The Treasury says "the Function of a
Scientific Advisory Committee (SAC) is to help
Government Collect scientific information and make
judgments about it. It reviews, and sometimes
commissions, scientific research, and offers
independent expert judgment" and then lists the
Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs as a
A Home Office press release descibed the ACMD as
"an independent expert committee that advises
the Government on drug classifications".
Mr. Bob Ainsworth, former
Home Office drugs minister, said in Parliament that "the Advisory
Council is a statutory and independent Advisory
Non-Departmental Public Body, which was established
under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971".
Caroline Flint, Home Office
drugs minister, said in Parliament (22 Jun 2004) "My hon. Friend
said a lot about the Advisory Council on the Misuse
of Drugs, and we should remind ourselves that it is a
fully independent, non-departmental public body"
and "the advisory council is an independent and
impartial body, and it provides evidence-based advice
to the Government".
Code of Practise for Scientific Committees:
39. The secretariat
should be an impartial and disinterested reporter. It
should at all times respect the committee's
independent role. It should guard against introducing
bias during the preparation of papers, during
meetings, or in the reporting of the committees
members should be aware of the role of Departmental
representatives and other officials and advisers
having contact with committees and/or attending
meetings as observers, (or in any other capacity).
Such officials should at all times respect the
committees advice should be in writing, and
should be seen as independent of government.
Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology: The
Scientific Advisory System
75. It is important
for the effectiveness of advisory committees that
they be properly staffed. In most cases, advisory
committees are staffed by a small secretariat of
civil servants drawn from the sponsoring
Department(s), and located within the Department.
While this may give rise to questions as to their
independence, it allows good communication between
the Department and the committee. The Phillips Report
found that "it will often be desirable to draw
the secretariat from the commissioning Department(s)
in order to provide a two-way channel of
communication". It noted, however, that
"the secretariat must be careful to respect the
independence of the committee". We welcome
the Government's undertaking that these concerns will
specifically be taken into account when the next
draft of the Code of Practice is issued. While
we accept that close links with the Department
concerned can be useful, we suggest that it would be
beneficial for at least some of a committee's staff
to be brought in from outside (for example, on
secondment from the Research Councils or the Learned
Bodies). It is essential that the staff of an
advisory committee appreciate that they work for the
committee and not for the Department.
76. In our GM
inquiry, we were concerned by the evidence of the
Chairman of ACRE that insufficient resources and
staff were allocated to the support of his committee,
and that this was causing "serious
problems". We recommended that the Government
looked closely at the staffing arrangements for
scientific advisory committees and committed itself
to providing large enough secretariats to ensure
their efficient working. The Government does not
appear to have reviewed the staffing arrangements
more generally, as we recommended. In our current
inquiry into Genetics and Insurance, we have been
told by a member of the former Human Genetics
Advisory Commission that its staff resources were
"barely adequate" and that on occasion this
caused difficulty for members. We believe this
to be a widespread and continuing problem. We
recommend that the Government ask each advisory
committee to report on the adequacy of its resources,
and to make a case for an increase, if they think
this necessary. Advisory committees must have the
resources they require to operate effectively.
Conclusion: 81. It
is clear from the Phillips Report, and from our own
case studies, that all is not well with the
scientific advisory system. ... faults, in the way
that the advisory committees are set up, staffed and
operate, mean that it is not always as good as it
needs to be. The Government does not always seek
advice when it needs it, nor ask the right questions.
It is not always effective in assessing the advice
when it gets it, and does not always apply that
advice in policy-making. The distinction between the
role of scientific advisory bodies and Government
Departments in policy-making is not always clear-cut.
These are systemic problems which must be addressed.
We welcome the Government's constructive response to
the BSE inquiry and acknowledge the very real
progress which has been made, particularly in
openness and transparency. But there is still some
institutional complacency, and a misplaced belief
that the problem lies with public perception rather
than with the structure and use of the scientific
advisory system itself. Reform of the scientific
advisory system is required if public confidence is
to be restored.
Vol 1, para 1302:
"any advice given by a CMO or advisory committee
should be, and be seen to be, objective and
independent of government."
Learned - The use of scientific advisory
It will often be desirable to
draw the secretariat from the commissioning
Department(s) in order to provide a two-way
channel of communication.
In such cases, as in all
cases, the secretariat must be careful to
respect the independence of the