Principles of Scientific Advice to Government

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills yesterday published the final ‘Principles of Scientific Advice to Government’ following consultation before Christmas with Learned Societies, the Royal Society, Sense about Science and others. Speaking on the launch of the document, which is now Government policy, Lord Drayson, Minister for Science, said “Government needs the best scientific advice it can get to inform policy and so our relationship with our advisors is crucial. They need to know their advice will be duly considered and their academic freedom will be respected when they volunteer to work with Government.”

The Principles were drafted in the wake of the dismissal of Prof. David Nutt as Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs, following pressure from leading scientists including President of the Royal Society, Lord Rees, and others. The Principles set out the rules of engagement between Government and those who provide scientific and engineering advice. They provide the foundation on which independent scientific advisors and government departments should base their interactions. They apply to Ministers and departments, all members of Scientific Advisory Committees and Councils and other independent scientific advice to Government.

On publication of the Principles the scientific community expressed dismay that one point of contention remains within the document: that ‘Government and its scientific advisors should not act to undermine mutual trust’. Commenting on this point, Nick Dusic, Director of the Campaign for Science and Engineering, said that the inclusion of this point could undermine the rest of the Principles as it is impossible to quanify. He suggested that re-drafting the Ministerial Code following the election could help to clarify what this point means and protect advisors from Ministerial interference.

Evan Harris, Science Spokesman for the Liberal Democrats, questioned Lord Drayson on this point yesterday during the last Science Question Time of the current parliament.