Further supplementary memorandum submitted
by the Office of Science and Technology
1. The memorandum responds to the request
of 17 January 2001 from the Committee Clerk for an update on progress
with a number of issues, namely:
progress with the production of the
Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees;
the role, status and purpose of the
new Food Standards Agency; the Human Genetics Commission and the
Agricultural and Environment Biotechnology Commission;
the work to date of the reformed
Council for Science and Technology (CST);
the practices which these four bodies
have developed to ensure openness and transparency; and
any developments in the mechanisms
for sharing scientific advice and information between government
2. This memorandum takes as its starting
point the position as set out in the Government's two previous
memoranda of May 1998 and May 1999,
and describes what has happened since.
I. PROGRESS ON
3. On 26 July 2000, an initial public consultation
on the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees was
launched alongside the Science and Innovation White Paper "Excellence
and Opportunity". That consultation document invited members
of the public to consider what provisions might usefully be included
in the new Code. It suggested some possible provisions and invited
comments on them, as well as offering consultees the chance to
make their own suggestions on what other matters should be covered.
The issues covered in the initial consultation document included:
transparency: what information
a committee should publish, handling of confidential information,
reporting of uncertainty in advice to departments; communication
to stakeholders, including the approach to public consultation
responsibilities of the Chair, including
responsibilities and duties of the
members, including understanding of the committee's and of their
own personal role, the balance of representation, changes of membership
and conflicts of interest;
duties of the secretariat and other
government officials involved with the committee;
committee working practices, the
use of research, early identification of issues, risk assessment,
procedures for arriving at conclusions, exchange of information
with other committees.
4. The initial consultation closed on 1
December 2000. Over 50 responses were received. The responses
were in general substantial and of a high quality, and raised
many useful points, which the Government is currently studying.
The Government will also want to take into account the "lessons
learned" which have emerged from the Report of Lord Phillips'
inquiry into BSE, many of which are relevant to the operation
of scientific advisory committees and their relationships with
government and the public. The lessons from the Inquiry will be
an important element in the further development of the Code. The
Government is drawing up a fresh draft, which would take into
account all these elements, and intends to circulate it in March
for a second round of consultation, with a view to drawing up
and promulgating the final version later this year.
II. THE ROLE,
(a) The Food Standards Agency
5. The Food Standards Agency (FSA) was created
by an Act of Parliament and came into being on 1 April 2000. Its
primary purpose is to "protect public health from risks which
may arise in connection with the consumption of food, and otherwise
protect the interests of consumers in relation to food" (Food
Standards Act 1999, s.1(2)).
6. The Agency was set up by the Government
following a long series of events over many years which eroded
the public's confidence in the arrangements for ensuring the safety
of food. Highly publicised issues such as salmonella in eggs,
listeria in paté and soft cheeses, e. coli and, above all,
BSE led many people to believe that a new body was needed to oversee
food safety and standards.
7. Although called an Agency, the FSA is
a department of government. Unlike most, it is non-ministerial
and operates at arm's length from ministers, but its role, powers
and responsibilities are similar to that of other departments.
However, it has a Chairman, Deputy Chair and Board of independent
members who were appointed to act in the public interest, not
to represent particular sectors. The members bring a wide range
of relevant skills and experience.
8. The Agency is a UK body, accountable
to Parliament in Westminster through the Secretary of State for
Health and the devolved administrations through their Health Ministers
or equivalents. Its headquarters are in London and it has offices
in Aberdeen, Belfast and Cardiff. The Meat Hygiene Servicewhich
also has the protection of public health as a primary aimis
also part of the Agency.
9. On its creation, the Agency took over
a large number of functions and regulatory responsibilities from
the Health and Agriculture Departments across the UK. It also
acquired some important new functions. Under the Food Standards
Act 1999, its main functions are:
Developing policies (or assisting
in the development by any public authority of policies) relating
to matters connected with food safety or other interests of consumers
in relation to food; providing advice, information or assistance
in respect of such matters to any public authority;
Providing advice and information
to the general public (or any section of the public) in respect
of matters connected with food safety or other interests of consumers
in relation to food; and providing advice, information or assistance
in respect of such matters to any person who is not a public authority;
Obtaining, compiling and keeping
under review information about matters connected with food safety
and other interests of consumers in relation to food.
