FOI reference: FOI/17/01758
Date received: 31 July 2017
Date responded: 28 August 2017
Undercover Policing Public (Pitchford) Inquiry to cover Scotland
1. Copies of the letters sent by the Home Office on 11 January 2016, 9 March 2016 and 25 July 2016, and any responses (email, written or notes of verbal conversation) provided by the Scottish Government in return.
2. The statement released by the Scottish Government in or around 16th / 17th January 2016, segments of which can be founded in Scottish press reports of the 17th January 2016.
3. The statement referenced in 2. notes that discussions were to be held between the two governments in relation to the above issue. Please let me know the nature and dates of said discussion and any email correspondence pertaining to it.
I enclose a copy of most of the information you requested in the format you asked for. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested in relation to item 1 of your request because an exemption under section 30(c) (effective conduct of public affairs) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why that exemption applies are explained below.
In relation to item 2, the Scottish Government's full statement was: "We have received a response from the UK Government in which the Home Secretary has offered to discuss the matter further with Mr Matheson. The Justice Secretary intends to take her up on her offer in due course."
In relation to item 3, the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. The reasons why we don't have the information are explained below.
Reasons for not providing information
An exemption applies, subject to the public interest test.
An exemption under section 30(c) of FOISA (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) applies to a small amount of the information requested. It is essential for Ministers to be able to communicate, often in confidence, with external stakeholders, including the UK Government on a range of issues, including in relation to the Pitchford Inquiry into undercover policing. Disclosing the content of these communications is likely to undermine their trust in the Scottish Government and will substantially inhibit communications on this type of issue in the future. These stakeholders will be reluctant to provide their views fully and frankly if they believe that their views are likely to be made public, particularly while these discussions are ongoing and relate to a sensitive or controversial issue such as the scope of the Pitchford Inquiry. This would significantly harm the Scottish Government's ability to carry out many aspects of its work, and could adversely affect its ability to gather all of the evidence it needs to make fully informed decisions.
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 communicate with the UK Government as part of the process of exploring and refining the Scottish Government's position on the scope of the Pitchford Inquiry until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken based on fully informed advice and evidence. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between the Scottish Government and these stakeholders, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.
The Scottish Government does not have the information
The Scottish Government does not have the information you have asked for. In relation to item 3, the Scottish Government holds no information regarding the telephone discussion which took place on 3 February 2016. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.
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
Please quote the FOI reference
Central Enquiry Unit
Phone: 0300 244 4000
The Scottish Government
St Andrew's House