§ Mrs. Roche
To ask the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food how often his Department and each agency within it has failed to pay invoices due to small businesses within 30 days in each of the last five years. 
§ Mr. Boswell
[holding answer 1 November 1995]: The information is not available in the format requested. From 1991 to 1994 prompt payment performance was measured by a manual sampling process, not restricted to small businesses. This sampling established MAFF's overall payment performance including payments to farm businesses, many of which will be small businesses, as:
- 1990–91: not recorded
- 1991–92: 77 per cent.
- 1992–93: 85 per cent.
- 1993–94: 85 per cent.
- 1994–95: n/a—see below
During 1994 MAFF was in the process of installing a computerised payments system and as a result consistent, statistically valid data on prompt payment performance could not be collected. Data emerging from the new system indicate 85.41 per cent. of all payments made by MAFF in the first quarter of 1995–96 were made by the due date. Strategies are in place to provide more refined data from 1 April 1996, including performance on payments to small business; and to use these data to secure further improvements in MAFF's prompt payment record.
Responsibility for this matter is delegated to agencies, and I have asked the chief executives to reply direct.
Letter from Johnston McNeill to Mrs. Barbara Roche, dated 3 November 1995:
As Chief Executive of the Meat Hygiene Service (MHS), your question regarding payment of invoices has been passed to me for reply with regard to this Executive Agency. As you may know, the MHS was established on 1 April this year. Therefore, we do not have sufficient data to provide you with an answer, such information would be collated after a full year of operation. 
I can advise you, however, that the MHS is committed to payment of all invoices within timescales agreed with our suppliers. We have procedures in place to monitor payments to ensure that this is adhered to. In particular, we pay careful attention to the payment of our veterinary contractors. We have 176 practices supplying the majority of our veterinary services in meat plants. It is important to us that we maintain good working relations with these practices, many of which are small firms. We realise that one of the best ways of doing this is through prompt payment of their bills and ensure that this is done.
Letter from T. W. A. Little to Mrs. Barbara Roche, dated 3 November 1995:
The Minister has asked me to reply to your question on the timing of invoice payments to small businesses. 
Over the last five years, the policy of the Veterinary Laboratories Agency (known as the Central Veterinary Laboratory until 30 September 1995) has been to pay all invoices within 30 days. Where we know that we are dealing with a small business, we aim to pay within 5 to 10 days. We are not aware of any failures to apply this policy although, clearly, in cases of disputes with suppliers, settlement will tend to take a little longer.508W
Letter from Professor P. I. Stanley to Mrs. Barbara Roche, dated 3 November 1995:
You asked the Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food about the number of times his Department and Agencies have failed to pay invoices due to small businesses within 30 days in each of the last five years. The Central Science Laboratory (CSL) became a MAFF executive agency in April 1992 and the Minister has asked me to reply to you in respect of the period since then, as this is an operational matter for which I am responsible. 
When CSL invoices are paid no differentiation is made between the size of businesses and so, the information is not available in the form you have requested. However since 1993 the Agency has measured overall prompt payment performance by manual sampling of supplier invoices. This sampling indicates that the percentage of invoices paid within 30 days of the invoice date has been as follows:
Letter from G. K. Bruce to Mrs. Barbara Roche, dated 3 November 1995:
The Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food has asked me to reply, in respect of the Pesticides Safety Directorate (PSD), to your question about payment of invoices to small businesses. 
The Pesticides Safety Directorate was established as an Agency on 1 April 1993. We continue to rely on the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food to effect our payments and up to the time of our relocation to York in October 1994 it was not possible to identify our payment processing performance separately from that of our core Department. Since our relocation we have put in place a system to monitor performance on a sample basis. Our records show that so far during 1995/96, 98% of all valid invoices and 100% of invoices to small businesses have been paid within 30 days of receipt.
Letter from Phillip Needham to Mrs. Barbara Roche, dated 3 November 1995:
The Minister of Agriculture has asked me to reply to your Parliamentary Question (Number 1953) in which you asked how often each Agency has failed to pay invoices due to small businesses within 30 days for the last five years. 
ADAS was formed as a Next Steps Agency in 1992. In our Report and Accounts 1994/95 (which is lodged in the library of the House of Commons), we state that it is our policy to pay suppliers against invoice within agreed trading terms.
Unfortunately, we could not extract the information you require without disproportionate costs to this agency.
Letter from Dr. J. M. Rutter, to Mrs. Barbara Roche, dated 3 November 1995:
The Minister has asked me to reply to your question about the time taken by the Veterinary Medicines Directorate (VMD) to pay invoices due to small businesses, as this is an operational matter for which I am responsible.
In arranging payment of invoices, we make no distinction between those due to small or large businesses, but aim to pay them all within 30 days or the terms of the invoice if less. Since the VMD was established as a Next Steps Agency in April 1990, payment of invoices has been carried out by the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food on our behalf. Information on core MAFF payment performance contained in the reply to your question from the Minister, therefore also embraces that for the VMD.