I can read. They need that freedom to be able to conduct their affairs to the best of their ability on behalf of the people whom they represent. Bearing that in mind, and because of all the uncertainty that the Minister has created by advancing this reorganisation, will he agree to suspend compulsory competitive tendering for blue and white-collar workers within those organisations until reorganisation has been completed?
Will my hon. Friend convey to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State my enthusiastic support for his remarks a few moments ago about the need for variety in local government? Is he aware that in Hampshire there is support for unitary government in Southampton and Portsmouth, but elsewhere in the county there is strong support for the existing two-tier system? Will my hon. Friend confirm that if the Local Government Commission finds that there is strong popular support for maintaining the county council and also finds that it is the most cost-efficient way of running the rest of the county, it will be able to recommend the continuation of the present two-tier system?
The Local Government Commission acts independently in the framework of the guidelines that we have laid down. The fact that those guidelines have been modified reflects the request of Sir John Banham that the Government should clarify their intentions in that area. Having clarified our intentions, the Government clearly wish to see that the bulk of recommendations should be consistent with those new guidelines. I temporarily suspended the review—about which there has been some comment—to achieve that consistency. When the Commission makes its recommendations, we will have to examine them and make our judgment and, at the end of the day, the House will have to make its judgment. Only when the House has done so will we be in a position to implement.
Has the Minister discussed with local authority leaders the cost of local government reorganisation? Does he accept that the transitional costs will be in the region of £1·2 billion? Will he give an assurance to local authorities and the House that services will not be cut just to reorganise local authorities?
Everybody is chasing a piece of paper that came from the county councils which quotes that figure. That is not my Department's estimate. If I may say so, the county councils who expect their lives to be relatively short-lived perhaps have some interest in exaggerating the transitional costs.