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Critical public interest

Mark Easton | 17:47 UK time, Friday, 25 June 2010

Democracy only works if you have well-informed public debate. So why did senior civil servants (and a Labour minister) believe it was legitimate to consider withholding official information simply because it might be used to criticise government policy?

The extraordinary insight into how some Whitehall officials think the Freedom of Information Act should operate is revealed in documents inadvertently sent to my BBC colleague Martin Rosenbaum and published on his blog today.

In advice sent to Vernon Coaker when he was a Home Office minister in 2009, a civil servant warns of the dangers of releasing unpublished research on whether drugs policy represented good value for money. He writes:

The release of the report entails the risk of Transform, or other supporters of legalisation, using information from the report to criticise the Government's drug policy, or to support their call for legalisation of drugs and the introduction of a regulated system of supply. These risks should be considered in reaching a decision on whether to release the report

This seems to be run entirely counter to the principles underpinning the Freedom of Information Act.

As the Information Commission states in his introduction to the legislation, a factor that would "encourage the disclosure of information" is that it would "allow a more informed debate of issues under consideration by the Government".

Parliament did not design this legislation in order that ministers could avoid criticism of their policies. Quite the reverse. One of its fundamental concerns is, as the commissioner says, "furthering the understanding of and participation in the public debate of issues of the day".

I am sure there will be plenty of people reading this and thinking: "Well, what do you expect? That's what government officials do - they are there to protect their masters or mistresses, to cover up and hide things that might leave ministers open to criticism."

I am not going to allow myself to be that cynical. I want to believe that our Parliamentary system is built on the idea that open, honest debate is the way to achieve good, democratic governance.
The Civil Service Code is founded on four "core values":

Integrity: Putting the obligations of public service above personal interests
Honesty: Being truthful and open
Objectivity: Basing advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence
Impartiality: Acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving governments of different political parties equally well

That first "core value" seems the most relevant to me. It might serve the "personal interests" of departmental civil servants to ensure citizens are deprived of information which allows people to construct cogent criticism of their policy, but what about the "public interest"?

In the case of the Drugs Value for Money Review which had prompted the advice to Mr Coaker, the document was eventually published but only after a lengthy delay because the Home Office wanted "to avoid a focus on the gaps in the evidence base".

When I asked the Information Commissioner what he made of the revelations today, his office was emphatic:

"Requests should not be refused simply on the grounds that disclosing the information would reveal gaps in the evidence base for a policy. There is a public interest in openness and transparency...
 
"The fact that the information may not reflect well on the public authority in question is not in itself a reason for it to be withheld."

There is that phrase again: "public interest".

I spoke to the Cabinet Office this afternoon to ask whether they thought civil servants had behaved properly in telling a minister to consider the "risk" that releasing information might lead to criticism of policy. A spokesperson told me:

"We take our duties under the Freedom of Information Act very seriously. It is also our duty to give ministers all the facts and advice in relation to the Act. In this case, the likelihood of criticism was something they felt the minister should be informed about. They might have been rebuked if they had not."

But why, I pressed, did they think that informing public debate constituted a risk? "Maybe they shouldn't have used the word 'risk'. There is a semantic point about the word 'risk'," he conceded.

Perhaps when the permanent secretary at the Home Office, Sir David Normington, read the advice that releasing official documents might risk people "using information... to criticise Government " he hauled the author over the coals. Perhaps Vernon Coaker or the then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith demanded to know why departmental officials were apparently in favour of stifling informed debate.

One would like to imagine so because the alternative explanation is that public servants and elected ministers are content to undermine our democracy.

Comments

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  • 1. At 6:36pm on 25 Jun 2010, aristotles23 wrote:

    You say,Mark,that you do not wish to be so cynical as to believe that it is standard practice for government officials to cover-up the content of reports that contradict stated government policy but then go on to say that a possibility exists that officials are "content to undermine our democracy."Can you come off the fence and say whether or not these officials are guilty of a breach,or instigating a breach,of the FOI act.If Martin Rosenbaum had not received the e-mail by mistake,would we even be able to debate this point?Surely,if officials acted openly and with the public interest at heart,there would be no need for the FOI act in the first place.It is patently obvious to anyone with the wit to see it,that,at all levels of government it IS standard practice to review content before any decision is made to publish or otherwise disseminate any information contained in any reports/reviews.The fact that this time they were caught before the report could be buried means that it happens all the time.The public interest so rarely coincides with the politicians interest that it is actually unimaginable that they DO NOT review all report content first before even considering to release any information at all.I am not surprised at your public reaction though,you have your job to consider,just like anyone else,and the powers that be can be extremely vindictive when they want to be.I am glad that you and Martin have decided to open this debate though,it shows that you are genuinely concerned about the lack of open,accountable governance that is obviously the norm in British political circles.I for one truly believe that the politicians view the public with contempt,the expenses scandal is a case in point,as is the(postal)vote tampering which happens at every election now.The politicians want us to be naive and overly-trusting,THAT IS in their(self)interest.

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  • 2. At 7:38pm on 25 Jun 2010, D Dortman wrote:

    I'd be infinitely more shocked if they weren't doing this.... they shouldn't be doing this, of course, but people being people they were bound to.

    It seem very normal for the last Government to pretend they were doing something open on the one hand and yet stifling something else (or even the same thing) in secret on the other hand.

    It seems it's not just politicians financial arrangements that needs MUCH stronger overview and perhaps censure.

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  • 3. At 9:08pm on 25 Jun 2010, presario wrote:

    This is a travesty; civil servants should not become involved in politics. They should report the truth without fear or favour.

