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Baroness Hamwee: I am grateful to the Minister for filling in the gaps between the lines. Others no doubt will follow that Minotaur's trail. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

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Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 19 agreed to.

Schedule 1 [Capital finance: parish and community councils and charter trustees]:

[Amendment No. 67 not moved.]

Baroness Hamwee moved Amendment No. 68:

    Page 79, line 3, leave out "due rate" and insert "rate from time to time specified by the appropriate person"

The noble Baroness said: I suspect that I may be told that the definition of "due rate" appears elsewhere in the 100-odd pages of the Bill. The amendment seeks to delete the words "due rate" in paragraph 3(2) and to replace them with "rate from time to time specified by the appropriate person"—in other words, the Secretary of State or the National Assembly.

I do not, of course, support the Secretary of State having additional powers but it may be what the "due rate" means. Can the Minister say where and how it is defined? This is another case of it being quite difficult for new readers starting here. I beg to move.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: I am sorry, but I cannot resist a tease. It is usually the case that the Opposition seek to remove or limit the powers of a Minister. Here the Liberal Democrat spokesperson on the Bill is proposing a new and thoroughly draconian power for the poor old Secretary of State. But we really do not want it. So thank you, but no.

Consider what would happen if an interest rate were to be set under this power. Parish councils throughout the country would be repaying loans taken out at different times at different rates. They are contractually bound to pay the interest rate stipulated for each loan, but this provision would constrain the charge for interest that they make to their revenue accounts.

The charge to the revenue account, of course, in turn determines the precept that they set as a call on their council tax. If they were required to charge less to their revenue accounts than the amount they were required to pay, they would have insufficient funds to make the payments. It is true that they have a discretion to make a higher charge, but that is not likely to reassure a lender that funds will necessarily be available. If the charge is to be greater than the amount due, then council tax would have been raised unnecessarily.

So the provision requiring the due amount of interest to be charged to revenue accounts is taken over from the Local Government Act 1972. We believe that that works well for local government, and local government seems to believe that it works well. It is certainly well understood. It is a fundamental part of good and sound financial practice and provides a good framework for parish councils. We would be ill-advised to alter it.

We are grateful for the suggestion that the Secretary of State should have new powers, but on this occasion we do not believe it would help parish councils.

Baroness Hamwee: The Minister's answer showed a lot of imagination. However, he omitted to refer to the

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clause in the 1972 Act which defines and provides for "due rate". Teasing aside, it would be helpful to know the definition. I appreciate that this may be a question to be dealt with in a letter, although the Minister may be about to be told the answer by people who carry the enormous volumes of local government legislation in their heads, which is admirable. Perhaps he will be able to tell us which clause it is.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: "Due rate" means the rate due. It means no more nor less than that.

Baroness Hamwee: That answer may or may not be helpful. I shall think about it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

Clause 20 [Directions]:

[Amendment No. 69 not moved.]

Clause 20 agreed to.

Lord Hanningfield moved Amendment No. 70:

    After Clause 20, insert the following new clause—

(1) In publishing any regulations or directions under this Chapter, the Secretary of State shall publish a statement of his total estimate of the time and the average cost in officer time that it will require for local authorities and functional bodies as a whole to read, implement and comply with each set of regulations and directions that he may issue, and the number of civil servants in his department or other government agencies required to prepare, monitor and apply the said regulations, together with his estimate of the cumulative annual cost to the taxpayer of implementation of the regulations and directions by both central and local government.
(2) The chief executive of each local authority or functional body in receipt of regulations and directions issued by the Secretary of State under this Chapter shall publish an estimate of the total compliance cost to his authority and shall furnish the figure annually to the Audit Commission.
(3) The Audit Commission shall publish an annual table setting out the figures published by the Secretary of State and the chief executives of local authorities and other functional bodies under subsections (1) and (2) above, and shall lay that table before Parliament."

The noble Lord said: The amendment is straightforward. It would require estimates to be produced of the costs involved in complying with the new provisions set out in Part 1 of the Bill.

Most people accept that there are freedoms in the Bill, but increasingly—as we have discussed in Committee for two days and will discuss in the next four days or so in Committee—more and more regulations and complexities are contained in legislation. When members and officers of local government read this legislation they are very concerned about the continuing cost and work involved in providing the material to implement it, as we have discussed today. That applies not only to this legislation but to other legislation all the time.

