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Mike Ashley warned he could be found in contempt of Parliament unless he appears before MPs

Newspaper Clip ArtNewcastle United owner Mike Ashley has been warned he will be found in contempt of Parliament if he does not appear before MPs to answer questions about the treatment of workers at his Sports Direct firm.

Mr Ashley was invited to appear before the Business, Innovation and Skills Select Committee at the end of last year after media reports about the way staff were treated at the Shirebrook headquarters of the group.

The businessman offered to meet MPs at Shirebrook, but this has been rejected on the basis that it is normal practice for committee meetings to happen in Parliament.

This is not the first time he has resisted calls to appear before MPs, having sent Sports Direct chairman Keith Hellawell to face a grilling by the Scottish affairs select committee last year.

Now the BIS committee chairman, Hartlepool MP Iain Wright, has written to Mr Ashley in a bid to force his appearance, raising the threat the legal powers could be used if he does not agree.

Mr Ashley has been given 12 days to agree a date to appear in Parliament.

Mr Wright's letter says: "The committee would like to hear about the action that you have taken in response to reports in the media about the treatment of workers at Sports Direct and about the scope, progress and timetable of your own review of working practices that you announced in December. The treatment of low paid workers and enforcement of the national minimum wage are issues that the committee will be keeping under review over the coming months.

"The Committee noted your invitation to attend a meeting at the company's premises at Shirebrook. In line with select committees' commitment to transparency, it is normal practice for the BIS Committee to meet in public at Westminster and we agreed to adhere to this practice on this occasion.

"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.

"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 the House.

"Should you fail in your reply to agree to attend on one of the dates offered to you, or a mutually convenient alternative before 1 June, the committee reserves the right to take the matter further, including seeking the support of the House of Commons in respect of any complaint of contempt."

It is not entirely clear what punishments can be meeted out to anyone found in contempt of Parliament, though a Government paper issued in 2012 said it was theoretically possible for jail terms to be imposed.

The last time a non-member of Parliament was sentenced using the powers was in 1957.

A spokesman for Sports Direct said: "Mike Ashley has previously invited members of the Committee to attend Shirebrook in order to see for themselves the Company's working practices. That invitation remains open. Mike will respond to the Committee's recent letter in due course."

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