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Politics

These Are All The Parliamentary Reports You May Have Missed Before The Election

A number of long-running inquiries on important topics are being published in the days before parliament dissolves for the general election, while some risk falling away completely.

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Theresa May's decision to call a snap general election on 8 June left MPs who sit on parliamentary select committees racing against time to publish the results of their inquiries before parliament is dissolved.

As many as 30 long-running inquiries into issues such as hate crime and social media, the gig economy, and the effect of Brexit upon climate change have published their findings so far, months ahead of schedule. Some committees hope that they will be able to resume after the election.

With the general election campaign underway and multiple committees publishing their findings in the same few days, it means that the issues they raise will get much less attention than if the election had not been called.

A parliamentary source told BuzzFeed News: "Next week there will be five reports a day, which no one has space for, and then nothing for four months. May you live in interesting times."

Other committees are opting to not publish their reports, but as select committees effectively disband at the end of each parliament, and elections for new chairs will then take place, they risk their inquiries not being picked up again.

In some situations the committee chairs are not even seeking re-election, such as Labour's Iain Wright, who chairs the business, innovation, and skills select committee.

The status of that committee's inquiry into the gig economy – triggered in part as result of a BuzzFeed News investigation into the fashion retailer Asos – is hanging in the balance.

The following reports were all published in the week leading up to 3 May.

The public accounts committee (PAC) said in the first of three reports released last Thursday that the £5 billion Better Care Fund – which was set up in 2014 to cut the number of emergency admissions to hospitals – has failed to meet any of its goals in easing the burden on social care and was in fact "little more than a complicated ruse" used to "paper over" funding pressures.

A separate PAC inquiry into access to GP surgeries found patients were still finding it difficult to get appointments despite attempts to force practices to stay open later. The report found that almost half of practices were closed at some point during "core hours" of 8am to 6:30pm, and that NHS England collates no data on the availability of appointments during these times.

In the third of its reports, the PAC said the average amount of time it took to transfer patients from ambulance to hospital care was getting worse. Just 58% of transfers took no longer than 15 minutes in 2015/16, compared with 80% in 2010/11.

These delays were preventing paramedics from getting back out and responding to emergency calls, the committee said.

The health committee warned in a report on Friday that uncertainty over Brexit was having a detrimental effect on the morale of the 60,000 NHS workers and 90,000 social care workers from the EU, and reminded the government of the importance of access to social care workers during negotiations with the EU.

A joint inquiry by the education and health committees found budget constraints were causing schools and colleges to cut back on mental health services such as counsellors for children and young people. This is despite half of all cases of mental illness in adults starting before the age of 15.

The environment, food, and rural affairs (EFRA) committee launched an inquiry following concerns that British farms could face a huge shortage of workers after Brexit. In their report, MPs found that even since the EU referendum agricultural and horticultural businesses had found it more difficult to recruit EU workers. Committee chair Neil Parish said: "UK agriculture could not function without foreign labour."

In a separate report, EFRA called for a national target to reduce food waste. The report said that the current date labelling of food in shops was misleading and called on the government to introduce new guidance by the end of the year.

MPs on the public accounts committee bemoaned the "missed opportunities" and lack of progress despite £168 million being spent to make the UK a global leader in carbon capture and storage (CCS) – a process designed to avoid the release of CO2 emissions.

"It is now highly likely the UK will have to pay billions of pounds more to meet its decarbonisation targets," the report said. "Without CCS, there is a gap in the government's plans for achieving decarbonisation at least cost while ensuring a secure supply of electricity."

Perhaps encapsulating the situation select committee chairs found themselves in after May's snap election decision, the justice committee published a report into a bill that is itself in doubt: The prisons and courts bill may not even be resurrected after the election. "We hope that the next government, of whatever complexion, will attach a high priority to prison reform," said committee chair Bob Neill.

The joint committee on human rights released a short summary of its inquiry into the link between mental health and deaths in prison, which has been interrupted by the election. Among its proposals so far are a legal limit on the maximum number of hours prisoners can spend in their cells each day.

The home affairs select committee released a report on its inquiry into hatred and abuse on social media, which recommended that social media platforms should be fined if they fail to take down illegal material within a set time limit (see our coverage of the report here).

The communities and local government select committee said that the housebuilding industry is facing a growing skills crisis, which could be made worse by Brexit. The committee also called on the government to encourage developers to think longer-term and take a greater stake in civic homebuilding.

