Select Committee on Science and Technology Fourth Report


1.We commend to other Departments the DETR's example of providing a one year update on progress on implementing the Committee's recommendations. (Paragraph 13)
2.We recommend that the Government give more prominence to the activities of the Council for Science and Technology and respond to its recommendations. (Paragraph 14)
3.We commend the proposal that the Chief Scientific Adviser will write regular "good practice" letters to Permanent Secretaries, and that these will be made public. We recommend that the Government also revise and reissue the Guidelines 2000 in the light of the Phillips Report and our recommendations. (Paragraph 17)
4.The OST should be more active in encouraging consistency of standards in science policy across Whitehall. ... It is important that Ministers in all relevant Departments should support the OST and strengthen it in its role of co-ordinating science policy across Government. (Paragraph 18)
5.We urge the Government to publish the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees as soon as possible. (Paragraph 19)
6.It is essential that Chief Scientists in Departments should have direct day-to-day access to the Chief Scientific Adviser. (Paragraph 21)
7.We recommend that Government publish an annual list of scientific advisory committees, with details of membership (including registered interests) and terms of reference, perhaps in the annual report on the implementation of the Guidelines. (Paragraph 29)
8.The status accorded different advisory bodies at present appears haphazard. Careful consideration should be given to the formal status of new advisory bodies before they are established. (Paragraph 30)
9.We welcome the new strategic advisory bodies. ... It is essential that Ministers do not hide behind these bodies on issues of policy, for it is Ministers who are responsible for policy decisions. (Paragraph 32)
10.The Government should press for guidelines on scientific advice across the board, along the lines of the OST guidelines, to be adopted at European Commission level. (Paragraph 33)
11.We reiterate the recommendation made in our climate change case study Report, that the Government actively promote the IPCC model of scientific advice in other policy areas of global significance in which there is scientific uncertainty. (Paragraph 34)
12.The Government should make full use of scientific experience abroad, and include experts from abroad on advisory committees, where appropriate. This has rarely been the case in the past. (Paragraph 35)
13.We recommend that the OST ensure that Departments consult the Learned Bodies whenever establishing a new advisory body. (Paragraph 37)
14.The Government must allow a reasonable time for outside bodies to respond to consultation. Furthermore, to demonstrate that the consultation has been genuine, we recommend that the Government adopt the practice of publishing a summary of the results of consultation. (Paragraph 38)
15.Government should be aware that we will consider using our powers to insist on a memorandum from the Government responding in full to the recommendations made in reports by the Learned Bodies. (Paragraph 39)
16.The Government could also commission reports from the Learned Bodies, where appropriate. (Paragraph 40)
17.Involving the Learned Bodies more closely in the scientific advisory system would be a straightforward way of demonstrating its independence. (Paragraph 40)
18.If advisory committees are not asked the right questions, important scientific information may never be brought to the Government's attention. ... All advisory committees should be allowed to operate more proactively, monitoring developments in scientific research in their field and alerting the Government to relevant change. (Paragraph 41)
19.It is vital that research is adequately co-ordinated, and that any gaps in research needed to inform policy are identified and addressed, with funding made available. The research programme must do more than meet policymakers' current needs for information: it must try to anticipate the advice required in future years. (Paragraph 42)
20.It should be made clear in the terms of reference of advisory bodies that it is their role to look ahead and advise Departments of issues which may face policymakers in years ahead. (Paragraph 43)
21.The Government must take steps to ensure that there is sufficient scientific expertise within the civil service, so that Departments may be "intelligent customers" and have the capacity to interpret and understand the advice they receive. (Paragraph 44)
22.It is incumbent on advisory bodies to present their advice in a way which is clear and comprehensible, while identifying any uncertainty and dissent as well as their consensus view. (Paragraph 45)
23.We believe that the public is well able to understand uncertainties, if they are clearly presented. (Paragraph 47)
24.We welcome the Government's commitment to applying the precautionary principle where appropriate. ... Whether to apply the precautionary principle in a particular case is essentially a political decision, and rightly the responsibility of elected Ministers. While scientists can offer useful advice about the magnitude of the risks involved, public opinion plays a major part in persuading Government to apply - or not to apply - the precautionary principle. (Paragraph 48)
