Transparency

ACMD

70. Transparency is crucial to building confidence in scientific advice and policy making. This is recognised in the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees published by the Office of Science and Innovation, which states:

"Committees should operate from a presumption of openness. The proceedings of the committee should be as open as is compatible with the requirements of confidentiality. [. ] The committee should maintain high levels of transparency during routine business."140

We have been impressed by the transparency and clarity of ACMD reports explaining the methodology and rationale underlying its recommendations on drug classification decisions. However, we received evidence to suggest that the Council was not complying with this guidance in other aspects of its operations. Transform Drug Policy Foundation, for example, told us: "The ACMD lacks transparency—Its deliberations are not open to the public, are unpublished and are unavailable for independent comment or scrutiny".141

71. The Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees explicitly states that committees should publish meeting agendas and minutes and, "unless there are particular reasons to the contrary", supporting papers, none of which the ACMD currently does.142 We asked the Chairman, Sir Michael Rawlins, why the Council did not publish minutes of its meetings. He told us that "anyone who asks would get a version of it" but warned that "there is sometimes material in the minutes that we would need to remove because they are based on intelligence that would not be appropriate in the public domain".143 When pressed, Sir Michael conceded that "it would not be a major issue" to remove this information since it only amounted to "a couple of lines, that is all".144 The ACMD provided to us, at our request, copies of the minutes of meetings of the full Council, Technical Committee and methylamphetamine working group on a confidential basis. Having reviewed these documents, we do not accept that the majority of the Council's work requires the level of confidentiality currently being exercised. The ACMD should, in keeping with the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, routinely publish the agendas and minutes for its meetings, removing as necessary any particularly sensitive information.

72. In taking evidence on the terms of reference for the over-arching inquiry on the Government's handling of scientific advice, risk and evidence, we were struck by the extent to which the Food Standards Agency had placed transparency at the heart of its operations. We will address this topic more fully in the over-arching Report but were interested to

140 Office of Science and Technology, Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, December 2001, para 46

141 Ev 65

142 Office of Science and Technology, Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees, December 2001, para 65

143 Q 165

know, in view of the fact that the Food Standards Agency routinely holds board meetings in public, whether the ACMD ever held open meetings to enable the public to observe its deliberations. The Council told us that it had not and again invoked the argument that to do so would cause "a particular problem for ACMD because it is sometimes provided with police or enforcement agency intelligence which cannot be disclosed to the public (at the present time)".145 The Council further argued that "Although it might appear to be possible to exclude the public from those agenda items that include sensitive material of this nature, members might wish to raise such matters during the discussion of other agenda items".146 According to the Council, "Failure to do so could place the Council at a serious disadvantage and impair the quality of its advice".147 Holding open meetings where the public could witness the processes used by the ACMD in developing its recommendations could have enormous benefits in terms of strengthening public confidence in the scientific advisory process. We do not believe that the need for confidentiality in discussion of certain topics is an insurmountable obstacle to holding occasional, if not routine, meetings of this nature.

73. The measures that we have proposed here to improve the openness of the ACMD are not radical - they simply reflect best practice, as outlined in the Code of Practice for Scientific Advisory Committees. It is extremely disappointing that the Council has not taken any steps to increase the transparency of its operations and, moreover, that the Chairman displayed so little interest in improving the Council's approach in evidence to us. It is incumbent upon the Chairman to ensure that the ACMD follows the spirit of openness prescribed by the Code of Practice.

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