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Dr. Howells: Further to the reply I gave to the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) on 28 June 2000, Official Report, column 518W about the review of the National Weights and Measures Laboratory, Ministers have now considered the reviewer's report. The reviewer has recommended that the policy part of NWML should be taken back into the Department organisationally and that the operational part should be contractorised by merger with the National Physical Laboratory, which is already contractorised. However, he accepted the view of the Review Steering Board that this option should not be pursued until a business plan for the merger could be prepared and until Ministers had assessed its value for money and feasibility. Ministers recognise that the recommended course of action has disadvantages as well as advantages. Nothing will be decided until further studies are complete. The reviewer's report will be published shortly. A copy will be placed in the Library of the House and on the Department's internet website.
Mrs. Gilroy: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what assessment he has made of the impact on competitiveness for new and current businesses which may be affected by the application of VAT on bridge tolls with particular regard to the Tamar Bridge; and what representations he has made to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about this matter. 
Mr. Caborn: The Tamar Bridge is owned and operated jointly by Plymouth City Council and Cornwall County Council. It would be for them, in the first instance, to make such an assessment in setting toll charges. This Department has supported the Government's vigorous defence of its policy of not levying VAT on toll charges, in the proceedings before the European Court of Justice.
Mr. Love: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry what steps he is taking to increase the level of investment of pension funds in venture capital companies; and if he will make a statement. 
In order to demonstrate to the investment community, including the pension funds, that good commercial returns can be made from investment in venture capital, the Government have established the UK High Technology Fund. The Government's commitment to invest £20 million into this fund has, to date, resulted in co-investment of £62 million from institutional co-investors, including
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pension funds, that are currently otherwise not investing in venture capital. The UK High Technology Fund is still raising money from institutional investors.
The Government have also demonstrated their concerns in this area by recently commissioning a review by Paul Myners, the Chairman of Gartmore Investment Managers, into any possible underlying structural factors which may deter institutional investment.
Ms Hewitt: I am pleased to announce that there has been a further improvement in the payment performance of central Government as a whole. The overall payment performance shows that 97.8 per cent. of suppliers' bills were paid on time and Departments are making good progress towards meeting the 100 per cent. target set for this financial year.
There is no room for complacency. It is particularly important that the public sector sets an example to business and is seen to pay its bills on time. I am disappointed to see that a number of Departments and Agencies failed to meet this year's target of 100 per cent. I have taken steps to remind all Departments and Agencies of the importance of paying suppliers' bills on time and meeting the target.
I am particularly disappointed at my own Department's failure to meet the target. It is unacceptable that the Department which has overall responsibility for the Government's policy on prompt payment should itself fail to meet the target. My officials are introducing new measures designed to ensure that the DTI meets the target as soon as possible next year.
The Government are committed to improving the UK's payment culture. Late payment is a serious problem, particularly for small businesses. Not knowing when customers' bills will be paid means uncertain cashflow, increased borrowings, higher costs and reduced profits.
Government Departments and their Agencies are required to monitor their payment performance and to publish the results in their departmental or annual reports. The following table lists, by Department, the proportion of bills paid within 30 days, or other agreed credit period, of receipt of a valid invoice for the financial year 1999-2000.