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  • 4. At 10:01pm on 25 Jun 2010, SotonBlogger wrote:


    Everyone knows that drug's cause health issues the question is whether the crime that associates itself with the illcit trade in them is worth the cost of trying to protect public health and societal cohesion.

    In that sense the FOI request is frivilous and pointless, it doesnt add to the sum of knowledge in any meaningful way just more grist to the mill of the interest grounds and their entrenched positions on each side of the battlefield.

    It is that broad picture that needs to be borne in mind before we condemn the civil servants, they are part of the policy debate and it comes as no suprise to me that they got sucked in.

    My only personal position is that of complete legalisation. You simply cant and shouldnt try and legislate people into sensible healthy behaviour. If people want to kill themselves they will find a way be it illegal drug or any of an almost infinite list of possible vices.

    What we should be cracking down on is the illegal behaviours that a minority of drug users engage in. Steal to feed a heroin habit, get prosecuted for theft. Engage in random acts of violence on crack cocaine or speed and get done for GBH.

    We need to encourage across society a sense of self-control and self responsibility and our nannying drugs policy is one small aspect of a bigger problem.

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  • 5. At 10:31pm on 25 Jun 2010, Eggthang wrote:

    I work in FOI for a local authority. I consider this advice is a quite clear breach of the Code of Practice. If written by me that final sentence would have started "These risks must be considered irrelevant in reaching a decision ... "

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  • 6. At 10:38pm on 25 Jun 2010, Eggthang wrote:

    ... and in answer to the Cabinet Office spokesman, yes it is quite proper and responsible to refer to the risks in the advice - for the very purpose of advising the decision maker not to take them into account.

    And as for the civil servants getting sucked into the policy debate any sensible public authority would not let those involved in policy making advise on FOI.

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  • 7. At 11:24pm on 25 Jun 2010, Palinor wrote:

    You raise a valid question Mark, but based on the evidence presented I think you risk overstating your case (there's that word again). In considering an FOI request, indeed any release of information, it seems to me perfectly natural and proper for ministers to ask what issues might arise as a result. In the submission the official does not say that the information is to be/has been/should be suppressed, just that the minister should consider the implications of release. I agree with Eggthang (5) that the paragraph could be better worded; "possibility" vice "risk" in the opening sentence and an explicit comment on whether or not the "risk" amounts to sufficient grounds to refuse the FOI request. Even then, however, the minister should still be made aware of the potential issues.

    Undermining democracy is a strong accusation to make. Here's another perspective; the home office officials involved have developed the UK's anti-drugs policies over a number of years and after careful consideration. Putting personal interest entirely to one side, they have carefully considered the evidence - not all of which agrees; when does it ever? - and presented policies that, on balance, they genuinely believe are in the best interest of the British public. Someone has now requested not a balanced review of all the evidence, but one bit of it. This evidence might subsequently be cherry-picked by opponents of the policy, and hence put it "at risk". Emotional, and therefore inappropriate, language? Yes, but are we better served by truly faceless and souless bureaucrats, or people who believe in the work they do?

    I don't know the truth here, and I don't believe I'm naive about the realities of government, but in this case I suggest my proposals fits the presented facts as well as your evil conspiracy.

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  • 8. At 11:56pm on 25 Jun 2010, stwl wrote:

    I'm with Palinor (#7) on this, and would go further and call it a non-story. I would presume that the author of Annex D believes that the report as a whole does not support Transform's policy, and believes that there is a possibility that Transform or others might quote selectively from it in order to bolster their argument. If there's evidence that the report as a whole actually supports Transform's policy, and therefore that this is an attempt to suppress information that challenges Government policy, let's see it. If not, perhaps you should turn your attention elsewhere.

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  • 9. At 00:21am on 26 Jun 2010, jethro wrote:

    @palinor and @stwl

    you completely miss the point. The whole authority of the state, on the subject of drugs has been "we are just following the scientific evidence" to justify the punitive criminal sanctions applied to users. Yet when someone asks to see this evidence, the civil service start to worry about it being "selectively quoted" (well, they'd know, I suppose).

    The whole "war on drugs" is a fraud perpetuated on a subjugated population. If governments really wanted to use the criminal justice system to improve the nations health then alcohol and tobacco would have been illegal long before cannabis or ecstasy.

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  • 10. At 10:51am on 26 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    there is no evidence base other than failure of policy being discussed here http://s321561233.websitehome.co.uk/
    What strikes me about this report being it old etc is that its still far behind the New advice of the UN, which I find the lack of coverage of great concern in view of your last line Mark 'One would like to imagine so because the alternative explanation is that public servants and elected ministers are content to undermine our democracy.'

    As for the right of Transform and people like myself to question these documents, this is the right of a democracy to question what is put in front of US and fight against it if it harms our country and communities.

    There is no war on drugs just on the liberty of people there are no illegal drugs I have an ornamental poppy bleeding sticky black opium milk were its stem was damaged a garden plant that is producing illegal chemicals, they are just a commodity at the end of it all so the war must be upon ME the individual and not upon a chemical.

    there is no one winner in this just a truce that must be drawn up to ease costs and bring about fairness in all drug consumption after all ethanol is by far the most dangerous and devastating drug out there and its free from moda71.

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  • 11. At 11:40am on 26 Jun 2010, Palinor wrote:

    @jethro

    I think we're not so much missing each other's point as talking about 2 related but different points. Mark's story, as I read it, was about how the release of information to the public is handled within government. The fact that the subject was drug research was incidental.

