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Government opposed check on HLS

R Moorhouse | 25.07.2015 12:48 | Health | Liverpool | London

The Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills opposed a background check on animal-testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences

In the course of contesting a Freedom of Information request about the provision of banking and insurance services to the animal-testing lab Huntingdon Life Sciences (HLS) the Dept. for Business, Innovation and Skills (DBIS) twice expressed its opposition to a background check being done on HLS. DBIS did not want the tribunals hearing the case to find out from the Medicines and Healthcare-products Regulatory Agency if HLS had tested and passed as safe any of the large number of pharmaceuticals that have killed people,e.g.: Propulsid, Baycol, Redux, Vioxx, Primodos/Duogynon, Yaz/Yasmin, Exjade, Lamisil, Zyban. DBIS did not want this information to be included in the tribunals' consideration of the public interest tests to determine whether the answers to these questions should be made public:

For what purpose has the Government facilitated the provision of banking and insurance services to HLS since 2001?

Has HLS received any pay-outs under the terms of the insurance services? if so, what was their monetary value?

The Freedom of Information request for this information was brought by Rhonda Moorhouse from LIverpool in spring 2011.

DBIS expressed its opposition to the background check on HLS in paragraph 56 of its submission to the First-tier Tribunal of 14/3/14:

"The Tribunal is not the appropriate forum to order the collection of a wide-ranging amount of information about HLS and other (sic) pharmaceutical companies from a wide variety of public authorities in order to have a "trial" of the Appellant's concerns over animal rights and adverse drug reactions. The Commissioner was right to (repeatedly) state that he attached "no weight" to these, as well as the Appellant's other, varied allegations against HLS and/or the Government, in deciding whether the specific withheld information should be disclosed."

DBIS repeated its opposition to the check again at the hearing before the Upper Tribunal on 27/3/15 which Judge Gwynneth Knowles QC referred to in paragraph 30 of her written judgement of 9/4/15:

"DBIS submitted that .......the tribunal did not have a wide remit to investigate HLS."

In the three years that the FOI request was before the tribunals between summer 2012 and spring 2015 neither the First-tier Tribunal nor the Upper Tribunal conducted a background check on HLS even though:

1 under Rule 16 (1)(b) of both sets of their respective rules both tribunals had the power to do so on their own initiative or on application from a party;

2 the check was requested numerous times by the Appellant;

3 Section 2 (2)(b) of the Freedom of Information Act requires that ALL the circumstances of the case be included in the public interest tests;

4 one of the exemptions relied on by DBIS was Exemption 38 which refers to the endangerment of the health and safety of individuals.

What did emerge was that public resources are instrumental in the Government's support of HLS. A letter (unsigned) from DBIS to Tony Dixon, senior case officer at the Information Commissioner's Office, dated 24/2/12 contains these passages:

"The Dept. recognises that there is a public interest in the oversight of public spending and that in the present case public money was applied to ensure banking services being provided to HLS by the Bank of England." (paragraph 20)

"In the present case public resources were applied to ensure that insurance services could be available to HLS." (paragraph 32)

"There is a degree of public interest in disclosing this information because there is a degree of public interest in it being known why public resources have been, and are being, devoted to supporting HLS and in turn the UK life sciences industry. There is a genuine policy issue whether such support should be provided in such circumstances." (paragraph 52)

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