- 20 Nov 2017
FOI reference: FOI/17/02438
Date received: 19 October 2017
Date responded: 16 November 2017
You asked for:
Any correspondence, physical or digital, along with any record or minutes of meetings concerning or occurring during Fiona Hyslop MSP's June, 2017 trip to Austria.
I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested at Annex B, C and D of this letter as well as in the files attached separately. Please be advised that, in line with section 38(1)(b) of FOISA some personal data have been withheld in order not to contravene data protection principles.
A copy of the speech Cabinet Secretary Fiona Hyslop delivered at the Europa Forum Wachau is available at: Cabinet Secretary speech
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)(ii) (free and frank provision of advice) and 32(1)(a)(i) (relations between the UK and any other state) of FOISA apply to that information. The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained below.
Reasons for not providing information
Exemptions under sections 30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice) and 32(1)(a)(i) (international relations) of FOISA apply to some of the information you have requested.
An exemption under section 30(b)(i) of FOISA (free and frank provision of advice) applies to some of the information requested. This exemption applies because disclosure would, or would be likely to, inhibit substantially the free and frank provision of advice. This exemption recognises the need for officials to have a private space within which to provide free and frank advice to Ministers before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view.
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 other European Governments. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and other States. There is a vital public interest in allowing Scottish Ministers and officials a private space within which to engage in full and frank discussions with their counterparts in other States and international organisations. Such discussion makes for better quality and better informed policies and decisions on issues with an international dimension and aids the protection and promotion of UK interests abroad. Inappropriate disclosure is likely to damage other States' confidence and trust in the UK and thus undermine future discussions and international relations more generally.
Both exemptions 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 the exemptions. We have found that, on balance, the public interest lies in favour of upholding the exemptions. 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 a private space within which to communicate with appropriate external stakeholders as part of the process of maintaining international relations after the EU Referendum. This private space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken. Disclosure is also likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers and officials, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decision making process, which would not be in the public interest.
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