Exclusive: Boris Johnson’s ‘zombie government’ is failing to respond to crucial select committee inquiries

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Labour has said the Prime Minister’s ‘inability to govern’ has created ‘gridlock’ in Government

The Government has failed to offer a response to at least 13 separate inquiries, with delays of more than six months on major issues such as cladding, English devolution and mental health in prisons.

Experts say it is a ‘real problem’ for the Government to respond several months late to select committee inquiries, while Labour has said it is “so mired in scandal and police investigations that it cannot address the urgent issues facing our country”.

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Six month delays

Parliament’s select committee process sees cross-party panels of backbench MPs carry out investigations into the workings of government or into wider societal issues.

After hearing from ministers, expert witnesses or receiving written evidence, the panels produce detailed reports which often make recommendations to the relevant government department.

The Government is then required to respond to these findings within two months. It may outline its position on the issues uncovered, state what action it intends to take to tackle them, and accept or dismiss any recommendations made.

The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC) has the worst response rate of all government departments to select committee inquiry reports.

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The Levelling Up, Housing and Communities select committee published a report on an inquiry into cladding remediation in late April 2021.

The Government’s response was due two months later, on 29 June 2021, but has still yet to be published - more than six months later.

The report highlighted evidence provided by the UK Cladding Action Group on the impact the crisis has on leaseholders’ mental health.

It said: “Nearly a quarter of people have told us that they feel suicidal or want to self-harm. Nine out of 10 people say that their mental health has deteriorated. Seven out of 10 people say that they cannot sleep at night. We regularly have people contacting us, telling us that they have had enough and cannot continue on.”

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The Government has since announced its intention to have developers pay up to £4bn to have cladding-related issues resolved on some of the buildings affected, but the plans have been criticised as insufficient by leaseholders.

DLUHC is yet to respond to any of the four separate inquiries on which a response is due.

‘Gridlock’

The department has also failed to respond to reports by cross-party MPs into the future of the planning system and English devolution, which has been described as a key-plank of the government’s flagship ‘levelling up’ agenda.

Two of the inquiry responses were due under Robert Jenrick’s time as housing secretary, before the department was renamed from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government in September 2021, when Michael Gove took over as Secretary of State.

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Angela Rayner MP, Labour’s Deputy Leader and Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, said Boris Johnson and the Conservatives are “failing Britain”.

She said: “This zombie government is so mired in scandal and police investigations that it cannot address the urgent issues facing our country.

“From the cost of living crisis hitting people’s pockets to the emergency in our NHS – the Prime Minister’s inability to govern has created gridlock in our political system.

She added: “The Tories are so compromised by the Prime Minister’s scandal they can’t govern at all. He needs to resign and make way for a Labour government that will offer security, prosperity and respect to the British people.”

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‘A real problem’

The Ministry of Justice is overdue to respond to two inquiry reports which were both due in November 2021, although the department has issued a response to four other inquiries.

Cross-party MPs on the Justice Committee published a report on mental health in prisons in September 2021.

The most recent figures show that deaths in UK prisons reached a historic high last year, with mental health a significant driver of issues faced by inmates.

The panels on Northern Irish affairs and Scottish affairs are both awaiting a response to an inquiry, as is the Standards committee and the Environmental Audit committee.

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Dr Alice Lilly, senior researcher at the Institute for Government, said that there is generally some variation in the response times to select committee reports.

She said: “It would be understandable that during the pandemic—and especially during the early stages—government responses may have taken a bit longer than usual, given how much the government had to focus on Covid.

“But while it can be better for government to take a bit longer to respond and give a better, more thorough response - if their responses are several months overdue then that is a real problem.”

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