25.The Government must ensure that its response is proportionate to the potential threat. The Minister for Science, through the Chief Scientific Adviser, should ensure that the precautionary principle is properly understood, and applied where appropriate, across Government. (Paragraph 49)
26.The Government must ensure that scientific advice is disseminated effectively amongst policymakers. (Paragraph 50)
27.The Government must offer clear channels for scientists of other disciplines to offer their alternative perspective. (Paragraph 52)
28.We repeat the recommendation made in our report on Climate Change, that clear and transparent channels should be available through which scientists who hold dissenting views can readily communicate their ideas to policymakers and can have confidence that they have been heard. It should be the clear responsibility of advisory committees to draw dissenting views to the attention of Government. (Paragraph 53)
29.Government must ensure that dissident scientists are heard, but not give credence to those who, with media encouragement, are voicing unsubstantiated theories. (Paragraph 54)
30.There is no doubt that there has been a loss of public confidence in the scientific advisory system. ... Restoring public confidence in scientific advice is essential, but it will be a hard, and slow, process. (Paragraph 55)
31.We commend the very significant steps which Government is making to increase openness and transparency. (Paragraph 56)
32.Voluntary disclosure is not enough, if the public is to be convinced that the scientific advisory system is truly transparent. (Paragraph 57)
33.We recommend that there should be a website for the scientific advisory system, with direct links to every advisory committee. (Paragraph 57)
34.Many people do not have access to a computer and for them information published on the internet will not be readily accessible. (Paragraph 57)
35.We endorse the recommendation of the House of Lords Select Committee that the Press Complaints Commission should adopt and promulgate the Royal Society's guidelines for editors. (Paragraph 58)
36. Scientists must learn to communicate better and to present their case to the media. (Paragraph 59)
37.The advisory committees do an enormous amount of valuable work, for little or no reward. We firmly believe that the advice which they give to Government is for the most part of a very high quality. Significant improvements have been made in recent years in the way they operate. Implementation of the new Code of Practice will improve matters further. (Paragraph 60)
38.Whatever the role of the advisory body, it must be clear that responsibility for decision-making lies with the Department, and that accountability for these decisions lies with Ministers. Advisory bodies must not be used as a device by Ministers to shirk difficult policy decisions. (Paragraph 62)
39.We welcome the commitment by the Government to improve both risk assessment and risk management procedures. (Paragraph 63)
40.The Guidelines must stress the importance of including all relevant disciplines on advisory committees, and the Learned Bodies could give invaluable advice here. (Paragraph 64)
41.We recommend that the Government ensure that there is consistency and openness in the remuneration of members of scientific advisory bodies. (Paragraph 66)
42.We recommend that the Research Assessment Exercise and the Teaching Quality Assessment should take account of service on government advisory committees. It is vital that the advisory system should be able to involve scientists during their active working life, and not be dependent on those who are retired. (Paragraph 67)
43.It should be clear that the role of the lay member is to bring an alternative perspective to the committee and not to represent an interest group. ... The Guidelines should clarify that "lay members" can include scientists of other disciplines. (Paragraph 69)
44.We recommend that the norm be for at least two lay members (depending on the size of the committee) to be appointed to scientific advisory committees. The Guidelines should make this explicit. (Paragraph 70)
45.While an interest should not be a bar to membership, there should be clear guidelines for disclosure. (Paragraph 72)
46.We recommend that the revised Guidelines require all advisory committees to publish registers of members' interests. (Paragraph 72)
47.The revised Guidelines should make clear that the requirement to declare interests extends to those in all sectors. (Paragraph 73)
48.We welcome the Government's commitment to a policy of appointments being limited to five years, and being renewable only once. (Paragraph 74)
49.The revised Guidelines should make clear that Departments should ensure that advisory committees do not experience large changes of membership at one time. (Paragraph 74)
50.It is essential that the staff of an advisory committee appreciate that they work for the committee and not for the Department. (Paragraph 75)
51.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. (Paragraph 76)
52.We recommend that the Government carry out a review of the advisory committee network and thereafter establish a system of five-yearly reviews for individual committees. (Paragraph 77)
53.It is too soon to say how the research base, or the scientific advisory system, has been affected by the moves to encourage commercialisation in the Public Sector Research Establishments. (Paragraph 78)
54.The Government must avoid dependence on single sources of advice. (Paragraph 79)

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Prepared 21 March 2001