Refusing to attend select committees could become a crime

MPs have agreed to consider making it a criminal offence if people refuse to give evidence to select committees.

Chris Bryant, the shadow leader of the House of Commons, has led the calls for tougher measures to ensure those called on by the government appear before select committees, criticising the unclear rules currently in place.

The move is specifically aimed at powerful people who refuse to give evidence, such as Sports Direct founder Mike Ashley.

Speaking in the House of Commons, Bryant said: “Irene Rosenfeld, chief executive of Kraft Foods, point-blank refused to appear to discuss the takeover of Cadbury and got away with it… Some people think our powers are unclear and witnesses are beginning to call our bluff, so we have to do something.

“In 2013, the joint committee on parliamentary privilege recommended changes to standing orders to make it absolutely clear that parliament can arrest, punish and fine offenders and said that ‘if the problems we have identified… are not resolved… today’s parliament should stand ready to legislate’.”

He added: “Surely it is time for us to make it a criminal offence to fail to appear or refuse to appear, without reasonable excuse, before a committee of this house.”

Chris Grayling, the leader of the Commons, responded by saying that he was open to the idea, as it was ‘essential’ that powerful people appear before select committees.