Wales politics

Edwina Hart refuses to meet MPs' investment committee

The Welsh Government minister in charge of the economy has refused to appear in front of an MPs' committee examining how to increase inward investment.

The Welsh Affairs Select Committee invited Business Minister Edwina Hart to give her initial views on the issue and offered to meet her in Cardiff.

Mrs Hart sent a two-sentence reply saying: "I will not be attending."

She said the economy was her responsibility and she was "capable of doing my job on that".

Committee sources told BBC Wales they were "amazed" and "perplexed" by Mrs Hart's refusal and the way it was communicated.

The committee offered to hold its meeting at the Welsh assembly in Cardiff Bay on 15 September.

Under parliamentary rules it can issue a formal summons which would compel the minister to attend, but this is seen as unlikely.

The select committee is holding an inquiry into inward investment in Wales and has heard from witnesses, including former Welsh Development Agency chairman Sir Roger Jones.

He said more than £100m a year has been spent attracting inward investment that has produced "next to nothing" and that the civil service was incapable of attracting businesses.

In 2008, when Mrs Hart was health minister, she declined to give evidence to a committee inquiry on cross-border health services.

She was quizzed by opposition AMs in the Senedd during her first question time as business minister on Wednesday.

She said she looked at all invitations carefully and was "happily" supplying written evidence to the committee on broadband "because that is a matter I think that we jointly need to deal with across the UK".

"The economy is my responsibility here in Wales and I think I am capable of doing my job on that," she said.

'Respect'

The Conservatives' shadow business minister, Andrew RT Davies, asked Mrs Hart to explain her decision.

"The respect agenda is a two-way street between Westminster and the Welsh Labour Government," he said.

"Where's the respect in this curt response? It's typical of the way the way this minister is currently doing business."

Liberal Democrat AM Peter Black asked Mrs Hart if she would reconsider and if she was "letting Wales down".

He said: "Inward investment - or the Welsh Government's lack of - is an issue that needs to be investigated and having the business minister present is key to uncovering what went wrong and how we can learn and attract more business to Wales. "

Plaid Cymru economy spokesman Alun Ffred Jones said: "I think it is important that if the minister has decided to decline the invitation to appear before the committee she explains why she made that decision.

"There could be perfectly valid reasons behind her refusal but they should be made clear."

But the assembly's former presiding officer accused MPs of interfering "yet again" in devolved matters.

Lord Elis-Thomas told the BBC's AMPM programme: "They are looking for something to do and so she is putting up a stand.

"I wouldn't like top be the present Sargeant at Arms of the House of Commons going to fetch Edwina to give evidence to a committee."

Committee chairman David Davies said: "Clearly we are all committed to Wales as Members of Parliament and we make no apology for looking into issues that affect Wales at a national and devolved level.

"We really wanted Edwina to have an opportunity to reply to criticisms made."

A Welsh Government spokesperson said that business, enterprise and inward investment were devolved matters.

"The minister is currently engaging with a wide range of people and sectors across the country to explore ways of stimulating the Welsh economy and making Wales an attractive place to do business.

"The Welsh Affairs Committee is currently looking into broadband provision. As some aspects of delivering improvements are devolved, the minister will be providing written evidence to the committee about Wales' needs."

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