Alan Johnson remains unrepentant over the controversial sacking of his chief adviser on drugs and is surprised about the outcry from scientists over the decision.
When he meets the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs tomorrow, the Home Secretary will try to persuade it that it has a vital role to play and appeal to other members not to join the two who have already resigned in protest at the dismissal of its chairman, Professor David Nutt. Mr Johnson accused him of campaigning against the Government's decision to upgrade cannabis to a Class B drug.
Mr Johnson said the scientific community should realise that the sacking was an isolated case about "one chairman of one advisory group". He was surprised that scientists "could take that and correlate it into feeling we have let down the scientific community".
There is tension between the Home Secretary and the Science minister Lord Drayson, who is furious about Professor Nutt's dismissal and has welcomed a draft code proposed by 28 senior scientists saying ministers should be denied the power to sack advisers who publicly disagree with government policy.
Mr Johnson is cautious about rushing into a new agreement because of the row. "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.
Mr Johnson added: "I don't regret the decision at all. I believe what we have seen in the debate since the decision is a question mark over whether scientists should be engaged in political decisions.
"If you take decisions on categorisation of drugs, there are social, ethical all kinds of other dimensions to it, as well as the scientific dimension.
"There is a very healthy debate to be had here. If the scientific community believes that what happened to Professor Nutt was in any way indicative of the Government not respecting scientific advice, we will seek to reassure them that is not the case. No government has done more for the scientific community than this Government."
The Home Secretary stressed that ministers had accepted the vast majority of the advisory council's recommendations. "We have the highest respect for it. I respect Professor Nutt and his views. I just felt he could not get to the point where most scientists get to – they put in recommendations, the Government makes decisions and then they move on, not returning to a bone and gnawing away at it. If that happens, the relationship is not going to work. That is why my decision is the right decision."Reuse content