Science Advisory Councils/Committees
SAC members should not be criticised for publishing
scientific papers or making statements as professionals, independent
of their role as Government advisers.
The Government agrees that the independence of science
advisers is critical. It was precisely for this reason that the
GCSA wrote to then-Home Secretary Jacqui Smith to express concern
over her criticism, in Parliament, of Professor Nutt (Chairman
of ACMD) with regard to an article he published in a peer-reviewed
Since the then-Home Secretary's criticism of Professor
Nutt, at least one SA Council, DefraSAC, has recruited a number
of new members. As Professor Gaskell (Chair of DefraSAC) informed
the Committee, applications were received from a large number
of high calibre candidates.
The Government is not complacent, however, and as
part of its annual monitoring of the health and functioning of
SACs, all SACs, and their sponsor Chief Scientific Adviser, have
been asked to report on succession planning and issues faced or
identified in recruiting new members. Responses to this year's
exercise are currently being collated and will be considered at
the December meeting of the Chief Scientific Advisers Committee.
The Government would be happy to report the findings of this exercise
to the Committee.
It is important to safeguard the independence
of the advisory system. In situations where the independence of
a SAC chairman or member is or might be threatened for political
reasons, support should be offered by the DCSA and/or the GCSA.
We welcome the steps taken by the GCSA to deal
with one incident that occurred between the Chairman of the ACMD
and the Home Secretary. Further steps that should have been taken
are: (1) the GSCA should have written or spoken to the Chairman
of the ACMD, letting him know that support was being provided;
(2) the correspondence between the GCSA and the Home Secretary
should have been published immediately so that other SAC Chairmen
and the public (including the science community) could see that
support was being offered; and (3) the GCSA should have provided
public support for the Chairman of the ACMD and for his right
to publish. (Paragraph
The Government is committed to the provision of independent
scientific advice, and to supporting the mechanisms and structures
by which this advice is delivered. This is evidenced by its ongoing
work to embed science and engineering advice in policy-making
processes across government (through the appointment of CSAs and
establishment of SA Councils, for example).
The Committee can be assured that the GCSA will take
steps to support SAC Chairs and SAC members should he believe
that their independence is being impinged upon. The Government
does not, however consider it likely that instances of this occurring
will be widespread or accept that the GCSA should routinely publish
correspondence with SAC chairs, SAC members or Ministers. On the
issue of public support, the GCSA will decide on the most effective
action for dealing with any discord between the advice offered
by SACs and the development of government policy.
The Government should seek specialist advice prior
to making policy decisions, early in the policy-making process.
Clearly the Government should be free to reject the advice of
its SACs, since scientific evidence is only one factoralbeit
a very important onein policy decisions: Advisers advise,
Ministers decide. However, when the Government does take a different
policy decision to that recommended by a SAC, it should make clear
its reasons for doing so. (Paragraph
The Committee correctly identifies that science (and
engineering) evidence is only one of the factors that Ministers
take into account when reaching a policy decision. As outlined
in the Government's response to Recommendation 6 of this report,
the Government has a long-held view that the evidence-base for
any policy decision should be made publicly available and that,
when the decision runs contrary to independent advice received
(irrespective of the advisory structure), the reasons for rejecting
this advice be outlined.
Guidance on when to seek expert science and engineering
advice, and to publish this advice, is provided in the Government's
Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy-making. The
Government is currently acting to update this document and will
be launching a public consultation on the guidelines later this
year. The Government would welcome consultation input from the
We conclude that there would be value in being
clear in the Code of Practice as to what 'independence' means.
Members of Science Advisory Committees are likely to represent
the views of their constituencies; what is important is that they
have no conflict of interest with Government. Therefore, in the
case of Science Advisory Committees, 'independence' should mean
'independence from Government'.
The Government agrees that when used in relation
to SACs, 'independence' should mean independent of government.
This is reflected in the current version of the Code of Practice
for Scientific Advisory Committees which states that: 'committee's
] should be seen as independent of government'.
The Government will ensure that the independence
of SACs from government is clearly reflected in the updated Guidelines
on Scientific Analysis in Policy-making.
We can see the logic and agree that it is important
that SAC advice should be presented to Ministers in advance of
publication, giving them sufficient time to consider a response.
However, it is also clear that SAC advice should, when it is given
to Ministers, be final advice, and not a launching pad for debate.
On this basis, we recommend that the process of SACs providing
evidence to Ministers should be as transparent as possible. SAC
evidence that is presented to Ministers should subsequently be
published in unaltered form, along with the date on which the
evidence was presented to Ministers and the details of any requests
for alterations or clarifications of the evidence.
It is the longstanding view of Government that all
independent advice it receives be made publicly available as a
matter of routine. This view is clearly laid out in the Government's
Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy-making (see
the Government's response to Recommendation 6 of this report),
and, as set out below, in the Code of Practice for Science Advisory
Advice should normally be made public by the scientific
advisory committee at the time it is given or as soon as reasonably
practicable thereafter. Where there are circumstances which justify
giving advice in private, committees should consider whether the
advice could be made public after a suitable time interval has
passed. If so, they should publish the advice as soon as is reasonably
practicable. Reasons for privacy should be consistent with the
principles of Freedom of Information legislation [page 21].
We recommend that a small press office be set
up within the Government Office for Science, to serve the press
needs of GO-Science and all the Science Advisory Committees across
GO-Science receives press office support from BIS,
with the GCSA and GO-Science being served by a dedicated press
officer. BIS press office and GO-Science are soon to be colocated,
and the Government does not consider a separate GO-Science press
office to be warranted.
It is the Government's view that there is not a 'one
size fits all' approach to be taken to the provision of media
support to SACs. In general, SACs receive press office support
from their sponsor department. Government departments and SACs
have close working relationships, and the provision of press office
support to SACs by their sponsor department is not contentious.
On the rare occasion that a SAC has requested independent
media support this has been arranged. The Government is therefore
of the view that, as is current practice, the precise nature of
support required by a SAC should be discussed on a case-by-case