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Publication - FOI / EIR Release

Mike Russell's trips to Germany and Brussels: FOI release

Published: 21 Nov 2017

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

FOI reference: FOI/17/02475
Date received: 19 October 2017
Date responded: 16 November2017

Information requested

All correspondence physical or digital, along with any record or minutes of meetings concerning or occurring during Michael Russell's November 2016 trips to Germany and Brussels.

Response

The Minister travelled to Germany on 17 November 2016 to attend the Suddeutsche Zeitung Economic Forum on behalf of the First Minister for Scotland. He participated in a panel discussion on the implications of Brexit on Scotland's economy.

On 21 November 2016, the Minister visited Brussels for a series of meetings. He also spoke at a 60 minute policy briefing entitled 'Scotland's Place in Europe' at the European Policy Centre (EPC).

I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested. While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide all the information you have requested because of the exemptions that apply under sections 29 (1)(b) Ministerial Communications, 30 (b) (i) free and frank provision of advice and section 32 (1) (a) (i) relations between UK and any other member state (s) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why those exemptions apply are explained below.

Reasons for not providing information

(1) An exemption under section 29(1)(b) of FOISA (Ministerial communications) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to communications between Scottish Ministers.

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 a private space within which issues can be explored and refined, until the Government as a whole can reach a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space also allows for all options to be properly considered, so that good decisions can be taken. Premature disclosure is likely to undermine the full and frank discussion of issues between Ministers, which in turn will undermine the quality of the decisionmaking process.

(2) 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 the Minister before the Scottish Government reaches a settled public view. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on Scotland's Place in Europe following the UKs Decision to leave the Eueopean Union will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions are still ongoing.

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 a private space within which officials can provide full and frank advice to Ministers as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position on Scotland's Place in Europe until the Government as a whole can adopt a decision that is sound and likely to be effective. This private thinking space is essential to enable all options to be properly considered, based on the best available advice, so that good decisions can be taken. Premature disclosure is 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.

(3) An exemption under section 32(1) (b) of FOISA (international relations) applies to some of the information requested because it is confidential information which the Scottish Government obtained from the European Parliament and German Embassy.

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 respecting the confidentiality of this information to ensure that the UK Government is able to maintain good relations with international organisations in order to protect and promote UK interests abroad. There can be no public interest in jeopardising those relations by the Scottish Government disclosing confidential information or information which international organisation has specifically asked us to withhold.

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:
21 Nov 2017
Mike Russell's trips to Germany and Brussels: FOI release