Publication - FOI/EIR release

Communications involving the Scottish Government relating to beaver management: EIR release

Information request and response under the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004

Published:
20 May 2021
Communications involving the Scottish Government relating to beaver management: EIR release
FOI reference: FOI/202100164199
Date received: 23 Feb 2021
Date responded: 21 Apr 2021
Information requested

Electronic copies of all communications involving the Scottish Government which relate to beaver management, including the process of obtaining and issuing licences from NatureScot to kill or control beavers, including any such communications which are critical of the approach taken at the relevant time.

This request relates to documents created between 1 May 2018 and the date of this request.

Response

As the information you have requested is 'environmental information' for the purposes of the Environmental Information (Scotland) Regulations 2004 (EIRs), we are required to deal with your request under those Regulations. We are applying the exemption at section 39(2) of the Freedom of Information (Scotland) Act 2002 (FOISA), so that we do not also have to deal with your request under FOISA.

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, because there is no public interest in dealing with the same request under two different regimes. This is essentially a technical point and has no material effect on the outcome of your request.

I enclose a copy of most of the information you requested.

Some of the information you have requested is available from the following websites.

Under regulation 6(1)(b) of the EIRs, we do not have to give you information which is already publicly available and easily accessible to you in another form or format. If, however, you do not have internet access to obtain this information from the website(s) listed, then please contact me again and I will send you a paper copy.

An exception under regulation 11(2) of the EIRs (personal information) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party 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 exception 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 exception.

Exceptions under regulation 10(4)(e) of the EIRs (internal communications), and regulation 10(5)(f) (Prejudice to interests of person who provided the information) applies to some of the information you have requested because it is a) internal legal advice and disclosure would breach legal professional privilege, b) internal communication between Scottish Government Ministers and officials about beaver management in Scotland, and c) internal communication about press lines/ lines to take.

These exceptions 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 these exceptions. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding these exceptions. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open, transparent and accountable government, and to inform public debate.

For a) 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.

It is clearly in the public interest that decisions are taken by the Government in a fully informed legal context. Ministers and officials therefore need high-quality, comprehensive legal advice for the effective conduct of their business. That advice needs to be given in context, and with a full appreciation of relevant facts. Without such legal advice, which can only be provided frankly and comprehensively in the knowledge that it will be kept in confidence, the quality of the Government’s decision-making would be much reduced since it would not be fully informed.

For b) there is also a greater public interest in high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on beaver management in Scotland will be disclosed in the near future, when it may undermine or constrain the Government’s view on that policy while it is still under discussion and development.

For c) 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 press lines/ lines to take. It is clearly in the public interest that Ministers can properly answer and robustly defend the Government’s policies and decisions. They need full and candid advice from officials to enable them to do so. Premature 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.

Some of the information contained in some of the documents has been redacted as this information was outwith the scope of your EIR request.

We have also marked out (redacted) some information that would identify the locations of beavers. Releasing this information could increase the risk of intentional or reckless disturbance to the beavers’ breeding sites or resting places. As release of information under the EIRs is equivalent to release into the public domain, we do not believe it is in the public interest to release information that might enable disturbance to the beavers. We have therefore applied EIRs Regulation 10(5)(g) (Protection of the environment) to this information.

Due to the size of the files we are unable to upload the documents referred to above. If you wish to consider, please contact us at the address below and we will be happy to provide.

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