To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent progress there has been between the banks and Post Office Ltd in the extension of provision for basic bank accounts. 
[holding answer 28 April 2003]: Universal banking services became operational at post offices on 1 April 2003. The service includes post office access to basic bank accounts on behalf of Barclays, Lloyds TSB, Royal Bank of Scotland/Nat West, HSBC, Abbey National, HBOS, Alliance and Leicester, NAG, the Cooperative Bank, First Trust, the Bank of Ireland and the Nationwide Building Society.
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what plans she has to simplify the application form for the Post Office card account. 
None. This is an operational matter for the Post Office Ltd.
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry when she expects to receive exemptions guidance for the use of Post Office card accounts. 
[holding answer 28 April 2003]: The Department for Work and Pensions have started to transfer those claimants in the mainstream over to direct payment. This will be phased over a two-year period. By late 2004 the Department for Work and Pensions will have in place an alternative payment method for those who cannot be paid by direct payment.
To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on her Department's policy on the future of the universal service obligation in rural areas. 
[holding answer 28 April 2003]: Government considers the maintenance of a universal postal service in this country to be of the highest importance and that is why the obligation is enshrined in primary legislation in the Postal Services Act 2000. That means a service provided at an affordable price determined by a public tariff uniform throughout the UK and includes the delivery each working day to the home or premises of every individual in the UK and a collection each working day from access points.Universal service is a matter for the postal regulator (Postcomm), which has the primary statutory duty to ensure the provision of a universal postal service at an affordable uniform tariff, and for Royal Mail as the licence holder with the universal service obligation. Under the terms of the Postal Services Act Postcomm must in performing its duties have regard to the interests of individuals in rural areas. Exceptions to the universal service daily delivery can only be allowed in very specific and restricted circumstances (the relevant policy document is available at http://www.psc.gov.uk/documents/licensing).On 10 April, Postcomm launched a further three-month consultation to find out what users expect from the universal postal service currently provided by Royal Mail. All postal users are invited to comment on the universal service, to say what matters to them, and how they expect the service to develop. Again the information on this consultation can be obtained from Postcomm's website.