37) The advisory committees do an enormous amount
of valuable work, for little or no reward. We firmly believe that
the advice which they give to Government is for the most part
of a very high quality. Significant improvements have been made
in recent years in the way they operate. Implementation of the
new Code of Practice will improve matters further. (Paragraph
63. The Government echoes the Committee's endorsement
of the work carried out by advisory committees and welcomes the
Committee's support for the measures that have been taken to improve
the way in which they operate, including the new Code of Practice.
38) Whatever the role of the advisory body, it
must be clear that responsibility for decision-making lies with
the Department, and that accountability for these decisions lies
with Ministers. Advisory bodies must not be used as a device by
Ministers to shirk difficult policy decisions. (Paragraph 62)
64. The Government agrees that advisory bodies should
not be used as a means of shirking difficult policy decisions.
However there will be circumstances where the scientists on the
relevant advisory committee are better placed than anyone else
to identify the full range of available policy options. There
is a distinction between asking the committee to assist in the
process of identifying and assessing options, and asking a committee
to advise on which policy option the Government should adopt.
This distinction was reflected in the draft text for the second
round of consultation on the proposed Code of Practice.
The Government acknowledges that responsibility for the policy
decision rests with Ministers.
39) We welcome the commitment by the Government
to improve both risk assessment and risk management procedures.
65. The Government's Interim Response to the BSE
Inquiry/Phillips Report provided a basis for consultation and
discussion on proposals to improve Government's handling of risk.
These include clarity about responsibility and accountability
for risk management decisions, better contingency planning, ways
of communicating risk where there is uncertainty in the assessment,
and scope for shared guidance and training for officials. These
areas have been explored further at a cross-Whitehall risk seminar
that will contribute to the development of the final response.
In addition, ILGRA, which reports to Ministers, continues to promote
greater coherence and consistency in departmental approaches to
the assessment, management and communication of risk, and provides
a forum for exchanging good practice.
40) The Guidelines must stress the importance
of including all relevant disciplines on advisory committees,
and the Learned Bodies could give invaluable advice here. (Paragraph
66. Government recognises the importance of having
the best possible scientific advice and Guidelines 2000
makes clear that this means that "all relevant scientific
disciplines needed to address the problem should be assembled."
The Guidelines also state that Departments need to ensure that
they draw on a sufficiently wide range of the best expert sources
including learned societies and professional bodies.
The Guidelines recognise that Departments may not fully appreciate
the balance of expertise required until after it has been discussed
with those appointed to the committee. The draft text of the proposed
Code would take this a step further, by saying that committee
members should have regular opportunities to review its membership
and advise Departments of any gaps arising either from a change
in the committee's role and remit or consideration of new issues.
41) We recommend that the Government ensure that
there is consistency and openness in the remuneration of members
of scientific advisory bodies. (Paragraph 66)
67. The Government agrees that there should be openness
about the remuneration of members of scientific advisory bodies.
All scientific advisory bodies which are non-departmental public
bodies are included in the annual publication Public Bodies
which lists the remuneration of all chairs and members. The rate
of pay of those on advisory bodies is handled at the departmental
level and the Government believes this is the best way to ensure
value for money. For those bodies which are NDPBs, Departments
need to be able to justify the level of pay and to demonstrate
that it is comparable to that paid for similar responsibilities
in the public sector. The Government does not believe that it
would be helpful to introduce a more rigid or detailed cross-government
pay mechanism for such bodies. However, it agrees with Lord Phillips'
recommendation that where the workload is considerable, it is
reasonable that where necessary, chairs and members who are not
public servants should be remunerated and will consider further
how this might best be achieved. Job weights and responsibilities
vary considerably but the Government will seek to ensure that
there is consistency of remuneration where meaningful comparisons
can be made.
42) We recommend that the Research Assessment
Exercise and the Teaching Quality Assessment should take account
of service on government advisory committees. It is vital that
the advisory system should be able to involve scientists during
their active working life, and not be dependent on those who are
retired. (Paragraph 67)
68. The Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) already
takes account of service on Government advisory committees to
some extent. It is up to individual RAE subject panels to specify
which indicators of peer esteem they will accept, but these include,
for example, acting as advisers on policy or practice issues to
Government or voluntary bodies; contributions to the academic
or public good; or research related service on or for national
or international bodies or committees. The Quality Assurance Agency,
in appointing assessors for subject review, regards such experience
as a positive asset since it indicates a breadth of experience
and knowledge. However, it is important that the role of academics
on Government advisory committees must be balanced with the broader
aims of higher education. It would not be desirable to alter either
the RAE or subject review to reward these activities if this meant
diluting the primary purposes of these exercises, which is to
assess the quality of research and teaching.
