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Written Statements

Volume 686: debated on Wednesday 16 December 2020

Written Statements

Wednesday 16 December 2020

Cabinet Office

Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee

The next meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee will take place on 17 December 2020, by video conference, hosted by the EU.

The meeting will be co-chaired by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and the Vice-President of the European Commission, Maroš Šefčovič.

The agenda will include four items:

1- Introduction and opening remarks from co-chairs:

Stocktake of Specialised Committee activity

Future Specialised Committee meetings.

2 - Update on Withdrawal Agreement Implementation:

Citizens’ rights

Second joint report on residency

Joint Committee decision on triangulation

Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland

Joint Committee decisions foreseen by the protocol

Joint Committee decision on correction of errors and omissions

Unilateral declarations

Dispute settlement—Joint Committee decision on the establishment of a list of arbitrators.

3 - AOB.

4 - Concluding remarks.

The UK delegation will include:

Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the right hon. Michael Gove MP

The Paymaster General, the right hon. Penny Mordaunt MP

Representatives from the Northern Ireland Executive have been invited to form part of the UK delegation.



National Insurance Contributions Re-rating 2021-22

In line with the approach set out in the spending review document on 25 November (CP 330), the Government will use the September consumer prices index (CPI) figure (0.5%) as the basis for setting all national insurance limits and thresholds, and the rates of class 2 and class 3 national insurance contributions, for 2021-22. A table of these 2021-22 national insurance rates and thresholds will be placed in the Library of both Houses.


Follower Notices and Penalties

The Government introduced the follower notice regime in Finance Act 2014, following a consultation titled “Raising the Stakes on Tax Avoidance”. The Government consider that the follower notice regime is an important element in the legal framework available to HMRC to tackle tax avoidance.

In December 2018 the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee published its report “The Powers of HMRC: Treating Taxpayers Fairly”. In that report, the Committee recommended that the penalties associated with follower notices be abolished. The Government rejected the recommendation to abolish follower notice penalties as this would render the regime ineffective. However, I said in testimony to the Committee that HMRC would examine the possibility of providing greater judicial oversight of the follower notice safeguards.

The Government understand the concerns that have been raised about follower notices, but it has not been possible to identify any effective means of providing greater judicial oversight of the follower notice regime which would not re-introduce, or even worsen, the delays in settlement and payment of disputed tax which the regime was designed to address. However, the Government have also taken the opportunity to look closely at other options to ensure the follower notice regime can best achieve its objectives. They accept that a better balance can be found between encouraging taxpayers who have used tax avoidance schemes which have been defeated in the courts, to reach agreement with HMRC; and allowing those who genuinely believe their case is different from that heard by the courts, to continue their dispute. This can best be achieved with a stronger focus on those whose continuation of their dispute, even once they have received a follower notice, is without merit.

Therefore, I am announcing publication today of a consultation document “Follower Notices and Penalties”. This consultation proposes to reduce the level of penalty for a taxpayer not acting in response to a follower notice from 50% of the disputed tax to 30%. A further penalty of 20% would be chargeable only in cases where those receiving follower notices continue their disputes to litigation, and the tax tribunal rules that it was not reasonable for them to have done so.

The Government are committed to tackling all aspects of the avoidance market, including those who promote tax avoidance schemes. The Government announced measures in July and November aimed at strengthening HMRC’s ability to tackle those who sell avoidance schemes.

The consultation has been published here: It will run to Wednesday 27 January.


Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office

Independent Commission for Aid Impact: FCDO Review

On 29 August, shortly before the inauguration of the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, I announced that I wanted to reinforce the Independent Commission for Aid Impact’s role in helping Government deliver maximum impact for UK aid spending. I commissioned a review to ensure ICAI’s remit, methodology and operating model focus on maximising the impact of UK overseas development assistance, support lesson-learning, and are in line with the aims of the FCDO and our broader strategic framework for UK ODA, which I set out to the House on 26 November. Today I am publishing that review. The review did not assess ICAI’s status as a non-departmental public body.

