Putting Science and Engineering at the Heart of Government Policy - Innovation, Universities, Science and Skills Committee Contents

Letter dated 20 January 2009 from Professor John Beddington, Government Chief Scientific Adviser to the Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Secretary of State for the Home Office


  I read with interest the recent comments in the Guardian (Ian Sample's article of 5 January) attributed to the Home Office regarding the classification of ecstasy, linked to the forthcoming advice on this issue by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. I am concerned that, if the comments are reported correctly, Ministers may be pre-empting their decision without having seen the forthcoming scientific advice on ecstasy.

Under the legislation, decisions on such matters do, of course, lie with Ministers, taking account of scientific advice on harms and other factors that may have a bearing. In providing evidence to the IUSS Committee in November I noted this position in relation to earlier decisions on cannabis.

However, an important principle, and one that underpins my own role and that of departmental Chief Scientific Advisors, is that policy decisions should be informed by robust scientific evidence.

  Policy decisions on drugs will inevitably be difficult and contentious. There is a wider question as to whether the current approach to classification is the best one. For the longer term, I would welcome working with you, alongside Paul Wiles, to consider possible alternative approaches that better link the harm caused by drugs with the criminal justice system.

  I hope this is helpful.

  I am copying this letter to Sir Gus O'Donnell, Sir David Normington and Professor Paul Wiles.

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