Publication - FOI/EIR release

Discussions held between Marine Scotland and Defra officials: EIR release

Published: 24 Sep 2021

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

Published:
24 Sep 2021
Discussions held between Marine Scotland and Defra officials: EIR release
FOI reference: FOI/202100227939
Date received: 23 Jul 2021
Date responded: 6 Sep 2021
Information requested

Details of correspondence and meeting between Marine Scotland and Defra officials in relation to the first round of international exchanges.

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.

Attached is a copy of the information 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 exceptions under regulations 10(4)(d) (unfinished documents), 10(4)(e) (internal communications), 10 (5)(a) International relations, defence, national security and public safety and 10(5)(e) (Confidentiality of commercial or industrial information) of the EIRs applies to that information. The reasons why that exceptions applies are explained in the Annex.

Annex

Exceptions applies under regulation 10(4)(d) (unfinished documents). This exception applies to some of the information requested because it relates to material that is being completed including unfinished documents including drafts, or incomplete data. Where appropriate and within the timeframe of the requested EIR, measures have been taken to release any final versions. This exception 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 exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. We recognise that there is some public interest in release because of interest in an open and transparent government. However, this is outweighed by the public interest in on going policy development in unfinished documents for upholding application of exception.

A further exception applies under regulation 10(4)(e) (internal communication) as the request involves disclosure of internal communications. Exceptions apply for correspondence relating to discussions of internal policy development, reaching decisions and in this respect overlaps with the purpose behind the exception for unfinished documents. This exemption is subject to the public interest and release of information was declined if disclosure would harm the way in which decisions are made or advice given.

Another exception was applied to information under regulation 10(5)(a) allows authorities to withhold information where disclosure would or would likely to, prejudice substantially international relations, defence, national security or public safety. Information may be withheld if, for example, it contains confidential information obtained from (or which relates to) a foreign state, international organisation or overseas territory, where disclosure might compromise any future co-operation with the UK in areas of vital interests to the UK. Some of the information you requested was withheld under this exception as it contains information which highlights on-going negotiations with EU counterparts and could affect current and future trade deals. Additionally information was withheld where disclosure could harm the perceived working relationships and confidence between devolved administrations, stakeholders and EU counterparts. Finally, some information was withheld where information was given by the EU but it was not known if this information had been shared to the public domain.

This exception is subject to the ‘public interest test’ and disclosure lies in favour of the information being made available. Consequently, we found in making some of this information available, it would or would likely prejudice substantially international relations. Release of information could be used by EU negotiating partners to understand how we might approach future negotiating. Care was also taken to in the release of information that has the potential to affect current working relationships with devolved administrations, stakeholders and EU counterparts, and the information supplied and how this could affect the information shared into the future. Furthermore, it could not be determined how widely information provided by the EU had been shared with their member states or publicly and so is there a risk that this creates a difficulty for them, which in turn could affect our working relationship with them should be release this information.

The final exception is applied under regulation 10(5)(e)(IV)(V)- confidentiality of commercial or industrial information. This exception applies because disclosure of this particular information would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially the confidentiality of commercial information related to Sectorial Groups and thus cause substantial harm to their commercial interests. Disclosing this information would be likely to give competing Sectoral Groups an advantage in future similar trading exercises, which would substantially prejudice other Sectoral Groups ability to submit competitive trades and so could significantly harm their commercial business. Moreover, some of the information withheld was related to potentially sensitive business information and working relationships to protect a legitimate economic interest. Disclosure of the information could cause or likely cause substantial harm to this legitimate economic interest.

This exception 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 exception. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exception. We recognise that there is a public interest in disclosing information as part of open and transparent government. However, there is a greater public interest in protecting the commercial interests of Sectoral Groups. The sharing of EU industry swap partners is not information publicly available and is not routinely known within the public or industry. Therefore redaction has taken place to ensure sensitive information is not unknowingly released. Furthermore, redactions took place on industrial information which could be harmful to international relationships of commercially traded fish stocks with the UK/EU. The release of this information could be used by EU negotiating partners to understand how we might approach future negotiating. Therefore there is a commercial interest to protect approaches taken in trade negotiations and exchanges, post-Brexit.

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Central Enquiry Unit
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Phone: 0300 244 4000

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