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On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I always thought I was the employer of my members of staff, and I would be glad if you could confirm that. On Friday, one of my valued members of staff came to me in a state of agitation and said that he had just received a P45 through the post. I thought that if a P45 was to be issued, it was I who would issue it. It was not clear who did issue it, but some light has been thrown on the matter by the latest communication from the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority -issue 7 of its communications. Under the heading "P45s from the House of Commons", it states:
"We are aware that the House of Commons has sent P45s to those staff members who were in receipt of 'payments after leaving' in the House of Commons June payroll. Please note that this has no effect on the contracts we hold for these employees, and neither yourselves nor the staff member concerned needs to take any further action, either with ourselves or with HMRC. If you do have any concerns, please contact the House of Commons directly."
Who in the House of Commons should I contact, and am I the employer of my staff any more, or has that power somehow disappeared from me as well?
I am grateful to the right hon. Lady for saying what she has said, and in addition for giving me advance notice of a very real concern that she has. Strictly speaking, I am advised that it does not constitute a point of order, because it does not relate specifically to the procedure of the House, but that is not to say that it is not important, because it is. What I would say to the right hon. Lady, and indeed to the House, is that if she wishes to write to me with further details of this matter, it can be considered by the Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, and I would of course be minded to ensure that it was so considered.
We will take it in turns between the parties. Dr Lewis looks as though he is about to overflow -we must hear from him.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. I am glad that you made that wise choice, because this follows on from the previous point of order. I would like to say-if I can, within the rules of order-that most of these problems seem to flow from an impersonal approach by IPSA. I can advise hon. Members on both sides of the House that I have benefited from a degree of relenting on the part of IPSA, in that it has been willing to send a human being to meet and advise me, even in my own office-and, having spoken to human beings from IPSA, I have to say that they are very reasonable and decent people indeed. They ought to get out and about a bit more.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. With reference to the earlier part of his remarks, I would simply say that we are always interested, of course, to hear his advice, and that is what he has proffered today.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. You will be aware of the great reliance that has been placed on the Afghan army in order to build a stable state in Afghanistan. The Government have given much credence to that strategy. We have heard today the tragic news of the further deaths of, and injuries to, British soldiers, allegedly at the hands of a member of the Afghan police. We have heard further evidence that there is no loyalty in this mercenary force to its own President and country, and certainly not to foreign Governments. Given our exit strategy, should today's tragic events not be marked by a statement in the House? Have you been approached by a Minister about making such a statement?
The appropriateness or otherwise of a statement is not a matter for me to decide. The short answer to the hon. Gentleman's question is that no Minister has given me any indication of an intention to make a statement. However, by virtue of using the device of a point of order, he has registered very clearly and on the record his views on this important matter, and I have a feeling it will have been heard here-and, indeed, in Newport.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. I very much welcome what you said in response to Ann Clwyd, because you seemed to be intimating to the House that although it was not strictly a point of order-because it did not relate to the business of the House-it was important for Members to have an opportunity to raise matters concerning IPSA on the Floor of the House. Do I take it from your ruling, therefore, that we can reassert a degree of parliamentary control over IPSA by being allowed to raise its conduct with you directly in points of order?
The hon. Gentleman should not read into what I said any more than what I said. Ann Clwyd raised a point of importance and concern to her and, I am sure, others. In seeking to respond effectively to her attempted point of order, I simply drew attention to the fact that there was a means by which the issue could be considered. I have said what I have said. The Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority will be a forum in which matters of concern can be aired and addressed. It will not be beyond his ingenuity to make of that what he will.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Have you had an opportunity to complete your deliberations on the matter I raised with you last week-the fact that under the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975, only 95 Ministers may sit and vote in the House of Commons at any one time? At the beginning of last week there were only 95 Ministers, but then three Liberal Democrat Members, who I understand to be part of the Government, were appointed as Whips. That takes us above the 95 figure, so surely either they should not be allowed to sit and vote in the House of Commons, or-if they are now organising an operation separate from the Government-they should be sitting on the Opposition Benches, not on the Government Benches, or they should not be calling themselves Whips.
I have indeed inquired into the matter that the hon. Gentleman previously raised. I have completed what he generously described as my deliberations on the subject, and I have reached my conclusion. What is more, as he can tell, I am literally itching to share my conclusion both with him and with the House-although how he will feel when I have finished is a matter for speculation and conjecture. I am assured by the Liberal Democrat Chief Whip that the three hon. Members whom he has asked to work as party Whips are not members of the Government. On that basis, the hon. Gentleman's concerns about the total number of Ministers on the Government payroll can be allayed. If-I emphasise the "if"-it is possible, as a result of this ruling, to put his mind at rest, I shall be especially gratified.
Some people do like to push it-as is becoming evident. This is a matter of concern, so what I would say to the hon. Gentleman is that consideration has been given to whether written and oral parliamentary questions should be capable of being tabled with a view to their being answered. If and when there is procedure for oral answers to be given, the hon. Gentleman will learn very quickly, because I know the determination and consistency with which he always studies the Order Paper.
If there are no further points of order, and the appetite has been satisfied, we now move to the presentation of Bills.