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Exclusion of scientists from drugs council 'worrying'

Government plans which could potentially see no scientists sitting on its drugs advisory council are "worrying", campaigners said today.

Neuroscience professor Colin Blakemore said scrapping the statutory requirement for scientists to sit on the Advisory Council for the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) was wrong and urged ministers to listen to scientific advice even when it was inconvenient.

But the Home Office said the move was intended to give the Government greater flexibility in the expertise it was able to draw on.

Prof Blakemore told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "You can see why evidence and advice might be inconvenient to a minister who is confident in his or her own judgment.

"But, as (US President) Barack Obama said just before his inauguration, 'We should listen to the scientists even when what they say is inconvenient'.

"I think another look at the range of expertise that was required statutorily on the advisory council was overdue. But the deliberate exclusion of any reference to any scientist on the committee is obviously worrying."

The proposals, which were contained in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, remove the requirement for the ACMD members to include a doctor, a dentist, a vet, a pharmacist, a drugs industry expert and a scientist from another branch of chemistry.

Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said: "Scientific advice is absolutely critical to the Government's approach to drugs and any suggestion that we are moving away from it is absolutely not true.

"Removing the requirement on the Home Secretary to appoint to the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs at least one person with experience in six specific areas will allow us greater flexibility in the expertise we are able to draw on.

"We want the ACMD to be adapted to best address the challenges posed by the accelerating pace of challenges in the drugs landscape."

Last year, ACMD chairman Prof David Nutt was forced to resign by then-Home Secretary Alan Johnson after saying ecstasy was less harmful than alcohol.