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Publication - FOI/EIR release

Fisheries protection around the island of Rockall: FOI release

Published: 8 Apr 2021

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

Published:
8 Apr 2021
Fisheries protection around the island of Rockall: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202100133316
Date received: 7 Jan 2021
Date responded: 5 Feb 2021
Information requested

1) All letters, emails and documents exchanged between the Scottish and Irish government relating to fishing rights for EU trawlers around the island of Rockall, dating from 1 January 2019 to the date of this request.

2) All briefing documents prepared in advance of meetings or telephone conversations between Scottish and Irish ministers, and minutes taken during any meetings or telephone conversations between Scottish and Irish ministers, which related to or included discussion of EU fishing rights around the island of Rockall dating from 1 January 2019 to the date of this request.

3) Rockall report:
a) a copy of that report.
b) all internal Scottish government briefing papers prepared pursuant to that process and all documents, including memos and emails, exchanged as part of that process between the Irish and Scottish governments.

4) Copies of all documented interactions, including but not exclusively emails, letters and memos, between the Scottish and UK governments regarding the use or availability of Royal Navy vessels on fishery patrols in Scottish waters, sent or received by the Scottish government from 1 January 2020 to the date of this request.

5) The names and job titles of participants, the dates, times and minutes of all telephone or video conferencing meetings between Scottish and UK ministers regarding the use or availability of Royal Navy vessels on fishery patrols in Scottish waters, which took place from 1 January 2020 to the date of this request.

Response

Please find attached a copy of some of the information you have requested.

While our aim is to provide information wherever possible, the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested in relation to questions 4 and 5. This is because I have been unable to find any documented interactions between the Scottish and UK governments regarding the use or availability of Royal Navy vessels on fishery patrols in Scottish waters or documented meetings between Scottish and UK ministers regarding the use or availability of Royal Navy vessels on fishery patrols in Scottish waters between 1 January 2020 and the date of your request.

This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

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 30(b)(i) and (ii) (free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation), 32(1)(a) (international relations), 36(1) (confidentiality of communications) and 38(1)(b) (personal information) of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why these exemptions apply are set out below:

Section 30(b)(i) and (ii) – Free and frank provision of advice and exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation
Exemptions under section 30(b)(i) and (ii) of FOISA apply to some of the information requested 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 and officials to have a private space within which to discuss and explore options before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view or course of action. Disclosing the content of free and frank discussions regarding fishing around the island of Rockall will substantially inhibit such discussions in the future, and these decisions relate to sensitive issues including relations with other countries.

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 Ministers and officials a private space within which to explore and refine the Government’s position. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken, especially given that deliberations around the fishing rights around the island of Rockall are ongoing and sensitive. Disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials when seeking to understand or analyse this or other similar situations as they arise in future, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.

Section 32(1)(a) – International relations
An exemption under section 32(1)(a)(i) of FOISA applies to some of the information requested because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and other States. In this case, disclosing information about fishing around the island of Rockall would substantially prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and Ireland because there is a need to maintain sharing and assessment of evidence to ensure that future disputes can be resolved amicably and in a spirit of openness.

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 other States, in order to protect and promote UK interests. There can be no public interest in jeopardising those relations by the Scottish Government disclosing this information.

Section 36(1) – Confidentiality of communications
An exemption under section 36(1) of FOISA applies to some of the information requested because it is legal advice and disclosure would breach legal professional privilege.

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 some public interest in release as part of open and transparent 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.

Section 38(1)(b) – Personal information
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party (i.e. names/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.

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
St Andrews House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG