On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Amid the first lockdown, the Prime Minister promised NHS and social care staff from overseas that they would be refunded the unfair annual £624 charge that they have to pay to use the NHS that they themselves work in. It was big, front-page news at the time, and he was pressured into it by the Leader of the Opposition, the trade unions and his own Back Benchers, including members of the Health and Social Care Committee.
I have asked Ministers countless times in written questions, in the Chamber and face-to-face in Select Committees, but none has been able to tell me the number of successful refunds of these unfair NHS charges. Yesterday, a written answer from the Minister for Health, the hon. Member for Charnwood (Edward Argar), finally admitted that the Government know the figure; they just do not want to publish it yet. As long as the figure is not published, I can only assume that it is because the number is actually a tiny fraction of the hundreds of thousands of health and social care heroes who are eligible—another broken promise to the people to whom we owe so much. May I request your advice, Mr Speaker? Given that the Government are ducking and diving—
Order. Sorry, but we cannot get into a full debate. I have to try to answer the hon. Member’s point of order, which I thank her for giving me notice of. She will know that I do not have responsibility for the content of ministerial answers, but I note that the answer that she was given says that
“this information is currently unvalidated. The Home Office is considering whether this information can be verified and released”.
There are genuine questions and concerns. I am sure that the Government want to be transparent in the way in which they deal with questions. I suggest to the Home Office: get it answered quickly, and then we will have no further points of order on this matter.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Five days following Storm Arwen, thousands of my constituents—as well as those of my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Dehenna Davison), my right hon. Friend the Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Anne-Marie Trevelyan), my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman), and Members in Cumbria and North Yorkshire—remain without electricity. This morning we were informed by Northern Powergrid that the damage is more extensive than initially realised, with some households potentially facing weeks without electricity. Our towns and villages are fully pulling together, but given the scale of what is going on—including issues such as water pumps not being available to feed animals and get water to households—it is clear that more action is needed.
My understanding is that the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy offered military aid to the civil authorities—MACA—this weekend, but that Northern Powergrid refused it. Mr Speaker, if you have not had notice of a statement from the Government, will you let me know how we can ensure that the Government are doing everything possible to support our communities and constituents in the north Pennines?
I have great sympathy with the hon. Member. Power cuts really do destroy lives, especially with the current cold weather, and the pressure that has been put on different constituencies and constituents. I am grateful to the hon. Member for giving me notice of his point of order. I have been offered no statement by the Government; nothing has been forthcoming. Given the concern of many Members, I am sure that he is aware that there are other ways of pursuing this matter, including possibly applying for an urgent question. I am not sure what the answer will be, but it might be a good way forward. Who knows—it may encourage the Government to come forward with a statement.
Further to that point of order, Mr Speaker. This is the second day running that no Minister has come to this House—I have submitted an urgent question bid as well—to answer on the issue of the very worrying power cuts around the country, right across the United Kingdom. My concern is specifically for more rural communities such as mine in Cumbria and those in in Shropshire and Lancashire. I am very concerned. I spoke to residents just overnight. Places such as Torver, west of Lake Windermere, and the Cartmel peninsula have now been without electricity for four nights and may face a fifth night without power. What is clearly needed is support for Electricity North West engineers who are working really hard around the clock to solve this problem, so we need to bring in the Army, as has been mentioned. We also need to bring in generators so that no community is without energy for a fifth successive night. Can you give me guidance, Mr Speaker, as to how we can bring Ministers to this House to act on this most urgent issue?
I think this is the best advice I can give: first, we do not normally discuss UQs, but I cannot grant a UQ unless you put in for it. [Interruption.] No, we have never received it. You may have put it in late. I can tell the hon. Gentleman—and the Clerk at the Table is here—that we have had no request. You cannot request it by just saying it yesterday; that is not an application. We have received no application, so I suggest you check with your office or somebody. Secondly, of course we have sympathy and of course we should be doing more. In fairness, I think this was answered yesterday, when it was raised, by the Deputy Speaker. Of course we have complete sympathy. We do need a statement. If a statement is not forthcoming, I suggest again that a UQ, if applied for, may be considered, but I can assure Members that I have had no request for a UQ as yet.
On a point of order, Mr Speaker, which I have not given you notice of and which actually is for you. I have been noticing over the last few Question Times that there is a growing trend of Back Benchers on both sides of the House reading long questions word for word rather than using notes or even actually memorising a question. I just wonder whether it might be worthwhile, if you have a view on this, putting out an email to colleagues with some guidance about how to do questions in the House. Can I suggest that it can be slightly less boring—although I know I can bore for Britain—if people ask questions in an extemporaneous manner rather than laboriously reading them word for word for word?
When I first came into the House, a little bit later than the hon. Gentleman, you did not read questions but always asked questions. You only had a note as a back-up in case you began to struggle. I always thought it was better when people would ask a question briefly, off the cuff, and move on. I think the problem is that people read pages, hence what happened earlier. It is covered in the book of conventions. I think it is important to know that we have that book here. I suggest, as the hon. Gentleman has put this on the record, that people read it to bring themselves up to speed as to the best practice in the Chamber. Thank you for raising it and it is certainly on the record now.