The public accounts committee warned that the government's housing target – 1 million new homes by 2020 – is still dependent on a handful of private developers and said: "Problems of affordability and homelessness are likely to persist for years to come." The result of the housing shortage is 72,000 families living in temporary accommodation, including 120,000 children, it noted.

A report from the work and pensions committee recommended a new housing allowance to help the 700,000 people in the UK who live in supported housing, such as elderly people and disabled people.

The science and technology committee released three reports:

The first encouraged the government to introduce a bill on preparing the UK to build its own facilities to allow commercial spaceflight.

The second recommended that the next government ensures there is continued investment into regenerative medicine, which helps the body replace, restore, and regenerate damaged cells.

The third was a short report on an incomplete inquiry into genomics and genome editing. The committee said it hoped it could continue this work after the election.

The work and pensions committee has been busy in the run-up to parliament dissolving, releasing several reports:

It looked at the concept of citizen's income, where the government would provide everyone with unconditional income regardless of their means – an idea floated by Jeremy Corbyn last year. "Ultimately, we were at a loss to understand how CI could even partially resolve the issues it purports to address," the committee concluded.

People working in the emerging gig economy should be classed as "workers" by default, rather than self-employed, the committee said in a report, to stop the "loopholes" that deny self-employed people basic rights and access to things like the workplace pension. Some companies are using self-employed people as "cheap labour, excusing themselves from both responsibilities", the report said.

The committee also called on the government to build on legislation passed in 2015 to help victims of modern slavery and "introduce a system that will help victims to start piecing their lives back together". This would include giving victims one year of leave to remain in the UK, regardless of their immigration status.

The army needs a plan to recruit more regulars and reservists – including more women and people from ethnic minorities – if it is to reverse its historically low numbers, according to a review from the defence committee.

The Ministry of Defence's plan to create a "warfighting" division of 40,000 troops to counter the "resurgent threat of conflict with a peer adversary" is at risk if the numbers don't improve, the report said.

In a separate report the defence committee also called for a minister to be appointed to look after the interests of armed forces veterans and ensure the implementation of the armed forces covenant – the promise that those who served are treated fairly by the state.

The uncertainty surrounding higher education as the UK enters Brexit negotiations should be reduced immediately by guaranteeing that students starting in 2018/9 will have the same tuition fees and loans available now, according to a report from the education committee. Overseas students should not count in the net migration figures, it said.

The education committee also called for the "stakes to be lowered" in primary schools, after changes to testing in 2014 saw a narrowing of the curriculum to focus more on test results.

The business, energy, and industry strategy committee urged the government to avoid disruption by ensuring that the UK retains membership of the European internal energy market after Brexit. The committee's report warns that the UK faces becoming a "rule taker" on energy post-Brexit, bound by EU policy but unable to influence it.

The committee also notes the tricky situation faced by Northern Ireland, which shares a single electricity market with the Republic of Ireland.

It's too difficult for people to assess whether government departments are spending money properly, MPs on the public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC) concluded. Its report last Thursday said departmental accounts were not set up for "democratic scrutiny" and did not report on the value for money of government services.

"Financial accountability lies at the heart of parliamentary sovereignty and of democratic government," said chair Bernard Jenkin.

In a separate report, PACAC reminded the government of the importance of ensuring the civil service was “appropriately skilled, resourced, and focused to meet the significant challenges that it faces" as the UK leaves the EU. Jenkin said he hoped the committee's initial findings into the relationship between ministers and civil servants would be picked up by a successor committee after the election.

The public accounts committee on Friday expressed doubts as to whether a 10-year plan to relocate staff at 170 HM Revenue and Customs offices into 13 regional hubs would actually lead to savings of £300 million. (The original estimated saving was £500 million.)

It also raised fears over whether the upheaval could cause highly trained staff to decide to work elsewhere, and how the disruption coincides with the Brexit process.

MPs on the international development committee were unable to conclude their inquiry into aid spending on education, despite spending nine months collecting written and oral evidence and making visits to countries in the Middle East and East Africa.

Committee chair Stephen Twigg wrote to development secretary Priti Patel to say 10% of her department's spending should be dedicated to supporting education overseas. Globally, just 1.8% of all humanitarian funding is spent on education.

Patrick Smith is a senior reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Patrick Smith at patrick.smith@buzzfeed.com.

Matthew Champion is a weekend editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Matthew Champion at matthew.champion@buzzfeed.com.

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