10. This latter function includes (among
monitoring developments in science,
technology and other fields of knowledge relating to the matters
mentioned above; and
carrying out, commissioning or co-ordinating
research on those matters.
11. New powers and functions vested in the
Observations with a view to acquiring
Monitoring of enforcement actions.
12. As the department with primary responsibility
for food safety, the Agency takes advice from a number of advisory
committees. The role of most (though not all) of these committees
is to provide independent scientific assessments of risk. The
Agency is responsible for formulating policy and advising ministers
on the basis of this advice and other evidence. It is required
to take into account both the costs and benefits of its decisions.
13. The Agency has three core values. It
put the consumer first;
be open and accessible; and
be an independent voice.
14. At its launch, the Agency committed
base its decisions and advice on
the best evidence available;
consult widely before making recommendations
unless urgent action is essential;
obtain independent expert advice
from advisory committees;
commission research to support its
be prompt in making public its advice
15. The Agency is honouring these commitments.
It has published details of how it puts its core values into practice
and lives up to these commitments in a range of documents, such
as its Statement of General Objectives and Practices, its code
of Practice on Openness, its Statement on the Agency's Approach
to Risk and its internal Guidance on Consultation. All these documents
and a wide range of other information can be found on its web-site
(b) The Human Genetics Commission.
16. The Human Genetics Commission (HGC),
chaired by Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, is the UK Government's
advisory body on how new developments in human genetics will impact
on people and on healthcare. Its remit is to give ministers strategic
advice on the "big picture" of human genetics, with
a particular focus on social and ethical issues. Its terms of
To analyse current and potential
developments in human genetics and advise ministers on their likely
impact on human health and healthcare, and their social, ethical,
legal and economic implications.
To advise on strategic priorities
in the delivery of genetic services by the NHS.
To advise on strategic priorities
To develop and implement a strategy
to involve and consult the public and other stakeholders and encourage
debate on the development and use of human genetic technologies
and advise on ways of increasing public knowledge and understanding.
To co-ordinate and exchange information
with relevant bodies in order to:
identify and advise on the effectiveness
of existing guidance and of the regulatory and advisory framework
as a whole, taking account of European and global dimensions;
look at the lessons learnt from
individual cases requiring regulatory decision to build up a wider
To consider specific issues related
to human genetics and related technologies as requested by ministers.
To operate in accordance with best
practice for public bodies with regard to openness, transparency,
accessibility, timeliness and exchange of information. In considering
national issues, HGC will adopt a UK perspective which will include
taking account of legal and other differences between England,
Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and of the status of devolved
and non-devolved matters.
17. HGC was established following a comprehensive
review in May 1999 by the UK Government of the regulatory and
advisory framework for biotechnology. As a result, three advisory
human genetics committees were wound up and their responsibilities
passed to HGC, which has taken forward various aspects of their
work. These were: the Human Genetics Advisory Commission (see
Annex 2B of first Supplementary Memorandum), the Advisory Committee
on Genetic Testing (see Annex 2A of first Supplementary Memorandum)
and the Advisory Group on Scientific Advances in Genetics.
Openness and transparency
18. HGC has a strong remit to involve and
consult the public and others, to encourage debate, to advise
on ways of increasing public knowledge and understanding and to
follow best practice in terms of openness and transparency.
19. The HGC website is used to publish agendas
in advance of meetings and the minutes of meetings shortly afterwards.
A range of background material and papers are either published
on the website or are available on request. HGC is considering
how audio and video content might be added to the website in future.
All future plenary HGC meetings will be open for the public to
attend as observers. Sub-group meetings are not open for the public
to attend, but attributable minutes are published.
20. As part of their Code of Practice members
are asked to act in accordance with government policy on openness,
comply fully with the Code of Practice on Access to Government
Information, and adopt the best practice principles on transparency,
timeliness and exchange of information.
21. HGC publishes and maintains a Register
of Members' Interests. At the beginning of each meeting members
are reminded of the need to keep this up to date, of the need
to declare any personal or business interests relevant to specific
agenda items and that they should not then take part in discussing
22. The members of HGC were appointed in
December 1999 and the Commission first met on 10 February 2000.
At its second meeting on 18 May 2000 membership and terms of reference
were agreed for three sub-groups on Horizon-Scanning, Genetic
Testing, and Public Involvement in Genetics; and for a Working
Group on the Storage, Protection and Use of Genetic Information.
