Examination of Witnesses (Question Numbers
24 FEBRUARY 2010
Q40 Dr Iddon: You both agree obviously
that if we have that shared position in the principles it runs
contrary to the independent advice principle.
Lord Drayson: It is true to say
we do not expect to see that phrase remain in the principles when
Dr Iddon: Thank you. I need not
ask any more questions, you have shot my questions down.
Q41 Chairman: Oh dear, that is terribly
Professor Beddington: I am sorry
we agree with you, Dr Iddon.
Q42 Dr Harris: Lord Drayson, I just
want to pick up something that was said in answer to that previous
question, that if an academic says "I am speaking from an
academic perspective" and they are speaking on their subject,
and they let the department know because it overlaps the subject
that they are giving advice on, is there an issue about what the
content is of that speech? I got the impressionit may have
been a mis-speakthat the content of the speech would be
important and that suggests that speeches given in an academic
capacity would need not only to be pre-notified, which is in the
code of practice, but to be pre-cleared. I am not sure that is
consistent with academic freedom as I understand it.
Lord Drayson: Absolutely not,
the speech and the comments would not have to be pre-cleared.
Q43 Dr Harris: As long as that is
complied with. You may want to correct that then, Professor Beddington,
or I may have misheard.
Professor Beddington: No, I do
Q44 Mr Boswell: What happens if the
language is embarrassing? An academic is perfectly entitled to
take an academic view on his minister's position, but if this
is accompanied with something that could be construed as personal
abuse, is that the expression of academic freedom or is it an
embarrassment? It begins to lean across into this issue of trust.
Professor Beddington: It does
indeed and that is probably where one needs to actually measure
it and think about the evidence. It is the basic right of saying,
"Look, these are the scientific results I have got, this
is the evidence I have accumulated, this is the evidence I will
present". If you go on to say something abusive about the
minister then that is a very different matter and it is nothing
to do with your academic freedom, and I would argue that that
would undermine trust. That is why I believe trust is going to
Dr Harris: Would it not be betterI
know this has been suggested to youthat the reference in
this section should refer to professional courtesy, which people
understand because that is what they have in universities as well?
That is much clearer to understand, is it not, that you behave
courteously and politely, as scientists generally do? Politicians
do not, but that is asking too much I think, present company excepted.
Chairman: We have doubts on that.
Q45 Dr Harris: In order to tackle
that point, which I personally think is a fair point, would that
not be better language to just make clear that people are expected
to behave in their role as an adviser and when they might be reporting
as an adviser with professional courtesy? That has been suggested
to you, I know, from the responses.
Professor Beddington: We looked
at that and I am not sure that we are minded to include it. The
issue is really one which goes slightly wider than the issue of
professional courtesy. For example, if we had a scientific adviser
or a member of a committee giving a speech and then they associated
that speech with, let us say, something rather strident and campaigning,
but it was outside their speech, is that professional courtesy
or is it not? It is not at all clear, whereas I think the wider
catch-all which is more appropriate is actually talking about
neither the minister nor the adviser should do anything to undermine
Q46 Ian Stewart: I spent 20 years
as a trade union officer presenting cases at industrial tribunals
and in that time I came to understand the basic principles. One
of the basic issues that could be raised in tribunal cases to
determine whether a dismissal was fair or not was the breaking
of the bond of trust. In the various organisations' suggested
guidelines, like the organisation Sense about Science and in the
Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, there is
no mention of the words trust or respect. Where did it come from?
Professor Beddington: You mean
why did the principles have trust and respect?
Q47 Ian Stewart: Yes.
Professor Beddington: It came
from really a concern over what had actually been seen in the
case of Professor Nutt where there was a clear breakdown of trust.
That is why the Home Secretary chose to act and has clarified
that as being a breakdown of trust. We felt that first of all
that trust should be reciprocal, there should be trust from the
scientific advisory committee in the minister as well as vice
versa, and that there should be some principle which indicates
that trust is important and undermining the trust in either way
is an inappropriate activity. That is where it came from.
Q48 Ian Stewart: Do not go on because
I have other questions which you may have addressed without the
question. You have heard me say that the issue of the bond of
trust is well established. The issue of respect is a much softer
and more difficult concept to deal with in terms of disciplinary
procedures. How, for example, do you instruct people to trust
or respect each other? How do you instruct an adviser and a minister
to respect each other?
Professor Beddington: That is
probably why we need these principles, because they are setting
out the basis on which those relationships are governed, and if
we have those principles and those govern the relationship between
the minister and his or her advisers then that trust should be
Q49 Ian Stewart: Is it then a matter
of guidance rather than a contractual obligation?
Professor Beddington: The way
the principles are, as Lord Drayson has characterised them, is
they are the principles that should govern the relationships but
they are not contractual.
Q50 Ian Stewart: Like a code of practice
is not the law; a code of practice can be used as evidence in
tribunals but it is not the law, therefore it becomes guidance.
Is that the same status that you are aiming for here?
Professor Beddington: You are
moving me out of my area of expertise, which is scientific advice,
to something which is rather more legalistic than I feel comfortable
answering, but my understanding, with that caveat, is yes.
Q51 Ian Stewart: What would you expect
to happenand this is to both of youwhen the bond
of trust between a minister and an adviser is broken? Could that
lead to dismissal?
