On 28th July 2014, Conservative Peer Baroness Hodgson of Abinger asked Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to ensure that any future peace settlement in South Sudan is inclusive. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, it is evident that the long-term process of finding an inclusive Sudanese-led reconciliation can begin only once hostilities cease and a political settlement and resolution is reached. This is why international diplomacy is so vital. Will the noble Lord tell the House what plans the Government have to address the current understaffing of the UK Sudan unit, which has a role in this?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the number of staff in the UK Sudan unit has fluctuated over the past few months; my understanding is that it is now rather larger than it was two or three months ago. I do not think that we can wait until the fighting stops to begin negotiations; local fighting is likely to continue for some considerable time and we have to start to move to construct at least the basis of some form of government now.
On 17th July 2014, Lord Ezra asked Her Majesty’s Government whether, in the light of the recently published statistical report on fuel poverty indicating a rising trend in 2014, they intend to expedite the announcement of their policy for dealing with the matter. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a supplementary question.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, those who keep a close eye on this area point out that issues of fuel poverty depend on which groups you look at. Clearly, in some groups this is a growing area. Indeed, they assert that there is a connection between the increase in fuel poverty of certain groups and the increase in the number of pre-paid meters that have been installed, partly because it is believed that they are the most expensive way to pay for fuel. In the light of that, can my noble friend tell us what consideration Her Majesty’s Government have given to promoting the five principles on the use of pre-paid meters which were agreed between Consumer Focus and the big six energy companies back in March 2011, to ensure consistency in their installation and use?
Baroness Verma: I am extremely grateful to the right reverend Prelate for his question, which enables me to reassure him and the House that we have looked very seriously at the pre-paid meter issue. We think that people on very low incomes must be among the greater beneficiaries of this policy, which is why we will make sure that through smart meters they are able to top up their meter as if they are topping up a mobile phone, so they have no chance of being cut off when they need their electricity the most.
On 15th July 2014, the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, spoke in support of amendments to the Government’s Infrastructure Bill, during its Committee Stage. The amendments, the the Bishop’s intervention, focused on forestry and the place of the public forest estate. The amendments were withdrawn at the end of the debate.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, an interest in forestry has brought me along today. I am hugely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, for what she said; indeed, she made many of the points that I wanted to make. I will therefore say just one or two things. In starting, I have come hotfoot from the General Synod, where we had a debate last night on Magna Carta, which I had to read. I discovered that three of the clauses there are about bishops and barons bringing the Executive to account on the forests—in those days King John wanted to make them bigger so that he could take more land. I now find myself here as a Bishop among Barons and Baronesses, reflecting on that. Continue reading “Bishop of St Albans calls for action of protection the public forest estate”
On 14th July 2014, the Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, received answers to two written questions, on the subject of Disabled Students’ Allowances.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government which criteria they will use, under the proposed changes to the Disabled Students’ Allowance, to distinguish between the need for higher specification or higher cost computers where a student needs one by virtue of their disability, as opposed to a need because of the way in which a course is delivered.
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon: The criteria for determining when Disabled Student Allowances (DSAs) will contribute to the cost of higher specification or higher cost computers will be set out in guidance that will be published alongside the appropriate regulations in the autumn. Support under DSAs will continue to be available if the need for a higher specification or higher cost computer is by virtue of the student’s disability, rather than how the course is being delivered by the Higher Education Institution (HEI). If access to a higher specification or higher cost computer is essential to all students on that course, regardless of whether they are disabled or not, then provision of such computers would be a matter for the HEI.
Continue reading “Written Questions – Disabled Students’ Allowances”
On 8th July 2014, Labour Peer Baroness Kinnock of Holyhead asked Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the concerns expressed by the Disasters Emergency Committee over the prospect of famine in South Sudan. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith asked a supplementary question.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the situation is dire. As well as the 4 million people in need of humanitarian aid, more than 10,000 people have already been killed and 1.4 million people have been displaced. When we are facing such terrible problems it is important not to underestimate the role played by various agencies already on the ground, including many Anglican and ecumenical agencies working with the Anglican Alliance. Indeed, Archbishop Daniel Deng has been a leader in the efforts to bring peace. How can Her Majesty’s Government support the churches working on the ground in their humanitarian and peace efforts and in delivering aid?
