The chair of the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities has written to the Leader of the House criticising Rob Wilson, minister for civil society, for giving "the impression of obstructing reasonable scrutiny".
Wilson, who was the minister for civil society at the Cabinet Office and is expected to hold a similar title at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, had been due to give evidence to the committee, which is concerned about the sustainability of the voluntary sector, but pulled out on Monday evening.
Baroness Pitkeathley, chair of the committee, wrote to Baroness Evans, Leader of the House and Lord Privy Seal and also copied in Wilson's new boss Culture Secretary Karen Bradley.
She said: "While we recognise that the minister and his portfolio are currently in the process of moving between departments and that this creates immediate challenges, we would observe that his portfolio remains unchanged and so, therefore, should his capacity to speak to our committee about it."
She added that the transition should not prevent Wilson from being able to discuss the "past record and the challenges he has faced in supporting the civil society agenda to date".
"We have seen no evidence that the changes to the machinery of government at the Office for Civil Society and Innovation are of such magnitude that they warranted the enforced absence of the minister from our evidence session," she said.
"We would be grateful if the minister could be reminded that he should continue to treat accountability to Parliament as his first priority.
"He should avoid creating the impression of obstructing reasonable scrutiny, as regrettably appears to have been the case in this instance."
Yesterday afternoon peers condemned his refusal to appear.
Baroness Jenkin, a member of the committee, tweeted that the peers only found out Wilson would not be able to attend late on Monday evening.
She said: “Very disappointing for committee to be told at 21.46 last night that @RobWilson_RDG can't attend selcom today.”
Another member of the committee, Baroness Scott of Needham Market, tweeted: “Pretty poor that the Minister has cancelled his session with the Committee at short notice.”
Wilson has not commented publicly, but he did retweet a mention of a visit he made to a National Citizen Service project earlier in the day.
It is still unclear exactly what Wilson’s job title will be at DCMS - an official statement outlining his brief and the transfer of responsibility from the Cabinet Office to DCMS is expected shortly. Both he and the civil society brief have were moved to DCMS in Theresa May's reshuffle, along with the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Patrick McLoughlin.
Yesterday the head of philanthropy at DCMS, Sarah Lingard, tweeted: “Welcome @RobWilson_RDG civil society & soc invest brief to @DCSM. Lots of synergy to #CultureWhitePaper & resilience.”
There has also not been an announcement about who at HM Treasury will be responsible for charity tax policy. Damian Hinds was the exchequer secretary with responsibility, but he has now become the minister for employment at the Department.
The exchequer secretary role has not been replaced and the Treasury is expected to announce the full details of each minister’s portfolio by the end of the week.
Call for evidence
Meanwhile the House of Lords Committee has issued a call for written evidence.
The committee is looking at:
- the main pressures currently faced by charities, and the impact these pressures have
- the skills required to lead and manage a charity
- the role trustees should play in the performance and effectiveness of a charity
- the role of national and local government with the charitable sector
- the role of the Charity Commission
- charities' accountability to their beneficiaries, their donors, and the general public
- the effective delivery of services
- the current challenges to the financial sustainability of charities
- innovation, particularly in the digital arena
Written evidence should be submitted by 5 September and can be done online or by writing to Clerk to the Select Committee on Charities Committee Office, House of Lords, London SW1A 0PW.
The committee’s reporting deadline is 31 March 2017.