A CONTROVERSIAL piece of legislation that would have seen publicly-funded organisations prevented from lobbying the UK government and parliament has been revised to exclude academics and researchers.
Jo Johnson, universities and science minister, has confirmed the government does not intend to include academics, National Academies such as universities and research councils in the clause. Many in the research community had feared the legislation would have prevented them from contributing to public debate.
In February, the government announced a new clause to be inserted into grant agreements. The clause would ban organisations from receiving government grants from using the resulting findings to lobby government and parliament.
The legislation is due to be introduced on 1 May and will prevent anyone who receives UK government funding from using the money to “support activity intended to influence parliament, government or political parties, or attempting to influence the awarding or renewal of contracts and grants, or attempting to influence legislative or regulatory action”.
The current draft of the legislation, grants to researchers, charities and other academic organisations given out by other government departments will still be subject to the clause.
Johnson said, “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.”
IChemE supports the decision to exclude researchers and academic organisations from the new legislation, calling the decision “important to ensure research freedom”.
Raffaella Ocone, chair of the IChemE UK Research Committee and chair of chemical engineering at 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.”
While Ocone largely supports Johnson’s decision, she is still concerned that researchers obtaining grants out with the government department for Business Innovations & Skills (BIS) will be restricted from voicing their findings to parliament.
“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,” said Ocone.
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