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Written Statements

Volume 598: debated on Monday 13 July 2015

Written Statements

Monday 13 July 2015

Treasury

Equitable Life

The Equitable Life Payment Scheme has issued payments of over £1.06 billion to 902,000 policyholders as of 31 May 2015. With final tracing efforts now concluding, the scheme is reaching the limit of how many policyholders it will be able to trace and pay. As announced in the Budget on 8 July, the scheme will close to new claims on 31 December 2015. Payments to with-profits annuitants are unaffected and will continue as planned for the duration of their annuity.

Before it closes, however, the scheme will continue attempts to trace and pay eligible policyholders, including tracing policyholders through the Department of Work and Pensions due £50 or more. I would urge colleagues to make constituents aware that if any of them are holders of an Equitable Life policy and have not yet claimed a payment under the scheme, they should contact the scheme on 0300 0200 150 as soon as possible, quoting their policy number.

Despite these efforts, the scheme expects that some policyholders will remain unpaid as of 31 December 2015. The scheme will use money that would have been distributed to the untraced policyholders to double the amount of the lump sum payments of 22.4% of relative losses to policyholders on pension credit. Around 40,000 people are expected to benefit by an average of over £1,000, although actual payments will depend on the amount of an individual’s relative loss.

In order to benefit from this payment, policyholders must be in receipt of pension credit. Policyholders are therefore urged to check whether they can make a claim for pension credit by calling the pension credit claim line on 0800 99 1234 or contacting a local advice centre as appropriate.

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Productivity Plan

HM Treasury has laid a command paper before Parliament titled “Fixing the foundations: creating a more prosperous nation CM 9098”, setting out a 15-point plan with concrete policy measures for productivity growth in the UK over the next decade.

The UK is set to be the fastest growing G7 economy in both 2014 and 2015. However, while rising employment has been a major source of recent growth in the UK, productivity is as essential an ingredient over the longer term. There has been a slowdown in productivity growth in the UK since the onset of the financial crisis, and there is a large and long-standing productivity gap between the UK and some other leading advanced economies. The Government are committed to boosting productivity growth and narrowing this gap in order to enhance living standards and quality of life in the UK.

Building on measures announced in last week’s Budget that will boost productivity, this plan is built on two pillars: encouraging long-term investment in economic capital, and promoting a dynamic economy. It includes measures to reform the planning system and further education; sharpen incentives to provide excellent teaching in universities and open up higher education to new providers; build stronger trading links with emerging markets; cut red tape; support the adoption of digital technologies; and promote competition and consumer choice.

The measures in this plan address both the slowdown of productivity growth in the UK since the financial crisis and the longer-term productivity gap with other countries. The document is available on the www.gov.uk website.

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Environment, Food and Rural Affairs

Avian Influenza

The Chief Veterinary Officer has confirmed a case of avian flu in a poultry farm in Lancashire.

Test results have confirmed the presence of a high severity H7N7 strain of the disease. While this disease affects birds severely, the advice from Public Health England is that the risk to public health from this disease is considered very low, and the Food Standards Agency has said there is no food safety risk for consumers.

We have taken robust precautionary action, imposing a temporary control zone last Friday to limit the risk of disease spreading. Measures taken included the decision to humanely cull all birds at the premises and to apply restrictions on movements of poultry and other birds to all poultry farms within 10 kilometres around the affected premises. This decision was based on the clinical symptoms displayed by birds at the farm and laboratory findings at the time.

Now that the strain of disease has been established, we have confirmed the 10 km restriction zone around the farm to control this outbreak and to prevent any potential spread of infection. Investigations are ongoing to discover the origin of the outbreak.

We have tried and tested procedures for dealing with such animal disease outbreaks and a strong track record of controlling and eliminating previous outbreaks of avian flu in the UK. We are working closely with operational partners, devolved administration colleagues and the industry to deal effectively with this outbreak.

I would urge bird keepers to be vigilant for any signs of disease, ensure they are maintaining good biosecurity on their premises, seek prompt advice from their vet and report suspect disease to their nearest APHA office.

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Veterinary Products Committee

I have received the annual report of the Veterinary Products Committee and its sub-Committee 2014, which has been published today.

A copy of the report has been placed in the Libraries of both Houses.

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Home Department

Immigration Rules

My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary is today laying before the House a statement of changes in immigration rules.

These new rules make a number of changes to the tier 4 route of the points-based system to reduce net migration and to tackle immigration abuse, while ensuring we maintain an excellent offer for students who wish to study at our world-class universities.

New students at publicly funded colleges will be prevented from being able to work in the UK, in order to bring their working rights in line with those of international students at private colleges. In the autumn, college students will be unable to switch to a work visa or extend their study visa while they are in the UK, while protecting students at embedded colleges who will progress on to study at a higher education institution.

The rules around academic progression are being tightened so that university students are permitted to extend their studies at the same academic level only if the course they wish to study is linked to their previous course, or the university confirms the course supports the student's career aspirations. To help ensure international students are progressing academically, the time limit on further education study will be reduced from three years to two years in the autumn.

The maintenance requirement for tier 4 students is increasing, along with the maximum amount paid for accommodation which can be offset against the maintenance requirement, to bring them in line with 2015 rates. A rule around established presence which allowed students applying to extend their leave within the UK to show only two months’ maintenance is being removed.

The application of the rules on time limits is being clarified so that the time a student has already spent studying in the UK is calculated using the full length of the leave they have previously been granted.

Changes are being made to allow a tier 4 visa to be issued in line with a student’s intended date of travel. This change to the date from which entry clearance can commence will help ensure a smooth roll-out of biometric residence permits for overseas tier 4 applicants.

Tier 4 migrants’ conditions of study are being changed, to prevent them from studying at academies or schools maintained by a local authority. Those who wish to study a foundation course to prepare for entry to higher education are also being prevented from doing so under the tier 4 (Child) route.

Where responsibilities of sponsor organisations and terminology have recently changed, the rules are being updated.

The Government are reforming the student visa system to reduce net migration and tackle abuse. These changes will help achieve this, while ensuring the UK maintains a highly competitive offer and continues to attract the brightest and best international students.

I am also taking this opportunity to make a number of smaller changes to the immigration rules:

enabling South African diplomatic passport holders to travel visa free to the UK for the purpose of ‘visit in transit’

amend the eligibility requirements for transit passengers, aligning the period within which non-visa nationals must intend and are able to leave the UK with that of visa nationals (other than those using the Transit Without Visa scheme)

changes to administrative review, which have been identified as necessary during the early stages of implementation

minor changes and clarifications relating to family and private life, mainly reflecting feedback from caseworkers and legal practitioners on the operation of the rules.

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