21 April 2016

Anti-lobbying clause for academics scrapped by UK Government

House of Parliament

UK Universities and Science Minister, Jo Johnson MP, has confirmed that the government does not intend to subject academics to new 'anti-lobbying' rules. The research community had feared the new rules would prevent them from contributing to public debate.

In February, the UK Government announced a new clause to be inserted into grant agreements. The clause would ban organisations receiving government grants from using the resulting findings to lobby government and Parliament.

The news sparked a national campaign, led by the UK research community. Many organisations and individuals made the case for an exemption of university researchers. A petition was launched soon after the announcement, and currently stands at over 27,000 signatures.

The Government has now stated it intends to exempt university research grants from the new ‘anti-lobbying’ clause, which will be introduced from 1 May.

In a statement in the House of Lords by Lord Bridges of Headley, the Cabinet Office minister, and Jo Johnson, the universities and science minister, the Government said it did not plan to include the clause in Government research grants from the Higher Education Funding Council for England, the Research Councils, and the national academies.

However, as it currently stands, grants to researchers, as well as other organisations such as charities, from other Government Departments will still be subject to the clause.

Professor Raffaella Ocone, Chair of the IChemE UK Research Committee and Chair of Chemical Engineering, Heriot-Watt University said:

"We welcome the Government’s decision to exempt university research from the anti-lobbying clause. At a time when we advocate engineering user-inspired research, the clause would have been contradictory at best. We continue to promote the importance of evidence-based policy and we strongly believe that findings from publicly funded research should be used to inform views and influence policies. The Government decision is important to assure research freedom."

She went on to say:

“Whilst we are glad to hear this very good news, we remain concerned about research funded by other Government departments. Research freedom is imperative, as is ensuring that all good research has the same support and impact opportunities. It would be disgraceful to see distinctions and restrictions on research funded by charities and Government departments other than BIS.”

Universities and Science Minister Jo Johnson MP said:

“Our world-class research base is a source of great pride for this country, which is why the government is continuing to protect the science budget to the end of the decade.

“The new clause in government grants is about ensuring that taxpayers’ money is properly spent on what was intended in the grant agreements. I am very aware of questions that have been raised about what this could mean for our research base and the principle of academic autonomy that is such a critical part of its strength.

“I have been talking to the research community and working hard with colleagues in government to determine what clarification may be necessary to ensure that research is not adversely affected in any way.
“I am happy to confirm that it is not our intention for the Research Councils, the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) or the National Academies to be covered by the clause. We are continuing to talk to the research community and will outline more detail by 1 May, when this clause takes effect.”

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