Select Committee on Public Administration Second Report


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 of Defence.

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.

Departmental Legislation

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.

Legal Services

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 particularly relevant.


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 Inc.

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 is approved.

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.

Official Advice

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".

Childhood vaccines

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"]

Land Sales

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.

Ministerial correspondence

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 relevant provisions.

4 July 2000

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries index

© Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 17 January 2001