43) It should be clear that the role of the lay
member is to bring an alternative perspective to the committee
and not to represent an interest group. ... The Guidelines should
clarify that "lay members" can include scientists of
other disciplines. (Paragraph 69)
44) We recommend that the norm be for at least
two lay members (depending on the size of the committee) to be
appointed to scientific advisory committees. The Guidelines should
make this explicit. (Paragraph 70)
69. The Government accepts that subject to the size
of the committee, it is often useful to have more than one lay
member. However, such decisions need to be made with regard to
the particular facts of the case in hand, and in particular the
size of the committee, and the balance of the membership as a
70. Guidelines 2000 states that "experts
from other disciplines, not necessarily scientific, should also
be invited to contribute, to ensure that the evidence is subjected
to a sufficiently questioning review from a wide-ranging set of
viewpoints." Frequently an important function of a lay member
can be to approach issues from a non-scientific perspective. It
is difficult to see how this might be achieved by other scientists
- even those from a different discipline.
71. In most cases members of scientific advisory
committees are appointed on merit as individuals and not as representatives
of a particular interest group. However, some members, including
lay members, may be appointed for their knowledge and expertise
in relation to particular sectors of society or stakeholder groups.
The draft text for the second round of consultation on the proposed
Code emphasised that lay members should be clear about the capacity
in which they have been appointed, for example, whether as independent
members, or to cover the interests of stakeholder groups.
72. The text for the proposed Code issued for the
second round of consultation would provide that "members
should regard themselves as free to question and comment on the
information provided or the views expressed by any other members,
notwithstanding that the views or information do not relate to
their own area of expertise."
This would give scope for the "lay" input from other
scientists that the Committee identifies.
45) While an interest should not be a bar to membership,
there should be clear guidelines for disclosure. (Paragraph 72)
73. The Government agrees on the need for clear guidelines.
For NDPBs, the Commissioner for Public Appointments' Guidance
requires possible conflicts of interest to be explored fully at
the time of recruitment and the Government's approach is set out
in Guidance on Codes of Practice for Board Members of Public
Bodies. The Government is giving further consideration to
this area, and the Committee is referred to paragraphs 109 and
110 of the Interim Response.
46) We recommend that the revised Guidelines
require all advisory committees to publish registers of members'
interests. (Paragraph 72)
74. NDPBs are already required to maintain a register
of members' interests (see the Government's response to recommendation
7 above). Guidelines 2000 is intended to be aimed at Government
Departments. While it covers the issue of disclosure of experts'
interests, the responsibility for an advisory committee's publications
would normally rest with the committee itself, and is therefore
covered more appropriately in the text of the proposed Code.
75. The Government agrees that advisory committees
should publish registers of members interests, subject, in rare
circumstances, to considerations of the personal safety and security
of members. The draft text of the proposed Code would emphasise
the need for committees to operate from a presumption of openness
and states that details of members' interests should be published
in the committee's annual report.
47) The revised Guidelines should make clear that
the requirement to declare interests extends to those in all sectors.
76. The Cabinet Office has overall responsibility
for the Government's general policy approach to handling conflicts
of interest for Non-Departmental Public Bodies (NDPBs), including
scientific advisory committees. The Cabinet Office Model Code
of Practice for Board Members of Advisory Non-Departmental Public
Bodies (1997) is a key document whose purpose is to act as
a basis on which NDPBs can develop their own Codes.
77. The Model Code says that "All board members
should therefore declare any personal or business interest which
may be perceived (by a reasonable member of the public)
to influence their judgement. This should include as a minimum,
personal direct and indirect pecuniary interests, and should normally
also include, such interests of close family members and
of people living in the same household."
78. The guidance notes on the Model Code enlarge
on this and suggest "that Boards should consider whether
registers of interests should also include non-pecuniary interests
of members and close family members which relate closely to the
79. There are a number of other publicly available
Government documents, such as The Commissioner for Public Appointments'
Guidance on Appointments to Public Bodies, that provide further
guidance on the way conflicts of interest should be handled for
members of NDPBs. Considerable effort has gone into keeping such
guidance consistent across Government.
