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House of Lords

Tuesday, 22nd February 2005.

The House met at half-past two of the clock: The LORD CHANCELLOR on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.

Wheels to Work Schemes

Lord Cameron of Dillington asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Whitty): My Lords, Wheels to Work schemes are developed and run locally and, where appropriate, Jobcentre Plus contributes to local schemes.

Lord Cameron of Dillington: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am disappointed but not surprised by it. Delighted as I am, of course, to have a conversation with the Minister, I am slightly surprised that a representative from the Department for Works and Pensions is not here to answer the Question.

I am sure the Minister is aware that the chances of rural youngsters finding jobs within walking distance are pretty remote. Without the means to buy a set of wheels they are unable to get a job, and without a job, of course, they are unable to buy themselves a set of wheels. Wheels to Work schemes are an admirable solution to this problem because they involve lending such people mopeds which, after six to nine months, they have to repay into the pool. The Minister will know that the schemes are very successful.

Is the Minister aware that the cost of such schemes is around £70 per person per week, including administration costs, whereas the jobseeker's allowance, which is otherwise payable, is nearly double that, excluding administration costs? What incentive is there for the local regional jobcentre managers to finance these schemes?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord is delighted that I am answering his Question after all. He is correct to say that these schemes have in many cases proved hugely successful. Most of them involve the supply of a moped or a bicycle, but other subsidised transport schemes, driving lessons and advice come under the general heading of Wheels to Work. That demonstrates that these are essentially local schemes put together by local partners to fit local conditions. That is probably the secret of their success. Therefore moving to the noble Lord's original suggestion of a national system, which would inevitably be more prescriptive, is not the
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solution. Although jobcentres have been major partners in this, they are not the only partners—in some cases they have not been one of the participants—and so it is not obvious that the jobcentre should take the prime responsibility for the role which, in the period of the noble Lord's tenure, the Countryside Agency took on and which will now pass to the RDAs.

Lord Renton: My Lords, what kind of wheels are they and what kind of work is it?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, by and large, they are two wheels but, as I have just explained, some forms of the scheme give subsidies to four wheels. The work is the work that the unemployed person would not otherwise be able to get or the training place that they would not otherwise be able to get to.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, rightly said, the schemes benefit enormously young people seeking work. But is the Minister aware how much they benefit also small and medium-sized rural enterprises, which are then able to access a very energetic, young and enthusiastic work force? I was speaking only last week to one such person in north Devon. Given their effect on the rural economy overall, does the Minister consider that the RDAs should fund such schemes if the Government have no intention of introducing a national scheme?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, the national schemes which were originally directed through the Countryside Agency will become the responsibility of the RDAs and the schemes already in place will continue to be funded by them. Clearly schemes of this kind will be of interest to the RDAs' support for rural businesses as well as to bringing down the rate of rural unemployment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, how many schemes have been set up particularly with regard to bicycles, mopeds and other forms of transport? How many rural jobcentres are there and how many have been closed within the past four years?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, I do not know the answer to the second part of the noble Baroness's question. It is definitely a matter on which the DWP will have to communicate with her. The rural dimension of the scheme is a matter for Defra. As regards local exchanges, I ought perhaps to have the information with me but it would be sensible if my colleagues wrote to the noble Baroness about the number of jobcentres.

As to the scheme itself, at 30 September last year there were, roughly speaking, 1,329 schemes. In the bulk of those—just over half—the largest single element was the provision of mopeds. A much smaller number of schemes involved bicycles and the others
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involved loans or subsidies for travel of one kind or another. So the schemes are very flexible, albeit mopeds predominate.

Lord Tordoff: My Lords, is the noble Lord not surprised that the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who is not in his place, is not here to congratulate the Government on encouraging people to get on their bikes?

Lord Whitty: My Lords, leaping to the defence of the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, as I always do in his absence or otherwise, he has always denied that particular saying. Nevertheless it has passed into mythology and therefore I believe that, in his absence, we can definitely include the noble Lord in support of these schemes.

Israel and Palestine: London Conference

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean): My Lords, we have discussed the agenda of the 1 March London meeting on supporting the Palestinian Authority with the Palestinians themselves and international partners. The Palestinian Authority will present its proposals on state-building and capacity-building in the areas of governance, security and economic development. We anticipate that the international community will respond by offering practical support. We will continue to consult the Palestinians, the quartet and international partners in the run-up to the London meeting.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. Will she tell us a little more about how this conference—which will include only the Palestinians and will be held without Israeli participation—fits into the broader picture of moving, at last we hope, towards a viable two-state solution, particularly in the light of the rather encouraging and constructive comments made by President Bush in Brussels yesterday about the need for a territorially contiguous Palestinian state?

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, I endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, said about President Bush's remarks yesterday. I am happy to tell your Lordships that when I met the Arab League ambassadors this morning I noticed that those remarks had also been noted by them. The real purpose of this meeting is to allow the international community to support the Palestinian Authority's own plans to build the institutions needed to underpin a future Palestinian state. In the context of the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, it is a question of making sure
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that a Palestinian state, when it is established, can indeed be the viable sustainable state that we all know is a necessary part of the overall road map plan and, of course, of the two-state solution.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, while I endorse very warmly the welcome of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, for President Bush's reported statement about the need for the respective parts of a Palestinian state to be contiguous and his renewed call for a freeze on settlement activity, may I nevertheless ask the Minister to give an assurance to this House, and perhaps also to the Palestinians attending the conference on 1 March, that Her Majesty's Government will continue to keep a close watch on settlement activity in the light of Prime Minister Sharon's threat to consolidate an Israeli presence in the territories other than Gaza?

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