The mystery of the disappearing government witnesses

The government was accused of trying to escape scrutiny today after it withdrew its witnesses from a parliamentary inquiry at the eleventh hour.

On Monday, the joint committee on human rights (JCHR) learned the Home Office was withdrawing its witnesses from its inquiry unaccompanied migrant children.

Shortly afterwards the Department for Education and then the Ministry of Justice followed suit and withdrew their witnesses.

Committee chair Hywel Francis said the development was "unprecedented"

He said: "The Home Office has acted in an extraordinary way.  Its withdrawal of witnesses is deeply unsatisfactory.

"It appears the department is not interested in assisting the committee at this important early stage in its inquiry.

"We are also disappointed by the unilateral withdrawal of witnesses by the Department for Education and the Ministry of Justice.

Francis said he had already written to the home secretary to demand answers and would now be doing the same to the education and justice secretaries.

When pressed to explain what had happened, the Home Office insisted immigration minister Mark Harper would attend the session in the name of all three departments.

"As this is an issue we take very seriously, the immigration minister felt he was best placed to give evidence to the committee," a government spokesperson said.

"Unfortunately he was unable to attend this afternoon’s session but we are working with the committee to set up an alternative date as soon as possible.”