Sat 17 April 2021

The Cabinet Office Minister has been pilloried for failing to appear before a parliamentary committee that has been investigating the Government’s lockdown decisions

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office Minister, has been accused of having a “contemptuous” attitude towards MPs for refusing to answer questions about the Government’s response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Gove has been asked to appear before the Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, chaired by Conservative MP William Wragg, which has been examining the transparency of data obtained by the Cabinet Office in relation to the pandemic and, in particular, the information that has been used to inform the Government’s lockdown decisions.

Gove has so far refused to appear before the committee – and its response has been scathing. “The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster’s refusal to attend this committee and account for decisions made by the taskforce he chairs is contemptuous of Parliament,” it has said.

“This is not the first time that the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster has tried to avoid his accountability to this committee. He has sought to ration his appearances by refusing invitations and setting short time-limits when he does appear.”

The MPs are particularly critical of the Government’s unclear decision-making process when it lifted the first national lockdown last summer.

“The decision to lift the first lockdown… must have also taken into consideration a range of factors, including health, economic and educational outcomes,” they said in a report. “It is, therefore, our judgement that such decisions can only be made by the centre of Government, in the Cabinet Office or Number 10.

“When the committee has asked about these decisions – both in writing and in person – the Cabinet Office has passed the buck to the Department of Health and Social Care. This is both confusing and unacceptable.”

In their report, the MPs also questioned why no data has been published to explain the rationale for closing pubs and entertainment venues – a sore point for rebel Conservative MPs who plan to challenge the Government’s extension of its lockdown powers later this week.

“The hospitality and entertainment sectors have not seen sufficient data to underpin decisions relating to their industry,” it states. “The evidence the committee received was inconclusive over whether restrictions on hospitality and entertainment sectors were sensible.

“The Government should publish the data that underpins the restrictions that will remain in place on businesses at each step of the roadmap as a matter of urgency. Hyperlinks to this data must be included on pages explaining the restrictions for maximum transparency.”

Parliament has considered introducing new powers to compel individuals to give evidence before committees – including fines – though no punishments have been settled upon.

Gove joins a list of high-profile figures who have stood up parliamentary committees – notably featuring former Vote Leave campaign chief and the Prime Minister’s former chief advisor Dominic Cummings, who refused to appear before MPs investigating disinformation and fake news. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg also opted out of answering questions about his firm’s role in the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

There does seem to be a theme developing – whereby prominent individuals are unwilling to discuss their dodgy data with the people’s representatives.

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