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Treasury Questions

21st July 2015

Harriett Baldwin answers backbench MPs’ questions on steps being taken to identify Equitable Life policyholders, the Government’s 2020 export target and rebalancing the economy away from London and the south east.

Equitable Life

2. Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): What steps he is taking to ensure as many policyholders as possible are identified before the Equitable Life payment scheme closes to new claimants on 31 December 2015. [901112]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): The Equitable Life payment scheme has already gone to great lengths to find policyholders, including checking against credit histories, a national advertising campaign and sending letters to last-known addresses. Thanks to that, almost 90% of policyholders have been paid. Where possible the scheme is now tracing all those remaining who are due £50 or more against DWP, national insurance numbers and address records.

Robert Neill: I accept that this Government and their predecessor have done much—more than anybody before did—to right an injustice that was done. But Equitable Life policyholders were victims of a regulatory failure, for which ultimately government is responsible. As the economy grows, is it not time, out of decency and fairness towards that diminishing group of elderly people, to revisit the amount to be paid in compensation?

Harriett Baldwin: I am sure that my hon. Friend will welcome the fact that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, in his excellent summer Budget, did in fact announce that all eligible non-annuitant policyholders in receipt of pension credit will see their lump sum payments doubled.

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Export Target

13. Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): What assessment he has made of the likelihood of the Government meeting its 2020 export target. [901124]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): The 2020 export target of £1 trillion is ambitious. UK Trade & Investment has doubled the number of businesses it helps since 2010. The productivity plan sets out steps to take this further by mobilising the whole of Government behind helping our great British businesses to export much more.

Geraint Davies: Britain needs export growth, not just cuts, to clear the deficit, but the Chancellor is set to miss his export target by a massive £350 billion and to deliver the worst peacetime trade deficit since 1830. What action are the Government taking to combine the creative industries with our manufacturing base to target emerging middle classes in BRIC countries—in particular, China and India—to fire up growth and not rely solely on hitting the poor with cuts?

Harriett Baldwin: We can see the disarray in the hon. Gentleman’s personal life, given that he walked through the Lobby to support one leadership candidate last night, while publicly backing another who abstained. He mentions the importance of exporting to emerging markets. I can confirm that UK exports to China have increased by 72% since 2010, while exports to South Korea—many of them in the creative industries—are up by 148% and to Hong Kong by 63%.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does my hon. Friend agree that British business would find it easier to export to the rest of the world if it did not have to comply with the red tape imposed on it by Brussels bureaucrats?

Harriett Baldwin: My hon. Friend is an example to Opposition Members in the consistency of his political viewpoint. He is right to point out that the euro area has indeed been sluggish. One of the reasons we are experiencing slow growth in the euro area is that our goods exports have been falling to that part of the world. That is why it is so important that we refocus British businesses on exporting to some of the faster growing parts of the world.

16. [901127] Jonathan Reynolds (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op): That was an extraordinarily complacent answer from the Minister. On this Chancellor’s watch, the UK’s current account deficit has become the largest of any advanced economy, and the value of UK exports is largely what it was in 2010, when the Government came to power. Crucially, that cannot be put down to the sluggishness of the eurozone, because exports to non-eurozone countries have been equally static, and the figure the Minister gave for China reflects demand in the Chinese economy. Does she accept that whatever the strategies the Government have deployed so far, they simply have not worked?

Harriett Baldwin: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman shares my view that it is very important for us to help British businesses to export more. We have some fantastic British businesses, and many of them have started to export. UKTI has doubled the number of companies that it has helped in the past five years. He is absolutely right that we should aim to be very ambitious in this area. I would like to point out that export volumes outside the EU have actually grown by 24% since the first quarter of 2008.

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Rebalancing the Economy

14. John Pugh (Southport) (LD): What steps he is taking to rebalance the economy away from London and the south-east. [901125]

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Harriett Baldwin): The Government are committed to rebalancing the economy and strengthening every part of the UK. The summer Budget announced new commitments to rebalance the economy, including devolving further powers to city regions, inviting a new round of bids for enterprise zones and launching an ambitious transport package for the north of England.

John Pugh: I thank the Minister for that response. Currently, northern cities with elected Mayors have below-average economic performance in their region, whereas northern cities with above-average performances do not yet have elected Mayors. Why are the Government making a fetish of elected Mayors?

Harriett Baldwin: I know the hon. Gentleman has a long-standing point of view in this regard. The important point is that we want to empower local economic areas to grow as fast as London and the south-east. Among the important measures in the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill are the strong and accountable governance arrangements for, for example, Mayors.

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