Rob Wilson, the Minister for Civil Society, has been accused of having a "detrimental impact" on the inquiry by the House of Lords Select Committee on Charities after cancelling at short notice an appearance before the committee earlier this week.
The committee had originally scheduled a hearing with representatives of the Office for Civil Society on 5 July before the publication of the committee’s call for evidence, which was published yesterday.
A letter from the committee’s chair, Baroness Pitkeathley, to the leader of the House of Lords says the session was rescheduled for 19 July at short notice to allow the minister to attend the hearing in person.
But after the government reshuffle at the weekend, which saw the office for Civil Society moved to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Wilson cancelled his attendance to oversee the transfer of his department from the Cabinet Office, the letter says.
It says the committee was also told that no officials could attend the hearing in Wilson’s absence.
The letter says that not hearing from the government before the committee issued its call for evidence was extremely disappointing and had had a negative effect on the inquiry.
"The relationship between the government and the sector is an important line of inquiry for the committee and we were seeking early evidence from government representatives in order to understand better the work they are doing," the letter says.
"The absence of this evidence can only have a detrimental impact on our ability to investigate these issues."
The letter says that because of the short notice in cancelling both sessions with government representatives, the committee has been unable to hear from other witnesses, "putting additional pressures on our inquiry’s timetable and work programme".
The letter continues: "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 short evidence session.
"Mindful of the accountability principle of public life, we would be grateful if the minister could be reminded that he should continue to treat accountability to parliament as his first priority even at a time of transition, and that he should avoid creating the impression of obstructing reasonable scrutiny, as regrettably appears to have been the case in this instance."
A Cabinet Office spokeswoman said: "In light of the machinery of government changes that still have not been publicly confirmed, the minister thought it was necessary to postpone the session but remains committed to giving evidence and working with the committee."