MPs issue formal order forcing Sports Direct boss Mike Ashley to hearing

After refusing requests, Mike Ashley will have to answer questions on zero hours

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The Independent Online

Mike Ashley, the founder of Sports Direct, has been formally summoned to appear in front of MPs after refusing to answer questions in Westminster from an influential select committee.

The controversial billionaire has been summoned to appear in front of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee on 7 June to explain workplace policies at the UK’s biggest sporting goods retailer. These include the use of zero-hours contracts for most staff and the treatment of workers at its Shirebrook warehouse in Derbyshire, where employees had previously been searched after each shift, causing them to earn less than the minimum wage.

Last week MPs published a letter they sent to Mr Ashley, revealing that the committee’s clerks had attempted to contact the businessman to set a date for him to appear.

At that point, the approach remained an “invitation” for him to give evidence, but because of the lack of clarity from Mr Ashley, they threatened to summon him formally if he did not agree to attend voluntarily and pick a suitable date. On Tuesday they saw through that threat and demanded he attend in a “summons” sent to his offices.

 

The next step could involve contempt of Parliament proceedings if he still refuses.  However, these centuries-old powers have never been tested in modern times.

The Independent understands that the committee first wrote to Mr Ashley towards the end of last year, in an attempt to agree a mutually suitable date for his appearance. Sports Direct insisted that those letters remain private, which the committee initially adhered to. But it could now publish them in the wake of the summons.

The MPs are also understood to have rejected Mr Ashley’s invitation for them to visit his Shirebrook warehouse, preferring him to attend Parliament.

Their decision is said to have been made after Mr Ashley wrote to the committee last week calling its behaviour “disgusting” for trying to create a “media circus” in Westminster, when it threatened him with contempt of Parliament if he did not agree a date

The last time MPs tried to get Mr Ashley to give evidence – over the collapse of Sports Direct subsidiary USC, where workers were given 15 minutes’ notice that they were set to lose their jobs – he claimed to be too busy to attend.

But observers noted that he had been seen at the company’s Shirebrook and London offices, as well as attending a Newcastle United match.

At that point, the committee published all correspondence between the two parties, which Mr Ashley’s lawyers said at the time breached his “human rights”.

Eventually, the company’s chairman Keith Hellawell appeared, and was accused of overseeing a “back-street operation” where executives, including Mr Ashley and chief executive Dave Forsey, kept information from non-executive board members.

Mr Ashley had said he was “disgusted” with the committee’s behaviour and demanded that MPs come to Shirebrook for a tour – something MPs have rejected. 

Several big names have been summoned to give evidence to select committees in parliament in recent years, including Rupert Murdoch; no one has been found in contempt.

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