MPs quiz over use of advice

February 17, 2006

MPs this week expressed amazement at the Government's failure to monitor the use and effectiveness of consultants in drawing up the scientific advice that informs policy decisions.

The House of Commons Science and Technology Committee heard evidence from the Government's Chief Social Researcher Sue Duncan, as part of its inquiry into how the Government handles scientific advice and evidence in drawing up policy. Ms Duncan admitted that Whitehall departments did not evaluate the use or effectiveness of consultants.

Phil Willis, chair of the committee, told The Times Higher : "I was amazed by that."

He added that the committee felt that lip service was paid to the Scientific Analysis in Policy Making guidelines that government departments were supposed to adhere to. "This is in conflict with the Government's policy that evidence should determine all policy decisions," he said.

Sir David King, Chief Scientific Adviser to the Government, told MPs that monitoring the use of the guidelines would form part of his review of government departments. These are supposed to be carried out every three years.

"We've come a long way but this is a bit of a tanker that needs turning," he said.

Sir David and Ms Duncan told the committee they would like to publish the scientific evidence that informs their advice to government after policy is decided.

"The question is whether ministers will be as keen on this transparency as he is," committee member Evan Harris said.

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