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We have brought forward the amendment to ensure that someone will calculate the cost of this legislation to local authorities. I shall be interested to hear the Minister's response.

Baroness Hanham: It could be said—the Minister may be about to say it—that this is a trivial amendment, but people in local government will not believe that it is. As my noble friend Lord Hanningfield said, they have to wrestle all the time with the regulations and the legislation produced here, and with its impact when it falls on them. Perhaps at some stage we should pay more attention to the impact of such regulations and legislation.

The cost of implementing regulations and legislation arises from employing people to carry out its requirements and to provide the information required, and ensuring that they understand what is proposed. It is to be hoped they will not try to do that from this Bill because they will not be able to. They will have to go back through all kinds of legislation to understand what is proposed.

Without in any way wishing to denigrate civil servants, I believe that they are frightfully good at producing reams of regulations. They rationalise issues very carefully because they do not want to leave any stone unturned in the course of what they are doing, but they do not perhaps understand its implications. The reality of life in town halls is that more and more senior officer time is taken up by reading, interpreting and responding to government directions and regulations.

For once, we may wish to follow the US, which has a paperwork reduction Act that requires federal agencies to estimate how long it should take to read and respond to documents. It is a very good idea. Every civil servant should have an egg-timer on his or her desk, as do lawyers and other professionals to help them in estimating their bills.

The amendment is not trivial. It suggests that we should stop and take stock. If we were to go through what we have already covered on page 10 and add up the number of times it is stated "and this will be carried out within regulation", the Committee will perhaps understand the purpose behind the amendment.

Lord Rooker: In speaking to this amendment to the "Local Government Reduction of Bumph Bill", which is what the Bill is—

Baroness Hanham: No. It is not a reduction of bumph Bill in its proposals.

Lord Rooker: Yes it is. The Bill reduces burdens on local authorities up and down the land. It takes the heavy rod of government off their backs and gives them greater freedom to operate without constantly reporting back to Whitehall.

I should be very interested to learn what the chief executive of the noble Lord's authority said about compliance with the amendment. I should be very interested to hear what the Local Government Association would have to say about this amendment

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putting extra burdens on local government. That is the reality—the amendment would put extra burdens on local government. That is what the proposed subsection (2) is all about.

I am appalled. The amendment goes against the whole grain of the Bill, which seeks to reduce the burden on local government. Many of the issues in the Bill that we have covered so far relate to powers of last resort which, like previous governments, we would use only as a last resort. The implication that the powers in the Bill are excessive and will be costly for local government does not stand up. The procedures involved in the amendment would cost a fortune to implement and require loads of paperwork, loads of red tape, loads of monitors and loads of people not delivering benefits or any other services. They would be incredibly time consuming. Before coming back with this issue at Report stage, I challenge noble Lords opposite to get the Audit Commission or the Local Government Association to run a rule over the amendment.

We have kept regulations to a minimum and made them easy to operate. The overall aim is to increase local government freedom, not to curtail it. It is true that there are some necessary long-stop powers in parts of the Bill. We understand that many of the main powers are regulations and directions, but most are such that they impose the national or local borrowing limit. As we have said repeatedly, we hope never to have to use them but we need long-stop powers.

The other regulations—those allowing the capitalisation of expenditure—are designed to help local authorities to cope with financial pressures. Local authorities have stated that the overall effects of Chapter 1 can be only beneficial to local government. But then what happens? We are faced with this amendment which seeks to place further burdens on local government. I am absolutely appalled. Opposition members should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves.

6.15 p.m.

Lord Hanningfield: We are not thoroughly ashamed of ourselves. I accept much of what the Minister said. The idea behind it has certainly not involved very much the LGA. The ideas behind freeing up local authorities are laudable but, increasingly, laudable ideas are then hemmed in by red tape. That is a problem in our country.

When I speak to colleagues in the United States—this follows on from what my noble friend Lady Hanham said—they are amazed by the prescription in the legislation for local government in this country. We prescribe so much and continue to do so. Every time a government—both previous governments and this Government—introduce legislation they continue to spoil the whole effect of it by so much prescription. We have tabled the amendment in an attempt to make people realise that.

Many people who have looked at this Bill—not chief executives but day-to-day people—feel that it is a very prescriptive and very detailed Bill which

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imposes a lot of work on local authorities. I accept that the Government want to free up the borrowing regime and improve the service for local government, but it would be very nice if the Minister would not joke about the amendment. He should take it seriously, because that is what many people feel.

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