    I infer from your post that you would support going significantly beyond FOI and legislate that all research used to inform policy must be published so that we can then make our own minds' up. That, in turn, neatly opens up a whole new area for debate about how competent we the public are to properly interpret the research and arrive at rational conclusions. If we can't trust civil servants to sift and interpret conflicting information who do we turn to? Just as well we have knights in shining armour like Mark and his journalist colleagues to step up and tell us what the data really means and help us reach the right conclusions..... Ok, now I'm well OT. Regards.

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  • 12. At 11:45am on 26 Jun 2010, D Dortman wrote:

    7. At 11:24pm on 25 Jun 2010, Palinor wrote:

    I don't know the truth here, and I don't believe I'm naive about the realities of government, but in this case I suggest my proposals fits the presented facts as well as your evil conspiracy.
    ---------------------------------------------------------------


    The worrying thing is not that this is an "evil conspiracy", it is that this is in fact every day accepted policy.

    I'd be amazed if it is not just that.

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  • 13. At 11:52am on 26 Jun 2010, PaulRM wrote:

    The issue of FOI is: do we or don't we believe in the principle. If the answer is yes, publish and be damned. To cite how interest groups might "cherry pick" information for their own purposes is a fact of life and occurs in every organisation, business, and even family. Newspapers, and particularly red tops, specialise in selective reporting - it is often a "badge of honour" for them, and is openly promoted by their owners (viz Mr Murdoch's stated intention to support the Conservatives over Labour).

    To "worry" whether selective extracts of a report might give the wrong impression, and unduly influence readers, is to say that the general public (ie - you and me) can't be trusted to critically process information. Either we have a system of universal suffrage and an inclusive democracy, as we do now, or "we" - whoever "we" might be - limit those who can actively participate. In days of old, that meant limiting those who could participate by dint of certain qualifications (ie - ownership of land, gender, age).

    Are other contributors to this comment stream concerned that information may be misused, and that the public should be protected from that? Is "public" in this case everybody (including themselves), or just a subset - and if it is a subset, what qualifies somebody for inclusion in said subset? Should we now reintroduce one's right to participate in our democracy based on intellect?

    If you accept the priciple of selective access to information, then the whole principle is in danger of compromise - that said, there will always be "the national interest" looming in the background to add spice to the debate.

    The better option in FOI is a duty to publish everything, with the caveat that information can only be witheld when it is referred to an independent 3rd party for examination against a set of criteria opnenly debated and agreed by the electorate. If you want to live in a democracy, and all that entails, then you can't "cherry pick" which bits are "permitted" and which bits are "prohibited", therin lies the road to ruin, however honest the intention.

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  • 14. At 12:29pm on 26 Jun 2010, Anne_M wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 15. At 1:51pm on 26 Jun 2010, professor plum wrote:

    Well, that's a surprise, government and civil servants colluding to block information which the great British public have a right to see by act of Parliament.
    Par for the course I would've thought, WMD, MPs expenses.
    How much do we hear about the Afghan oil pipeline as opposed to the Taliban insurgency?
    The British Establishment is alive and well and still determined to keep as much information from us as possible in case we figure out some misguided policies don't actually work.
    Their innate arrogance is only eclipsed by their supreme stupidity and siege mentality. Undermining democracy is a way of life in the civil service, only they don't see it that way, they like to think they are protecting us from ourselves.

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  • 16. At 2:19pm on 26 Jun 2010, Steve Rolles wrote:

    Transform's account of the original FOI saga is here: http://bit.ly/8XInrN
    and blog on the latest developments (which largely bear out the original reading of what was going on) is here: http://bit.ly/8XInrN


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  • 17. At 4:06pm on 26 Jun 2010, myibbcid wrote:

    When it comes to issues surrounding freedom of information requests the BBC as ever has absolutely zero credibility. Question is, would the BBC be the pot or the nefarious kettle. Is anyone really sure any more... At least we can be sure that our state sponsored behemoth has no familiarity with the concept of irony.

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  • 18. At 5:34pm on 26 Jun 2010, Wiser than you wrote:

    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain

  • 19. At 5:56pm on 26 Jun 2010, Anne_M wrote:

    If a civil servant had advised against the publication of a report that recommended keeping the drug laws as they are, or making them stricter, would that have been mentioned disapprovingly on this blog?

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  • 20. At 7:21pm on 26 Jun 2010, Steve Rolles wrote:

    Its worth pointing out that since Transform suceeded in getting the document released a range of organisations and commentators from different perspectives have used it to argue that current drug policy demonstrates poor value for money - which is what it does clearly show.

    Indeed, whilst there is a fairly broad consesnsus (outside of the strange fantasy world of the Home Office) that current policy is failing The policy prescriptions that people then recommend to address this vary considerably.

    Some have used the report to argue for better or more enforcement combined with a greater focus on abstinence based rehab for example - (rather than transform's position of phased decriminalisation and legally regulated drug markets).

    The point being that this was about trying to supress evidence that showed policy to be ineffective, was politically embarassing and left them open to criticism rather than being about any particular alternative policy position.

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  • 21. At 8:55pm on 26 Jun 2010, jethro wrote:

    @palinor

    OT ? Maybe. Let the mods be the judges ...

    I'm against any form of governance which relies on my having faith in other peoples interpretation of facts I can't see. Because that's how witches got burned, blacks denied the vote, and we went into an illegal war costing hundreds of thousands of lives.

    Maybe 10 years ago, I would have been more receptive to the argument that "nanny knows best". But not now. Not ever. And not on my watch.

