Skip to main content

Independent Review of the Science Advisory Council to DEFRA

Volume 522: debated on Wednesday 26 January 2011

I wish to update the House on developments related to the Science Advisory Council (SAC) to DEFRA.

I am pleased to announce a new model for the SAC following the outcome of the review of all arm’s length bodies, and a separate and independent review of the SAC.

The ALB review sought to ensure better co-ordination between science advisory bodies in DEFRA. As part of this, the Department reviewed the role and functions of its 18 scientific and technical advisory bodies. On 14 October 2010 it was announced that the majority of the advisory bodies will become expert committees. They will continue to provide independent advice, but the change will allow for greater co-ordination as the scientific expert committees will work more closely with the Science Advisory Council and DEFRA’S chief scientific adviser.

DEFRA’S Science Advisory Council is to be retained as an NDPB, and will support the CSA in oversight of all relevant DEFRA scientific committees. It will continue to provide independent advice and challenge to the chief scientific adviser and Ministers on the science underpinning a range of DEFRA policies

The independent review of the SAC, led by Professor Charles Godfray and commissioned by DEFRA’S chief scientist, Professor Bob Watson, contained 12 major recommendations. Professor Watson and I are content to accept these recommendations which include:

that the SAC be reconstituted as a leaner body of around six people plus an external chair;

the need to articulate more clearly the role of the SAC and how it adds value to the Department’s use of science and evidence;

the need to provide challenge and scrutiny to other bodies providing science advice to DEFRA.

A new model for the Science Advisory Council will be established in line with the independent review’s recommendations. With these recommendations in mind, new terms of reference and a revised code of practice for members will be raised. The recruitment of new members will commence in February 2011, with the first SAC meeting scheduled for September 2011.

The SAC will support the CSA by independently assuring and challenging the evidence underpinning DEFRA policies and ensuring that the evidence programme meets DEFRA’S needs.

The DEFRA CSA will have oversight of, and offer support to, all DEFRA scientific expert committees, and the new SAC will support the CSA in this role. This approach will ensure that the Department achieves a greater and more co-ordinated level of evidence assurance.

Separately, DEFRA are taking forward plans to replace many of its advisory NDPBs with expert committees. Further announcements will be made in due course.