|Main Departments||Paid on time (Percentage)|
|National Weights and Measures Laboratory(1)||100.00|
|National Investment and Loans Office||100.00|
|Privy Council Office||100.00|
|Registry of Friendly Societies||99.90|
|Ministry of Defence||99.77|
|Department for Culture, Media and Sport||99.59|
|Office of Water Services||99.07|
|Public Records Office||99.06|
|Government Actuary's Department||98.84|
|Export Credit Guarantee Department||98.60|
|Office for National Statistics||98.51|
|Office of Fair Trading||98.49|
|Office for Standards in Education||98.40|
|Office of the Rail Regulator||98.20|
|HM Customs and Excise||98.06|
|NI Department. Health Estates||97.95|
|Foreign and Commonwealth Office||97.90|
|Intervention Board for Agricultural Produce||97.81|
|Office of Telecommunications||97.68|
|Health and Safety Executive||97.58|
|Northern Ireland Office||97.56|
|Crown Prosecution Service||97.50|
|Lord Chancellor's Department||97.42|
|Department for Education and Employment||97.31|
|NI Department of Education||97.28|
|Government Communications HQ||97.14|
|Department for National Savings||97.10|
|Department for International Development||96.82|
|Office of the Parliamentary Commissioner for Administration and Health Service Commissioners||96.48|
|NI Court Service||96.32|
|Cabinet Office (OPS)||96.24|
|Department of Health||95.28|
|Department of Social Security||95.14|
|Shadow Strategic Rail Authority||94.78|
|Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions||94.70|
|Serious Fraud Office||94.49|
|Royal Parks Agency(1)||94.00|
|NI Department. Environment inc. agencies||93.05|
|Treasury Solicitors Department||93.05|
|Department of Trade and Industry||93.00|
|Employment Tribunal Service(1)||93.00|
|NI Department of Agriculture and Rural Development||92.83|
|NI Department of Finance and Personnel||90.22|
|Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food||89.51|
(1) Agencies of the Department of Trade and Industry
(1) Agency in the Department of Culture, Media and Sport
28 Jul 2000 : Column: 1097W
Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry (1) what financial interests the Royal Mail holds in mail or parcel services in member states of the European Union; how much was received in respect of such interests in the last financial year; and if it counted toward any payment from the Royal Mail to the Chancellor of the Exchequer; 
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|Company||Member state||Status (share holding)|
|CityMail Sweden AB||Sweden||(1)67|
|Citipost||US based but with offices in Europe including France and Germany||(1)100|
|General Parcel Austria||Austria||(1)100|
|Nederlandse Paket Dienst||The Netherlands||(1)100|
(1) Majority ownership.
(1) Fully owned.
Mr. Mitchell: To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry, pursuant to his answers of 13 June 2000, Official Report, columns 595-96W, and 10 July 2000, Official Report, columns 372-73W, concerning successive reductions in the lower limit authorising competitive mail delivery, what treaty article was used as the basis for Directive 96/97; when he expects to receive the advice of the Postal Services Commission concerning the further reduction to the limit; if he will list its members and who appointed them; what monopoly limits were in force in the United Kingdom for such Crown monopolies prior to and immediately after accession to the European Community for letters and packets; and when they were reduced or eliminated. 
Mr. Alan Johnson: As stated in the answer of 13 June 2000, Official Report, columns 595-96W, Directive 96/97 was made under Articles 57(2), 66 and 100a of the Treaty establishing the European Community (now Articles 47(2), 55 and 95 in the consolidated version of the EU Treaty and the EC Treaty made by the Treaty of Amsterdam).
I refer my hon. Friend to the answer given to my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Mr. Borrow) on 4 June 2000, Official Report, columns 186-87W, which gave details of the appointment of members and chairman of the advisory Postal Services Commission which took up its functions under the Postal Services Regulations (S.I.1999/2107). They were appointed by the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry.
The UK joined the European Communities on 1 January 1973. The postal privilege of the Post Office before and after entry to the European Community was as defined in the Post Office Act 1969 where it was limited to the conveyance of letters (regardless of weight or price). The Postal Privilege (Suspension) Order (S.I.1981/1483) suspended the postal privilege in relation to the conveyance of a letter which is conveyed in consideration of a payment of not less than £1. The Order came into operation on 7 November 1981. It followed the introduction of the British Telecommunications Act 1981. The Postal Services Regulations (S.I.1999/2107) which
28 Jul 2000 : Column: 1099W
also introduced the 350 gram element came into effect on 1 September 1999 but the pricing structure meant that this did not make any material change.
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