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Publication - FOI / EIR Release

First Minister meeting Chinese Ambassador to the UK: FOI release

Published: 8 Sep 2017

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

FOI reference: FOI/17/01821
Date received: 9 August 2017
Date responded: 6 September 2017

Information requested

(1) All briefing papers prepared for the First Minister's meeting with Mr Liu Xiaoming, Chinese Ambassador to the UK, on 2 December, 2016.

(2) All communications (emails, letters etc.) regarding the organisation of the meeting and after the meeting.

(3) Any notes, minutes or action points taken following the meeting.

Response

Request 1

I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested. A redacted copy is attached at Annex 2. 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 exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) (substantial inhibition of free and frank provision of advice) and 32(1)(a)(i) (international relations) of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why these exemptions are applied are explained in Annex 1. I have also redacted parts of the briefing due to the subject matter being of no relevance to your enquiry.

Request 2

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. We do not have the information because there are no records of any communications regarding the organisation of the meeting and after the meeting between the First Minister and Mr Liu Xiaoming on 2 December 2016. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

Request 3

While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested. We do not have the information because there are no records of any notes, minutes or action points taken following the meeting between the First Minister and Mr Liu Xiaoming on 2 December 2016. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.

An exemption under section 30(b)(i) (substantial inhibition of free and frank provision of advice) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to discuss issues before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view.

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 as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position, until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective.

An exemption under section 32(1)(a)(i) of FOISA (international relations) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, prejudice substantially relations between the United Kingdom and China. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and China. If the Scottish Government does not respect this confidence, the UK Government's relations with China and its ability to protect and promote UK interest will be substantially prejudiced; and China and other countries are likely to be more reluctant to share sensitive information, with Scotland or other parts of the United Kingdom in future, which would reduce both the frequency and openness of communications with the UK.

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 ensuring that the UK Government is able to maintain good relations with China in order to protect and promote UK interests abroad.

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 Andrew's House
Regent Road
Edinburgh
EH1 3DG

Published:
8 Sep 2017
First Minister meeting Chinese Ambassador to the UK: FOI release