|Social Audit Ltd|
|P O Box 111 London NW1 8XG|
|Telephone/Fax 44 (0)171 586 7771|
|FOI Unit, Room 65d/1|
|The Cabinet Office, Office of Public Service|
|London SWIP 3AL||18 February 1998|
Dear Mr Cayzer,
I am writing with some further comments on the White Paper on Freedom of Information.
They arise from recent correspondence with Professor Michael Rawlins, Chairman of the Committee on Safety of Medicines. This concerned a letter he had written to me, in 1987, including this statement:
"Much of what you (and I) would seek would require repeal of section 118 of the Medicines Act which is the section concerned with secrecy. A small part of individual [license] applications might be regarded as commercially confidential but the major proportion could, with little loss to anyone, be made publicly available. Similarly, I see no objection to Committee's papers being publicly available".
This seemed very important at the time, in particular the sentence where I have added italics. Although it was clearly a personal view, it was also the considered opinion of a senior member of the CSM, and I have quoted it more than once - albeit with attribution only to an unnamed member of the CSM. However, as Professor Rawlins has been Chairman of the CSM for the past five years, and because virtually nothing has changed, it seems all the more important now. Therefore I recently wrote to him to ask whether he still held that view and, if so, if I might attribute it. He has now confirmed that it is and I can. For the avoidance of doubt I am enclosing copies of the correspondence between us.
I think the main point here is pretty much self evident but, if not, you might want to refer to the full correspondence on this matter with the Medicines Control Agency, at http://www.socialaudit.org.uk/430.htm#Correspondence
The nub of it is that the MCA's interpretation of the Code of Practice on Access to Information at present precludes the disclosure of much information which could be released "with little loss to anyone" - and that it seems most important that the proposed FOI Act should not. This underlines the importance of the proposed test of "substantial harm" and, as indicated in our earlier submission, the need to define it strictly and robustly - so far as possible avoiding references to sweeping exclusions, for example relating to "commercially sensitive material" "or data which could affect share prices". The proposed test of "substantial harm" seems fair enough. Please don't dilute it.Yours sincerely,
CLICK HERE TO LEAP FORWARD IN TIME, BACKWARDS IN OTHER RESPECTS