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47. Mr. David Taylor: To ask the President of the Council what plans she has to bring forward proposals to the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons to improve the level of investment in the PDVN network. 
49. Mr. Peter Bottomley: To ask the President of the Council to ask the hon. Member for Roxburgh and Berwickshire, (Mr. Kirkwood) representing the House of Commons Commission, which staffing reports concerning overloading in Departments of the House have not been acted on in the past two years. 
Mr. Kirkwood: There have been no staffing reports concerning overloading in Departments of the House in the last two years, but the internal review service has scrutinised Departments' manpower forecasts in the context of the annual resource planning exercise.
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Mr. Mackinlay: To ask the President of the Council if she will bring forward proposals to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons on measures to speed up the swearing in of hon. Members following a general election. 
Mrs. Beckett: The procedure for swearing in is set out in the Parliamentary Oaths Act 1866 and I am afraid that radical change would require primary legislation. Those aspects within the House's control were examined by the Procedure Committee in Session 1995-96, and changes were made as a result of their recommendations.
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Mr. Byers: The Budget announced that paid paternity leave and adoption leave would be introduced in 2003. These were based on options put forward in the Green Paper "Work and Parents, Competitiveness and Choice". The introduction of systems for paid paternity leave and paid adoption leave will be a step forward in meeting the Government's aim to improve choice for parents and enhance competitiveness for business.
Paid paternity leave will give working fathers the choice to support their partner around the birth of their child and help adapt to the responsibilities raising a new-born child brings. Paid adoption leave will recognise the commitment given by adoptive families by providing an adoptive parent with the opportunity of 26 weeks leave paid at the flat rate of statutory maternity pay. In addition the Government are to provide a further 26 weeks additional unpaid adoption leave bringing parity with the extension of unpaid maternity leave announced in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, North (Ms Ryan) on 1 May 2001, Official Report, column 548W.
Both paternity leave and adoption leave received strong support from parents, employers and their representatives in responses to the consultation and during discussions with ministers and officials. Employers and parents asked that wherever appropriate the systems should seek to mirror mothers maternity provisions to aid consistency and simplicity. They also stressed that the systems should adopt a light-touch approach and be as simple as possible to administer.
I have responded to these calls by today publishing frameworks for paid paternity leave and adoption leave based on suggestions put forward. Both frameworks include an assessment of their likely benefits and costs.
The paternity leave framework particularly adopts a number of approaches asked for by employers. To be eligible for paid paternity leave fathers will have to have served a qualifying period. To ease the administration, paternity leave will have to be taken in a single block and taken within the first two months of the child's birth. And the payment mechanism will be similar to that used for SMP.
The adoption leave framework builds on the existing support for adoptive parents. It will be available to those parents adopting children of up to 18 years of age and where couples adopt jointly it will be for them to choose who takes the paid adoption leave.
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Mr. Byers: I am pleased to announce that the Government have reached agreement for the introduction of Universal Banking Services with 11 major institutions. The terms of a Memorandum of Understanding have been agreed and copies are being placed in the Libraries of both Houses.
The banks will make their basic bank accounts accessible through the 18,000 post offices in the network, contribute £180 million to the costs of the Post Office card account, and commit to simple and straightforward account opening for those without bank accounts.
This is a major step forward both in ensuring the future of the post office network and in tackling financial exclusion. Universal Banking Services will provide a range of banking services which will enable a new income stream to come into the network and bring those people currently without bank accounts into the financial mainstream.
In February I announced a new Government fund to help with the costs of relocating and refurbishing rural post offices. Grants to this fund now being considered include proposals to reopen rural offices near Dover and Cardiff. The Government hope to make several more similar grants shortly and this fund could provide the impetus for reopening up to 200 offices nationwide.
In March, we launched the latest phase in order to pilot post offices in Leicestershire and Rutland as "Government General Practitioners"--a new service that will offer a wide range of information and access to Government services aimed at the general public.
I am informed by the Post Office that, subject to final verification, a net total of 112 urban offices and 435 rural offices closed in the year ending 26 March 2001 1 . Of the closures in the year, only four are permanent.
This indicates a significant downward trend in post office closures compared with the third quarter when net closures were 135 and the first half of the year when closures were running at a rate of 150 per quarter.
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This means that during the period April 2000 to March 2001, in the first half of the year net closures were running at 300, whereas in the final half of the year closures were 17 per cent. lower at 248.
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