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  • 22. At 9:19pm on 26 Jun 2010, ady wrote:

    --Democracy only works if you have well-informed public debate. So why did senior civil servants (and a Labour minister) believe it was legitimate to consider withholding official information simply because it might be used to criticise government policy?--

    ...lol

    I don't see what the big deal is, and I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of people see the deep deep irony in this article.
    Conspiracies (like global warming) are par for the course in modern Britain.

    The game is all about catching them at it, and calling you guys out.
    It's a game of audience participation hide and seek, the government and its various lackeys hide the truth while we seek it out.

    It's 'big brother' for people who are interested in politics and current affairs.
    One day David Bellamy will be back on the BBC, live, talking to the people of Britain, that day will be a good day for democracy.

    Until then, we play out our little games of hide and seek.

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  • 23. At 9:57pm on 26 Jun 2010, ady wrote:

    UK Civil Servants who tell the truth without permission are called moles and whistleblowers.

    He offers the minister his advice and the minister concerned makes the final decision on the subject matter.

    It's not the civil servants decision to make, his only job is to make the minister aware of the facts surrounding the subject matter.

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  • 24. At 11:05pm on 26 Jun 2010, Anne_M wrote:

    In his blog Professor Nutt writes
    "For those for whom illegal drug use is a choice, benefits include relaxation, dancing, mind expansion etc; these are real benefits/motivators that should not be ignored by legislators"
    This shows that the professor writes not from a scientific perspective but a more subjective, biased perspective. Most of us can relax and dance without taking drugs (including alcohol), someone who can't has a problem which needs psychiatric treatment. The idea of mind expansion is a myth, drug taking is not going to make anyone more creative or intelligent.
    This is relevant to this forum as it shows an official report may not be as objective and unbiased as it appears, and should be thoroughly checked before release.

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  • 25. At 00:17am on 27 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    24# This shows that the professor writes not from a scientific perspective but a more subjective, biased perspective. Most of us can relax and dance without taking drugs (including alcohol), someone who can't has a problem which needs psychiatric treatment.

    that's really funny Anne_M please think about what you have said.
    in accordance with your statement anyone who uses a DRUG to relax needs help better start banning herbal tea some very dubious mood enhancing chemicals there including a lot of common anti depressants. Enjoy dancing to music with all that Anandamide(THC) being churned out on demand to make you laugh feel giggle relaxed, maybe a bit of fitness access to endorphins a 12 hour fix. Also what do you base your experience on to say that none of the statements made by Dave are untrue other than narrowed opinion, the same opinion that will cost us all 19 billion this year.

    So does he write from a viewpoint of science and chemical effects upon the body or a bias stand point like yourself.?

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  • 26. At 08:04am on 27 Jun 2010, Mafficker wrote:

    I think most miss the point! The Home Office, that therefore means the Secretary of State, is operating the Freedom of Information Act unlawfully by not excluding the irrelevant consideration of the use of the information by groups opposed to a particular policy. That is the prime purpose of the FoI, so we, yes we, can hold those who act on our behalf to account. But this episode is one of many, currently the Home Office is appealing decision by the Information Commissioner ordering the release (to Casey Hardison of the Drug Equality Alliance) of the unredacted document 'Review of the UK's drug classification system - A public consultation'. It is my understanding that Hardison and the DEA are arguing that the Home Secretary has been unlawfully administering yet another Act of Parliament: the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. I wonder if those same civil servants and ministers have marked their card in the withholding of the review document promised in 2006? It seems most likely!

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  • 27. At 10:02am on 27 Jun 2010, Anne_M wrote:

    " 25. At 00:17am on 27 Jun 2010, CommunityCriminal wrote:

    that's really funny Anne_M please think about what you have said.
    in accordance with your statement anyone who uses a DRUG to relax needs help better start banning herbal tea some very dubious mood enhancing chemicals there including a lot of common anti depressants. Enjoy dancing to music with all that Anandamide(THC) being churned out on demand to make you laugh feel giggle relaxed, maybe a bit of fitness access to endorphins a 12 hour fix. Also what do you base your experience on to say that none of the statements made by Dave are untrue other than narrowed opinion, the same opinion that will cost us all 19 billion this year. "

    Yes, you're quite right about herbal tea. All herbal remedies need to be treated in the same way as any other drug, monitored and regulated. The experience that I base my statements comes from knowing drug abusers, both as patients and friends.


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  • 28. At 10:36am on 27 Jun 2010, Daisy Chained wrote:

    Leaving aside the subject matter of this "denial of information" for one moment, it would be interesting to investigate just when people stopped following a humanitarian code (the four values referred to are not just applicable to civil servants). I would guess that WW1 may have had difficulty breathing its first breath, and WW2 would most certainly had come to an abrupt termination shortly after taking its first breath.

    The ancient axiom that "you should do unto others what you would have them do unto you" is missing from our society. Not just temporarily gone away, but missing without trace. It is now okay to judge, even when in a glass house, because those who have the biggest voices happen to have the most money too, or should that be those with the most money have the biggest voices too?

    On the subject of drugs and their uses, our attitude is simply unjust, facetious, and pointless, absent of any evidence whatsoever that drug policy works. We have alcohol that can be wantonly destructive to the most intelligent people at one level, and almost a trivial beverage at another, and we are entrusted with the task of making up our own minds. And yet, when it comes to other substances we must have warnings, laws, penalties, an army to dispose of the pusher, the dealer, and the user. We cannot be trusted?

    It is as if the obsequious public servant, having swallowed their pay off in their 'drug' of choice, has no code other than "This is easy money as long as I have no conscience".

    Should the fact that we no longer have moral standards be made "public information", and will the guilty parties who made that happen and are still alive stand up and admit to their guilt?

