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Nutt Sacked Episode II - Attack Of The MPs

By John Clarke

It turns out that not all MPs are useless! If you remem­ber, I wrote to my MP about this whole Dave Nutt busi­ness, and she got back to me in this post. She’s since been in touch again, for­ward­ing me a copy of the letter she’s sent to Alan Johnson:

Further to our recent email cor­res­pond­ence about the sacking of Prof. David Nutt, below is a copy of the letter I have sent to Alan Johnson today.  I will send you a copy of the reply I receive.

Next week I am co-spon­sor­ing a cross-party event with Evan Harris (Lib Dem) and Peter Bot­tom­ley (Con) at which Prof. Nutt will be speak­ing to MPs.

Regards, Lynne Jones

And here is that letter:

Dear Alan

Pro­fessor David Nutt

As I was unable to be in the House to hear your State­ment on Monday regard­ing the removal of Pro­fessor Nutt as Chair of the Advis­ory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), I wanted to write to you to express my con­cerns.

I have seen a copy of your letter sacking Pro­fessor Nutt on the BBC website and I have read the Hansard of Monday’s debate.

During the debate on your State­ment you infer that Prof. Nutt was removed for not being clear when speak­ing per­son­ally at a lecture to Kings College (London) that he was not speak­ing for the ACMD and for pub­lish­ing doc­u­ments relat­ing to the Gov­ern­ment frame­work without giving the Home Office first sight of them. You also say it was unac­cept­able for him to cri­ti­cise Gov­ern­ment Min­is­ters and Gov­ern­ment policy.

On the issue of speak­ing per­son­ally or on behalf of the ACMD, I note from a report in the 3 Novem­ber edition of the Fin­an­cial Times that Richard Garside, dir­ector of the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies at King’s College, who invited Prof. Nutt to give his lecture, stressed that:

“at no point did he make ref­er­ence to his role as chair of the ACMD, nor did he give the impres­sion that he was speak­ing on behalf of the ACMD

Given this, on what basis are you arguing that it wasn’t ‘clear’ that he was speak­ing per­son­ally?  Surely it would be a matter for the members of the ACMD to com­plain if they felt this was the case (when in fact members of that Com­mit­tee have resigned in protest at your action against Prof. Nutt).

On the ques­tion of pub­lish­ing doc­u­ments, unless you want to stop advisers express­ing their views pub­licly, what are the reasons for the Gov­ern­ment insist­ing on first sight of mater­ial pub­lished on the subject areas advisers give advice on?  Can you clarify what the doc­u­ments were that Prof. Nutt pub­lished without first showing them to the Home Office and what action your Depart­ment would have taken had you had first sight of the doc­u­ments?  Spe­cific­ally would the Home Office have taken any action to change the content of the doc­u­ments in ques­tion?

In the House on 2 Novem­ber you said that whilst Prof. Nutt had the right to ‘express his views’ he did not have the right to cri­ti­cise the Gov­ern­ment and its drugs policy frame­work.  Isn’t this putting restric­tions on his right to express himself inde­pend­ently in his role as an aca­demic with expert­ise in this area?  It seems to me that this is dif­fer­ent from cam­paign­ing against Gov­ern­ment policy as you have accused him of doing.  If the Gov­ern­ment wants inde­pend­ent evid­ence-based sci­entific advice doesn’t it have to face the con­sequences if it ignores the advice given?  Why didn’t you just defend your policy if you have con­fid­ence in it?

I should also be grate­ful for your response to the wide­spread cri­ti­cism that your decision has received from the sci­entific com­munity and the concern that you have jeop­ard­ised the rela­tion­ship between inde­pend­ent sci­entific advisers and Gov­ern­ment.  In par­tic­u­lar, I noted the letter in the 2 Novem­ber edition of the Times from Ian Stol­er­man, Emer­itus Pro­fessor of Beha­vi­oural Phar­ma­co­logy from the Insti­tute of Psy­chi­atry, King’s College London:

“All sci­ent­ists who work without pay to advise the Gov­ern­ment must surely be con­sid­er­ing their pos­i­tions.”

And no doubt you will have heard Pro­fessor Colin Blakemore, former head of the Medical Research Council, on the Today pro­gramme and his comment that:

“This is not just an issue about drugs: the Gov­ern­ment depends very widely on advice from experts who give their time freely.”