The review concludes that ICAI provides strong external scrutiny of UK ODA and offers excellent support to Parliament in its role in holding the Government to account. This must continue. ICAI has an important role in driving learning and focused action as well as providing assurance to UK taxpayers and Parliament. Its formal remit should therefore include lesson learning as well as scrutiny and evaluation to enable its recommendations to lead to real change.

The review makes a number of recommendations to increase ICAI’s impact on ODA spending and to ensure that it delivers practical recommendations. These include focusing its remit to support Government learning as well as independent evaluation and scrutiny, and ensuring reviews contribute to a wider body of best practice.

There are also several recommendations for the FCDO to improve its own role in the scrutiny process, including supporting and responding to ICAI’s reviews and helping ICAI in its work with other ODA-spending departments. The FCDO should also be willing to discuss ICAI’s forward workplan, mindful that decisions on review topics will remain with ICAI Commissioners.

The review consulted a broad range of parliamentary, civil society and Government stakeholders, including ICAI itself, through a series of interviews and roundtables. The review also took into account written contributions, including from members of the public. I am grateful for all of their valuable contributions.

The Government will now discuss the content of this review with ICAI’s commissioners and work with them to implement the recommendations.

A copy of the review will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses.


Housing, Communities and Local Government


Today the Government are publishing the response to the consultation on the standard method for assessing local housing need and setting out further steps in our plan to increase housing delivery as we recover from the covid-19 pandemic.

Our manifesto set out that we would deliver a million homes over the course of this Parliament and that we would seek to increase house building towards 300,000 new homes a year. We have made strong progress towards this goal, with more homes built in the last year than at any time since 1987, taking the total delivered since 2010 to over 1.8 million. We want to build more homes as a matter of social justice, of inter-generational fairness and as one of the best proven ways of creating jobs and economic growth.

The Government “Planning for the Future” White Paper published on 6 August outlined a set of reforms that are intended to lay the foundations for future house building and economic development, while meeting our commitments to the environment and climate. These reforms will create a planning system that is simpler and more certain, and that supports more homes to be built and drives a more diverse and competitive housing sector. As more homes are delivered under the new system, they will be built to higher standards, putting an emphasis on design, beauty, heritage and sustainability at the heart of the planning system. And that system will be a digital one that is more accessible and understandable for citizens and developers alike. We are currently analysing the 40,000 consultation responses and will publish a response in the spring which will set out our decisions on the proposed way forward, including to prepare for legislation, should we so decide, in the autumn.

In August, we also set out a proposal for a new standard method for assessing local housing need to ensure that all local authorities were planning to build enough new homes.

There were many consultation responses which did not fully recognise that the standard method does not present a “target” in plan-making, but instead provides a starting point for determining the level of need for housing in an area. It is only after consideration of this, alongside what constraints areas face, such as the green belt, and the land that is actually available for development, that the decision on how many homes should be planned for is made. It is crucial that planning is more certain and more transparent, so we will explore how we can make this clearer through our longer-term planning reforms, including considering the right name for this approach.

There is widespread support for ensuring enough homes are built across England to ensure the needs of our communities are met. We heard clearly through the consultation that the building of these homes should not come at the expense of harming our precious green spaces. We also heard views that this need can be better met in existing urban areas.

There are good reasons for this. First, our urban centres are the best served by existing infrastructure, with schools, shops and medical facilities.

Secondly, building more homes in our cities and urban centres will mean making the best use of brownfield land, of which many cities and urban centres continue to have large quantities, and protecting our countryside as much as possible.

Thirdly, building homes around our transport hubs will help us to deliver our ambition to tackle climate change by offering greater access to more sustainable forms of transport and reducing unnecessary journeys.

In the months since we consulted, the profound impact of covid-19 on our towns and cities has become even clearer. It has magnified and accelerated patterns that already existed and while it is too soon to know for certain the scale of the long-term impact, it is very likely to present a generational challenge and opportunity to repurpose more commercial centres, offices and retail spaces into housing and mixed uses.

We recognised these changes in the summer when we brought forward reforms to the use classes order and new permitted development rights to regenerate vacant buildings, to provide the greatest flexibility possible to meet this moment and to repurpose and recycle buildings for public good. These significant changes were enacted at pace and are now available for use by individuals and businesses.

