Social Audit Ltd
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Mr Roy Alder, Head of Executive Support
Medicines Control Agency
Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane
London SW8 5NQ

16 November 1998

Dear Mr Alder,

Thank you for your letter of 11 November, telling me that Dr Munro concluded his review with a recommendation that the MCA respond to my request of 29 September. I note the Agency has accepted Dr Munro's recommendation and yet might decide to release no information at all. That would be interesting.

I was intrigued to learn more about the basis of the refusals to disclose. True to form, your legal people relied on a raft of possible exemptions (1b, 1c, 2, 7b, 13 and 14). In particular, I thought their notion that disclosure might harm the conduct of international relations took patriotism to extremes. Meanwhile, the MCA originally refused this request (11 September, para 6) on the grounds of Code exemptions numbered 2 and 13, whereas Dr Munro found that only exemptions 2 and 7b might apply. It does have something of the flavour of the National Lottery about it.

I think there must be some ambiguity in the relevant SOP, if the MCA now relies on an exemption (7b) that played no part in the original refusal to disclose. However, the wider point is that you all seem preoccupied with not making it "more difficult to obtain similar information or conduct other reviews in future" - whereas we are hoping exactly the opposite. Our point is that it should be harder to exchange poor quality information or to conduct insufficient reviews, and that more openness would make it so.

On the other hand, it was good to see that Dr Munro dismissed exemption 13. I'm sure the Ombudsman will appreciate that this adds irresistibly to our outstanding request (20 March), for disclosure of expurgated minutes of CSM meetings.

Can I also take this opportunity to say something about the continuing refusal to address the questions in my letter of 10 June to Professor Rawlins? These questions are especially important, as the answers would pretty much define whether or not the MCA/CSM are making a serious mistake - a matter of substantial public interest. It occurs to me that the MCA/CSM might just be thinking that my determination to get some straight answers would soon diminish, what with Prof Rawlins about to step down, and amid seasonal distractions including publication of the New Year Honors List. But the opposite would be true: these are question for the effective head of the UK medicines' control system and I shall re-address them accordingly. Professor Rawlins may have felt unwilling/unable to persuade me he was competent in this matter but, once he has departed, I shall be all the more concerned to find out if anyone really is. You will appreciate I still have good reason to doubt it.

Yours sincerely,
Charles Medawar



Contents page
List of correspondence with MCA/CSM