Business Secretary becomes latest minister to skip committee hearing

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Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng pulled out of an appearance before the Environment Audit Committee at short notice (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng pulled out of an appearance before the Environment Audit Committee at short notice (James Manning/PA) (PA Wire)

A third Cabinet minister has pulled out of an appearance before a House of Commons committee at short notice.

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng had been due to answer questions on Wednesday afternoon from the Environmental Audit Committee on accelerating the transition away from fossil fuels and securing energy supplies.

But Mr Kwarteng wrote to the committee’s chairman, Philip Dunne, on Wednesday morning to say he could no longer attend.

The minister gave no reason for pulling out, but offered to rearrange for a date in September, after MPs return from their summer recess.

A new prime minister is due to be announced on September 5, the first day that the Commons returns, meaning a new business secretary could be in place before the meeting can be rearranged.

In his letter, Mr Kwarteng said: “It is with regret that I am writing to inform you that I am no longer able to attend the committee session scheduled for this afternoon.

“Parliamentary scrutiny of Government is a key principle of our political system, and one I personally hold as critically important to the effective and transparent functioning of our democracy.

“It is for this reason that I have appeared before the Environmental Audit Committee twice since joining Beis (the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), alongside 16 appearances in total at committees in the same period.”

Announcing Mr Kwarteng’s decision, the Environmental Audit Committee tweeted: “He gives no explanation nor apology. This is not the way for senior Ministers to treat scrutiny.”

The Government has already been accused of attempting to avoid scrutiny since Boris Johnson resigned as Conservative leader after two other Cabinet ministers pulled out of select committee appearances.

Home Secretary Priti Patel pulled out of an appearance before the Home Affairs Committee on July 13, claiming “recent changes in Government” meant she could no longer attend.

The next day, Justice Secretary Dominic Raab cancelled his session with the Joint Committee on Human Rights which was scheduled to question him on plans to replace the Human Rights Act with a Bill of Rights.

Mr Kwarteng’s decision also comes a day after former cabinet minister Michael Gove said some parts of the Government are “simply at the moment not functioning”.

Families are desperate for solutions over soaring bills, but Conservative ministers can't even be bothered to turn up. As Michael Gove said himself yesterday, under the Conservatives the core parts of Government simply aren't functioning any more

Liberal Democrat MP Wera Hobhouse

The former communities secretary told an event hosted by the Policy Exchange think tank: “I believe that there are certain essential functions that the state needs to do better, and which we fail to deliver at the moment.”

The decision by ministers to cancel select committee hearings has led to accusations that the administration has become a “zombie government” waiting for a new leader to be announced.

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “This zombie Government is swerving scrutiny and hiding from the public.

“No wonder Michael Gove admitted that the core functions of government simply aren’t working, while the contest to be Tory leader is so scarily embarrassing that the candidates have pulled out of TV debates.

“The Tories have no leadership and no answers. They know they’re unfit to govern. It’s time for a fresh start.”

Liberal Democrat energy and climate change spokeswoman Wera Hobhouse accused Mr Kwarteng of “ducking scrutiny over the energy crisis so he can watch the Conservative leadership result instead”.

The Bath MP said: “Families are desperate for solutions over soaring bills, but Conservative ministers can’t even be bothered to turn up. As Michael Gove said himself yesterday, under the Conservatives the core parts of Government simply aren’t functioning any more.”

But Downing Street has rejected these claims, saying previously that “the Prime Minister remains PM and the work of Government will continue until a new leader is in place”.

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