Sunday, 29 April 2007

No evil?

The DoH has again stonewalled a Freedom of Information request concerning Dame Carol Black:

"You ask about Dame Carol’s appointment as the National Director for Health and Work. Specifically, you ask for information about “discussions between senior DOH officials, Dame Carol, government ministers, advisers concerning her role, future role and any terms and conditions of her employment.

I can confirm that the Department holds information relevant to this request. All information which can be released is attached to this message.(they released one pretty much blank letter)

The Department has withheld some information from disclosure under section 35 of the FOI Act.

Section 35(1)(a) provides that information is exempt from disclosure if it relates to the formulation or development of Government policy.

Section 35(1)(b) provides that information is exempt from disclosure if it relates to Ministerial communications.

Section 35 is a 'qualified' exemption and we are therefore required to consider whether the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

The purpose of the exemption at section 35 of the FOI Act is to protect the internal deliberative process as it relates to policy making. In other words, the exemption is intended to ensure that the possibility of public exposure does not deter from full, candid and proper deliberation of policy formulation and development, including the exploration of all options, the keeping of detailed records and the taking of difficult decisions. Premature disclosure of information protected under section 35 could prejudice good working relationships, the neutrality of civil servants and, ultimately, the quality of Government.

There is a particular public interest in protecting communications between Ministers, as premature disclosure of such communications could undermine the collective responsibility of the Government. Collective responsibility is a constitutional convention which is described in the Ministerial Code as follows: "Collective responsibility requires that ministers should be able to express their views frankly in the expectation that they can argue freely in private while remaining a united front when decisions have been made." If Ministers feel inhibited from being frank and candid with one another because of the risk of subsequent disclosure, the quality of debate lying behind the collective decision will be diminished.
For these reasons, the Department believes that the public interest strongly favours the application of the exemption at section 35 of the FOI Act.

Some information has been withheld under section 36 of the FOI Act.

Section 36(2)(b)(i) provides that information is exempt from disclosure if to do so would, or would be likely to inhibit the free and frank provision of advice.

Section 36 is a 'qualified' exemption and we are therefore required to consider whether the public interest in disclosing the information outweighs the public interest in applying the exemption.

Section 36(2)(b)(i) recognises the critical role in effective government of free and frank discussion. Premature disclosure of information protected under section 36 could inhibit officials’ willingness to offer advice in the future and prejudice the quality of any advice given. There is a recognised public interest in protecting the ability of senior officials to offer candid advice to ministers, and in protecting the processes by which senior public appointments are made.

For these reasons, the Department believes that the public interest strongly favours the application of the exemption at section 36 of the FOI Act.

Some of the information has been redacted under section 40 of the FOI Act.

Section 40(3)(a)(i) applies to information whose disclosure would contravene any of the data protection principles in the Data Protection Act 1998 (or certain other provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998).
In applying this exemption, we have had to consider whether disclosure of the information would be ‘fair’ (as described in Part II of Schedule 1 to the Data Protection Act). We have given particular consideration to the likely expectations of the data subject regarding the disclosure of the information. We have reached the conclusion that disclosure in this case would not be ‘fair’. The exemption from the duty to disclose personal data where to do so would breach a data protection principle is an absolute exemption; the public interest test in section 2 of the FOI Act does not apply.

The post of National Director for Health and Work is a joint appointment with accountability to both the Department of Health and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The DWP led the recruitment exercise on behalf of both Departments and a separate request would have to be made, therefore, for any further details relating to this appointment which are held by the DWP.

You go on to ask a number of questions about Dame Carol’s appointment to the Board of the Postgraduate Medical Education and Training Board (PMETB).

I can confirm that the appointment process was run by the independent NHS Appointments Commission that is expert in matters of equal opportunities and diversity.

Once the PMETB competitive entry exercise was complete, Ministers were provided with a short-list of preferred candidates. The PMETB Order states that the Secretary of State for Health has the ultimate choice on appointments. "

Hence the DoH does have information detailing briefings that Carol Black received as to her precise role and this is being held back all in the name of the 'public interest'. They also reveal that the Secretary of State for Health had the 'ultimate choice' in appointing Dame Carol Black.

The DoH certainly has a very totalitarian interpretation of what the phrase 'public interest' means. Their interpretation allows them to withhold details about what precisely goes on behind closed doors so that our trusted leaders can discuss policy free from any public scrutiny. This is deemed to be in the 'public interest', as decided by the DoH. The DoH is allowed to act as self-appointed judge, jury and executioner. They can brief their agents in secrecy and then dispatch them into office to do their dirty work.

This government action is in marked contrast to recent orders from the CMO that ordered doctors to ride roughshod over doctor-patient confidentiality in setting up the NHS SPINE. Personally I can think of no reason why certain discussions regarding policy should not be fully open to public scrutiny, as promoting an open and frank culture can only be good for helping root out corruption and sculpting more effective policy; our government either believes otherwise or is overtly corrupt.

There does seem to be a rather worrying trend here; as our government is trying to grab more and more autocratic power, while they are completely unwilling to reveal the real motives behind their agenda. They want us to trust them more and more, while they give us less and less of a good reason to do this. There is certainly something that does not add up.

1 comment:

The Scribe said...

Garthy

Suggest you read the Act and also suggest you appeal this to the Information Commissioner.

I get stonewalled all the time. The art is to keep appealing.

RP