Nutt controversy refuses to die

By Ian Dunt

Alan Johnson faced continued pressure over his decision to sack Professor David Nutt today, after parliamentary opponents made a further attack on his approach to scientific advisors.

Dr Evan Harris, who is spearheading opposition to Mr Johnson’s move in parliament, told this morning: “The home secretary does not appear to accept what even the science minister, Lord Drayson, has acknowledged.

“Ministers need to abide by a code of practice when it comes to dealing with unpaid independent scientific advisers.”

“Given that the biggest problems relating to the treatment of independent science advice are in his own department he needs to do something constructive about it rather than continuing to bluster.”

The attacks follow a heated exchange between Dr Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, and Mr Johnson over the weekend.

Dr Harris took issue with several statements made by Mr Johnson during his reply to an urgent parliamentary question on November 2nd, including that the Home Office was unaware that Prof Nutt, head of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was publishing a paper and giving a presentation on the harm of various drugs.

Prof Nutt argued ecstasy was less dangerous than alcohol or horseriding and criticised the decision of the government to reclassify cannabis as Class B.

“The points you made are of such seriousness to the professional and public standing of Professor David Nutt that you should now correct yourself in the chamber and apologise for misleading the House,” Dr Harris wrote to the home secretary.

He accused Mr Johnson of effectively confusing the roles of full-time advisor within the civil service and that of “unpaid, part-time” advisors.

Mr Johnson replied: “In your letter you accuse me of confusing roles.

“I am in no way confused about the role Professor Nutt held. He was chair of my advisory committee and chose to campaign against decisions my predecessor had taken, not just through a lecture and a paper but through a series of media appearances, an article and a press release.”

Mr Johnson was due to meet the ACMD today, after which the group would decide whether it would continue to work for the government.

Prof Nutt’s sacking was followed by two resignations from the ACMD, but other member decided to meet with Mr Johnson before making a decision as to their future.

The full council meeting, which is being conducted in private, is taking place throughout the day.