MRC and Freedom of Information: 1

For some considerable time, Ian McLachlan has been engaged in correspondence with the MRC. His persistance has resulted in this latest response. ME agenda will be watching developments with interest.

From Ian McLachlan
20 September 2007

Freedom of Information

Continuing on from my original post to Co-Cure no 21 dated 9th May 2007, I have recently received a reply from the Information Commissioners office (below) in respect of my letter dated May 2005 asking them to investigate the MRC’s decision to withhold of information I had requested from them. It is self explanatory. I hope researchers will be willing to give their consent.

Information Commissioner’s Office
14 September 2007

Further to your complaint to this office, I am writing to confirm that we
have held a meeting with the Medical Research Council which has assisted us in
clarifying our understanding of its process for the determination of
applications for research grants and, in turn, to clarify our view as to
whether the information it has withheld is exempt from disclosure.

Whilst the Medical Research Council has emphasised the need to protect the
independent reviewers and Board members who comment on the grant applications
it receives, in our view, of greater significance is the need to protect the
interests of the applicants for research grants. The comments of the reviewers
and the discussions of the Board on these applications contain detailed
discussion of the areas of research that applicants for grants are hoping to
undertake. If these comments were to be disclosed it could be argued that
there is a serious danger that commercially sensitive information about
applicants’ proposed future areas of research would be put in the public
domain to the applicants’ detriment.

It is also arguable that any information relating to proposed research
provided by applicants is held under a duty of confidence owed by the research
council to the applicants and that disclosure of any information related to
the proposed areas of research, including reviewers’ and Board’s comments,
would be a breach of that duty of confidence by the research council.

However, it is possible that applicants might not object to disclosure of
details of their proposed research on the basis that, for example, the details
of their research is now in the public domain as a result of papers that have
been written, they have moved onto other areas of interest or they feel it is
information which should be made public. If an applicant has no objection to
information being released this would, from our perspective, remove a major
concern over disclosure of the reviewers’ and Board’s comments.

In the light of this, the Medical Research Council have agreed to consult with
the applicants who were unsuccessful in their applications for grants in the
period covered by your request in order to ascertain their views regarding
disclosure of the information related to their applications. Once we know the
outcome of this consultation, we should be able to proceed to a formal

I would welcome your comments in relation to the above and, if you have any
queries, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Complaints Officer