11 April 2022
ATISN 16192 – Reciprocal Health Agreement with Guernsey
Thank you for your request to the Welsh Government for information under the Freedom of Information Act (2000) received on 22 March 2022 regarding a Reciprocal Health Agreement with the State of Guernsey.
You have requested the following:
- Copies of inter-government correspondence relating to the establishment of a Reciprocal Health Agreement between Guernsey and each or all of the four National Health Service organisations within the United Kingdom, since 28 June 2019?
- The minutes of meetings held between representatives of the Welsh Government and representatives from, or from any other organisations acting on behalf of, the States of Guernsey, about the establishment of such Reciprocal Health Agreements
- A description of the main issues considered.
- The date we expect the agreement will be established?
Welsh Government can confirm that it holds some of the information requested. However, we have concluded that the information requested under parts 1, 2 and 3 of your request is exempt from disclosure under the following section of the FOIA:
- Section 35(1)(a) Information held by a government department or by the Welsh Government is exempt information if it relates to— (a) the formulation or development of government policy.
An explanation of our application of this exemptions and the public interest test is set out at the Annex 1 to this letter.
Regarding part 4, we do not hold any such recorded information.
If you are dissatisfied with the Welsh Government’s handling of your request, you can ask for an internal review within 40 working days of the date of this response. Requests for an internal review should be addressed to the Welsh Government’s Freedom of Information Officer at:
Information Rights Unit,
or Email: Freedom.firstname.lastname@example.org
Please remember to quote the ATISN reference number above.
You also have the right to complain to the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at:
Information Commissioner’s Office,
However, please note that the Commissioner will not normally investigate a complaint until it has been through our own internal review process.
Engagement of Exemptions
When considering the release of information captured by a request we are required to consider the potential effects of disclosure of the information to the wider World. This is because information released in response to a FoI request is released to the World, not just to the person submitting the request. As such we need to take into account how any other individual may use, or misuse, the information if it is placed into the wider public domain. So whilst the request may have a legitimate, and benign, interest in accessing the requested information, we could conclude that the risk that the information could be misused by others is more compelling and thus the information should be withheld.
S35(1)(a) formulation of government policy
Section 35(1)(a) covers any information relating to the formulation or development of government policy. The information requested is information generated to inform the formulation of policies with regards to the establishment of a Reciprocal Health Agreement between Guernsey and each or all of the four National Health Service organisations within the United Kingdom. This policy is still being developed between the Devolved Administrations, the UK Government and the State of Guernsey and disclosure at this stage may adversely affect the progression of this policy.
As this is very much a ‘live’ issue, we are of the view that the s35(1)(a) exemption is engaged by the information captured by this request
The use of section 35(1)(a) is subject to a public interest test.
Public interest arguments in favour of release
We understand that the development of a reciprocal health agreement between Guernsey and the UK is a great interest to both the residents of Guernsey and residents of the UK who visit Guernsey.
Public interest arguments in favour of withholding
We take the view that the section 35(1(a) is intended to ensure that the possibility of public exposure does not deter from full, candid and proper deliberation of policy formulation and development, including the exploration of all options.
The withheld information relates to correspondence, associated papers and actions taken to date regarding the development of a ‘Reciprocal Health Agreement’ with Guernsey. As part of the formulation of this ‘Agreement’, we are heavily reliant on Government officials being able to provide advice and exchange views in an open and frank way, exploring various options as part of the normal working process. The Devolved Administrations, the UK Government and their officials need to be able to think through and discuss all the implications of different options, be able to undertake rigorous and candid assessments in the knowledge that if different outcomes or conclusions are finally agreed, these assessments will not have more far reaching implications than appropriate. This should include the ability to receive information on a confidential basis or the candour of the engagement will certainly be weakened. Releasing the information that Welsh Government holds at this time may lead to significantly less considered and a less effective policy in this important area.
In addition, the disclosure of the information requested would have a prejudicial effect on engagement between the Devolved Administrations and the UK Government as it would remove the secure environment which allows Ministers and officials to gather information and discuss. Removing the secure environment in which officials are able to express views openly could result in advice being less robust as it would be likely to result in a reduction in the frankness and candour of those involved in the process if they believed discussions and other information would be made public.
We believe that it is within the wider public interest to withhold the information related to this request in order to provide the government with a safe space to consider and live policy issues away from external intrusion. The Welsh Government endeavour to ensure they are as transparent as possible, in particular through the media, publication of documents, Ministerial Written Statements and public statements in the Senedd. We take the view that, on balance, this public interest has been satisfied and the information requested has been withheld under section 35(1)(a) of the Act for the reasons set out above.