Science and Technology Committee Announcement

Session 2009-10

25 November 2009




CALL FOR VIEWS ON THE PRINCIPLES THAT SHOULD APPLY TO THE TREATMENT OF INDEPENDENT SCIENTIFIC ADVICE PROVIDED TO GOVERNMENT

The Science and Technology Committee calls today for views on the principles that should apply to the treatment of independent scientific advice provided to government. The Committee has asked for views to be submitted in writing by the close on 2 December 2009.

On 6th November a number of senior scientists and scientific advisers, including Lord Rees, President of the Royal Society, issued a statement, following the dismissal of Professor David Nutt, chairman of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, to enhance confidence in the scientific advisory system and help Government secure essential advice. The statement contained "Principles for the Treatment of Independent Scientific Advice"€”set out below.

The Government has said that it is considering the 6th November statement. Lord Drayson, Minister of Science and Innovation, is working with the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor John Beddington, his colleagues across government and the wider scientific community to develop a set of principles to underpin the relationship between the Government and independent scientific advisers. The Committee has commented on this issue in its previous reports€”most recently in its Report, Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy, (HC (2008-09) 168-i, 23 July 2009)€”and wishes to contribute to the Government's deliberations on the broad issues.

The Committee is therefore seeking the views in writing of all interested parties on the principles set out in the 6th November statement and on the content of a broad set of principles to govern the relationship between the Government and independent scientific advisers. No oral evidence sessions are planned.

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Statement of Principles for the Treatment of Independent Scientific Advice

1) Academic Freedom

€ Becoming a member of an independent advisory committee does not reduce the freedom of an adviser to communicate publicly, whether via scholarly publishing and conferences, through the general media or to parliament, subject to the restrictions in existing Codes of Practice, notably:

- respecting confidentiality
- not claiming to speak for the Government, and
- making clear whether they are communicating on behalf of their committees

2) Independence of Operation

€ Independent scientific advisory bodies are protected from political and other interference in their work

€ In the context of independent scientific advice, disagreement with Government policy and the public articulation and discussion of relevant evidence and issues by members of advisory committees cannot be grounds for criticism or dismissal

€ Advisory committees need the service of an independent press office

3) Proper Consideration of Advice

€ Reports will normally be published and will not be criticised or rejected prior to publication

€ If the Government is minded to reject a recommendation, the relevant scientific advisory committee will normally be invited to comment privately before a final decision is made

€ It is recognised that some policy decisions are contingent on factors other than the scientific evidence, but when expert scientific advice is rejected the reasons should be described explicitly and publicly

€ The advice of expert committees does not cease to be valid merely because it is rejected or not reflected in policy-making.

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Each submission should:
a) be no more than 3,000 words in length
b) be in Word format (no later than 2003) with as little use of colour or logos as possible
c) have numbered paragraphs
d) include a declaration of interests.

A copy of the submission should be sent by e-mail to [email protected] and marked "Principles". An additional paper copy should be sent to:

The Clerk
Science and Technology Committee
House of Commons
7 Millbank
London SW1P 3JA

It would be helpful, for Data Protection purposes, if individuals submitting written evidence send their contact details separately in a covering letter. You should be aware that there may be circumstances in which the House of Commons will be required to communicate information to third parties on request, in order to comply with its obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Please supply a postal address so a copy of the Committee's report can be sent to you upon publication.

A guide for written submissions to Select Committees may be found on the parliamentary website at: www.parliament.uk/commons/selcom/witguide.htm

Please also note that:

€” Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a hard copy of the published work should be included.

€” Memoranda submitted must be kept confidential until published by the Committee, unless publication by the person or organisation submitting it is specifically authorised.

€” Once submitted, evidence is the property of the Committee. The Committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), by printing it or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.

€” Select Committees are unable to investigate individual cases.