This Government were elected on a pledge to level up all parts of the country. It was clear from the responses that people supported this ambition and wanted to see housing delivery play a significant part in achieving this goal. We want to see more public and, in particular, private sector investment in housing in our nation’s great cities, regenerating these areas, improving the quality of housing stock and driving up living standards. This is vital for ensuring a better quality of life for existing residents and for attracting and retaining aspirational families.

We want to play our part in realising these goals by building more homes in cities and urban centres, encouraging interest by developers and institutional investors in these places, setting them on a path to greater prosperity and to a more economically balanced country, and providing the certainty that is needed to support areas to recover after covid-19.

For this reason, we plan to leave the standard method as it was created in 2017 for the majority of the country. We have seen that these levels are beginning to create ambitious plans in many parts of the country, which we expect to drive housing delivery beyond its current near record levels. It is also clear that the standard method does not act as a ceiling for the ambitions of some local authorities, with some planning to exceed their local figures to meet the needs of their residents, create jobs and drive economic growth in their areas. We strongly welcome this ambition and will support these local authorities to achieve their goals, including through specifically directing public investment to them through the £7.1 billion national home building fund we are establishing.

We recognise that we need to go further than the previous standard method to achieve the ambition to build more in urban areas. So we will be increasing local housing need above current levels by 35% for authorities which contain the largest proportion of the 20 most populated cities and urban centres in England.

Many of these places are already delivering or have a plan to deliver at or around this level. For example, Nottingham, Hull, Liverpool, Newcastle and Stoke have all delivered more homes on average across the last three years than the revised standard method assesses their annual need to be. But others will need to go further than they do today.

They will not be alone in this task. To help support our cities and urban centres we are announcing several measures. First, we are establishing an urban centres recovery taskforce, which will bring together the leading experts in the field, like Sir Howard Bernstein, Sir George Iacobescu and Dame Alison Nimmo, to consider what actions the Government could take to support urban centres as they recover from covid-19.

Second, we intend to revise the current“80:20” rule which guides how much Government housing infrastructure funding is available in all parts of the country, so that it is at the service of the most ambitious local authorities and those who want to tackle unaffordability. This will establish a new principle that helps to better support our levelling up and home-building objectives.

Third, we will invest public funds to support areas to regenerate brownfield land. We are establishing a £7.1 billion national home building fund: brownfield remediation, urban regeneration and infrastructure for housing will be the significant components of its mission. Today, we are announcing £67 million of funding from this to help the west midlands and Greater Manchester mayoral combined authorities to deliver new homes on brownfield land, helping to breathe new life into sites such as Longbridge in Birmingham. And we have launched a new £100 million brownfield land release fund for local authorities to encourage similar ambitions.

We recognise that to meet the housing needs of the country, London needs to build more homes. Delivery in the capital remains far too low, creating acute affordability changes for its residents, as well as putting severe pressure on the wider south-east.

In the short term we expect to agree the London plan with the Mayor early in the new year which will set his plan for, amongst other things, meeting London’s housing need. This will support greater ambition in London, but alone will not go nearly far enough to meet need in London. We now need to focus on the medium and long term and create a plan to better address London’s housing needs, while protecting the character of London’s communities, particularly in outer London, and London as a place for families.

We will consider how Homes England can play an active role in London, working with the GLA and directly with ambitious London boroughs for the first time. There are clear areas for development in London, including Nine Elms, Old Oak Common and more broadly in inner east London where there is significant brownfield land for development. A new role for Homes England will ensure robust bids are prepared for the national home building fund and the right types of homes are built in the right places.

We hope that this approach will find broad support. We want to make sure that all areas of the country take seriously the need to build more homes and we will focus public funding on supporting our aspirations for home building, whilst also supporting a renewed national effort to regenerate and level up by increasing housing delivery and private sector investment in our cities. There is now an opportunity for a new trajectory for our great cities. We hope that these changes will mark the first step along the path to forging a new country beyond covid-19, which is healthier, more beautiful, more sustainable and more neighbourly, and one in which more of our fellow citizens, regardless of age or wealth, enjoy the dignity and security of a home of their own.