Pubdate: Tue, 03 Nov 2009
Source: Scotsman (UK)
Copyright: 2009 The Scotsman Publications Ltd
Author: Jack Doyle


MEMBERS of the government's drug advisory body yesterday questioned
its future in the wake of the sacking of Professor David Nutt, and
demanded showdown talks with Home Secretary Alan Johnson.

Scientists on the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD)
threatened to quit unless Mr Johnson addressed "serious concerns"
about the council's relationship with government.

In a letter, they called for "clarity and assurances" from ministers
about how they viewed the ACMD and how they would treat its advice in

Details of the letter emerged as Mr Johnson escalated his criticism of
Prof Nutt, accusing him of breaching the official code of conduct for

Prof Nutt had failed to give the Home Office advance warning of last
week's paper, in which he said alcohol and tobacco were more dangerous
than Ecstasy and LSD, and questioned the decision to upgrade cannabis,
Mr Johnson said.

It also emerged the Home Office has ordered a review of the ACMD, to
look at whether it is accountable, if it is "discharging its
functions" properly and if it continues to represent value for money.

Mr Johnson, who was called to the Commons to answer an emergency
question from the Conservatives, denied the review - which was
announced two weeks ago - was linked to the row over Prof Nutt's dismissal.

While praising the work of the ACMD as "invaluable" and agreeing to
meet its remaining members in person, Mr Johnson stated again he had
"lost confidence" in Prof Nutt last week.

The job of the council's chairman was to "advise rather than criticise
government policy", he said.

He said: "The role of such advisers is to provide independent advice
to government based on their professional scientific expertise.

"The role of government is to consider that advice carefully, along
with all other relevant factors, and for this House to endorse or
reject those decisions, where appropriate."

Prof Nutt had acted "without prior notification to my department, to
initiate a debate on drugs policy in the national media. and accusing
my predecessor of distorting and devaluing scientific research."

The meeting could take place within the week when council members
convene in London on Monday for a pre-arranged meeting.

In their letter to Mr Johnson, signed by a majority of ACMD members,
they said: "The removal of Professor Nutt has brought to the fore
wider and pre-existing concerns amongst members about the role and
treatment of the council and its work.

"For some members, these matters are of such seriousness as to raise
the question whether they can, in good conscience, continue on the
council," they say in the letter.

"In this situation, members wish for clarity and assurances about how
the ministers view the council's advice and will view the council's
advice in the future."

Following the dismissal of Prof Nutt last week, two other members of
the council quit at the weekend. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr