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Whether they still plan to offer the Post Office card account, which used to be called the universal bank, or whether they plan to close this proposed scheme.[HL454]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Hollis of Heigham) : The Post Office tells us that it is on schedule to introduce universal banking services (consisting of access to the banks' basic bank accounts at Post Office branches and the Post Office card account) in April 2003. There are no plans to cancel or delay its introduction.
Customers are being supplied with all the information they need to choose the account option (current account, basic bank account or Post Office card account) which best meets their needs and circumstances. All of our information material mentions Post Office access and the availability of the Post Office card account. Which account option customers choose will be entirely up to them. It is not the job of the Government or the Post Office to choose an account for them.
But it is also true to say that the Post Office card account will not be the best option for many people as it only has very limited featuresfor example, it will not be able to receive payments of wages, it has no direct debit facility, and can only be used when Post Office brances are open. The Government are keen to encourage financial inclusion, by giving people access to the wider financial benefits of having a bank accountthe card account does little to help achieve this.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham : The Government believe that the availability of basic financial products is essential to ensure access to wider, mainstream services and is an important component in tackling financial exclusion both for benefit customers and others currently without access to bank accounts. Basic bank accounts have an important role to play in providing this access.
The Government support initiatives by banks and other institutions to promote greater availability and knowledge of the benefits of basic accounts, and is working with the British Bankers' Association and others to ensure that banks are well prepared to deal with benefit customers who want to open basic accounts.
Our information campaign will take customers through the changes. Customers are being supplied with all the information they need to choose the account option (current account, basic account or Post Office card account) which best meets their needs and circumstances. Customers do not need to take any action until they receive a letter from us about the change.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham : During a period of hospitalisation the Department for Work and Pensions would continue to send correspondence regarding state pensions and benefits to the customer's home address. If the customer has an appointee or someone who holds power of attorney, any correspondence would be sent directly to their address, not the customer's.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham : This was a very busy Council with business split over two days. My right honourable friend, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Andrew Smith) attended the Employment and Social Policy part, held on 3 December, accompanied by my honourable friend the Minister for Employment Relations and the Regions (Alan Johnson).
The agenda covered a wide range of employment and social policy issues. Council agreed an orientation toward political agreement on a regulation to replace Regulation 1408/71 which co-ordinates social security for people moving within the EU. The issues covered at this Council were sickness benefits, benefits for work injury and illness, and death grants. Work will continue on simplification of this regulation under the forthcoming Greek Presidency.
The Council agreed a number of resolutions: on e-accessibility for disabled people, ahead of the European year for disabled people in 2003; on social inclusion through social dialogue; and on corporate social responsibility.
There were three substantive discussions at this Council. Council adopted a joint report with ECOFIN on the streamlining of the annual co-ordination of economic and employment policies after some discussion. The report is in line with the UK's desire to see reform of the employment processes to emphasise outcomes and ensure that all work is geared to achieving the Lisbon objectives.
There was also an orientation debate on the Commission's proposed directive on improving working conditions for temporary agency workes. Among other issues, the UK continued to argue for a longr derogation than the six weeks proposed in the Commission paper. The Greek Presidency will continue to seek a compromise on this dossier when it takes over the Presidency next year.
The Council agreed a decision establishing a tripartite social summit after discussion. This will be forwarded as a report from the ESPHCA to the General Affairs and External Relations Council, and recommends continuing the current informal arrangements.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: The Government are satisfied with the availability of form EX 103. These can be obtained from the HM Customs and Excise National Advice Service on telephone number 0845 010 9000.
Lord McIntosh of Haringey: In order to obtain the 20 pence per litre duty reduction, fuels must meet the legal definition of biodiesel. Biodiesel is diesel-quality road fuel produced from biomass or vegetable oils (including recovered vegetable oils) which meets certain criteria relating to sulphur and ester content. If these criteria are met the fuel will qualify for the reduction.
Whether the sharing or trading of human eggs is legal.[HL504]
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): A woman may donate eggs to another woman to help her to carry a child. In some licensed centres a woman needing treatment involving in vitro fertilisation may be offered this at reduced cost in return for sharing the eggs she produces with another woman receiving in vitro fertilisation. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority considered egg sharing in 1998 and has kept it under review since then, issuing guidance in 2000 on the provision of consent and the preparation of formal agreements between the parties involved. The HFEA's Ethics Committee is currently considering the arrangements reported at one clinic where a woman gives all the eggs from one cycle in return for later treatment for herself. The conclusions of the committee, and of the authority as a whole, will be communicated to the House and placed in the Library.
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