Council chief hits back in row over MP’s order to appear before select committee

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WAKEFIELD Council leader Peter Box has told a Labour colleague to check his facts in a clash over his appearance before a committee of MPs.

Coun Box was asked to give evidence to the Home Affairs Select Committee in his role as chairman of the police and crime panel in West Yorkshire, the body which holds the police and crime commissioner for the area to account.

He agreed but told Commons officials he would be standing down as chairman before his appearance.

That triggered a statement from select committee chairman Keith Vaz which appeared to suggest Coun Box was trying to avoid being questioned by MPs.

But Coun Box yesterday confirmed he was happy to attend the hearing and had only told the committee of his decision to stand down “out of courtesy”.

Coun Box and West Yorkshire police and crime commissioner Mark Burns-Williamson have been asked to give evidence to the committee on Tuesday as part of its inquiry into leadership and standards in the police.

Mr Vaz’s statement said: “I am extremely surprised by Councillor Box’s resignation, especially after he had so readily agreed to come before the committee.

“Although he has offered to send his deputy in his place, the committee will want to hear from him and I have told him he must attend on Tuesday.”

Coun Box yesterday criticised Mr Vaz’s comments and rejected any suggestion of a link between his decision to stand down and his scheduled appearance before MPs.

“It would have been helpful and courteous if Mr Vaz had checked his facts with me before issuing a statement to the media about me,” he said.

“It’s no surprise at all that I have stood down from the police and crime panel, as it was always my intention to do so.

“I wanted to represent Wakefield on the panel during the transition period that saw the election of the police and crime commissioner and the introduction of his crime plan, and then hand this role over to one of my colleagues, as I have done so this week.

“Out of courtesy I simply informed Mr Vaz that as I was no longer a member of the panel he may wish to invite the deputy chair to attend in my place, but at no point did I say that I would not be attending. I always was attending, and remain happy to do so.”

Coun Box took on the role of police and crime panel chairman last year when it was created as part of the new system for overseeing the work of police forces which also saw the first election of police and crime commissioners.