Publication - FOI/EIR release

Meeting between the First Minister and Mr Geoff Aberdein: FOI Review

Published: 2 Feb 2021
Part of:
Public sector

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

Published:
2 Feb 2021
Meeting between the First Minister and Mr Geoff Aberdein: FOI Review
FOI reference: FOI/202000119311 Review of 202000090531
Date received: 13 Oct 2020
Date responded: 15 Dec 2020
Information requested

I have now completed my review of our response to your request FOI/202000090531 under the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA). You asked:

“(1) In the light of the apparent admission to Sky News, does the Scottish Government wish to reconsider its reply of 3 August to the question of whether the First Minister met with Geoff Aberdein on 29 March 2018? Did she in fact do so?

(2) If so, who else, if anyone, was present at this meeting?

(3) If not, is Sky News mistaken/lying that such an admission was made by a Scottish Government spokesman and what steps have been taken over this misrepresentation by Sky News?

(4) does the Scottish Government wish to reconsider its statement that the First Minister and Mr Aberdein did not discuss the allegations on that date?

(5) If not, please disclose what matters were discussed, or why they cannot be disclosed.”

Response

In your request for a review, you expressed dissatisfaction with the truthfulness of the responses you had received, and reiterated the following questions (which are similar, but not identical to, the original requests set out above):

(1) Does the Scottish Government wish to reconsider its reply of 3 August to the question of whether the First Minister met with Geoff on 29 March 2018? Did she in fact do so?

(2) If so, who else, if anyone, was present at this meeting?

(3) Does the Scottish Government wish to reconsider its statement that the First Minister an[d] Aberdein did not discuss the allegations on that date?

(4) If not, please disclose what matters were discussed, or why they cannot be disclosed”

We have accordingly interpreted your request for a review as expressing dissatisfaction with our response in relation to the four questions set out in your review response.

You subsequently expressed dissatisfaction regarding the length of time taken to respond to this review. I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the delay. The ability of individuals to undertake FOI reviews of this nature has been constrained by staff availability due to the ongoing COVID-19 public health crisis.
Since confirming the receipt of the request to you, I have undertaken the review and I have concluded that the original decision should be confirmed with modifications. In considering your request for a review, I have set out my approach and conclusions as follows:

Questions 1 and 2
Question 1 is in two parts: it first asks whether the Scottish Government wishes to take certain action, and secondly asks whether the First Minister met Mr Aberdein on 29 March 2020.

I have concluded that the first part of question 1 is not a valid request for information, because it does not, in accordance with section 8(1)(c) of FOISA, describe the information requested. Instead, it asks whether the Scottish Government wishes to take certain action. If you wish to rephrase your request to clearly describe the information you are looking for, we would be able to consider your request and respond in accordance with FOISA. If you need any further advice and assistance to rephrase your request, please contact me. You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner’s ‘Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs’ on his website at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx.

In relation to the second part of question 1 and in relation to question 2, we originally advised you that the Scottish Government did not hold any recorded information that would enable us to answer these questions. After careful reconsideration of the searches undertaken, I have concluded that the searc hes undertaken at the time of your request were adequate and proportionate. Having requested additional searches as part of my review and having identified no recorded information that would enable us to answer these questions, I uphold the original decision on this point.
I do however consider we should have been more explicit with you as to how this decision was reached. I apologise that we did not clearly set this out in the original reply and I therefore modify the decision to the extent of providing the following explanation.

In our original response, we could have usefully drawn your attention to the published written evidence provided by Nicola Sturgeon MSP to the Committee on the Scottish Government Handling of Harassment Complaints on the subject of the 29 March meeting with Mr Aberdein. I apologise we did not do so at the time and include the link here for your reference: Nicola_Sturgeon.pdf (parliament.scot).

The Scottish Government does not hold recorded information that would enable it to answer the second part of question 1 or question 2 because these questions refer to an event that was not a government meeting. As explained in the answer S5W-31054 by the Deputy First Minister you quoted in your request for a review, the 29 March meeting with Mr Aberdein will be investigated by James Hamilton, an independent adviser to the Ministerial Code, as part of the remit of his investigation into the First Minister’s self-referral. The 29 March meeting with Mr Aberdein is included in Mr Hamilton’s remit because the reports from the criminal trial referenced it. The inclusion of 29 March in the remit of Mr Hamilton’s investigation should not be understood as an indication that the Scottish Government held a record of this meeting.

Question 3
I have concluded that question 3 is not a valid request for information, because it does not, in accordance with section 8(1)(c) of FOISA, describe the information requested. Instead, it asks whether the Scottish Government wishes to take certain action. If you wish to rephrase your request to clearly describe the information you are looking for, we would be able to consider your request and respond in accordance with FOISA. If you need any further advice and assistance to rephrase your request, please contact me. You may also find it helpful to look at the Scottish Information Commissioner’s ‘Tips for requesting information under FOI and the EIRs’ on his website at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/YourRights/Tipsforrequesters.aspx.

Question 4
Question 4 is in two parts: it asks for information about the matters discussed by the First Minister and Mr Aberdein at a meeting on 29 March 2018, or alternatively asks why those matters could not be disclosed.

In relation to the first part of question 4. we originally advised you that the Scottish Government did not hold any recorded information that would enable us to answer this question. After careful reconsideration of the searches undertaken, I have concluded that the searches undertaken at the time of your request were adequate and proportionate. Having requested additional searches as part of my review and having identified no recorded information that would enable us to answer this question, I uphold the original decision on this point.

In an effort to provide advice and assistance to you, our original response drew your attention to the answers to an earlier FOI request, FOI/202000022790 (particularly the answer to question 9). We could usefully also have drawn your attention to the review response issued in that case (FOI/202000059000) because it explicitly states the Scottish Government’s position on the meeting of 29 March as follows:
“we hold no recorded information about any contact between Mr Geoff Aberdein and the current First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on or around 29th March 2018” [see part (c) of the review response]

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.

Contact

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

The Scottish Government
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