Publication - FOI/EIR release

Further questions pertaining to First Minister’s meeting with Geoff Aberdein: FOI release

Published: 11 Feb 2021

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

Published:
11 Feb 2021
Further questions pertaining to First Minister’s meeting with Geoff Aberdein: FOI release
FOI reference: FOI/202100140064
Date received: 19 Jan 2021
Date responded: 11 Feb 2021
Information requested

In relation to your previous request (FOI2020/00090531) and the inclusion of a reference to a meeting on 29 March 2018 in the remit of the James Hamilton Inquiry, you asked for:

(1) Where was this information recorded, such that the Deputy First Minister was able to provide it to Mr Hamilton?

(2) When did the Deputy First Minister come into possession of this information, and from whom?
Presumably it must have been prior to 3 August 2020, to allow him time to prepare the document for Mr Hamilton and the letter to the Convener of the inquiry, Ms Fabiani, that morning.

(3) Are there any possible circumstances where the Deputy First Minister could hold a record of such a meeting but have withheld that information from the Scottish Government until 3 August 2020? 

(4) If not, why was I told on 3 August that the Scottish Government did not hold this information, at a time when it clearly did?

(5) Does the Scottish Government now admit to holding information regarding the meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Aberdein on 29 March? If so, when did it come into possession of that information?

(6) Which information does the Scottish Government hold with regard to the meeting? In particular:
how did it come to pass, who was present at it and what did it discuss?

(7) How many times did the First Minister meet with Mr Aberdein on 29 March 2018? Her published diary for that date only lists one meeting with an unnamed person or persons:
"1315 - 1330 Meet and greet [Redacted]"

https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/foi-eir-release/2020/07/foi-202000041894/documents/foi-202000041894-information-released/foi-202000041894-informationreleased/
govscot%3Adocument/FOI-202000041894%2BInformation%2Breleased.pdf


(8) Given that the Scottish Government now publicly admits a meeting between the First Minister took place and there are no other possible entries in her diary which could account for it, can the Scottish Government confirm that this was in fact the meeting with Mr Aberdein, and that it was the only one between them on that day?

(9) If the meeting identified above was NOT the one with Mr Aberdein, why was that meeting not recorded - even in redacted form - in her diary, given that all meetings on government business are required to be so recorded, and meetings in her Parliamentary office which are NOT on government business are not permitted?

Response

I will deal with each of your points in turn:

(1) Where was this information recorded, such that the Deputy First Minister was able to provide it to Mr Hamilton?

(2) When did the Deputy First Minister come into possession of this information, and from whom?
Presumably it must have been prior to 3 August 2020, to allow him time to prepare the document for Mr Hamilton and the letter to the Convener of the inquiry, Ms Fabiani, that morning. 


The answer to your first two points is that Deputy First Minister was asked to consider the addition of the 29 March meeting into the remit of the Inquiry, based on reporting from the criminal trial, on 27 July 2020 by officials in Cabinet Secretariat.

Also, outwith FOISA, and as set out in the response to your request for a review of your previous request on this matter dated 15 December 2020, 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 meeting in the remit of Mr Hamilton’s investigation should not be understood as an indication that the Scottish Government holds a record of this meeting.

(3) Are there any possible circumstances where the Deputy First Minister could hold a record of such a meeting but have withheld that information from the Scottish Government until 3 August 2020?

(4) If not, why was I told on 3 August that the Scottish Government did not hold this information, at a time when it clearly did?

For clarity, I note that 3 August 2020 was the date of publication of the review of a previous FOI request on similar matters (link below), which you referred to in your previous request (FOI2020/00090531) and the response to your previous request was issued on 8 October 2020.

https://www.gov.scot/publications/foi-202000059000/

I have concluded that questions 3 and 4 are not a valid requests for information, because they do not, in accordance with section 8(1)(c) of FOISA, describe the information requested. Instead, they ask for an opinion. 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 

(5) Does the Scottish Government now admit to holding information regarding the meeting between Ms Sturgeon and Mr Aberdein on 29 March? If so, when did it come into possession of that information?

(6) Which information does the Scottish Government hold with regard to the meeting? In particular:
how did it come to pass, who was present at it and what did it discuss?


(7) How many times did the First Minister meet with Mr Aberdein on 29 March 2018? Her published diary for that date only lists one meeting with an unnamed person or persons:
"1315 - 1330 Meet and greet [Redacted]"

https://www.gov.scot/binaries/content/documents/govscot/publications/foi-eir-release/2020/07/foi-202000041894/documents/foi-202000041894-information-released/foi-202000041894-informationreleased/govscot%3Adocument/FOI-202000041894%2BInformation%2Breleased.pdf

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, under section 14(2) of FOISA a public authority is not required to comply with a request for information if it is identical or substantially similar to a request which it has already complied with, unless a reasonable amount of time has elapsed between the two requests.

Your fifth, sixth and seventh requests are substantially similar to your previous request which we complied with on 8 October 2020 and which was reviewed on 15 December 2020. The Scottish Information Commissioner's guidance on repeated requests at:

http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/Law/FOISAEIRsGuidance/Section14/Section14Overview.aspx says that in considering whether a reasonable period of time has elapsed between the previous request and the new request, there are two questions which will help the authority:

(i) has the information changed?
(ii) have the circumstances changed?

In this case, the information we hold is the same as at the time of your previous request. We have also considered the circumstances and have concluded that there has been no significant change. For these reasons, we consider that your request is repeated and we are not obliged to comply with it. 

(8) Given that the Scottish Government now publicly admits a meeting between the First Minister took place and there are no other possible entries in her diary which could account for it, can the Scottish Government confirm that this was in fact the meeting with Mr Aberdein, and that it was the only one between them on that day?

In relation to the first part of this request, regarding the meeting listed on the Scottish Government webpages, this was a routine ‘meet and greet’ engagement with a member of the public following First Minister’s Questions and was not with Mr Aberdein.

In relation to the second part of this request, regarding a meeting with Mr Aberdein, while our aim is to provide information whenever possible, under section 14(2) of FOISA a public authority is not required to comply with a request for information if it is identical or substantially similar to a request which it has already complied with, unless a reasonable amount of time has elapsed between the two requests.

This request is substantially similar to your previous request which we complied with on 8 October 2020 and which was reviewed on 15 December 2020. The Scottish Information Commissioner's guidance on repeated requests at: http://www.itspublicknowledge.info/Law/FOISAEIRsGuidance/Section14/Section14Overview.aspx says that in considering whether a reasonable period of time has elapsed between the previous request and the new request, there are two questions which will help the authority:

(i) has the information changed?
(ii) have the circumstances changed?

In this case, the information we hold is the same as at the time of your previous request. We have also considered the circumstances and have concluded that there has been no significant change. For these reasons, we consider that your request is repeated and we are not obliged to comply with it.

(9) If the meeting identified above was NOT the one with Mr Aberdein, why was that meeting not recorded - even in redacted form - in her diary, given that all meetings on government business are required to be so recorded, and meetings in her Parliamentary office which are NOT on government business are not permitted?

As set out in the response to your request for a review of your previous request dated 15 December 2020, the answer to your question is that the Scottish Government does not hold recorded information as this was not a government meeting.

Also, outwith FOISA, in relation to your assertion that meetings in parliamentary offices not on government business are not permitted, we are not aware of such a rule.

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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