Alan Johnson accused of misleading Parliament over David Nutt sacking
Alan Johnson has been accused of misleading Parliament over the sacking of David Nutt as his chief drug adviser after it emerged that the Home Office was informed in advance of the controversial lecture that prompted his dismissal .
The Home Secretary, who will meet the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) told the House of Commons last week that Professor Nutt had failed to notify his department before starting a public debate on drugs policy.
Professor Nutt, however, confirmed to The Times last night that the Home Office had known in advance of the lecture that Mr Johnson cited as the reason for his dismissal.
He consulted Paul Wiles, the department’s chief scientist, and the ACMD secretariat while preparing it, and it was even publicised on the Home Office website.
Evan Harris, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, has written to Mr Johnson and the Speaker asking him to apologise for misleading the House, and to correct factual errors in his Commons statement.
Mr Johnson has replied, defending his position. He said: “Professor Nutt made the ACMD Secretariat and Professor Wiles aware of the presentation he made on 14 July and saw the slides that were to be used for the presentation. However, neither the secretariat nor Professor Wiles were made aware of the subsequent publication on 29 October, authored by Professor Nutt.”
Professor Nutt said last night: “My slides were all approved by the Home Office in advance, and the lecture passed off without incident. The only thing they seem to think I’ve done wrong was not to tell the Home Office that the text of a lecture that had already been approved would be published.”
Dr Harris said: “The Home Secretary has totally failed to deal with the gaping flaws in his case against Professor Nutt. It has been shown that his department was not only aware of Professor Nutt’s lecture and paper in advance, and had input into it, but also advertised the lecture.”
Professor Nutt also notified Paul Wiles, the department’s chief scientist, in advance of a paper in the Journal of Psychopharmacology comparing the dangers of ecstasy to those of horse riding, which was also cited by Mr Johnson as a factor in his dismissal. This was published in January, and not in February as claimed in Mr Johnson’s Commons statement.
Mr Johnson also claimed that Professor Nutt was opposed at King’s College by Professor Robin Murray, of the Institute of Psychiatry, but Professor Murray did not attend the lecture.
In his reply to Dr Harris, Mr Johnson said he was referring to a newspaper article by Professor Murray published at the end of October, which took issue with Professor Nutt’s views.
The sacking of Professor Nutt has already prompted two members of the ACMD to resign, and further departures are possible following the meeting, if Mr Johnson fails to placate members.
ACMD members will urge the Home Secretary to endorse a statement of principles about the independence and academic freedom of advisory panels, which has now been signed by 50 leading scientists. New signatories released yesterday include Sir Paul Nurse, a Nobel prize winner, and Sir Michael Rawlins, Professor Nutt’s predecessor as chairman of the ACMD.
The document has also been supported by Lord Drayson, the Science and Innovation Minister, who was furious that Mr Johnson did not consult him before sacking Professor Nutt.
The Home Secretary, however, told The Independent yesterday that he doubted the need for changes to the way the Government handles science advice.
“I would not want to see any change in the excellent relationship with 70 different committees through which we work with the scientific community driven by the perception we need a complete overhaul because of what happened with one individual on one advisory body,” he said.
November 10, 2009