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Lord Mackie of Benshie: My Lords, can the Government do something about the noise?

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, I was seeking to be as fair as possible to the noble Lord, Lord Kimball. He may prefer to adjourn during pleasure to discover the cause of the noise. We now understand the cause of the noise, but it will take a few moments to rectify it. I am not sure whether the Leader of the House will agree that it is in order to adjourn during pleasure for five minutes, after which we shall be able to listen to the noble Lord properly. I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 3.45 p.m.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 3.40 to 3.45 p.m.]

Lord Kimball: My Lords, it seems that even in a central metropolitan area it takes some time for the experts to arrive and fix these problems. That reflects exactly what I was saying about crime in rural areas--help is unlikely to arrive on time.

The police in the counties of Norfolk, Leicestershire and Lincolnshire will tell you that if you can identify the criminals and wish to press charges, the police cannot be responsible for any subsequent action against your property. It is a very serious situation to receive that sort of advice from a district superintendent in your own area.

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Many noble Lords will have seen the "Countryfile" programme, which is one of the few programmes on television that is worth watching. It has a very good weather forecast, which is not normally done by a lady, so it is usually right! "Countryfile" recently produced the facts that 55 per cent of all farms have been burgled; 45 per cent of all farmers in rural areas have suffered vandalism; 20 per cent have suffered arson, which is a very serious crime; and 10 per cent have suffered physical abuse. In my own parish in Leicestershire, every single farm toolshed and store has been attacked. The perpetrators have not yet succeeded in gaining access to them, but every single one has been attacked. The reason for that, as the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers rightly said, is that even the Home Office has had to admit that there is a very serious shortfall in police funding. They admit to a figure of £30 million per year because of the inadequate calculation of the sparsity funding factor. That cannot be put right overnight. It is all very well for the Government to say that they will make the money available, but they have to recruit and train the police officers and revamp the structure of the country forces.

In addition to the list of problems in the rural parishes all beginning with 'p', I should like to add to petrol and policing two others that were not in the original list; namely, planning and Poundbury. The health of the rural economy today depends on diversification. Several times this Session we have debated the sad state of agriculture and the rural economy in decline. I shall not develop that further today. But what I should like to point out to your Lordships is the fact that we can no longer succeed in developing diversification on the farms of this country. Grants for adapting farm buildings for other uses have now been withdrawn.

I know many cases, certainly in the wilds of rural Lincolnshire, where more money is brought in on the rent roll from the diversification of farm buildings than is brought in from the actual business of farming. I know that we have the engine of Grimsby and Scunthorpe, leading to a demand for office accommodation and other uses for farm buildings. But what did the Government do in that sphere? They set up the Countryside Agency and stripped it of its grant-making powers. The noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, referred to the Countryside Agency's report, which is a very serious indictment of the Government's failure to do anything for the rural countryside. Will the Government look seriously at restoring grant-making powers to the Countryside Agency? When it was the Countryside Development Agency, we saw the immense effect it had on rural areas.

One other way of restoring rural prosperity can be achieved through the planning authorities. I should like to make it compulsory for every planning authority in England to visit Poundbury to see what the Duchy of Cornwall has done there. It is the most brilliant example of how to sustain, revive and maintain a rural community. It is a wonderful mixture of housing. I am depressed today by the fact that when there is a new bypass round a village, the land within

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its compass is sold off and one particular housing contractor builds a number of desirable modern homes. They are just another modern slum. But at Poundbury, there is a brilliant development which has a mixture of all types of housing. Do not let anybody be deluded into thinking that the Duchy of Cornwall is subsidising that in any way. It is a straight, practical commercial development, thanks to the supervision of a really powerful and brilliant architect.

The other important aspect of Poundbury is its acceptance of the motor car. The motor car is digested; it is not a nuisance at all. It is hidden away and the areas above the garages are used properly. Of course, Poundbury is the product of a farmer's mind.

I believe that we all know that the market towns of Great Britain, and of England in particular, are in serious financial trouble. I believe that many of those market towns could be sustained by proper development, in the same way as Poundbury has been developed. After all, all those shops which are going bust in the market town high streets were once houses. They should be put back into the affordable rural housing sector, and linked to proper out-of-town shopping centres. That is the way in which the countryside should develop. Like many other noble Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for giving us the opportunity to discuss those issues in this debate.

3.53 p.m.

The Lord Bishop of Portsmouth: My Lords, like many noble Lords, I welcome the opportunity afforded by this debate to consider the correlation between services which are regarded as essential with the extent to which they are a reality among communities in particular need. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rodgers, for initiating the debate. In particular, I look forward to the contribution of my friend, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Hereford, whose rural experience is considerably greater than mine.