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  • 29. At 11:58am on 27 Jun 2010, Mafficker wrote:

    It's a shame that the Secretary of State and most who write on this topic are not aware of the flexible possibility of ss7(1)-(2), 22(a)(i) and 31(1)(a) when read together. If by s31(1)(a) re 'General provisions as to regulations' the Secretary of State 'may make different provisions in relation to different controlled drugs, different classes of persons, different provisions of this Act or other different cases or circumstances' and by s7(1) re 'Authorisation of activities otherwise unlawful under foregoing provisions' the Secretary of State, may make 'provision as (s)he thinks fit for the purpose of making it lawful for persons to do things under which any of the following provisions of this Act, that is to say sections 4(1), 5(1) and 6(1), it would otherwise be unlawful for them to do', then i should be able to buy a clean unadulterated MDMA tablet or three from Boots for my weekend if the Secretary of State, the ACMD and the Parliament thought that would reduce or eliminate 'Ecstasy' fatalities and other 'harmful effects sufficient to constitute a social problem', s1(2), more effectively than a blanket prohibition of some but not all 'dangerous or otherwise harmful drugs'. Don't you think we should be encouraging the people to see that the Act drafters foresaw the possibility of a completely and wisely regulated controlled drug commerce.

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  • 30. At 12:19pm on 27 Jun 2010, ady wrote:

    --Should the fact that we no longer have moral standards be made "public information", and will the guilty parties who made that happen and are still alive stand up and admit to their guilt?--

    lol

    As far as morals are concerned events like Iraq and Afghanistan showed even the most blinkered amongst us the path Britain will tread.

    And if we keep on following America we'll end up the same as them, a society run by white liberal gangstas.

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  • 31. At 1:48pm on 27 Jun 2010, iNotHere wrote:

    24. At 11:05pm on 26 Jun 2010, Anne_M wrote:

    "In his blog Professor Nutt writes
    "For those for whom illegal drug use is a choice, benefits include relaxation, dancing, mind expansion etc; these are real benefits/motivators that should not be ignored by legislators"

    This shows that the professor writes not from a scientific perspective but a more subjective, biased perspective. Most of us can relax and dance without taking drugs (including alcohol), someone who can't has a problem which needs psychiatric treatment. The idea of mind expansion is a myth, drug taking is not going to make anyone more creative or intelligent."


    I like the way you cherry pick one sentence from a very informative and intelligent blog and give it a slant that wasn't intended. The whole section should be read to get the full picture.

    Without cherry picking here's the full quote about the precautionary principle that Prof Nutt was discussing:

    "5. Entrenchment of a flawed institutionalised moral position on drugs
    Precaution is often either overtly or subconsciously based on the argument there are no benefits to the use of the drug so that it should therefore be made illegal. This argument reflects a biased and entrenched institutional position that the establishment and law makers alone understand costs and benefits and that drug users are all dependent, addicted losers. In fact, most people who use illegal drugs do so because they want to, NOT because they are addicted. For those for whom illegal drug use is a choice, benefits include relaxation, dancing, mind expansion etc; these are real benefits/motivators that should not be ignored by legislators."


    There are hundreds of millions of 'controlled' drug users on this planet that cause no harm to anyone...not even themselves. Just because the few you have come across have problems this is NOT an indicator that everybody else is the same.
    Your 'feelings' about drug use/abuse should have nothing to do with policy. Policy should be shaped to include evidence, education, care and common sense, not judgmental knee jerk anecdotes and ideology.




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  • 32. At 2:13pm on 27 Jun 2010, Ralph124C41plus wrote:

    The FOI Act is fine in principle but is weakened by its one-sided nature. It would be salutary if those who made FOI requests thereby opened themselves to similar scrutiny.

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  • 33. At 2:27pm on 27 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    Anne_M The experience that I base my statements comes from knowing drug abusers, both as patients and friends.

    ah so no real experience then.
    I know lots of FAT people but am in no way able to draw any experience of obesity having always had a perfect BMI.
    But I'm sure that they all need help in getting back to size 0 if not criminalising and locking up until they conform with normal eating after all the rest of use have no need to overeat.... costing the NHS and local services next to nothing unlike all these FAT people who drain public services and cost the taxpayer more...

    I am however a drug user Cannabis and prescribe medication which has mostly been lifelong. do drugs alter the mind allow extended thought YES do some cripple the mind YES. Do drugs allow a better life YES do drugs bring about a worse life YES I were to base my opinion on purely the personal experience Ive had friends dieing of pharmaceutical drugs brother died of heroin mother raging alcoholic then maybe I could understand but I don't understand the reasons you the government and all the other Personally experienced want to keep it this way is life so unimportant to you and your moral values?

    Thankfully I have the intelligence to see past the government rubbish on drugs.

