Publication - FOI/EIR release

Correspondence involving First Minister regarding place of worship: FOI release

Published: 3 Jun 2021

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

Published:
3 Jun 2021
Correspondence involving First Minister regarding place of worship: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202100135656
Date received: 4 Jan 2021
Date responded: 19 May 2021
Information requested

1. Correspondence sent or received by Ms Sturgeon or her private office in relation to Covid-19 restrictions on public worship.

2. Briefing notes given to Ms Sturgeon for her statement on 04/01/2020 in relation to new Covid-19 restrictions.

Following your initial request, in your email of 19 January 2021 you confirmed that the following parameters should be applied to part 1 of your request:

“…main interest is in the limits on attendance at, and most recently the cessation of, public worship: how they have been formed, and on what basis (i.e. the rationale, what information was considered, any expert advice or political input, what consideration was given to alternatives e.g. attendance limits based on capacity, number of households or distancing requirements, and why they were ruled out).

In terms of dates I suspect this could be limited to the following: 29th June to 21st July 2020 (reopening for public worship), 19th October to 9th November (introduction of the Levels system) and 14th December 2020 through present (latest restrictions including closure), or preferably the latest available date.”

Response

In response to part 1 of your request, the information you have requested for the period 29 June to 21 July 2020 has been published under a previous release under FOISA: https://www.gov.scot/publications/foi-202000094719/. This release covers the period up to 3 October 2020.

Under section 25(1) of FOISA, we do not have to give you information which is already reasonably accessible to you.

In relation to the periods 19 October to 9 November 2020 and 14 December 2020 to 4 January 2021 (the date of your request), I enclose a copy of some of the information you have requested at Annex A as outlined below.

Documents included at Annex A:
1. Email from Dominic Munro, Director of Exit Strategy, to the First Minister – Latest Draft of Strategic Framework Document and Levels Tables – 22 October 2020 at 01:43

2. Extracts from documents attached to email released in document 1.

3. Email from Miranda McIntosh, Deputy Director of Outbreak Management Strategy, to the First Minister – Official Sensitive – Strategic Framework and Levels Publication - 22 October 2020 at 12:02.

4. Extract from attachment to email released at document 4 – COVID-19 – Strategic Framework – 22.10.20 draft.

5. Email from Dominic Munro, Director of Exit Strategy, to the First Minister – Urgent: Advice on a potential tightening of restrictions in light of the UK Government announcements – 3 November 2020 at 02:19.

6. Extract from attachment to email released at document 6 – Advice to FM on further restrictions – 2 November 2020.

7. Email exchange between Ken Thomson, Director General, and the First Minister/First Minister’s Private Office – Immediate: COVID-19 levels review for 22/12 – 21 December 2020 at 20:44 and 21:47.

8. Email from Penelope Cooper, Director, Outbreak Management, to the First Minister – Off Sen Submission Covid 19 Strategic Framework Options for Further Protective Measures – 31 December 2020 at 21:01.

9. Submission attached to email released at document 8.

10. Reply from First Minister to Email (doc 9) and Submission (doc 10) – 1 January 2021 at 13:41.

An exemption under section 38(1)(b) of FOISA (personal information) applies to some of the information in the above noted documents because it is personal data of a third party, i.e. names or contact details of individuals, and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Article 5(1) of the UK 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.

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 an exemption applies. Exemptions under section 29(1)(a) (policy formulation), section 30(b)(i) (free and frank advice), and section 30(b)(ii) (free and frank exchange of views) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why these exemptions have been applied are explained in the Annex B.

In relation to part 2 of your request, while our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide the information you have requested because exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) (free and frank provision of advice and free and frank exchange of views) of FOISA apply to that information.

These exemptions apply because disclosure would, or would be likely to, substantially inhibit 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 which will be given in whatever final Parliamentary answers Ministers then give.

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. While we recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate, 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 for Parliamentary statements. 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. 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 Official Report of the Scottish Parliament is published online and may be of interest: https://www.parliament.scot/parliamentarybusiness/report.aspx?r=13041. This is the formal record of information provided by the First Minister in Parliament on 4 January 2021.

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FOI202100135656 - Annex A

17 page PDF
2.9 MB

FOI202100135656 - Annex B

2 page PDF
228.5 kB

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