9 of the ECHR

Response

Firstly, it may be helpful if I explain that decisions on what sectors and activities to re-open on our route out of lockdown have been guided by the principles set out in our Framework for Decision Making. Proposals are technically assessed using the best available evidence and analysis of their potential benefits and harms to health, the economy, and broader society to minimise overall harm and ensure transmission of the virus continues to be suppressed. This assessment process includes oversight of the assessed health risks in different settings by the Chief Medical Officer and input from the other Chief Clinicians as appropriate.

The Scottish Government has published documents and minutes relating to the covid-19 advisory groups which may be of interest: https://www.gov.scot/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-advisorygroups/.

Evidence considered by the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE), as well as minutes from meetings of the group are published regularly on the UK Government website:
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/scientific-advisory-group-for-emergencies

It is not possible to publish scientific evidence specifically on churches, or places of worship more widely, as in general neither the Scottish Government, the Chief Medical Officer's Advisory Group or SAGE have produced evidence papers on a sectoral basis. Instead we have used scientific evidence on transmission coupled with the social and economic benefits of churches and other places of worship which Ministers have used to make decisions.
The Scottish Government is currently preparing to publish this information. In the meantime, you may find it helpful to note that the Scottish Government has published a suite of information relating to our
transition out of lockdown on the Scottish Government website:
https://www.gov.scot/collections/coronavirus-covid-19-scotlands-route-map/

In relation to points 1a, point 2 and point 4, I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested at Annex A as outlined below.

Documents included in Annex A:

1. Submission to Ministers prior to publication of guidance for places of worship at Phase 2
2. Submission to Ministers prior to publication of guidance for places of worship at Phase 3
3. Equalities Impact Assessment for Phase 2 – Gatherings and Occasions – Excerpt of Places of Worship section
4. Equalities Impact Assessment for Phase 3 – Gatherings and Occasions - Excerpt of Places of Worship section
5. Technical Assessment for Phase 3
6. Submission to Ministers on determining a maximum capacity for places of worship at Phase 3
7. Response from First Minister and subsequent email exchange on maximum capacity for places of worship at Phase 3

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide all of the information you have requested because 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.

Where information has been redacted due to an exemption, this is noted in the annexed documents. 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.  

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 some public interest in in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate. However, this is outweighed by the public interest in allowing a private space within which officials and Ministers can provide free and frank advice and exchange of views.

In relation to point 1b, while our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide the information you have requested because a comparison of transmission risks for singing in churches, or other places of worship, with and without face coverings was not provided to Scottish Ministers.

In relation to point 3, we are unable to provide the information you have asked for. This is because decisions about measures on churches, and other places of worship, were not made by comparing restrictions on other sectors such as gyms, schools and hospitality. Decisions on what sectors and activities to re-open on our route out of lockdown have been guided by the principles set out in our Framework for Decision Making.

This can be found on the Scottish Government website at: 
https://www.gov.scot/publications/coronavirus-covid-19-framework-decision-making/

Throughout the attached annexes, names of staff graded below Senior Civil Servant (SCS) have been withheld to comply with General Data Protection Regulation and the Data Protection Act 2018. 
Additionally, some information has been redacted because it is outside of the scope of your request. Where this is the case, it has been noted in the documents attached.

About FOI

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Contact

Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Email: ceu@gov.scot
Phone: 0300 244 4000

The Scottish Government
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
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