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Benefit Claimants: Bank and Post Office Accounts

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

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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 features—for 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 account—the card account does little to help achieve this.

Baroness Byford asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are concerned that benefit claimants may be refused basic high street accounts[HL456]

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.

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DWP Correspondence

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty's Government:

    To what address the Department for Work and Pensions writes with information regarding pensions and benefit when a person has been in hospital for more than six weeks.[HL660]

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.

EU Employment and Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council

Lord Hoyle asked Her Majesty's Government:

    What the outcome was of the Employment and Social Policy, Health and Consumer Affairs Council held in Brussels on 3 December; and what their stance was on the issues discussed including its voting record.[HL810]

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.

Council reached political agreement on a regulation extending provisions of Regulation 1408/71 to nationals of third countries. This regulation will be adopted at a future Council.

The Council also agreed to minor revisions to the objectives agreed at Nice in 2000 for the next round of national action plans on social inclusion.

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.

This Council also produced conclusions on gender mainstreaming within the Council and Council Conclusions on a series of indicators concerning violence against women.

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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.

The Council adopted joint conclusions with ECOFIN on the structural indictors for the 2003 synthesis report.

The Commission presented its draft of the Joint Employment Report at this Council. The draft was remitted to the Employment Committee for consideration.

The Presidency announced that it would shortly be bringing forward a revised proposal for a directive protecting workers from the risks of exposure to electromagnetic fields and waves.

No votes were taken on any of these issues.

Hydrogen Oils Duties Act 1979: Form EX 103

The Earl of Mar and Kellie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they are satisfied with the availability to members of the public of Hydrogen Oils Duties Act 1979 form EX 103; and where these forms are available.[HL526]

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.

Biodiesel Duty Rebate: Modified Waste Vegetable Fat

The Earl of Mar and Kellie asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether the sustainable waste fuel for compression ignition engines derived from waste cooking oil and called modified waste vegetable fat (MWVF) is eligible for the 20 pence per litre duty rebate for biofuels[HL603]

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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.

Human Eggs

Lord Alton of Liverpool asked Her Majesty's Government:

    Whether they have launched an investigation into recent disclosure that human eggs are being shared or traded in at least one London fertility clinic; and[HL503]

    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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