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


Dr Keith Jones, Chief Executive
Medicines Control Agency
Market Towers, 1 Nine Elms Lane
London SW8 5NQ

11 June 1999

Dear Keith,`

I guess it would be churlish not to offer you hearty congratulations on the new Freedom of Information Bill. Clearly, its provisions and intent handsomely vindicate the MCA/CSM obsession with secrecy and I cannot blame you if you are rubbing your hands with glee, even as I am wringing mine. The enclosed letter, a response to the Home Office consultation, barely begins to convey the anguish I feel.

However, it is not all over yet and it is some consolation to know that the draft bill has been generally condemned by the national press. Even the New York Times editorialised recently about the "sadly inadequate" law the government has just proposed - an indication perhaps of the interest that may be aroused as the bill comes under increasing scrutiny and debate. During this debate, I shall of course do my utmost to ensure that the MCA/CSM emerge as stars of the show - vivid and focused examples of what "freedom of information" under Brave New Labour may come to mean.

In this connection, and while there is still time, please may I make a formal request under the Code for a copy of any record of any communication you may have received from the Permanent Secretary's Office at the Department of Health in response to the request made by the Parliamentary Ombudsman that he give some personal assurance that our outstanding requests be brought to a swift conclusion? In addition, please would you supply a copy of any reply or replies from the MCA.

I appreciate that such documentation would normally be exempt from disclosure under Code provisions relating to "Internal opinion, advice, recommendation, consultation and deliberation". However, the Guidance on Interpretation does provide that "in each case the harm which would arise from disclosure should be weighed against the public interest in making the information available …"

It seems to me that the public interest in the disclosure policies and practices of the MCA/CSM would be paramount here, given that the MCA has so far kept us waiting for over 300 working days, whereas the Code specifies a target response time of 20 - also taking into account that I have heard nothing from Messrs Alder and Dunlevy for the past three months. Would you care to argue that continuing secrecy about the reasons and justification for this delay would be in the public interest, given that Mr Alder told me in his most recent communication (12 March) that it would take just "a little longer" to respond - also that the Agency made a serious error last November (when Mr Alder's "detailed scrutiny" led him to conclude that the best option was to release edited texts of the data I requested), and that this meant breaking a promise (his word) to deliver no later than 15 March?  The position remain as summarised in my letter to Mr Alder of 17 March, not that there's been even a peep from Mr Dunlevy either. 

Thank you for attention; I shall look forward to hearing from you. 

Yours sincerely,
Charles Medawar


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List of correspondence with MCA/CSM