Mr Johnson's government roles have included Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (September 2004 – May 2005), Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (May 2005 – May 2006), Secretary of State for Education and Skills (May 2005 – June 2007), Secretary of State for Health (June 2007 – June 2009), and Home Secretary (June 2009 – May 2010 general election).
Evidence-Based Drugs Policy (Nutt sacking)
In October 2009 Alan Johnson sacked the Chair of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD), Professor David Nutt. Nutt had accused the government of "distorting" and "devaluing" research evidence in the debate over illicit drugs, criticising it for making political decisions with regard to drug classifications in rejecting the scientific advice to downgrade MDMA (Ecstasy) from a class A drug, and rejecting the scientific advice not to reclassify cannabis from class C to class B drug. Alan Johnson wrote to the professor, "It is important that the government's messages on drugs are clear and as an advisor you do nothing to undermine public understanding of them. I cannot have public confusion between scientific advice and policy and have therefore lost confidence in your ability to advise me as Chair of the ACMD." In response Professor Nutt stated "If scientists are not allowed to engage in the debate at this interface then you devalue their contribution to policy making and undermine a major source of carefully considered and evidence based advice." Two other scientific advisors to the ACMD, Dr Les King, and Marion Walker, resigned shortly afterwards.
On 2 November 2009, Mr Johnson told Parliament that Professor Nutt’s comments during a lecture had been made “without prior notice to the Home Office and had breached guidelines”. Later, doubt was cast on the integrity of this information, leading to an accusation that Mr Johnson had misled Parliament .
The rules of conduct allow any adviser to represent his field of expertise in a personal capacity, providing they make it clear when they are not speaking in their capacity as committee members. People present have provided assurances that this condition was fulfilled. The guidelines make no stipulation that the Home Office should be given prior notice, except for "media appearances" that members have been asked to undertake on behalf of the ACMD, or which specifically cover the work of the ACMD. The lecture reputedly took place without an invited media presence.
In any case, Dr Evan Harris MP has said that the professor had discussed his paper with the Home Office's chief scientific adviser beforehand and that the lecture had even been advertised on the Home Office's website. Three more members of the advisory committee resigned following a meeting with Mr Johnson on the 10 November 2009.
Correspondence with Prince Charles
Correspondence from 2007/8 can be read at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/432582/DH_Letters_Evans_2.pdf
Topics include the possibility of a trial integrating alternative medicine into the NHS, based on a pilot run in Northern Ireland, and funding research into alternative medicine.
In May 2008 in the abortion amendments to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill (now Act), Alan Johnson voted to keep the current time limit of 24 weeks in line with the scientific and medical consensus.
In February 2015 Alan Johnson voted in favour of allowing mitochondrial donation, which would allow women who carried mitochondrial diseases to give birth to children who would not inherit the disease. An October 2014 briefing report by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), which had been investigating the issue for three years, stated that there was no evidence to show that mitochondrial donation was unsafe. However, some religious groups had said that such procedures should not be allowed. After clearing both Houses mitochondrial donation is now legal, regulated by the HFEA.
Alan Johnson is open about being an atheist and has categorically stated to the press that he does not believe in the existence of a God.
In 2007, the Labour Humanist Group questioned candidates for the Deputy Leadership position on their views regarding faith schools.
Question: What do you say to; (a) parents who can’t send their children to a their nearest school because that school discriminates against them on the basis of their religion or belief; (b) to teachers who are discriminated against and barred from thousands of teaching jobs on the basis of their religion or belief?
Alan Johnson responded:
- "We should ensure that all children have access to a good local school. Achieving that is a rather more complicated issue than perhaps the parameters of this question allow me to explore in its totality. The public sector should set the highest standards in employment practice and that goes for schools as much as any other service."
Question: Will you support giving all schools more freedom to determine their ethos by repealing the requirement that all schools, including community schools, must carry out collective acts of Christian worship?
Alan Johnson responded:
- "I believe that every child should have the right to be withdrawn from religious education and collective worship, and that parents should not have to state their reasons for requesting a withdrawal. I have made sure that schools must act on any such request."
- Tran, Mark (30 October 2009). Government drug adviser David Nutt sacked. The Guardian.
- Travis, Alan (February 2009). Government criticised over refusal to downgrade ecstasy. The Guardian
- Easton, Mark (30 October 2009). Nutt gets the sack. BBC News.
- Mark Easton's UK: Nutt gets the sack. BBC.
- Government drugs adviser Dr Les King resigns. BBC News. 1 November 2009.
- Government drugs adviser Marion Walker resigns. BBC News. 1 November 2009.
- (9 November 2009) Times Online - Alan Johnson accused of misleading Parliament Timesonline.typepad.com.
- (29 March 2009) Times Online - Eureka Zone - WBLG: David Nutt's controversial lecture conformed to government guidelines Timesonline.typepad.com.
- Johnson 'misled MPs over adviser'. BBC News. 8 November 2009.