'Breaking' the code

January 28, 2010

In his letter last week, Adam Afriyie, the Conservative Shadow Science Minister, explains that when he said that ministers have the right to sack independent science advisers "because they don't like them or for any other reason", he did not mean to imply that they should be dismissed "contrary to the terms of their engagement or best practice", although he leaves those terms ominously undefined.

He goes on to say that "the Conservative Party supports the Sense about Science principles on the treatment of independent scientific advice", but only "as a basis for a new framework". But the principles - unconditionally supported by the Liberal Democrats - are not proposed as the basis for a new framework, and do not leave matters vague and undefined. They are proposed as a code of practice for ministers and state that independent science advisers must have full academic freedom and cannot be sanctioned or censured unless they breach their own code of practice. There is little point having a code if those subject to it can still be sanctioned even when they abide by it.

Scientists will want to know whether Chris Grayling, the Conservative Shadow Home Secretary, still applauds Alan Johnson for his disgraceful treatment of David Nutt; whether the Tories will listen to advice they don't like; and whether they have learnt the lessons of the bovine spongiform encephalopathy crisis.

Evan Harris MP, Liberal Democrat Science Spokesman.

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