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  • 34. At 3:19pm on 27 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    Home / June 19th, 2010; Vol.177 #13 / Feature Not just a high
    Scientists test medicinal marijuana against MS, inflammation and cancerBy Nathan Seppa June 19th, 2010; Vol.177 #13 (p. 16)
    http://www.sciencenews.org/view/feature/id/59872/title/Not_just_a_high

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  • 35. At 4:41pm on 27 Jun 2010, BluesBerry wrote:

    Democracy only works if the plutocrats allow it to work, which most often they don’t. Plutocrats are not interested in broad, intelligent debates; their keenest interest is spinning words to confound and convince.
    Once you accept this situation, the question becomes more easy to answer: Why was it legitimate to consider withholding official information simply because it might be used to criticise government policy?
    Parliament may not have designed this legislation so that ministers could avoid criticism, but this is what happens in plutocracies.
    I’m afraid I’m somehat cynical about plutocracies – rule by the elite for the ultimate benefit of the elite.
    The Civil Service Code which you quote is a code that would apply to a democracy. Do you think Britain is a plutocracy or a democracy? What about the United States?
    • Integrity: Putting the obligations of public service above personal interests (not in a plutocracy)
    • Honesty: Being truthful and open (not in a plutocracy)
    • Objectivity: Basing advice and decisions on rigorous analysis of the evidence (not in a plutocracy)
    • Impartiality: Acting solely according to the merits of the case and serving governments of different political parties equally well (not in a plutocracy)
    These are pretty codes. I wish we had democracies so that we could try them out.
    The Information Commissioner offered more pretty words: "The fact that the information may not reflect well on the public authority in question is not in itself a reason for it to be withheld."
    There is that phrase again: "public interest", and public interest is not served in a plutocracy. How many millionaires do you have in Government? Does the number suggest democracy? Public interest? Plutocracy?
    Risk is a good word for plutocrats. Their minions don’t have to think up intelligent reasons to reject Requests for Information; they just have to think "risk". Saves brain-power.
    You cannot have real democracy without free education; you cannot have true democracy when it costs thousands of dollars to run for election. When you don’t have democracy (and I cannot name one country that does have democracy right now) what you have is a plutocracy. What you also have is conflict of interest. In a plutocracy, public interest has no meaning.

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  • 36. At 6:20pm on 27 Jun 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    Mark,
    It's so cute that you still believe in the decency of your government. I did to before I realized it was run by the Mafia. That explains all the intrigue and cover-up and going against the expressed wishes of the majority. Look for the confusing money trails, collusion and the same people occupying different positions in labor, government and corporations. It makes sense when you piece all of the connections together.

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  • 37. At 6:38pm on 27 Jun 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    I realized my theory was correct when I recently took a fake government, dummy test.
    One question asked, Why do you even bother applying for this job?

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  • 38. At 6:50pm on 27 Jun 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    P.S. We have a Corporatocracy or better a Kleptocracy not a Democracy.

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  • 39. At 08:47am on 28 Jun 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    Mark Easton.

    "I want to believe that our Parliamentary system is built on the idea that open, honest debate is the way to achieve good, democratic governance."

    like you, I want to believe but, alas, I have no evidence.

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  • 40. At 08:51am on 28 Jun 2010, Wayland wrote:

    I fail to see anything of great controversy in this. It is appropriate for civil servants to consider whether or not any of the material requested is subject to exemptions under FOI (including those relating to the development of government policy and national security). In terms of the Annex D material it is appropriate that civil servants set out possible issues arising from publication. These are not pertinent to the decision to release the material but Ministers do need to be aware of them.

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  • 41. At 10:37am on 28 Jun 2010, malcolm heard wrote:

    What is the point of the freedom of information act, time and again on interviews by the media politicians never seem to give a straight answer to any question asked of them, the people of Britain are supposed to live in a democracy meaning government by the whole population through elected representatives, however this minority of people when in power surround them selves with a cloak of secrecy, and what do the government do with a lot of information file it away for fifty years, so by the time it is released to the public domain it is past its sell by date

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  • 42. At 11:56am on 28 Jun 2010, General_Jack_Ripper wrote:

    clamdip lobster claws wrote:
    P.S. We have a Corporatocracy or better a Kleptocracy not a Democracy.


    I think the most accurate description of our government would be Kakistocracy;

    A Government under the control of a nation's least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.

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  • 43. At 12:24pm on 28 Jun 2010, Jim Currie wrote:

    The way this subject is being discussed on line reminds me very much of the comedian Les Dawson in his local gossip sketch. Surely the main point is being missed? We have been inundated for years now with H&S rules and regulations - indeed there were companies making lots of money out of these rules - particularly on the subject of 'Risk Assesment'.
    You cannot assess a risk - any risk unless you are aware that such a risk exists. It is also wrong for an individual to suppress a risk or fail to point one out. Semantics?

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  • 44. At 12:32pm on 28 Jun 2010, General_Jack_Ripper wrote:

    Anne_M wrote:
    In his blog Professor Nutt writes
    "For those for whom illegal drug use is a choice, benefits include relaxation, dancing, mind expansion etc; these are real benefits/motivators that should not be ignored by legislators"
    This shows that the professor writes not from a scientific perspective but a more subjective, biased perspective.



    Or maybe it just shows that he is trying to understand the reasons that people use drugs, seems pretty important that someone who is studying drug use should understand why people are using them. In fact I’d go so far as to say he would have been negligent had he not tried to understand why people are using drugs considering the type of research he does.



    Most of us can relax and dance without taking drugs (including alcohol),


    Do you have some empirical evidence to back this up ?

    I don't but from personal experience I've got to say that the overwhelming majority of people I've met in my life have used drugs (legal or illegal) when relaxing. I’m also finding it hard to think of any social gathering (other than formal dancing lessons/clubs) where lots of people dance without being under the influence of drugs.



    someone who can't has a problem which needs psychiatric treatment.


    Rubbish, plain and simple.
    Most people can relax without the use of drugs but most people find drugs help them to relax or enhance their enjoyment of a particular activity; this is not a sign of any underlying psychiatric problem.



    The idea of mind expansion is a myth, drug taking is not going to make anyone more creative or intelligent.


