Appendix: Government response |
The Select Committee's report, The Government's review
of the principles applying to the treatment of independent scientific
advice to Government, is a valuable contribution to the discussion
on these overarching principles. The purpose of the principles
is to ensure continued effective engagement between the Government
and those who provide independent science and engineering advice
and Government is committed to arriving at a good final position.
Although this report came too late to be considered
in the production of the draft principles, the Government is considering
the Committee's recommendations as part of its consultation.
1. We welcome the Government's success in
improving the mechanisms by which scientific advice can be fed
through into policy. The network of Chief Scientific Advisers
and scientific advisory committees has the potential to strengthen
the UK's ability to make policy decisions that are based on the
best available evidence and to make the UK Government's science
advisory system an international exemplar. (Paragraph 2)
Government has worked hard to embed science and engineering
advice in the policy-making process and we are grateful that the
Committee has recognised this. The appointment of a Chief Scientific
Adviser (CSA) to every major science-using government department
is a reflection of the value the Government places on scientific
advice. Government commitment to science is further highlighted
by the Minister for Science and Innovation, Lord Drayson, having
a place at Cabinet and the creation of the Cabinet Sub-committee
for Science and Innovation.
Government acknowledges the circumstances that prompted
this debate and endeavours to further improve its use and management
of science, building on an excellent track record in working
closely with and valuing the input of scientists.
2. We consider that the principles should
clearly cover evidence-based expert advice, including social science
and statistics. (Paragraph 4)
Throughout this response, science is used in its
broadest sense and should be taken to refer to the natural and
the social sciences. That said, the Government's proposed principles
are aimed primarily at Scientific Advisory Committees and Councils
(SACs), the membership of which often includes statisticians and
social researchers. Depending on their remit, SACs may be required
to provide scientific advice and / or advice on scientific issues,
and to frame their advice to take account of social and ethical
issues and public and stakeholder concerns.
We are consulting on the application of the principles
but we would expect them to apply to all aspects of SAC working
and all scientific advice commissioned by the Government from
external independent advisers. They would not apply to departmental
Chief Scientific Advisers, or other civil servants that provide
3. We welcome Lord Drayson's commitment to
resolve the concerns. It is important however, that the principles
that emerge from the Government review will become part not only
of the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, but
more importantly of the Guidelines on Scientific Analysis in Policy
Making and of the Ministerial Code. We consider that it is of
equal importance that scientists offer expert advice and ministers
respond to that advice in accordance with clearly defined protocols.
The draft principles published by the Government
set out the responsibilities of both the providers of independent
scientific advice to Government (including SACs) and the recipients
of that advice (Ministers and other government decision-makers).
Government has publicly committed to ensuring that
its final statement of principles is reflected both in the updated
Guidelines for Scientific Analysis in Policy Making and in any
future revision of the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory
Committees (CoPSAC). This remains the Government's intention.
Government will consider how best to reflect the
Principles in the Ministerial Code when it is next revised.
The content and terms of the principles
4. We endorse and support the three broad
principles set out in the 6 November statement applying to the
treatment of independent scientific advice provided to government:
(1) academic freedom; (2) independence of operation; and (3) proper
consideration of advice. (Paragraph 14)
Government agrees with these broad principles and
will consider how best to reflect them in its final statement
5. In our view Government should include in
the revised statement of principles a commitment by the Government
to uphold and protect the academic freedom of those providing
scientific advice to government and an explicit and clear recognition
that experts can comment on government policy. (Paragraph 18)
Government is clear that SAC members are free to
communicate in a professional capacity. We are considering incorporating
a specific reference to academic freedom in the final version
6. We consider that the 6 November statement
of principles strikes a good balance by placing the minimum necessary
restrictions on a person serving on a scientific advisory committee
speaking publicly on government policy, that is that the person
should respect confidentiality, not claim to speak for the Government
and should make it clear whether he or she is communicating on
behalf of his or her committee. (Paragraph 19)
Government is clear that advisors serving on SACs
are free to pursue, publish and communicate their work and fully
exercise their academic freedom.
There is an expectation that scientific advisors
will make it clear in what capacity they are speaking publicly.
This is outlined in the draft principles:
Scientific advisers to the Government should make
clear in what capacity they are communicating, for example at
conferences or in published papers.
Government accepts, however, that while the onus
is on advisors to stipulate what capacity they are speaking in,
the media may, in the interest of a story, link an advisor to
a committee without their consent.
7. We recommend that the Government's statement
of principles state clearly that scientific advisory committees
are independent from government. (Paragraph 20)
Government is clear that SACs are independent advisory
8. We recommend that the Government's statement
of principles contain a commitment that the Government will not
prejudge the work of scientific advisory committees and will give
proper consideration to scientific advice from committees. (Paragraph
Government is clear that SACs and independent scientific
advisers should expect Government to give their advice proper
consideration. We will consider how best to articulate this expectation
in light of consultation inputs on the draft principles. However
the draft principles already include:
The timing of the Government's response to scientific
advice will demonstrably allow for proper consideration of that
9. We consider that the definition of the
principle on the proper consideration of advice should include
recognition that the Government can reject the advice. (Paragraph
Science and engineering advice is only one factor,
albeit an important one, that Government takes into account in
developing policy. The Government will consider the need to clarify
this point in finalising its statement of principles.
10. We recommend that requirement in principle
3 that "Reports will not be criticised or rejected prior
to publication" be clarified to specify that it refers to
public criticism or rejection by Government. (Paragraph 24)
This recommendation refers specifically to the principles
set out in the 6th November statement circulated by the Royal
Society and Sense About Science.
Government will consider whether this point needs
to be made explicit within the finalised principles in considering
the consultation inputs on its statement.
The process for agreeing the principles
11. In order to secure broad agreement to
the principles, we recommend that once the Government issues a
set of principles in December, it should invite all interested
parties, including all scientific advisory committees, to comment
before they are finalised. (Paragraph 25)
Government agrees that to be effective the finalised
principles will not only need cross-government support, but also
the support of the scientific community.
In drawing up the proposed principles, the Minister
for Science and Innovation and the Government Chief Scientific
Adviser (GCSA) held a series of meetings with the SACs, Learned
Societies, representatives of the science media and colleagues
across Government. All of these parties, and the wider public,
were invited to input further as part of the consultation on the
GCSA's Guidelines for the Use of Scientific Analysis in Policy
The operation and application
of the principles
12. We therefore recommend that the Government
put the agreed principles and the supporting protocols before
the House for endorsement. (Paragraph 27)
As the principles will be a non-legislative paper,
there is no mechanism for providing it to the House for endorsement.
Furthermore, parliamentary business over the next few months
is such that no time is available to debate the statement in either
Westminster Hall or the main chamber.
Government will, of course, provide its finalised
statement of principles to the Committee.
13. In our view it is critical that the principles
promulgated by the Government are fully implemented in the working
arrangements of the Government and scientific advisory committees.
We therefore recommend that, once a set of principles have been
agreed, the Government: (Paragraph 28)
a) issue a statement setting out how the principles
will be upheld and enforced and how disputes about their interpretation
and applicability resolved; (Paragraph 28(a))
b) ensure that in their review of the Guidelines
that it fully supports and implements the principles; (Paragraph
c) ensure that the Code of Practice makes
reference to the principles and is consistent with them; and (Paragraph
d) consider incorporating relevant aspects
of the principles into the Ministerial Code. (Paragraph 28(d)).
Government agrees that it is essential the principles
be fully embedded in its working practices. Both the Minister
for Science and Innovation and the GCSA will write to colleagues
across Government setting out the principles, and their expectation
they are adhered to.
The draft principles published by Government already
propose a process for raising and resolving concerns over their
application, or the application of other guidance on scientific
advice in policy-making (the Guidelines, for example):
Government departments and their independent scientific
advisers should raise issues of concern over the application of
the principles, or other guidance, with the relevant departmental
Chief Scientific Adviser. If the matter of concern cannot be effectively
resolved or is especially serious CSAs should approach the Government
Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA), and Ministers should approach
the Minister for Science to escalate the issue to ED(SI).
As set out in the Government's response to Recommendation
3 of the Committee's report, the Government will consider how
best to reflect the Principles in the Ministerial Code when it
is next revised.
14. We conclude that the Government Office
for Science should be given responsibility for advising members
of scientific advisory committees, government departments and
ministers they advise on the interpretation and applicability
of the principles. (Paragraph 30)
The Government Office for Science (GO-Science) is
responsible for the GCSA's Guidelines and CoPSAC. It also provides
advice and support to the network of Scientific Advisory Committees
(SACs) across Government, for example delivering workshops for
the secretariats of SACs.
GO-Science will continue to support government departments
and Ministers in the interpretation and application of these guidance
documents, and in embedding of the finalised principles.
15. We recommend that in reviewing the Guidelines
the Government bring forward arrangements for resolving disputes
between members of scientific advisory committees and government
departments and ministers. (Paragraph 31)
Government's draft principles set out the proposed
process for raising and resolving concerns over their application.
Government will consider the Committee's recommendation alongside
other responses to its consultation on the Guidelines.
16. We recommend that in its review of the
Guidelines the Government bring forward arrangements governing
the dismissal of a member of a scientific advisory committee for
breach of the principles or the Code of Practice. (Paragraph 33)
The procedural and contractual arrangements governing
the membership of SACs vary. It is therefore difficult to formulate
a single process for the dismissal of Committee members. Government
will nonetheless consider this issue further in the light of responses
to the current consultation. These will inform whether there
is a need to update CoPSAC.
17. We recommend that, where the Government
rejects the advice of expert advisory committees, it makes clear
in writing to the chairman what part of the advice it is rejecting:
scientific advice or other kinds of expert advice. Regarding scientific
advice, the Government should only reject an expert committee's
assessment of the scientific evidence in exceptional circumstances,
and in these circumstances its reasons should be clearly laid
out (Paragraph 35)
Government is clear that policy-makers should, wherever
possible, make public the evidence base for a policy decision.
This is already set out in the GCSA's Guidelines, and reaffirmed
in the draft principles:
The Government will explain the reasons for policy
decisions, particularly when the decision appears to be at odds
with scientific advice.
If Government is minded not to accept the advice
of a scientific advisory committee or council particularly on
matters of significant public interest, the relevant minister
will normally meet with the chair to discuss the issue before
a final decision is made.
18. We reiterate the recommendation we made
earlier this year that a small press office be set up within the
Government Office for Science, to serve the press needs of GOScience
and all the scientific advisory committees across Government.
As part of consulting on its draft principles, Government
has sought views on potential mechanisms for the provision of
media support to SACs. We will consider the Committee's recommendation
on this issue, together with all other consultation inputs.
The treatment of scientific advice
19. We recommend that the Government appoint
a panel to carry out a review and report within six months on
the treatment of scientific advice across Government, in particular,
the implementation of, and compliance with, the recommendations
of the Phillips report issued following the BSE crisis and on
the adequacy of the arrangements to protect the independence of
scientific advice provided to Government. (Paragraph 42)
Understanding the way that science and engineering
advice is used in Government departments is one of the core functions
of GO-Science. There are a number of formal and informal mechanisms
already in place to ensure that this is done on a continuous basis.
The GCSA has routine meetings with the network of departmental
Chief Scientific Advisers and the subject is also kept under review
by Ministers on the Cabinet sub-committee on Science & Innovation.
GO-Science's formal performance assessment mechanism
is the Science and Engineering Assurance (SEA) process. The SEA
process looks at all aspects of the management and use of science
and engineering in Government through reviews of individual departments.
SEA assessments are made by an external panel of scientists and
senior industry or government officials, and agreed by the GCSA
and Departmental Permanent Secretary.
20. In our view the principles published on
6 November fully accord with the thrust of the conclusions and
recommendations made in our earlier Reports. We endorse and support
the broad principles as proposed by Lord Rees and others and published
by Sense About Science on 6 November 2009 and recommend a number
of changes which we consider will clarify and enhance the application
and operation of the principles. (Paragraph 44)
Government welcomes the Committee's input to its
consultation on the draft principles.