Independent scientific advisers must not act to undermine the “mutual trust” they have with the government if they want to keep their jobs.
The science minister, Lord Drayson, today released the final Principles of Scientific Advice that set out the rules of engagement between the government and those who provide independent scientific advice, in the wake of the controversial sacking of David Nutt as a drugs adviser last year.
A contentious phrase in the draft consultation document calling for government and scientific advisers to “work together to reach a shared position” was removed. But another, “government and its scientific advisers should not act to undermine mutual trust”, remains.
The inclusion of the requirement is likely to alarm academics. A letter signed by more than 40 eminent scientists in February urged the government to remove it, saying it was “subjective”.
Addressing MPs on the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee, Lord Drayson said the phrase had remained because the departmental scientific advisers and the government’s chief scientific adviser thought it was an important aspect of the principles. He said the principles were supposed to be an “almost Hippocratic oath”.
Lord Drayson said an example of a breach of trust would have to be clearly identified if someone were to be dismissed.
Responding to questions from Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat shadow science minister, Lord Drayson said that he had delivered on his promise to create a clear set of rules of engagement and did not understand why scientists would see the principles as “bad news”.
Lord Drayson said the principles had not yet been incorporated into the ministerial code. He explained that while it was his desire that they should be, with the appropriate opportunity being after the general election, he had neither the responsibility nor the authority to deliver this.
Phil Willis, chairman of the committee, said the committee was “incredulous” that such a “powerful minister”, with a seat at the Cabinet table, had not been able to achieve this stated aim.
Final principles: http://bit.ly/bPog6o