    Even more rubbish !
    You only have to listen to Sgt Pepper to realise how utterly deluded that statement is.
    Cannabis and LSD in particular can bring out peoples creativity and allow them to imagine or create things they'd never have come up with in a non-altered state of mind.
    Some drugs, such as Alcohol, do stifle creativity but to suggest that all drugs do is nothing less than an outright lie. Most of the worlds greatest art was created by people under the influence of one drug or another and most of what we in Europe consider to be classical art was created by people who were mostly out of their minds on Absinthe and other drugs.



    This is relevant to this forum as it shows an official report may not be as objective and unbiased as it appears, and should be thoroughly checked before release.


    Professor Nutt's blog is not an official report; it’s a blog.

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  • 45. At 1:21pm on 28 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    Monday, June 28, 2010
    Great new ICSDP video explaining the costs of the drug war

    http://transform-drugs.blogspot.com/2010/06/great-new-idsdp-video-explaining-costs.html

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  • 46. At 1:31pm on 28 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    only intelligent people are allowed to sign this thank you :)
    http://www.viennadeclaration.com/
    The Vienna Declaration is a statement seeking to improve community health and safety by calling for the incorporation of scientific evidence into illicit drug policies. We are inviting scientists, health practitioners and the public to endorse this document in order to bring these issues to the attention of governments and international agencies, and to illustrate that drug policy reform is a matter of urgent international significance. We also welcome organizational endorsements.

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  • 47. At 2:39pm on 28 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    The idea of mind expansion is a myth, drug taking is not going to make anyone more creative or intelligent.

    another view on mind expanding drugs and patterns of creative focus.

    if mind expansion is a myth why does prozac expand the mind into some of the darkest places a person can go end result of expansion suicide.

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  • 48. At 6:23pm on 28 Jun 2010, clamdip lobster claws wrote:

    General_Jack_Ripper,
    Good One! There's also another word that starts with Qua or kwa that I've forgotten that the CIA uses but means La Vida Loca or Crazy Life.

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  • 49. At 06:58am on 29 Jun 2010, ady wrote:

    -- We have a Corporatocracy or better a Kleptocracy not a Democracy.--

    Kleptocracy(wiki)
    is a term applied to a government that takes advantage of governmental corruption to extend the personal wealth and political power of government officials and the ruling class (collectively, kleptocrats), via the embezzlement of state funds at the expense of the wider population, sometimes without even the pretense of honest service. The term means "rule by thieves". Not an "official" form of government (such as democracy, republic, monarchy, theocracy) the term is a pejorative for governments perceived to have a particularly severe and systemic problem with the selfish misappropriation of public funds by those in power.

    Sounds uncannily like modern Britain to me.

    Switzerland has the nearest thing to Democracy in Europe.
    hmmm, Europe...I wonder if the Kleptocrats will ever let us serfs have a vote on europe...I doubt it...welcome to ersatz democracy.

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  • 50. At 10:25am on 29 Jun 2010, Megan wrote:

    I still recall probably the most serious disagreement I had with my father, who was a senior civil servant, was over the use of information for party political gain. Being a first-time voter in 1979, I'd collected everyone's manifestoes... and a year or so later, the opposition denounced a government policy that, when canvassing for votes, they'd actually proposed themselves. I commented on this to my father, who asked for the manifesto proving it to give to his minister to use in a debate. I refused, on the grounds that my father's role was not to give politicians ammunition for political point-scoring, but advice on the formulation of policy.

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  • 51. At 4:46pm on 29 Jun 2010, MrWonderfulReality wrote:

    The health risk element of the argument of legalisation/classification of drugs is imaterial, other detrimental social consequences are MUCH MUCH more important.

    It amazes me why so much effort is being used by government to invalidate or counter the health issues/risks when MUCH more serious implications/consequences make for a MUCH MUCH greater/stronger argument against legalisation or lowering of classification/criminality.

    So what if a bunch of muppet scientists say cannabis use is not harmful, and demand government change policy because of their evidence, its FALSE and a LIE, because it might not be that harmful to users, but it is MORE harmful to society asa whole who would enevitably pay for the social damaging consequences.

    The fact is, is that the MAJORITY of drug users, ESPECIALLY cannabis smokers, DO NOT just have a simple little smoke and play ring aring of roses, they mainly get TOTALLY SMASHED out the head and become a serious health and safety hazard to themselves and others.

    Yes there are many who can just pass a joint around and listen to some chill music or discuss the shape of the clouds overhead or bang away on guitars etc, but a VERY VERY significant number it is just TOTALLY beyond their capability to moderate their use.

    Those that do moderate their quantity of smoking very often just jump in their cars and drive. I know of some who even go home at dinnertime from work and have a smoke before returning. The health and safety implications go FAR FAR beyond personal individual health issues.

    In reality, you may have 5 million people ok using it, but then 50,000 or 100,000 just creating more social carnage at MASSIVE COST.

    I personally know of HARDLY anyone who has smoked cannabis to NOT use or try other more serious substances/drugs, whether charlie, EEs, speed, crack or brown/smack/H. I have been there, done it, experienced the wasted time, I left it behind long ago, but I could show you 50 to 100 people I knew then that are STILL using whatever today, as a DIRECT result of starting with cannabis.

    Many of this core group are among a central core group of users in EVERY town and city across the UK who flit in and out of work, are unable to maintain relationships, have kids not living with them, sponge off society, commit crime at varying degrees whether receiving stolen goods from other drug user aquaintencies or driving under the influence of whatever or cheating benefits and demanding that the state OWES THEM something, etc etc and those who want to legalise it would basically just consequentially hugely increase the numbers of these type of people.

    Hence in FACTUAL REALITY, by legalising cannabis and making it more easily and readily accessible will ultimately result in greater use of other drugs/substances.

