Government review: principles applying to treatment of independent scientific advice

This inquiry has now reported

Report published

The Committee published 'The Government's review of the principles applying to the treatment of independent scientific advice provided to government' (PDF 543.58 KB), HC 158-I, Third Report of Session 2009-10 on Monday 14 December 2009.

Volume II (PDF 241.05 KB), the written evidence, HC 158-II, was published on Thursday 17 December 2009.

The Government response (PDF 761.74 MB) was published on 2 March 2010.

Follow-up evidence received from Government

19 January 2010 (PDF PDF 332 KB) - Letter from Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, to the Chairman of the Committee

Terms of Reference

Call for views on the principles that should apply to the treatment of independent scientific advice provided to Government

The Science and Technology Committee today calls 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 6 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.

Set of principles

The Government has said that it is considering the 6 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 6 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.

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
  • 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.

Oral evidence

Wednesday 24 February 2010
The Rt Hon Lord Drayson, Minister for Science and Innovation, Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser