Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
24 FEBRUARY 2010
Q20 Ian Stewart: I am a process person.
This is a matter of power. Notwithstanding natural justice, agreed
procedures, law, is the power to dismiss a shared power between
somebody in the Chief Scientific Adviser's position and the minister
or does the power lie with the minister?
Professor Beddington: Very clearly
I have no power on that. My power, such as it is, is as an adviser,
but it would be reasonable to actually pose the question in a
situation where I provided advice to a minister but I did not
believe, for example, that the basis on which he believed trust
had gone down constituted in my view a reasonable basis for that
decision, then I would provide that advice to the minister and
it would be available for him under appropriate rules of availability.
As you well know, I am prepared to write to ministers and indicate
what my advice is and although I would not determine it and the
minister has the judgment, the judgment would be in the light
of my advice, which may be against that.
Q21 Ian Stewart: The power lies with
Professor Beddington: Absolutely.
I am an adviser not an executive.
Chairman: Can I again urge the
Committee that we are terribly tight on time and ask our witnesses
to be as brief as possible but as clear as possible.
Q22 Dr Naysmith: Lord Drayson, in
the original proposal for a set of principles one of the headings
was "Academic Freedom" and yet when the Government's
draft proposal went out for consultation academic freedom had
disappeared. What happened to it in the draft version?
Lord Drayson: The Government's
draft of principles was as a result of a process within the whole
of government. It was very much a first draft, put out for consultation,
and the objective was to get a clear sense, both within government
and within the community, of what would do an effective job of
setting out these rules of engagement. The fact that "academic
freedom" as a phrase is not in there was because the point
that was made in relation to the original draft was that it was
not just about the freedom of academics, it was the freedom of
all adviserssome of the members of the committees are not
academics. However, we recognise that not having the phrase "academic
freedom" specifically is something which has been raised
as a concern by the academics and, therefore, that phrase we do
expect to see back in the document.
Q23 Dr Naysmith: That is a very good
answer; we would be very pleased with that. The role of independent
unpaid scientific advisers and government paid advisers has sometimes
been conflated in various ways, sometimes by some key individuals.
Do you agree that the code of conduct should differentiate clearly
between these two sets of advisers and what can you do or what
have you done to try and explain to people outside just what the
Professor Beddington: As you are
aware I had a consultation out on these procedures and that ended
on the 9th; we are synthesising the evidence at the moment. The
idea is that when the principles are publishedand the intention
is to publish them relatively soon and they would then subsequently
be incorporated as part of the guidelinesthere will be
some preamble text in the principles which will reflect the differences
between people like myself or chief scientific advisers or paid
advisers and those advisers who are unpaid and are members of
those advisory committees.
Q24 Dr Naysmith: Are you clear about
the differences between the two?
Professor Beddington: I think
so. There are different obligations, contractual ones, where an
adviser has been commissioned to do a piece of work which will
be different to those that would apply to unpaid advisers from
a scientific committee. Similarly, those chief scientific advisers
who are employed as civil servants have different obligations
from those who are unpaid and do not have those. We will make
a distinction and I think we will try to bring those details of
that distinction out in the guidelines, but it is work in progress.
Q25 Mr Boswell: It is self-evident
if they all have professional obligations.
Professor Beddington: Of course,
Q26 Dr Naysmith: What are the limits
on what independent science advisory council members or chairs
can say in public regarding government policy where it overlaps
with their professional role? Is it easy for them to differentiate
between the two?
Professor Beddington: The key
thing here is that they first of all clarify that that advice
and their scientific views are done in their role as an independent
scientist or academic, and then I see no limit. The appropriate
issue is not whether in fact advice has been accepted by government
but, in fact, the necessity of academic freedom is that they should
be allowed to specify exactly what their advice is and what their
views of a scientific situation is, so I see there is no basis
for a constraint on that. However, what is absolutely important
is that they should put it into context and indicate in what role
they are making that comment.
Q27 Dr Naysmith: Why have you included
a requirement for advisers, when they speak in public, to declare
in what capacity they are speaking? Is that not already covered
in the code of practice?
Professor Beddington: It is indeed.
Q28 Dr Naysmith: Why does it have
to be there?
Professor Beddington: It is already
covered, but the point about these principles is we are trying
to encapsulate something. The guidelines are a substantial document,
having these principles, which will arguably go over two pages,
and will encapsulate these freedoms and these responsibilities.
Q29 Dr Naysmith: Are you quite happy
with all these questions, Lord Drayson?
Lord Drayson: Yes. The idea behind
the principles is, in a sense, a sort of Hippocratic Oath which
can be almost memorised because it is so clear and short but has
within it all those elements which are fundamental to this working
Q30 Mr Boswell: They do not diverge
from the guidelines at all, they encapsulate the guidelines.
Lord Drayson: They are the underpinning
bedrock of those guidelines, absolutely.
Professor Beddington: The guidelines,
if I may, Mr Boswell, will elaborate a lot of detail which
will not be in the principles, so people will say "What if?"
and we hope the guidelines will answer those questions.
Q31 Mr Boswell: The guidelines will
be drawn explicitly from the principles.
Professor Beddington: That is
right, yes. We would expect and we will try to ensure that the
guidelines are completely compatible with the principles, and
Q32 Chairman: Can I ask you as a
rider to this that if, in fact, I, as the chairman of an advisory
committee, will be making a speech in my professional capacity
which by definition will be critical of government policybecause
it goes contrary to what government policy isI go and I
ask for clearance, I make it clear I am speaking, would I be stopped
Professor Beddington: I would
be very surprised if you were. This seems to me to be a very unlikely
event. I have not encountered it, nobody has ever raised it with
me and I would think it would probably go against the principles,
so I would expect it not to happen.
Q33 Chairman: Provided under the
code that ministers are informed or their offices are informed
that such a speech is being made, you can then make a speech which
is highly critical of government policy provided it is done in
your professional capacity rather than as someone who is merely
commenting on elements of a policy?
Professor Beddington: Yes.
Q34 Chairman: You are agreeing to
Professor Beddington: Yes, very
Q35 Chairman: That is an important
distinction, is it not?
Professor Beddington: The only
caveat I would make, Chairman, is that it would depend on the
content of the speech, but it would need to be based on evidence
and on opinion in the professional way.
Q36 Chairman: Yes. If I do some research
in a particular area and my findings are totally against what
the Government's policy is, there is nothing to stop me doing
Professor Beddington: No, I see
Q37 Dr Naysmith: It is interesting
that one of the select committees I attended was one of the Health
Select Committees where Liam Donaldson announced to the Committee
that he was in favour of banning smoking in public places, totally
against what the minister was about to introduce. He said he considered
resignation, but he was not sacked for pointing it out in the
Professor Beddington: He has done
so subsequently too on alcohol.
Q38 Dr Iddon: The last bullet point
under the "Trust and Respect" section, one of the principles
says this: "The Government and its scientific advisers should
work together to reach a shared position and neither should act
to undermine mutual trust". I would like to ask you first
of all, gentlemen, where that notion of shared position between
ministers and independent scientific advisers came from.
Professor Beddington: My comment
on this is that I do not think that is appropriately drafted.
The issue of mutual trust should be taken separately from a shared
position and in terms of all the commentary I have had and in
my own views I do not think a shared position is remotely appropriate
in this context.
Q39 Dr Iddon: Lord Drayson, do you
agree with that?
Lord Drayson: Yes, I do.