Critics of your decision are backed up by the recent Gov­ern­ment response to the Innov­a­tion, Science and Skills Committee’s Eighth Report of Session 2008-09, pub­lished only a matter of days before the sacking of Prof Nutt, which states:

“The Gov­ern­ment agrees that the inde­pend­ence of science advisers is crit­ical. It was pre­cisely for this reason that the GCSA wrote to then-Home Sec­ret­ary Jacqui Smith to express concern over her cri­ti­cism, in Par­lia­ment, of Pro­fessor Nutt (Chair­man of ACMD) with regard to an article he pub­lished in a peer-reviewed journal“

I note that despite this offi­cial Gov­ern­ment declar­a­tion of concern over cri­ti­cism by your pre­de­cessor of the ACMD Chair, on Monday, you referred to Jacqui’s cri­ti­cism of Prof. Nutt as if this somehow jus­ti­fied your own action against him.  Do you accept that your dis­missal of Prof. Nutt con­tra­dicts the Government’s pos­i­tion as out­lined in this recent Response to the ISS Com­mit­tee Report?

Turning to the issue of the clas­si­fic­a­tion of can­nabis itself, in 2007, before the announce­ment in 2008 that can­nabis was to be reclas­si­fied back to class B, I tabled an Early Day Motion about the dangers of can­nabis use that I would like to bring to your atten­tion (text printed on the back of this letter).  From this you will see that, whilst I accept that there are hazards asso­ci­ated with can­nabis use, as does Prof. Nutt, this would not of itself justify the reclas­si­fic­a­tion to class B, as clas­si­fic­a­tion is about rel­at­ive hazard – the very point of Prof. Nutt’s com­ments.

Fur­ther­more, in the EDM, I also pointed out that the down­grad­ing of can­nabis to class C from class B in 2004 was actu­ally asso­ci­ated with reduced can­nabis use by young people, as evid­enced by the fol­low­ing table pro­duced by your own Depart­ment with inform­a­tion from British Crime Survey respond­ents:

Cannabis use statistics

As you of course know, can­nabis was reclas­si­fied from B to C with effect from January 2004 and reclas­si­fied back to B in Decem­ber 2008 with effect from January 2009.  As you will note from the above stat­ist­ics for this period, the pro­por­tion of 16 – 24 year-old respond­ents declar­ing can­nabis use in the pre­vi­ous year fell from 25.3% in 200304 to 18% in 200708.  I was there­fore very dis­ap­poin­ted by your response to the ques­tion put to you during the debate on your 2 Novem­ber State­ment by George Howarth:

Mr. George Howarth (Know­s­ley, North and Sefton, East) (Lab): If my right hon. Friend had taken Pro­fessor Nutt’s advice and lowered the cat­egor­isa­tion of can­nabis, and if as a result more young people had started to use it, would not that have been irre­spons­ible?

Alan Johnson: Yes, I think it would have been. That is why my pre­de­cessor decided not to take that advice and why that decision has been endorsed by this Par­lia­ment.

I would be inter­ested to know why you did not base your answer on the stat­ist­ical evid­ence on can­nabis usage rates amongst young people during the period when cat­egor­isa­tion was lowered.  Were you unaware of the above data or were you aware but mis­lead­ing the House in your reply by your sug­ges­tion that it was because more young people started using can­nabis when it was clas­si­fied down­wards to class C that Jacqui reclas­si­fied the drug upwards?

Either way, your failure to refer to your own pub­lished data on this par­tic­u­lar ques­tion serves to rein­force the point that Gov­ern­ment is ignor­ing evid­ence on issues relat­ing to drug clas­si­fic­a­tion.


Bril­liant! When I first got in touch, I had no idea she’d even respond, let alone write a letter to Alan Johnson! She’ll copy me in on his reply too, should he ever write back. Somehow I don’t think he will…

If you haven’t written to your MP yet, please do so. Details on how to get in touch with them can be found here..

3 Responses to Nutt Sacked Episode II - Attack Of The MPs

  1. Adam Richards says:

    He’ll write back, or at least a civil servant in the Home Office will, they can’t just ignore cor­res­pond­ence from MPs

  2. Synchronium says:

    Oh, that’s reas­sur­ing! Thanks.

  3. AC says:

    Where did you get your MP from? Are there any more? Can I have one? Please?

    Every now and again, one gets a glimpse of some­thing worth­while at West­min­ster. If only there were more like Lynne Jones and fewer buf­foons like McShane.

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