Founder and Head of Sports Direct Mike Ashley has been threatened with ‘contempt of parliament’ after failing to offer a date to be questioned by MPs.
Ashley was called to answer questions following the publication of a report by The Guardian into the treatment of Sports Direct warehouse staff, which found that thousands of workers were effectively earning below minimum wage in unreasonable conditions.
This marks the second time Ashley has resisted a call to answer for his business practices, following an incident last year when he sent his company Chairman, Keith Hellawell, in his place to meet the Scottish Affairs Select Committee.
“A number of alternative dates have been offered to you by the committee clerk, but as yet you have not accepted any of them, nor agreed in principle to attend,” said Iain Wright MP, Chairman of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee (BIS), in a letter to Ashley. “As you will be aware, select committees do not normally need to have recourse to our formal powers to summon witnesses in order to secure attendance; refusal to attend without good reason may be considered a contempt of house.”
The last time the Houses of Parliament used this power was in 1666, and obviously the modern implications for the law can be called into question. However, according to the government’s green paper on parliamentary privilege, “in theory, both houses can summon a person to the bar of the house to reprimand them or order a person’s imprisonment.”
Wright gave Ashley until 21 March to reply.
Ashley did offer MPs a chance to meet privately at Sports Direct’s Shirebrook headquarters, but the offer was declined “in line with select committees’ commitment to transparency”, according to Wright.
“Mike Ashley has previously invited members of the committee to attend Shirebrook in order to see for themselves the company’s working practices,” a Sports Direct spokesperson said. “That invitation remains open. Mike will respond to the committee’s recent letter in due course.”