FOI reference: FOI/17/02520
Date received: 18 October 2017
Date responded: 14 November 2017
You asked for any correspondence, physical or digital, along with any record or minutes of meetings concerning Nicola Sturgeon's August 2016 visit to Berlin and her engagement with Germany's Minister of State for Europe, Michael Roth.
I enclose a copy of some of the information you requested at Annex B of this letter.
While our aim is to provide information whenever possible, in this instance we are unable to provide some of the information you have requested due to exemptions under sections: 38(1)(b) (personal data relating to a third party); 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) (free and frank provision of advice); and 32(1)(a)(i)(ii)(iii) (substantial prejudice to international relations) of FOISA.
The reasons why these exemptions apply are explained below.
Reasons for not providing information
Exemptions under sections: 38(1)(b) (personal information); 30(b)(i) and 30(b)(ii) (free and frank provision of advice); and 32(1)(a)(i)(ii)(iii) (substantial prejudice to international relations) of FOISA applies to some of the information you have requested.
An exemption under section 38(1)(b) (personal information) applies to some of the information requested because it is personal data of a third party and disclosing it would contravene the data protection principles in Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act 1998. This exemption is not subject to the 'public interest test', so we are not required to consider if the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.
An exemption under section 30(b)(i) and section 30(b)(ii)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)(ii)(iii) 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 Germany. The effective conduct of international relations depends upon maintaining trust and confidence between the UK Government and other States. In this case, the information about Germany was given to the Scottish Government on the understanding that it would be treated as being in confidence. If the Scottish Government does not respect this confidence, the UK Government's relations with other States and its ability to protect and promote UK interests will be substantially prejudiced. States such as Germany, 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.
Exemptions 30(b)(i), 30(b)(ii) and 32(1)(a)(i)(ii) 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 exemption. 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 officials can provide full and frank advice to Ministers and maintaining positive international relations, as part of the process of exploring and refining the Government's position to protect Scotland's relationship with, and place in the European Union. 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.
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