80. Guidelines 2000 makes clear that experts
on scientific advisory committees have an obligation to declare
any private interests relating to their public duties.
81. The draft text for the proposed Code would require
members of all scientific advisory committees, whether formally
constituted as NDPBs or not, to have regard to this body of guidance.
48) We welcome the Government's commitment to
a policy of appointments being limited to five years, and being
renewable only once. (Paragraph 74)
82. The commitment referred to by the Committee is
one relating to the Honorary Medical Advisory Panels in DEFRA.
It did not refer to scientific advisory committees more generally,
nor to all non-departmental public bodies. For NDPBs the principles
on length of appointment and re-appointment to the same post are
laid down by the Commissioner for Public Appointments. For other
appointments the Government believes that appointments should
be handled so as to allow both continuity and fresh perspectives,
taking into account the particular nature of the scientific field
and the available pool of expertise. That said however, the Government
believes that the general principle enunciated by the Committee
is a good one, and it will bear it in mind when developing policy
in this area.
49) The revised Guidelines should make clear that
Departments should ensure that advisory committees do not experience
large changes of membership at one time. (Paragraph 74)
83. The Government accepts the principle that large
changes of membership should be avoided where possible. Paragraph
13 of the draft text for the proposed Code is as follows:
Where scientific advisory committees are established to cover
issues that are likely to be long-lived, Departments will need
to investigate whether the committee should be formally established
as a Non Departmental Public Body (NDPB). All appointments to
such committees should comply with the guidelines issued by the
Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments (OCPA). Chairs,
members and secretariats should, regularly review the phasing
and length of appointments to ensure both continuity and fresh
perspectives and report to sponsoring departments any difficulties
they foresee. Such reviews of membership and appointments should
take into account the particular nature of the scientific field
and the available pool of expertise."
This provision recognises that Departments are under
certain obligations to look at the status of long-lived committees,
but also places a responsibility on the Committee itself to look
at such issues.
50) It is essential that the staff of an advisory
committee appreciate that they work for the committee and not
for the Department. (Paragraph 75)
84. The Government agrees. The Committee recognises
the Government has addressed this issue in the Interim Response.
It is also covered in the draft text of the proposed Code of Practice,
emphasising that the primary function of the secretariat is to
support the committee and to respect its independent role.
51) We recommend that the Government ask each
advisory committee to report on the adequacy of its resources,
and to make a case for an increase, if they think this necessary.
Advisory committees must have the resources they require to operate
effectively. (Paragraph 76)
85. The Government agrees that it is important that
advisory committees should regularly consider whether they have
adequate resources to carry out their tasks and have the opportunity
to put the case for an increase to the Government, when necessary.
This will be covered in the proposed Code of Practice.
52) We recommend that the Government carry out
a review of the advisory committee network and thereafter establish
a system of five-yearly reviews for individual committees. (Paragraph
86. Departments are responsible for reviewing their
own advisory committee networks, taking account of relevant responsibilities
of and advice to other departments. OST has an overview. As noted
above, the proposed Code of Practice would say that where committees
are likely to be long-lived, Departments should investigate whether
they should be formally established as an Non Departmental Public
All NDPBs are automatically subject to a quinquennial review.
53) It is too soon to say how the research base,
or the scientific advisory system, has been affected by the moves
to encourage commercialisation in the Public Sector Research Establishments.
87. The Government agrees with this observation.
In particular it will monitor the schemes that have received their
award. Evaluation of the scheme as a whole is likely to take place
some two years after receipt of awards.
54) The Government must avoid dependence on single
sources of advice. (Paragraph 79)
88. A single advisory body, whether a research establishment
or a committee, may constitute a single source of advice, but
reflect the views of many different scientific and non-scientific
disciplines which have contributed to that advice. If the recommendation
implies that the Government must avoid over-reliance on the advice
of a particular individual or narrow scientific interest then
the Government would agree. But if an advisory body has been constituted
so that it can reflect the full range of relevant scientific and
non-scientific views, then provided the body is capable of operating
in this way, there should be no reason why it cannot function
as the Government's principal advisory body on the issues concerned.