Professor Beddington: What we
have discussed, and I have answered that in response to Dr Harris's
questioning, is that what the principles are likely to contain,
and what the first principles that we published before indicated
is that where there is a particularly serious breakdown there
would be a consultation process. That is really important and
it is at that stage of the consultation process that discussion
would occur between either the minister and myself or the minister
and Lord Drayson, or whoever is Science Minister, on whether that
is or is not grounds for dismissal. That would get advice and
from the interaction between different ministers there may be
a combined conclusion, but that is the process that I envisage.
Q52 Ian Stewart: Would you like me,
Minister, to repeat my question?
Lord Drayson: No, that is not
necessary. It is important that these principles do set out the
expectations very clearly of the relationship and the way you
have described them as a code of practice which is used in evidence
in consideration of a situation which is going wrong is a very
fair way of describing this. The fact that it is not legally contractually
binding is one of the reasons why it is important for it to be
in the Ministerial Code because the Ministerial Code does then
add very significant weight to the importance of these principles
being adhered to. Therefore, having a process, like in other aspects
of the Ministerial Code, whereby if a problem has arisen there
is a mechanism by which, firstly, the issue is raised within the
Department with the scientific adviser and then is escalated to
the Government's Chief Scientific Adviser and then with the Science
Minister, this is a process which should ensure that only in the
most extreme case would we get to a position as you describe.
The fact that the advice that the Government's Chief Scientific
Adviser would be giving to the minister could then be made subsequently
public is also an important aspect of this process of control.
That is what is needed; the key to this is transparency and accountability
based upon a clear set of rules which are understood and enforced.
Q53 Ian Stewart: My final question:
if these principles are agreed will they be cross-departmental
or are they BIS, Science and Technology-specific?
Lord Drayson: Cross-departmental,
the whole of government.
Q54 Dr Harris: Lord Drayson, do you
agree with this assertion: in the context of independent scientific
advice disagreement with government policy and the public articulation
and discussion of relevant evidence and issues by members of advisory
committees cannot be grounds for criticism or dismissal by government?
Lord Drayson: Yes, I agree with
Q55 Dr Harris: Coming to this question
of trust, Professor Beddington identifies that he could be the
arbiter on some grounds which should at least be his consideration
of the evidence, even though they would not be set out in advance.
Given that Professor Beddington cannot say at the moment what
Professor Nutt did to undermine trust, what do you say to scientists
who say, "In every other aspect of my job I know that there
is an objective set of criteria, a code of practice, a contract
of employment that will guide this and there will not be a presumably
unappealable individual who will say, `I am satisfied on the evidence,
even though I cannot point to anything, that there has been this
behaviour that is sufficient to make the loss of trust by the
minister a reasonable one'."? Are you comfortable with that
situation and do you think advisers would be?
Lord Drayson: I recognise, because
we have done significant consultation with the scientific community
and with advisers and the media who comment on this, that this
lack of clarity and definition that you raise is of concern, but
I say to the community that these principles aim to be as short
and pithy as they can possibly be to be most effective in terms
of setting out, as I described it, the so-called Hippocratic Oath.
That is the best way I can think about it. They will then be the
bedrock of the relationship upon which the CoPSAC and further
description can then be defined as appropriate for the particular
types of committees as the chairmen of those committees so feel.
I do feel that it would be possible to come up with a firm definition
of that point to the satisfaction of advisers to ameliorate any
concerns in practice.
Q56 Dr Harris: Because I am asking
whether there will be something that is CoPSAC plus, undefined,
that could in some circumstancesand Nolan plus because
Nolan applies, and the universal ethical code for scientists and
CoPSAC, all written downallow for action to be taken, regardless
of who gives advice to the minister, where you cannot point to
a breach of any of those three codes?
Lord Drayson: No. As Ian Stewart
says it is an important code of practice which would then be used
in evidence, and it is very important that it is seen like that.
Q57 Dr Harris: There is a specific
issue about chairs which I think needs to be picked up. Some have
argued that it is especially important that chairs of advisory
committees, who have the interaction with the minister, must not
be fearful of giving advice that the minister does not want to
hear. BSE is all about that.
Lord Drayson: Absolutely.
Q58 Dr Harris: If anything, chairs
should have more "protection" than others. Are you envisaging
having more limits on the academic freedom or freedom to speak
as an independent science adviser when the Government has rejected
the advice for chairs than anyone else, or do you recognise the
need to give them extra protection to ensure that the people who
are spokespeople are confident to be able to speak truth to power?
Lord Drayson: It is very important
for all scientific advisers, in particular chairmen of scientific
advisory committees, to feel that they have absolute academic
freedom and that they can, as you say, speak truth to power.
Q59 Dr Harris: Is it your hope that
when you publish your principles there will be no more resignations
from the ACMD? Would it be a blow if those who are left on ACMDand
they are eight short at the momentfeel that their concerns
have not been met?
Lord Drayson: I really hope and
expect that the job that we have done collectivelyand I
am grateful for the inputs that have been made, particularly the
inputs that have been made by this Committee, for example, which
have been very helpful in our understanding of thisleads
to a position whereby we have really come up with something which
enables a strong, clear relationship to be maintained between
the scientific community and the Government. We have made huge
progress over the last 10 or 12 years. There are going to be in
the future some very difficult scientific challenges which have
to be met and I am optimistic but realistic that these principles
will meet the task which was set for us in November last year.