    I have spent some time living in Holland, while a few coffee shops may seem ok, a large number do have high criminal activitys of varying degree, they are to criminals and criminal social underclasses like a gold ring to a Magpie.

    BASICALLY, those who demand and put the argument for legalisation are basically saying they DONT GIVE A MONKEYS BOTTOM for those who enevitably become victims of users.

    Those who argue on the side of positive creativity, just blatantly and ignorantly self-righteously biasedly ignore the negative.

    By my own experiences and that I have seen of so many others, in UK and mainland Europe those who call for the legalisation/de-ciminalisation of cannabis or lowering of classification , whether scientists or other professionals or whoever, basically support increased threat to their own mothers and children and to other peoples mothers/fathers and children, hence in my opinion such people who are supportive of legalising cannabis are just as much low life vile scum as the worst in society.

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  • 52. At 8:18pm on 29 Jun 2010, General_Jack_Ripper wrote:

    MrWonderfulReality wrote:
    hence in my opinion such people who are supportive of legalising cannabis are just as much low life vile scum as the worst in society.


    I could say the same about those who support Prohibition but in all honesty I find it difficult to be such a myopic fool who would judge a whole group of people based on a single opinion about one particular subject.

    You claim that everyone who supports legalisation ignores the negative aspects of drugs, I would disagree and all you've got to do to see why is to look back at the many previous blogs regarding this subject where you will find that people such as CommunityCriminal regularly post their own negative experiences with drugs as well as discussions about the harm that drugs (legal and illegal) can do to individuals and to society.

    You will also find a regular discussion about dealing with the possible criminality that may result from legalisation and the measures that could be taken to help to prevent or minimise them and the harm that comes from them and other drugs that are currently legal.

    I have never claimed that any drugs were good/bad or without risk, I just think Prohibition is not the best way to deal with drugs and the people who use them and I would support the legalisation, regulation and taxation of Cannabis.

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  • 53. At 10:52pm on 29 Jun 2010, laobangzi wrote:

    surprise, surprise, there are still people in the world believing prostitutes can be virgins.

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  • 54. At 11:35pm on 29 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    Awe cheers General_Jack_Ripper :)

    indeed how many wrote in anger to their MP's and government when they handed 5 billion over to cannabis dealers last year with the reclassification to B. Only a few like myself everyone else was all way hay that will show them.... yer showed them an extra 5 billion in income.
    So I wrote again asking for an early day motion to be signed as this would result in more street crime got told by government that this would not happen and it would have no effect upon crime and street crime.... We now have gangs turning over small time dealers, knife wielding nutters robbing kids in our parks.

    Mr Wonderful Ivorytowers man what did you do ?

    oh and btw the ACMD now have a similar figure to mine which i worked out last september.

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  • 55. At 11:42pm on 29 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the House Rules.

  • 56. At 09:13am on 30 Jun 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    55. At 11:42pm on 29 Jun 2010, you wrote:
    This comment has been referred for further consideration. Explain
    hmm this post has been published before. whats to consider unless again Im right :P

    maybe linking it will be better...
    http://www.lca-uk.org/lcaforum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=16266

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  • 57. At 12:14pm on 30 Jun 2010, iNotHere wrote:

    @51

    Anyone would think you sided with the drug dealers, do you? Do you think they are doing a grand job and you want them to continue controlling drugs, the violence and making billions in profit?

    Got news for you pal, the side of the fence you sit on keeps the dealers and gangs in employment, keeps kids addicted to heroin and other substances as they can't come out in the open for fear of punishment. It also pushes use up as drug use is seen by the young as a cool and rebellious thing to do, as you obviously did.

    Marginlising users and pushing them to the edges of society is just storing up more problems for the future and making sure more young people die from overdoses and HIV etc. I thought prohibitionists were thinking of the children...and the say the current system helps keep kids safe??!?

    Regulation means control...prohibition means free for all.




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  • 58. At 12:52pm on 30 Jun 2010, DibbySpot wrote:

    The issue here is of behaviour. Civil servants are brought up in a culture of ass covering and economy with the truth.

    Ministers and MPs sole interest is not the public good but to be re-elected and or keep their nose in the ministerial trough.

    Unless some enlightened politicians and civil servants grow up and deliver real facts the people of this country will never face up to reality.

    Drugs legalisation is a typical example. Prohibition does not work, as we know from US prohibition of alcohol that created an environment for organised crime can flourish. Drugs are the same.

    Unless the state enters the drugs market to control delivery, quality and the user base allied to education and funding of rehab organised gangs will keep filling our prisons with petty drug taking criminals at a huge social and financial cost to our society. Over 80% of police, customs, court and prison costs/time is taken up fighting drug use.

    Margaret Thatcher said "you cannot buck the market", this is what society does in drugs. Better to legalise with tight controls to tax the drugs and so take pushers and organisaed crime out of the market.

    For those in the prohibition camp consider - should we have banned smoking given the deaths and costs to the NHS? If you answer yes OK but without revenue from tobacco related taxes the government would have to increase Income Tax base rate by 5p/£. Still think prohibition is a good idea or a price worth paying?

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  • 59. At 11:20pm on 02 Jul 2010, Androphobe wrote:

    Oh how sweet, some one decided to do some journalism. No matter it's about a past goverment that has no power and is never likely again to see power for a genaration. But look the little boy from the BBC uncovered Civil Service misdemeanors and he's not afraid to shout it from the top of Big Ben. " I'M A JOURNALIST LOOK AT ME MA !". Fabulous work, no really /s

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