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The Chair of the Women and Equalities Committee has published letters showing her frustration with Government ministers for failure to submit to due scrutiny.
The Women and Equalities Committee has published a series of letters sent by the Chair of the Committee highlighting concerns with GEO Ministers, including delays and non-attendance at meetings.
The Committee’s Chair, Conservative MP Caroline Nokes, says it has become “increasingly frustrated by a lack of positive engagement from Ministers and has experienced ongoing difficulties when seeking ministerial attendance at evidence sessions”.
Much of the material published relates to recent exchanges over trans issues related to the Gender Recognition Act. Nokes says that, after waiting months for a response from the relevant Government ministers, Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch, the Committee was only able to question witnesses with no responsibility for the policy areas under investigation who could not answer many of them and told them to ask the ministers.
In a letter responding to an invitation to give oral evidence on the GRA to the Committee, Kemi Badenoch said: “The Government has not changed its position and so I would not be able to impart any additional information as part of your inquiry.”
Nokes says the lack of attendance could “further compound the perception of the Government creating a ‘hostile environment’ for LGBT people in the UK”.
The letters published today include one from April which highlights concerns about delays when it comes to correspondence and official responses to other reports, for instance, the Unequal impact? Coronavirus, disability and access to services report and the Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact report. The letter states: “The reasons given for the delays have largely related to the difficulty of coordinating responses across Government departments. We take a dim view of this response given a primary function of the GEO [Government Equalities Office] is to coordinate equalities issues across Government.” Nokes says that it is not good enough to blame Covid, given the Committee does not have the same problems with other departments.
The letter also highlights difficulties when seeking ministerial attendance at its evidence sessions despite ministers being given three months’ notice and several alternative dates. It states: “While scheduling reasons have been given on each occasion, a clear pattern is emerging which is limiting our ability to scrutinise Government effectively and positively contribute to the policy development process.”
In her letter to Kemi Badenoch, the Chair requests written answers to the questions that went unanswered in the Minister’s absence, despite assurances that witnesses had the “full confidence” of the GEO “to represent the government’s position and appropriately respond”.
In letters to the Speaker of the House, Leader of the House and Chair of the Liaison Committee, the Chair highlights a ‘worrying lack of respect for Parliament’ from ministers and how it is limiting the Committee’s ability to scrutinise Government effectively and positively contribute to the policy development process.
Under the Ministerial Code, ministers have a duty to Parliament to account, and be held to account, for the policies, decisions and actions of their department and agencies.
Nokes said: “Once again, I am forced to publicly express my bewilderment at GEO Ministers, who seem to think it’s perfectly acceptable to scupper any attempts by Parliament to fulfil one of its fundamental duties of scrutinising their work.”
Nokes has written to the Speaker and Leader of the House, as well the Chair of the Liaison Committee, raising concerns and seeking their support and advice how best to tackle what she calls a “blatant disregard for the democratic system that we all hold so dear”.