MP Harris Pushes For Ministerial Accountability on New Science Advice Principles

From Dr. Evan Harris’ blog, we have his letter to Science Minister Lord Drayson asking for an inquiry into Home Secretary Alan Johnson’s alleged violations of the new principles for scientific advice.  I don’t know all of the details that Harris – a Member of Parliament and the Liberal Democrat party’s science spokesman – discusses, but he makes a decent case that the Home Secretary violated at least some of these principles in rushing the decision on classifying mephedrone and not allowing for full review by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD).

Lord Drayson has indicated he would “respond as soon as possible.”  As I noted, there’s a big issue of how ministers are supposed to be held accountable for violations of the principles, as it’s not explicitly stated.  Discussions of making the principles part of the ministerial code (which presumably would make them binding on ministerial conduct) have typically been postponed until after the next general election (May 6).  Absent such provisions, it seems likely that Prime Minister Brown will not do anything against Johnson, given the lack of chastisement from any senior party official from Labour or the Conservatives over Johnson’s sacking of Professor Nutt last fall.

The British Election Shoe Has Dropped

U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has set in motion the pseudo-short British election season (while politicking officially starts now, debates and other activities have been going on for a while).  All Members of Parliament will stand for election on May 6, with there a good chance (but not a lock) that the Labour Party will lose power and the Conservatives will take over.  While the election determines national leaders, it does so indirectly, via local elections for the House of Commons.  Such is this particular parliamentary system.

While there have been three debates involving the science representatives of the three largest parties in Britain, science as an election issue has not trickled up to the level of a national issue.  David Cameron, Conservative party leader, has managed to not make any significant comments on science.  The economy will likely dominate the electoral rhetoric, and while scientists and researchers seem mobilized in a way reminiscent of their American colleagues in 2008 (though not with nearly the same kind of disdain), I suspect their concerns will not rise to the level of national attention.

There are a few places I suggest you look should you want to follow the science angle in this election.  First is the Campaign for Science and Engineering, the leading science advocacy group in the U.K.  They have been running posts from standing Members of Parliament (MPs) and candidates with science backgrounds.

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