HGC is also committed to establishing a "Patient Panel"
to help bring the knowledge and experience of those broadly affected
by genetic disorders to the work of the Commission. Over the past
year two consultative meetings have been held: on HGC's workplan
on 10 April in London and on the main theme of HGC's current workplan,
human genetic information, on 27 November in Newcastle. A public
information-gathering and discussion day on genetic testing and
insurance will take place on 9 February 2001 in London. HGC has
commissioned a MORI "People's Panel" survey on the public's
attitude to genetics and the use of genetic information. Interim
results were published last November and a report with the full
results will be published very shortly.
23. At present HGC is conducting a consultation
on the storage, protection and use of personal genetic information.
HGC will consider the outcome of these various activities, along
with the reports of the House of Lords Select Committee Inquiry
into Human Genetic Databases and the House of Commons Select Committee
Inquiry into Genetics and Insurance, and will report to ministers
with its advice by late 2001.
24. In November 1999 the Human Fertilisation
and Embryology Authority, in collaboration with the Advisory Committee
on Genetic Testing, launched a consultation on Pre-implantation
Genetic Diagnosis (PGD). A Joint Working Party with members from
both the HGC Genetic Testing Sub-group and the HFEA are currently
considering the results of the consultation and later this year
will make recommendations concerning the HFEA's licensing of PGD
and the nature of the guidance as to when PGD should be offered
and the associated ethical issues.
25. Further details of HGC are to be found
at the Commission's website at www.hgc.gov.uk.
(c) The Agriculture and Environmental Biotechnology
26. The Agriculture and Environment Biotechnology
Commission (AEBC) like the HGC, was established following a comprehensive
review of the regulatory and advisory framework for biotechnology.
It provides the UK Government and the devolved administrations
with independent, strategic advice on developments in biotechnology
and their implications for agriculture and the environment. Like
HGC it will look at the "big picture" taking ethical
and social issues into account as well as the science.
Openness and Transparency
27. The AEBC is committed to maximum openness
and transparency. Agendas, minutes of AEBC meetings (including
sub-groups), and background papers are publicly available and
posted on the Commission's web-site, www.aebc.gov.uk. Those who
do not have access to the internet may obtain information via
28. The Commission consulted widely on its
draft Work Plan. In addition to a written consultation exercise,
in December last year it held a public meeting in London to hear
views before finalising the Plan, which was presented to Ministers
on 10 January. Future formal meetings will be held at different
venues around the United Kingdom and will include public sessions.
29. The AEBC's Work Plan identifies three
priority issues on which it has already started work:
examining the Government's decision
making process on biotechnology using case studies of the farm-scale
evaluations and issues surrounding gene flow;
animals and biotechnology; and
horizon scanning for new developments.
30. The first of these formed the focus
for the Commission's next public meeting in Norwich on 5 and 6
February where there was an evidence-taking session for the case
study on the farm-scale evaluations.
31. The AEBC is also carrying out preliminary
work on future enquiries into consumer choice and public attitudes,
bioremediation and liability for environmental damage. Further
information on these studies and on the Commission's proposed
methods of working can be found in its Work Plan on www.aebc.gov.uk.
III. THE COUNCIL
32. As set out paragraph 5.3 of the Government's
May 1998 memorandum, the Council serves as the Prime Minister's
top level advisory body, providing its independent views and recommendations
about strategic issues concerning Science and Technology (S&T)
in the UK. It is supported by a secretariat in the Office of Science
33. The Council is specifically charged
with taking a medium to longer term, proactive approach to its
core task of keeping under review, and making recommendations
on, ways of improving:
the performance of the UK (public
and private) in S&T, in relation to current and future national
needs and opportunities;
the overall impact of the funding
arrangements for publicly supported S&T including those for
research in higher education institutions;
the effective use and exploitation
of S&T by business, government and the public services to
create wealth and improve our quality of life; and
the synergy between the UK's domestic
and international S&T activities and the scope for the UK
to get more benefit from S&T collaboration.
34. The Council also provides its independent
advice on more specific strategic issues of national importance
whenever this is sought.
35. Members are appointed by the Prime Minister,
normally for a period of three years, on the advice of the Cabinet
Minister with transdepartmental responsibilities for S&T,
the Rt Hon Mr Stephen Byers MP, the Secretary of State for Trade
& Industry. Appointments are made in accordance with the requirements
of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments.
