Clarke hits out at Brown over drugs adviser row

Author: By James Tapsfield and Gavin Cordon, Press Association

Mr Clarke insisted the Prime Minister had been wrong to “prejudge”
the decision on toughening cannabis laws before experts had even studied the
issue.

The intervention came as more members of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of
Drugs (ACMD) appeared on the verge of quitting in protest over the sacking
of their chairman, Professor David Nutt.

Home Secretary Alan Johnson said Prof Nutt’s position had become untenable
because he was effectively campaigning against Government policy by calling
for cannabis to become a class C drug.

But writing in the Times today Prof Nutt warned that the two ACMD members who
had already stood down were only the start, and the body could cease to
exist altogether.

“It seems unlikely that any ‘true’ scientist will be able to work for
this, or future, home secretaries,” he insisted.

Conservative leader David Cameron branded the row “very unseemly”,
and said there had been a “breakdown of confidence” between
ministers and advisers.

But he backed the Government’s policy of maintaining higher penalties for
cannabis.

“What seems to have happened here is the breakdown of confidence and
mutual confidence between adviser and minister and some very unseemly scenes
have followed,” the Tory leader told an event in London.

“But I am very clear in terms of the actual policy that we should not be
changing classifications, we should be keeping them where we are – yes, on
drugs, but also on alcohol.”

Mr Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that ministers had to reassure
scientists that they would be taken seriously.

“I think the mistake was right at the beginning of (Mr Brown’s)
premiership, saying he was going to change the cannabis rules before the
advisory committee had considered its position. I think that was an error.”

Mr Clarke went on: “I think what is most important is the Government
moves to reassure the scientific community in general that the advisory
committees are there to look at the issues in the round and to give their
opinion, and their opinion will be taken seriously.

“I think they are entitled to expect that, if they give their advice,
their conclusions will be very seriously considered. If it is being
prejudged in a different direction, that doesn’t arise and I think that is
where the difficulties have arisen here.”

The Liberal Democrats demanded an emergency Government statement on the row.

Home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne tabled an urgent question in the Commons
asking Mr Johnson to explain Prof Nutt’s dismissal and its implications for
future independent scientific advice to the Government.

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