Government ministers are not avoiding scrutiny, a Downing Street spokesman has said, after both Dominic Raab and Priti Patel pulled out of parliamentary committee appearances.
Dominic Raab, on Thursday, cancelled an appearance at the Joint Committee on Human Rights, a move branded “extremely disappointing” by MPs and peers.
The Justice Secretary had been due to attend the committee next Wednesday, and it had been expected that politicians would grill him on the proposed British Bill of Rights.
The controversial plan would see the successor to the Human Rights Act assert that British courts do not always need to follow case law from Strasbourg and that the Supreme Court in London is the ultimate decision-maker on human rights issues.
Members of the committee have written to Mr Raab to express their concerns about his decision to cancel his appearance.
Whilst we understand that there are pressures that come with holding the dual roles of Lord Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister, accountability to Parliament should take priorityJoanna Cherry, SNP MP
It comes after Home Secretary Priti Patel pulled out of an appearance at the Commons Home Affairs Committee earlier this week.
Ms Patel cited “recent changes in Government” and to her ministerial team as well as “wider unprecedented changes” as the reasons why she was no longer able to attend the session.
On Thursday, the Home Affairs Committee published a letter from Ms Patel to MPs in which she declined to meet the committee before the summer recess.
In the letter, she said: “Thank you for your response to my request to postpone our regular evidence session to September and for setting out the committee’s expectations of an appearance next week. My suggestion of September remains.”
The Joint Committee on Human Rights, which is made up of MPs and peers, said it was “crucial” that they were able to scrutinise the Bill of Rights Bill and urged Mr Raab to reconsider.
“We were extremely disappointed to hear yesterday that you will not be giving evidence to our committee next week, as previously arranged,” SNP MP Joanna Cherry, the acting chair of the committee, wrote to Mr Raab.
“Whilst we understand that there are pressures that come with holding the dual roles of Lord Chancellor and Deputy Prime Minister, accountability to Parliament should take priority. This date has been in our diaries and yours for some time.
“It is not clear why, at such short notice, other matters should take priority.
“We therefore ask you to reconsider your decision not to attend on 20 July. We expect that if you do not attend then, you will commit to appearing before us during the week of 12 September instead.”
A Downing Street spokesman rejected the suggestion that ministers were avoiding parliamentary scrutiny, insisting that the work of the Government is continuing.
“The Prime Minister said last week and we said last week that the Prime Minister remains PM and the work of Government will continue until a new leader is in place.
“I would point you to the the Home Secretary’s letter, which she sent to the committee herself, (in) which she outlined the reasons for looking at postponing that session until September.
“The government continues to work on the priorities that the Prime Minister has.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “The Deputy Prime Minister has postponed his evidence session until after the summer recess.
“The introduction of the Bill of Rights followed an extensive consultation, and it will be debated and scrutinised in Parliament in the usual way.”