36. Members serve on the Council without
remuneration. Any incidental costs they incur on Council business,
such as travel, can be reimbursed by the Government.
37. Each year, the Council meets quarterly
and undertakes a programme of work on a limited number of topics
that are determined by its independent members on the basis of
the following general criteria:
Strategic importance: is the issue
sufficiently important to justify the Council's attention?
Timeliness: is this the most appropriate
time to consider this issue? How and when does it fit within the
schedule of Government business?
Relevance: is the issue of relevance
to Government policy making?
Value Added: what value can the Council
add? Is it the most appropriate body to address this issue?
Coverage: is the issue relevant to
the whole of the UK?
38. At the Council's quarterly meetings,
members have also provided their views and advice on particular
S&T issues, as and when sought by the Government.
39. During 1998-99, the Council prepared
and subsequently published three substantive reports with advice
to the Prime Minister:
"A Review of S&T activity
across Government"(September 1999);
report of the exploitation of S&T by UK Business (March 2000);
report on supporting and developing the profession of science
teaching in primary and secondary schools (March 2000).
40. During 2000-01, four sub-groups of Council
members are working, respectively, on the following topics:
The Arts & Humanities in relation
to Science and Technology;
A Quinquennial Review of the six
Grant Funding Research Councils;
Follow up to CST's report on Science
Preparation of the CST's advice on
Departments' new Science and Innovation strategies.
Openness and Transparency
41. Under the Council's terms of reference,
any sub-groups may involve additional non-Council members with
appropriate expertise who are co-opted to help deal with the particular
topic concerned. Additionally, the work of these sub-groups can
involve written or other forms of consultations with third parties
for the purposes of obtaining the views and evidence on which
to establish the Council's advice. The Council is specifically
required to publish an annual report, information about its work
programme, and normally its advice.
42. As an "advisory, non departmental
public body", the Council operates in accordance with the
framework for "Opening Up Quangos" which the Government
established in 1998. It has adopted a code of practice based on
the seven principles of public life, the "Nolan" standards
of selflessness, integrity, objectivity, accountability, openness,
honesty, and leadership.
43. The Council presently comprises 15 independent
members: Mr Javaid Aziz; Mr Euan Baird; Professor S Kumar Bhattacharyya
CBE Feng; Professor Sir Alec Broers FRS Feng; Professor Vicki
Bruce; Professor Sir Christopher Evans OBE; Professor Julia Higgins
CBE FRS; Dr Rob Margetts CBE Feng; Sir Paul Nurse; Dr David Potter
CBE; Miss Emma Rothschild; Professor Peter Schuddeboom; Sir Richard
Sykes DSc FRS; Professor David VandeLinde; and Mr John Weston.
44. The Council has established a website
(at www.cst.gov.uk), containing information about its:
Membership and Organisation, including
members' CVs and Register of Interests;
Work, including an overview and summaries
of individual work items;
Reports, including background papers
and government responses to-date;
Meetings, both its forward schedule
and summaries of all its meetings so far;
A "What's New?" page to
help enquirers keep track of its work and progress.
IV. NEW MECHANISMS
45. The Government's two previous memoranda
described the ways and means by which government departments use
and share advice and information for decision making and policy
development. They explained the role and work of the Ministerial
Science Group (MSG) and the Ministerial Group on Biotechnology
and Genetic Modification (MISC6), the Chief Scientific Adviser
(CSA), the Director General of the Research Councils (DGRC), the
Cabinet Official Committee on Science & Technology (EASO)
and the Interdepartmental Group on Risk Assessment (ILGRA).
46. The Minister for Science and the CSA,
supported by OST, continue to be the focal points for the co-ordination
of S&T issues across government and with the devolved administrations
in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
47. The Ministerial Science Group (MSG)
is chaired by the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Sainsbury
of Turville, and comprises ministers from each of the departments
with significant SET activity, including the devolved administrations.
It aims to promote a co-ordinated and coherent approach to SET
48. Where issues cross departmental boundaries,
responsibility for high-level co-ordination of the policy on particular
issues may rest with the appropriate ministerial committee. This
may be one of the standing cabinet committees such as HS or EA
or a specially convened committee such as MISC6 whose role is
to consider issues relating to biotechnology, in particular those
arising from genetic modification.
