Lord Horam asked Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to increase the Pupil Premium for the most disadvantaged primary school children.
The Bishop of Wakefield asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, can the Minister tell us whether the Government are considering ways in which an increase in the pupil premium can be targeted at the forms of deprivation most difficult to address? Rural deprivation, for example, particularly in church schools, is very significant in our part of West Yorkshire, in the Diocese of Wakefield.
Lord Nash: The right reverend Prelate is quite right to point out the problems with rural deprivation; it is similar to coastal deprivation. There are particular schemes that schools follow: mentoring; systemic feedback; much more involvement of parents; early intervention, particularly using the better teachers; and peer tutoring. Much can be learnt from groups like Ark, whose academy in Portsmouth, for instance, which is in a classic coastal town, has improved results in four years from 24% to 68%.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the Office of Fair Trading about securing an affordable energy supply for rural households that are off the gas grid.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Baroness Verma): Representatives of the Office of Fair Trading attend the Roundtable meetings chaired by my Rt. Hon. Friend the Minister of State for Energy. The Roundtable brings together Government, regulators, advisory and charitable bodies, the fuel supply industry and others to work together to improve the security and affordability of off-grid fuel supply.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans asked Her Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with the energy companies about reducing the price of electricity paid by households that are not dual fuel customers because they do not have access to the gas grid.
Baroness Verma: DECC Ministers regularly meet with energy supply companies to discuss a range of energy issues. Electricity prices for household consumers are a commercial matter for the companies concerned.
Lord McConnell of Glenscorrodale asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of recent developments in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The Bishop of Wakefield asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Wakefield: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister will be aware that my colleague and friend the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury is visiting the DRC today with the Minister for Africa. Could she inform the House of the work of Her Majesty’s Government, currently being promoted by them, in the protection of women in the DRC, particularly from gender-based violence?
Baroness Warsi: The Minister for Africa will have meetings with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of the DRC, particularly to support HEAL Africa, a project which aims to support women who have been subjected to sexual violence.
The Rt Revd Alan Smith, Lord Bishop of St Albans asked a supplementary question relating to the underoccupancy charge and its impact on tenants. The Bishop asked about tenants in the North of England and Wales who believed they would be unable to pay their rent in full due to the introduction of the new charge for an empty bedroom. Lord Freud responded to say during the transition the Government were making available adequate funds for discretionary housing payments.
Baroness Hollis of Heigham asked Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect of the underoccupancy charge on tenants.
Second Church Estates Commissioner, Rt Hon Sir Tony Baldry MP, answered three written questions from Tessa Munt MP on the Church Commissioners plans for the Palace at Wells.
Tessa Munt: To ask the right hon. Member for Banbury, representing the Church Commissioners, pursuant to the answer of 23 January 2014, Official report, column 317W on Bishop of Bath and Wells, in relation to the Bishop’s living accommodation, what repairs or maintenance were identified in the Church Commissioners Quinquennial Review dated 2013.
Baroness Quin asked Her Majesty’s Government what recent discussions they have had with local authorities about the costs associated with implementing the underoccupancy charge.
The Bishop of St Albans asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, as affordable rental properties in rural areas are in such shortage, will the Government extend the scheme, which currently applies only to the 21 most sparsely populated districts, and allow more local authorities to use discretionary housing payments to help retain more couples and families in their homes?
Lord Freud: My Lords, that is exactly what the discretionary housing payment is for. It is for local authorities to take decisions, based on their local knowledge, so that they get the funds to the right people. The emerging signs are that we will not spend all the discretionary housing payments this year. I am, however, making sure that a substantial amount of discretionary housing payment goes out next year, for which the total figure will be £165 million.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett asked Her Majesty’s Government what arrangements will be made from April 2015 for the payment to local authorities of the moneys devolved from the Social Fund.
The Bishop of Leicester asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of Leicester: My Lords, in view of what the Minister has said, will she assure the House that there will be a proper assessment of the take-up of government funds by local authorities in 2013-14 to inform future consideration of the success or otherwise of these changes? How will the Government ensure that future consideration is linked to the wider impact of the Government’s welfare reforms?
Baroness Stowell of Beeston: The Department for Work and Pensions is committed to reviewing how local authorities have been providing this support until now, and it will continue to do so during the course of 2014. What I hope we will see from that is that the very best practice which is being carried out in some local authorities will be used to inform other local authorities, and that the best practice is spread widely.