FOI reference: FOI/17/02476
Date received: 19 October 2017
Date responded: 15 November 2017
All correspondence physical or digital, along with any record or minutes of meetings concerning or occurring during the Ministers June 2017 trip to Brussels.
The Minister travelled to Brussels on 20 June to participate in a conference organised by the European Citizens' Action Service, "Brexit and Citizens' Rights: Where do we go from here?". He also hosted a panel discussion and evening reception with the Scottish Council of Voluntary Organisations (SCVO) in Scotland House and met with the European Parliament's Brexit Negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt MEP, and with the EPP Brexit Advisory Group.
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 the Scottish Government does not have all of this information. There are also exemptions that apply under sections 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
The Scottish Government does not have the informationl.
The Scottish Government does not have some of the information you have asked for because there was no minutes of the meetings recorded. This is a formal notice under section 17(1) of FOISA that the Scottish Government does not have the information you have requested.
(1) 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.
(2) 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.
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.
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