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11 May 2000 : Column: 437W
Mr. Hill: Our policy is to help to establish an integrated, sustainable freight distribution system, both to support economic growth and to bring social and environmental benefits. The Strategic Rail Authority, already operating in shadow form, will have a duty to promote rail freight. In the three years beginning April 1997 we have provided £81 million in grants to move freight from road to rail or inland waterways. We have issued guidance to local authorities to facilitate more use of rail for freight, and our forthcoming 10 year Transport Plan will set out the Government's longer term strategy.
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions, pursuant to his answer of 2 May 2000, Official Report, column 5W, how many journeys on the Royal Train have involved the use of the sleeping accommodation. 
Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions how much was paid to Wisconsin Central to service and operate the Royal Train in the last 12 months for which figures are available. 
Mr. Hill: No money was paid to Wisconsin Central. However, as set out in the published Annual Report on the Grant-in-aid for Royal Travel by air and rail covering the financial year ended 31 March 1999, £779,000 was paid to English Welsh & Scottish Railway, which is the operator of the Royal Train and a UK subsidiary of Wisconsin Central.
Dr. Kumar: To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport and the Regions what payments have been (a) made and (b) agreed as part of a management licence to British Waterways for operating the Tees Barrage. 
Ms Armstrong: Under the terms of a Management Agreement signed on 31 March 2000 between British Waterways and the Commission for the New Towns, BW assumed operational responsibility for managing the Tees Barrage, maintaining related facilities and the obligations attached thereto, as if it were the owner. An endowment of £17,696,616 was paid to BW. It is intended that the freehold of the property will be conveyed to BW shortly, together with a formal transfer of the powers and functions in the River Tees Barrage and Crossing Act 1990. It is not expected that any further endowment will be paid.
11 May 2000 : Column: 438W
Mr. Alan Johnson: We asked the Low Pay Commission to monitor the introduction of the national minimum wage and to report on their findings. We published their report on 15 February along with our response to it.
Mr. Alan Johnson: The Inland Revenue is responsible for enforcing the national minimum wage. If any worker believes they are not being paid what they are entitled to under the law they simply have to phone the minimum wage helpline on 0845 6000 678 to make a complaint about underpayment. All complaints, including third party tip-offs, are followed up.
The Government recognise that it is vital for workers to be aware of their entitlements under the law. Around £5 million was spent on advertising the minimum wage at the time of its introduction last year. A smaller campaign in the autumn targeted certain ethnic groups where awareness was still relatively low. There will be further paid publicity spanning the periods when the youth rate and main rate are increased on 1 June and 1 October respectively.
The Government are working with relevant worker and employer organisations to help improve awareness of the minimum wage. As recommended by the Low Pay Commission, we will update our general guidance and provide specific information for certain groups. The Government are asking the Commission to continue to monitor the national minimum wage and to produce a further report on its introduction by July 2001.
16. Mr. Bradshaw: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the impact on energy prices in the South-West of his decision to lift the moratorium on new gas-fired power stations. 
Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government are contributing £480 million toward the cost of equipping the whole national network of post offices with an automated on-line IT platform. This investment in the automation project is substantial and is a clear indication of the Government's commitment to the future of the Post Office network. Nearly 40,000 counter positions in over 18,000 offices will be equipped with the modern computer system. Automation will attract new customers and services to the Post Office, replacing traditional business progressively eroded by changing customer demands and habits, which, in turn, will contribute to strengthening the long-term viability of the network.
11 May 2000 : Column: 439W
In addition, the Performance and Innovation Unit is examining the longer term future of the network and is working across Government Departments to establish how best the Post Office network can be used and promoted.
23. Mr. Gordon Prentice: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what estimate he has made of the levels of subsidy that will be required to safeguard the future of post offices in small towns and villages and in rural areas. 
Mr. Alan Johnson: It is too early to assume that subsidy would be the right way forward. The Government's key target is a viable commercial future for the Post Office network. The Government are using the opportunity of the Post Office Bill to propose taking the necessary powers to keep open the option of financial assistance.
32. Mr. David Heath: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what recent discussions he has had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the scale and timing of the proposed subsidy to sub-post offices threatened with closure. 
Mr. Alan Johnson: The Government have no plans at present to subsidise the network of post offices, but are using the opportunity of the Post Office Bill to propose taking the necessary powers to provide financial assistance towards ensuring provision of postal and other services at post offices, should that prove necessary at some future stage.
Ms Hewitt: We are committed to ensuring a fair tax system. It is clearly unfair that someone using a personal service company and carrying out the job of an employee has been able to enjoy a big tax and NICs advantage over other employees. Avoidance through service companies placed a burden on other tax and NIC payers and damaged the UK's competitiveness.
11 May 2000 : Column: 440W
Mr. Alan Johnson: This Government understand the difficulties many manufacturers, particularly those trading with Europe, are facing because of the value of the pound in relation to the euro. However we are determined to take a long-term view--attempts at short-term fixes would ultimately do more harm than good.
36. Mr. Alan W. Williams: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the effect of the current value of the pound on the competitiveness of UK manufacturing industry. 
Mr. Alan Johnson: This Government understand the difficulties which many manufacturers, particularly those trading with Europe, face as a result of the weakness of the euro, but competitiveness depends on a wide range of factors.
The platform for economic stability created by this Government, together with the structural measures to promote competition, to encourage enterprise and innovation, and to raise the skills base and investment, provides the best economic environment for improving industrial competitiveness in the UK.
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