Science and Technology Committee Announcement

Session 2008-09

5 November 2009




THE DISMISSAL OF PROFESSOR DAVID NUTT AS CHAIRMAN OF THE ADVISORY COUNCIL ON THE MISUSE OF DRUGS

Phil Willis, Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, has written to the Home Secretary Alan Johnson MP, to ask for his account of the sequence of events leading to his decision to dismiss Professor Nutt.

Mr Willis has also written to Professor Nutt and Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, to seek their accounts and views of the events.

The letter to the Home Secretary is dated 4 November and reads as follows:

Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)

There has been considerable press coverage of the sacking of Professor David Nutt as Chairman of the ACMD. I should be grateful if you could provide the Committee with a memorandum setting out:

a) the sequence of events that led to your decision to sack Professor Nutt and clarifying the reasons for your decision;

b) whether Professor Nutt has breached any parts of the ACMD's Terms of Reference, ACMD's Code of Practice or the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees;

c) the consultation that took place with Professor Beddington, the Government Chief Scientific Adviser, since the summer and leading up to your decision to sack Professor Nutt;

d) more specifically, given Professor Beddington's intervention when your predecessor criticised Professor Nutt (described below) why you appear to have taken the decision to remove Professor Nutt without reference to the Government Chief Scientific Adviser; and

e) with the resignation of Dr Les King and Marion Walker, the Royal Pharmaceutical Society's representative on the ACMD, whether the Council has sufficient expertise in pharmacology to carry out its functions.

As you will know, the Science and Technology Committee, and its predecessor committees, have examined and reported on the use of scientific evidence by government. On 23 July 2009 we published Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy, (HC 168) and in that report we recommended that members of scientific advisory committees "should not be criticised for publishing scientific papers or making statements as professionals, independent of their role as Government advisers" (Paragraph 64). In its Response to the Report the Government said:

The Government agrees that the independence of science advisers is critical. It was precisely for this reason that the GCSA wrote to then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to express concern over her criticism, in Parliament, of Professor Nutt (Chairman of ACMD) with regard to an article he published in a peer-reviewed journal (Page 7, HC (2008-09) 1036)

We also recommended that it was "important to safeguard the independence of the advisory system. In situations where the independence of a SAC chairman or member is or might be threatened for political reasons, support should be offered by the DCSA and/or the GCSA" (Paragraph 67). The Government responded:

The Government is committed to the provision of independent scientific advice, and to supporting the mechanisms and structures by which this advice is delivered. This is evidenced by its ongoing work to embed science and engineering advice in policy-making processes across government (through the appointment of CSAs and establishment of SA Councils, for example).

It would also assist the Committee if the memorandum could explain, in the light of the resignations at the ACMD, what force remains in these assurances and what assessment the Home Office has made of the effect on the provision of independent scientific advice to the Department. I am also writing to Professor Beddington.

It would assist the Committee if we could have the memorandum by 11 November.

(Letter ends)

The letter to Professor Nutt is dated 4 November and reads as follows:

Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)

There has been considerable press coverage of your dismissal as Chairman of the ACMD. The Committee has discussed the matter and has asked me to write to you and to the Government. I should be grateful if you could provide the Committee with a memorandum setting out the sequence of events, as you understand them, that led to the Home Secretary's decision to dismiss you as Chairman.

On one specific point, the Committee wishes to know whether you are aware of contravening any parts of the ACMD's Terms of Reference, ACMD's Code of Practice or the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees.

It would assist the Committee if we could have the memorandum by 11 November.

(Letter ends)

The letter to Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser, is dated 4 November and reads as follows:

Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)

There has been considerable press coverage of the sacking of Professor David Nutt as Chairman of the ACMD. I should be grateful if you could provide the Committee with a memorandum clarifying your involvement in the sequence of events leading up to the Home Secretary's decision to sack Professor Nutt, and, specifically, were you at any stage consulted and what support you have provided members of the ACMD.

As you are aware that the Science and Technology Committee, and its predecessor committees, have examined and reported on the use of scientific evidence by government. On 23 July 2009 we published Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy, (HC 168) and in that report we recommended that members of scientific advisory committees "should not be criticised for publishing scientific papers or making statements as professionals, independent of their role as Government advisers" (Paragraph 64). In its Response to the Report the Government said:

The Government agrees that the independence of science advisers is critical. It was precisely for this reason that the GCSA wrote to then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to express concern over her criticism, in Parliament, of Professor Nutt (Chairman of ACMD) with regard to an article he published in a peer-reviewed journal (Page 7, HC (2008-09) 1036)

We also recommended that it was "important to safeguard the independence of the advisory system. In situations where the independence of a SAC chairman or member is or might be threatened for political reasons, support should be offered by the DCSA and/or the GCSA" (Paragraph 67). The Government responded:

The Government is committed to the provision of independent scientific advice, and to supporting the mechanisms and structures by which this advice is delivered. This is evidenced by its ongoing work to embed science and engineering advice in policy-making processes across government (through the appointment of CSAs and establishment of SA Councils, for example).

It would assist the Committee if you could explain what force remains in these assurances in the light of the resignations at the ACMD and what representations you have made to the Home Secretary about his treatment of Professor Nutt.

It would assist the Committee if we could have the memorandum by 11 November.

I am also writing to Alan Johnson MP.

(Letter ends)