MPs demand fresh powers to summon witnesses before parliament
A cross-party group of MPs will next week call for fresh powers that would allow them to force witnesses to give evidence before parliament.
A report from the Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) committee is expected to call for parliament to have the ability to demand attendance, backed up by the threat of sanctions, according to the Observer.
Several senior parliamentarians, including committee chairs Dominic Grieve and Nicky Morgan, are among those calling for beefed up powers to summon witnesses.
It comes amid an ongoing row over Dominic Cummings, a senior figure in the Vote Leave campaign, who has turned down requests to appear before the DCMS committee over spending during the EU referendum.
Vote Leave was fined £61,000 and referred to the police after the Electoral Commission ruled that the campaign group had broken electoral law.
Labour MP Paul Farrelly, who sits on the DCMS committee, told the Observer: “There is no point in us huffing and puffing about this and allowing people like Cummings to thumb their noses at us.
“Parliament was the institution that Cummings wanted power to be restored to.
“The Electoral Commission has now found that Vote Leave broke electoral law. We will certainly call for an urgent examination of how to give the House powers to summon witnesses in the digital age. This should be carried out by the House of Commons Standards committee.”
Health Select Committee chair Sarah Wollaston said: “It is the height of hypocrisy that someone who ran a campaign that emphasised returning powers to parliament now refuses to appear before MPs.
“Now that there is a judgment [from the Electoral Commission] against Vote Leave it is even more important that he appears to explain what was going on.”
Treasury select committee chair Nicky Morgan said: “The select committees are a vital part of democracy. Refusing to appear in front of one isn’t just about snubbing parliament: it’s about deliberately turning your back on our democracy. Someone who asked voters for their trust just two years ago should behave better.”
Mr Grieve, who chairs the Intelligence and Security committee, said: “It is time for parliament to devise a new system that enables people to be summoned, backed by proper sanctions should they refuse to do so.”
And Brexit select committee chair Hilary Benn added: “Vote Leave may have won the referendum but they are now rightly being held to account both for the promises they made and for their behaviour in fighting it.
“The more this scrutiny reveals, the less some of the individuals involved appear to want to be associated with their role and its consequences for the country. Day by day, however, we are learning how wrong they were.”
Vote Leave said the Electoral Commission’s report last week was “wholly inaccurate” and “politically motivated”.
MPs debated Mr Cummings’ refusal to appear before the select committee in the Commons last month.