49. The previous memoranda also covered
the "Forward Look" publication, the CSA's Guidelines
on the use of Scientific Advice in Policy Making ("the Guidelines"),
the CSA's first annual report on the implementation of the Guidelines,
and post devolution arrangements.
50. More recent developments are as set
Guidelines on Scientific Advice in Policy Making
51. In November 1999 the CSA published a
second report on the implementation by departments of the Guidelines.
The Government's White Paper "Excellence
and Opportunity" published in July 2000 sets out the Government's
commitment to an independent and transparent advisory framework
for science. Its launch was accompanied by:
Publication of Guidelines 2000 on
Scientific Advice and Policy Makingan update of the 1997
Publication of an Implementation
Plan in response to the CST's 1999 report "Review of S&T
Activity across Government". One of the main recommendations
in this Plan concerned the need for a more strategic forward-looking
approach to science and technology. As set out in the Plan, departments
are currently engaged in preparing science and innovation strategies
in line with this recommendation. They will also be reviewed by
the CST and by the Ministerial Science Group. The completed strategies
will be published to facilitate sharing of information and to
encourage cross-departmental working in appropriate areas.
Launch of the consultation on a new
Code of Practice for scientific advisory committees. This has
been described in the earlier part of this memorandum.
The Chief Scientific Adviser's Committee
52. In 1999, the Chief Scientific Adviser's
Committee (CSAC) replaced the Economic Affairs Science and Technology
Committee of Officials (EASO) as the regular forum for departmental
chief scientists and senior officials with responsibility for
R&D from departments with significant S&T activity (including
53. Under the CSA's chairmanship, CSAC's
remit is to consider issues of relevance to the Government and
the devolved administrations concerning science, engineering and
technology (SET). In particular:
To provide advice to ministers, primarily
through the Ministerial Science Group.
To discuss and facilitate implementation
of policy on SET.
To identify and promulgate good practice
in SET-related areas, including the use of scientific advice in
To facilitate communication on particular
high profile SET-related issues and those posing new challenges
54. When necessary, the CSA may bring together
departments and research councils for the purpose of research
co-ordination either through ad hoc or standing arrangements.
A recent example of the role is the High Level Group on Health
Genomics which brings together the research councils, Department
of Health and the Office of Science and Technology.
The Inter-departmental Liaison Group on Risk Assessment
55. The Inter-departmental Liaison Group
on Risk Assessment (ILGRA) and its subgroup on risk communication
now ensure better sharing of information between government officials
and a more consistent approach to risk across departments. ILGRA
has promoted new collaborative approaches, fostered research on
topics of cross government relevance and provided a network for
improving communication between those engaged in risk policy in
different departments. In acting as an interdepartmental conduit,
ILGRA helps to avoid duplication of effort and promotes "joined-up"
56. Devolution has introduced fundamental
structural changes in the government of the UK. Communication
with the devolved administrations is an important aspect of joined-up
Government. The Government and devolved administrations have all
agreed a Memorandum of Understanding that commits each administration
to information sharing and co-operation on policy development.
57. Government departments, including departments
within the devolved administrations, have been forging closer
links to improve co-operation and consultation on matters of shared
interest. This includes information and papers relating to the
scientific advisory committees in which they have a shared interest
and the results of collaborative surveillance and research.
58. For example, the Government has published
a number of administrative agreements (concordats) between different
parts of government and devolved administrations. These document
how they co-operate in relation to policy, science, openness and
other matters. For example MAFF has concordats with the FSA, with
the Scottish Executive, the National Assembly for Wales and with
three research councils. The advantage of such concordats is that
they formalise co-operation and information exchange rather than
relying on ad hoc bilaterals and other informal mechanisms. Some
departments have high-level agreements with the devolved administrations
that cover research co-ordination.
59. In a recent initiative, departments
are now expected to apply Health Impact Assessments (HIA) to all
new key policies. Departments are currently piloting a screening
checklist to assess if full HIA are warranted.
60. The Report of Lord Phillips' Inquiry
into BSE made a number of important recommendations about improving
mechanisms for co-operation and the sharing of scientific advice
and information between government departments. The Government
is considering how to take account of these wider points and will
address them in its response to Phillips.
1 See HC 796-i, Session 1998-99 and HC 465, Session