Submitted by the Department of Health
Thank you for your letter of 9 June enclosing a list
of parliamentary questions received from the Table Office which
were 'blocked' in the 98/99 session.
I have enclosed a short paragraph on each response,
explaining why Ministers were unable to respond and relating the
reply to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
Number 7 in the table appears to belong to the Ministry
Patient's details (West Middlesex University Hospital)
This question relates to the circumstances surrounding
the death of a patient. Patient information is currently protected
by the common law duty of confidence and, in the case of computerised
information, by the Data Protection Act 1984. A patient's expectation,
as set out in the Patient's Charter, is that information about
them will be treated as confidential. Furthermore, Part II section
12 of the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information
(Code of Practice) states that unwarranted disclosure to a third
party of personal information about any person (including a deceased
person) or any other disclosure which would constitute or could
facilitate an unwarranted invasion of privacy is exempt. It is
also in accordance with Part II 14c, Information given in confidence,
that such information should not be disclosed.
This question asked what additional legislation,
not currently before Parliament, was assumed in the production
of this Department's spending allocation for 1999-2000 to 2001-02
in the Comprehensive Spending Review. It was part of a round robin
PQ. The reply explained that there is a long standing convention
that legislative proposals for each year are not announced before
the Queen's speech at the start of the relevant session. This
is in accordance with the Code of Practice Statutory and other
restrictions, together with Publication and prematurity
in relation to publication, which are both legitimate reasons
for withholding the information.
This question related to departments using solicitors
in addition to their own legal departments. The MP wanted a list
of each firm of solicitors and to specify the amount paid to them.
This was another round robin PQ. The reply advised that this information
could only be obtained at disproportionate cost. It was estimated
that the cost of collecting and vetting the available data would
be several thousand pounds. The information would also be subject
to the confidentiality clause between lawyer and client. Exemption
4 "Law enforcement and legal proceedings" is
There were two questions raised under this heading.
The first concerned applications submitted to the UK Xenotransplantation
Interim Regulatory Authority (UKXIRA) for approval to undertake
xenotransplantation procedures in the UK. Specifically, information
was sought on applications from one commercial organisation, Genzyme
In keeping with practice in similar bodies, such
as the Medicines Control Agency and the Medical Devices Agency,
the UKXIRA does not reveal details of applications submitted to
it. Such information is commercially sensitive and is supplied
to the Authority on a confidential basis. This is in accordance
with the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information
which lists Third party's commercial confidence and
Information given in confidence as legitimate reasons for
not disclosing information.
The UKXIRA Secretariat does, however, disclose on
request the number of applications received and how many are under
active consideration. Further, it has been agreed that an announcement
should be made if and when the first xenotransplantation application
The second question under this heading sought details
of independent assessors who have been appointed to assist the
UK Xenotransplantation Interim Regulatory Authority (UKXIRA) in
considering applications to undertake xenotransplantation procedures
in the UK.
The UKXIRA's assessors are all experts in fields
relevant to xenotransplantation, and offer advice on applications
from their own particular perspective. It is essential that their
advice is impartial, objective and unaffected by representations
either from the applicant or from other interested parties. Assessors'
names are not, therefore, disclosed and their advice remains confidential
to the UKXIRA. Such practice is common to any kind of peer review.
Indeed, many assessors would be unwilling to carry out reviews
unless confidentiality was assured.
This is in accordance with the Code of Practice on
Access to Government Information which lists Information given
in confidence as legitimate reason for not disclosing information.
This was not a Parliamentary Question as stated,
but was answered as a Private Office case. The MP was asking about
official advice to Ministers concerning the Worcestershire Health
Authority strategic review. Ministers had already gone on record
in an Adjournment Debate, and during a visit to a local hospital,
explaining their decisions and what concessions were agreed to
as a result of the consultation. The reply referred to the Code
of Practice where it states that there is no commitment to disclose
internal discussion and advice "where disclosure would
harm the frankness and candour of internal discussion". The
reply also referred to the White Paper on Open Government which
explains this reason for confidentiality further: "Governments
and public authorities should be able to think in private and
this means that notes of internal discussions and exchanges should
be protected. In the absence of such protection there would be
a risk of loss of candour in discussions, and an increasing gap
between what is said at meetings etc and what is recorded on files".
This question concerned the cost per batch of the
whole cell and acellular childhood vaccine DTP. The answer was
given regarding the acellular DTP vaccine which had only received
its licence for use in the UK in April 1999. However, as well
as the Behring vaccine, there are two other whole cell DTP vaccines
currently licensed for use in the United Kingdom. The purchase
price of these other vaccines are not publicly disclosed as part
of the contract with the suppliers protects this information as
being commercially confidential. This is in accordance with the
Code of Practice which states Third Party's commercial confidences
as an exemption.
[Next question noted as being "for answer
by the MOD"]
This PQ sought details of how much money was raised
by the sale of the Barnsley Hall site in Bromsgrove, by the NHS
Executive and where the money was to be reinvested. Barnsley Hall
Hospital was an old style mental health facility in Worcestershire
that became surplus to requirements following the reshaping of
the local mental health services. The main hospital complex was
sold in March 1999 but it is not the policy of the NHS to reveal
how much it receives for land sales, as this information is considered
commercially sensitive. Land sales are made through a process
of open tender, and so revealing the final sale price publicly
would also involve this information being revealed to the purchaser's
competitors. It can also be difficult to present an accurate figure
because of issues such as deduction costs. This is in accordance
with the Code of Practice which states that Third Party's commercial
confidences is a justifiable reason for not disclosing information.
The second part of the question relating to how the money will
be reinvested was answered.
This question asked if Secretary of State would publish
correspondence between the former Chief Secretary and his predecessor
on the adequacy of the resources for the NHS. The reply stated
that all correspondence between Cabinet Ministers is confidential,
and referred to the Code of Practice on Access to Government Information.
Part II section 2 Internal Discussion and Advice in the
4 July 2000