Social Audit Ltd
P O Box 111 London NW1 8XG
Telephone/Fax 44 (0)171 586 7771


Mr Roy Alder, Head of Executive Support
Medicines Control Agency
Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane
London SW8 5NQ 27 June 1998

Dear Mr Alder,

Thank you for your letter of 24 June. I acknowledge receipt of the duplicates of Polly's Certificate of Airworthiness and Full Pedigree, and note that you think you have shaken her cage more than I was entitled to expect. I cannot agree, but have to admit that there is no point asking you to administer a dead parrot with the kiss of life.

If the MCA had originally resisted disclosure only under Exemption 14, I might not have pursued the point - knowing the lengths to which you and the license holder might have gone to stretch it. But, yes, SmithKline Beecham might have assumed that the MCA would not disclose these data. Moreover, they had already made clear their determination to protect me and other members of the public by revealing absolutely nothing. Therefore, if the MCA had disclosed even this bit of detail, I can imagine there would have been hiccups that might conceivably be construed as risking prejudice to the future supply of information.

Apart from this, the Agency's interpretation of the Code is plain silly: anyone can see this, even if the MCA can not. If the information requested is already on the public record in the USA, then releasing it here isn't going to "harm the competitive position of the company" or give any "advantage to competitors", nor could it properly be described as "commercially confidential".

In these circumstances, I would have been further amused by your claim to have provided more and better explanations than the Code entitles me to - had you not pointed me to para. 42 of the Guidance Notes, by way of underlining your regrets that you had nothing further to add. As a justification for not providing me with better than silly explanations, this is completely incredible.

Briefly, para. 42 refers to a footnote caveat in the Code which explains that there might be "some justifiable exceptions to the practice of giving reasons". The Code itself "commits departments and public bodies … to give reasons for administrative decisions" and the Guidance Notes repeatedly emphasise the importance of explaining refusals to disclose. Yet you ignore all this and direct me to a paragraph in the Guidance Notes linked to a footnote that says this:

"There will be a few areas where well-established convention or legal authority limits the commitment to give reasons, for example decisions on citizenship applications (see s44(2) of the British Nationality Act 1981) or certain decisions on merger and monopoly cases or on whether to take enforcement action".

I will not distress you by spelling out all the reasons given in the Code and Guidance Notes for providing me now with the information I requested over six months ago. Indeed, at the risk of appearing excessively gentlemanly, I will even undertake not to pursue this request subject to the MCA confirming, within the week, that it unreservedly withdraws its refusal to disclose on the grounds of Exemption 13. Failing this, feathers will surely fly (even if the poor bird won't).

Yours sincerely,

Charles Medawar


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List of correspondence with MCA/CSM