FOI reference: FOI/17/02650
Date received: 6 November 2017
Date responded: 5 December 2017
You asked for any briefings from civil servants to Scottish Ministers relating to the effect of providing rUK students with free tuition in Scotland in the event of independence, in 2013 and 2014.
The information released is attached in Annex A.
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 an exemptions under section s.30(b)(i) (free and frank provision of advice) and section 29(1) (a) (formulation or development of Scottish Government policy) of FOISA applies to that information. The reasons why that exemption(s) applies are explained below
Reasons for not providing information
Exemptions apply subject to the public interest test
Section 29(1)(a) – formulation or development of government policy
An exemption under section 29(1)(a) of FOISA (formulation or development of government policy) applies to some of the information requested because it relates to the development of the Scottish Government's policy on EU student fee status – post Brexit.
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 high quality policy and decision-making, and in the properly considered implementation and development of policies and decisions. This means that Ministers and officials need to be able to consider all available options and to debate those rigorously, to fully understand their possible implications. Their candour in doing so will be affected by their assessment of whether the discussions on EU student fee status post Brexit will be disclosed in the near future, when it may undermine or constrain the Government's view on that policy while it is still under discussion and development.
Section 30(b)(i) – free and frank provision of advice
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. Disclosing the content of free and frank advice on the tuition fee status for EU students post-Brexit will substantially inhibit the provision of such advice in the future, particularly because these discussions are still on-going and decisions have not been taken.
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 policy position on tuition fee status for EU students post-Brexit, until the Government as a whole can adopt a policy 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 policy 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 policy 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