UK Government

Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (National): Principles on scientific advice to Government published for consultation

News   •   Dec 16, 2009 10:03 GMT

High-level Principles on scientific advice to Government to ensure effective engagement between the Government and those who provide independent science and engineering advice, were published today by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The Principles cover trust, respect, independence, transparency and openness. Lord Drayson, Science & Innovation Minister, has led the efforts to draw up the principles. They were agreed after a series of informal meetings, with input from Scientific Advisory Committees, Learned Societies, representatives of the science media and Sense about Science. The principles aim to clarify the relationship between advice and policy, as well as strengthen public trust in the process.

Lord Drayson said:

"Ministers rely on scientific advice to develop sound Government policy. The relationship between ministers and advisers is an important one.

"These principles, which now go out for consultation, are designed to strengthen that relationship further. They emphasise the importance of academic freedom, and the responsibilities of both scientists and ministers."

The Government welcomes views on these Principles, and on wider issues relating to the use of science and engineering advice by Government, as part of the consultation on the GCSA’s Guidelines for the Use of Scientific Analysis in Policy Making (which runs until 9 February 2010).

Notes to Editors

1. The Government Office for Science’s consultation was launched on 17 Nov 2009.

2. Details of the consultation and how to contribute are available athttp://www.berr.gov.uk/consultations/page53603.html

3. The statement of principles are below. For more information contact Adrian Bradley, Senior press officer, on 020 7215 5080.

Principles of Scientific Advice to Government

The purpose of the high level Principles below is to ensure continued effective engagement between the Government and those who provide independent science and engineering advice. Following these Principles will not only result in a strengthening of the relationship between these parties and the public, but also of the policy-making process. 

The Principles primarily address issues relating to Scientific Advisory Committees and Councils, several of which have members with expertise outside of the sciences. They should also be understood to apply to other independent scientific advice commissioned by the government, but not to departmental Chief Scientific Advisers, or other civil servants that provide scientific advice.

Issues relating to the function and working of scientific advisory bodies that are not reflected in these high-level Principles are or will be discussed in more detailed guidance such as CoPSAC or the Guidelines on scientific analysis in policy-making (to be updated in 2010).

Trust and respect

  • The Government should respect and value the professional status and expertise of its independent scientific advisers.
  • Scientific advisers should respect the democratic mandate of the Government to take decisions based on a wide range of factors and recognise that science is only part of the evidence that Government must consider in developing policy.
  • The Government and its scientific advisers should work together to reach a shared position, and neither should act to undermine mutual trust.

Independence

Transparency and openness

  • Scientific advice to the Government will be published unless there are over-riding reasons (such as national security) for not doing so.
  • The timing of the publication of independent scientific advice is normally a matter for the advisory body but should be discussed with the Government beforehand.
  • The timing of the Government’s response to scientific advice will demonstrably allow for proper consideration of that advice.
  • The Government and its scientific advisers should make it clear whether they are communicating scientific evidence and analysis or conclusions and advice.
  • Scientific advisers should indicate their level of confidence in the evidence base underpinning their advice by making explicit levels of uncertainty, ambiguity and ignorance.
  • The Government will explain the reasons for policy decisions, particularly when the decision appears to be at odds with scientific advice.
  • If Government is minded not to accept the advice of a scientific advisory committee or council particularly on matters of significant public interest, the relevant minister will normally meet with the chair to discuss the issue before a final decision is made.


Applying the Principles

The Government invites Scientific Advisory Committees (SACs), Councils and government departments to consider the extent to which the Principles in this document are reflected in their operation and to make changes as necessary. The Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees (CoPSAC) provides further detail on good practice for SAC functions and working.

Government departments and their independent scientific advisers should raise issues of concern over the application of the Principles, or other guidance, with the relevant departmental Chief Scientific Adviser. If the matter of concern cannot be effectively resolved or is especially serious CSA’s should approach the Government Chief Scientific Adviser (GCSA), and Ministers should approach the Minister for Science to escalate the issue to ED(SI).

The Government welcomes views on these Principles, and on wider issues relating to the use of science and engineering advice by Government, as part of the consultation on the GCSA’s Guidelines for the Use of Scientific Analysis in Policy Making (which runs until 9 February 2010). Views can be offered here.

The Government will take forward work to address specific issues which emerged in consulting stakeholders (below). Following completion of the consultation on the Guidelines the Government will consider whether to initiate an early consultation on further amendments to CoPSAC.

·           SAC and Government working: the Government will take steps to strengthen relationships between government departments and SACs. Departmental Chief Scientific Advisers (CSAs) will meet regularly the Chairs of the SACs sponsored by their department. The GCSA will meet annually with SAC Chairs across government.

·           Role of Chair: the Government will consider whether additional guidance relating to SAC Chairs is necessary.

·           Media Support for SACs: the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees (CoPSAC) provides for the use of independent media support to SACs. Government will work to ensure SACs are aware of this right, and consider any related practical issues.

·           Media training for SAC members: the Government will consider how best to ensure that SAC members are equipped to engage with the media, to ensure that SACs are in a position to decide whether a media strategy is necessary before publishing advice.

·           Appropriate use of Non-Disclosure Agreements (NDAs): there are circumstances in which SACs are unable to publish the advice provided (because of national security, for example). The Government will consider whether guidance on the use of NDAs is necessary.

Department for Business, Innovation & Skills

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) is building a dynamic and competitive UK economy by: creating the conditions for business success; promoting innovation, enterprise and science; and giving everyone the skills and opportunities to succeed. To achieve this it will foster world-class universities and promote an open global economy. BIS - Investing in our future.

Contacts

NDS Enquiries 
Phone: For enquiries please contact the above department 
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