Baroness Northover: I too pay tribute to those who are working in these extremely difficult circumstances. The right reverend Prelate will know that the United Kingdom is a leading donor. We are meeting about 7.5% of the total appeal at the moment and working to support all the agencies that are managing to get in. We do not underestimate the difficulties.
On 1st July 2014, Liberal Democrat peer Lord Storey asked Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to encourage educational establishments to take part in National Voter Registration Day 2015. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a supplementary question.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the Question is about encouraging educational establishments to encourage a whole new generation of people to engage in the electoral process. Of course, next year is a hugely significant year, with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta. Can we not only encourage our schools to use this as an opportunity to really inspire people to think about civil participation, citizenship and so on but find some imaginative ways to give people the information in the educational packs that will be used next year?
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, certainly. We trust that the churches will play their own role, and perhaps we will have mentions in sermons of civic duty and what one should render unto Caesar as well as unto God.
“It is vital that councils and the NHS maintain a basic level of support, not least because a lot of money going into this area is matched by funding from companies, charities and churches. We cannot solve the problem with just the voluntary sector being expected to pick up these extraordinarily complex problems” – Bishop of St Albans, 26.6.14
On 26th June 2014, Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Tyler of Enfield led a short debate to ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they have plans to improve how local services respond to women with multiple and complex needs including homelessness, domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and physical and mental health problems. The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Rev Alan Smith, spoke in the debate. He focused his speech on three areas – the need for mutli-agency coordination in light of financial constraints, the need for a greater availability of affordable housing and the vital role of key workers to support those with multiple and complex needs. He also highlighted the issue of domestic violence and called for greater efforts to be made in improving rates of prosecution.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, for keeping this vitally important area high on the agenda. I confess that I was slightly reticent in putting my name down to speak today because it is not an area in which I am an expert. However, I find myself regularly bumping into people who are involved in it and come across it as a matter of real concern for us. Certainly we are discussing a complex subject which affects women in many different ways and impacts on a wide range of agencies—police, health professionals, probation services and statutory and voluntary groups which are working in homelessness, substance use and abuse, human trafficking and so on. Continue reading “Bishop of St Albans calls for multi-agency co-ordination for effective response to challenges faced by vulnerable women”
On the 25th June 2014 the Lord Bishop of St Albans received three written answers, on apprenticeship data and on the events in Evin Prison, Iran.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether their commitment to making better apprenticeship data available will involve publishing the retention rate of apprentices as employees by company and by occupational sector. Continue reading “Bishop of St Albans asks questions on Apprentices and Iran”
On 24th June 2014, Lord Storey led a short debate in the House of Lords, to ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they will take to ensure that all schools, sports clubs and public service buildings have defibrillators as part of their first-aid kit provision.The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith spoken during the debate, and expressed his desire to see a greater number of defibrillators in public spaces including churches and church halls. The Bishop commended the work of charities such as the British Heart Foundation and the Community Heartbeat trust as well as the efforts of the community first responders.
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Storey, for raising this important issue and for keeping it to the forefront. When I was training to be ordained, I became used to some people going off for a little doze while I was preaching. What I did not know was that, during my very first sermon, somebody—a very nice lady—would have a heart attack. Fortunately, she did not die and I got to know her and her family very well during her convalescence. I saw something of the impact of such events on families; indeed, my sympathy goes out to those who know something of this in their own family.
Continue reading “Bishop of St Albans speaks in support of greater availability of defibrillators in public spaces”
On 24th June 2014, Baroness Quin asked Her Majesty’s Government when they expect to publish their interim review on the under-occupancy charge.The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Alan Smith, asked a supplementary question:
The Lord Bishop of St Albans: My Lords, the Ipsos MORI report, undertaken by the National Housing Federation in February this year looked at 183 housing associations. It found that two-thirds of tenants affected by the underoccupancy charge were in rent arrears and 38% indicated that they were in debt. That is the equivalent of 72,000 tenants in housing associations in debt in England alone, which seems to be allied in some way to the underoccupancy charge. What assessment have Her Majesty’s Government made of the impact on housing associations of rent arrears because of the underoccupancy charge?
Lord Freud: We have a general look at the level of arrears through the Homes and Communities Agency, whose statistics show that arrears have fallen—not risen—for the past two quarters in a row. The average rent collection rate for associations remains at 99%, a very high figure, which is very much at variance with some of the stories that we hear and the data that the right reverend Prelate referred to.