I want to concentrate on aspects that are part of my day-to-day experience. The Portsmouth diocese comprises south-east Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, an area which contains great social variations--inner urban, urban, suburban, suburban-rural, rural--much of which scores highly for mention now. However, I want to confine myself to two areas: banking and post office facilities on the Isle of Wight and health in inner urban Portsmouth.

It is a fact that 23 per cent of the population on the Isle of Wight are over 65 years of age and in the view of the county council it is unlikely that many of them will be using the Internet for their banking facilities in the near future. Local leaders are therefore extremely concerned about central government's proposal to pay pensions into bank accounts in order to avoid fraud and to increase security. That has implications for post offices, 40 per cent of whose business is paying out pensions to people who are purchasing goods at the same time.

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Existing arrangements for customers to access their banks through the post offices are good but that does not help those who do not have a bank account in the first place. Niton is a village in the south-east of the island, comprising 550 households, 25 per cent of which have no car. It has a population of 1,300, 32 per cent of whom are pensioners. At one time Niton had two banks and a variety of shops. People used to plan to retire there. Now it has few businesses and services and only a small post office with a small shop as part of it. If that were to disappear, the community would suffer even further. The ease of collecting cash and paying bills over the counter is not the only consideration. The post office remains a place of contact where people meet and keep in touch with each other. The scenario I have just described could be replicated elsewhere. It is a symptom of our inability to manage change in an effective and flexible way. We are often told in banking terms that we are becoming a cashless and faceless society. Perhaps that is where the future lies. But it is not here yet.

Many rural communities are increasingly suspicious of the high street banks which appear to them to be driven by what are seen to be their own economic priorities which are gradually replacing face-to-face contact. I am not against the cashless society. That is but a development from turning gold into paper in monetary terms and almost logical with our current technology. The faceless character of our society, however, has far more serious consequences. Computerisation and the Internet are causing a revolution, much of it good in terms of speed and efficiency. As chair of a steering committee for IT skills bases in the regeneration areas around Portsmouth, I have seen for myself children from deprived communities in inner urban Portsmouth being helped in basic English language skills by a computer programme in a way that would have been unthinkable in years past.

But there is a human price to pay. However clever the software, it cannot teach wisdom and the value of human relationships.

One of the answers to the island's problems is a more flexible approach, one which does not discriminate against those who are not computerised as well as one which provides a low-cost banking facility, particularly for the disadvantaged and the socially excluded. I want to ask the Minister what steps the Government will take to enable a credit union to deliver such financial services to vulnerable people.

I turn now to the City of Portsmouth and to inner urban Portsmouth, to be precise, which has the poorest postcode in the south of England. There are five of what we call urban priority area parishes. In three of those, 35 per cent of households depend on benefit. The area has twice the level of unemployment of the rest of the city. Seventy per cent of 17 year-olds are no longer in full-time education; 22 per cent of the population are in serious debt. I know those communities. The clergy working in their parishes are

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performing a heroic task, usually in partnership with community workers of various kinds. The work of all of them--not just the work of the clergy--is characterised by small results from great resources, such is the degree of deprivation among the people.

Life styles are unhealthy with high levels of smoking, alcohol drinking above sensible limits, and problems of overweight. A high proportion die of coronary heart disease or from cancer, including lung cancer, and 56 per cent are reported to suffer from stress caused by neighbourhood problems of one kind or another but different from that which interrupted us earlier.

In such a community, access to primary care is vital. But reality shows a different picture. In those communities general practitioners have a greater workload with a significantly higher proportion of night visits. There is a decreasing proportion of district nurses per 1,000 practice population aged 65 years and over. Moreover, the caseloads in those deprived areas include high numbers of children with special needs. Statistics reveal a consistently lower uptake for facilities such as cervical and breast screening.

The problems are typical of many of our inner cities, but Portsmouth scores highly indeed. Many of the reasons for what we face today lie deep in history as quick-fix solutions repeatedly reveal. Anyone who has lived and worked in those communities in Portsmouth knows that we are in for a long haul, whether in relation to health or education or even, in some places, housing.

I want to ask the Minister what the Government are prepared to do to persuade the Portsmouth and South-East Hampshire Health Authority to ensure the provision of equitable access to effective healthcare in relation to needs. Can he reveal the adequacy of primary healthcare provision in the deprived areas of the city so that financial allocations to primary care groups take account of differences in health needs and so that staffing levels of GPs, district nurses and health visitors can match needs in the most deprived areas? In conclusion, I call for what has been referred to by someone who, I believe, is a professional colleague of the noble Earl, Lord Russell, as "a real cultivation of the moral imagination". That will help us to bridge the gap between the grand strategy on the one hand and the problems that are with us on the other, so that we can find ways of thinking, analysing and imagining that are in every sense attainable.

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