I pay tribute to Guy Opperman for moving this debate, to my hon. Friend Hugh Bayley for ably supporting him and leading our campaign to support our Yorkshire air ambulance service, and to all Members, on both sides, who have spoken in support of their local air ambulance services. I pay particular tribute to Ken Sharpe, my hon. Friend’s constituent, who must hold the record for getting 100,000 names on an e-petition in the shortest possible time and who has helped provide the basis for this debate.
I say to the Minister that we are asking for a small contribution that will be a big boost to the efforts of those who support and keep our air ambulances flying across the country. The motion covers the interests of our 18 air ambulance services across England. All of them are sustained by the dedicated efforts of those who raise funds to help finance the costs and all are kept flying by the dedicated, skilled, professional staff who provide this vital emergency service. I am particularly pleased that the Yorkshire caucus is so strong in the House tonight, with not only my hon. Friend the Member for York Central leading the charge but the hon. Members for Leeds North West (Greg Mulholland) and for York Outer (Julian Sturdy), whom I am delighted to follow.
Like most other air ambulance services, ours is a charity. It is, so to speak, the airborne wing of the Prime Minister’s big society. It deserves the House’s support in deed, not just in word, and the sort of support that the motion is urging on the Government. It is funded by the public to provide a vital emergency service for the public across our county. Since the debate started, I reckon that our fundraisers in Yorkshire will have had to raise at least £300 as a contribution towards keeping our two helicopters and our service going. That is a total of more than £7,000 a day or £2.65 million a year. They do this because they understand, like we do, how vital this emergency service is and how essential it is in many parts of our county that patients requiring such help can be at their nearest hospital within 10 minutes. It flies more than 1,000 missions each year, which is a unique and essential service, of interest and concern to us all. As others have said, the fuel costs are about £10,000 a month and the VAT costs are something under £6,000 a year.
I say two things to the Minister in conclusion. We are not asking in today’s motion for the same sort of exclusion from VAT that the lifeboat service has. We are not asking today for the same sort of VAT rebate scheme that has been in place to support the cost of church repairs. We are asking simply for a review to look at the fairness of the situation and the case for making a small public contribution to the voluntary efforts of those who keep our air ambulances flying.
I hope that, in responding to this debate, he will accept the terms of the motion and the review that is urged upon him. But I hope actually that he may stand up to tell us that the motion is not needed and the review is not needed because he will introduce that sort of compensation scheme to cover the costs of VAT on fuel and will do so on a similar basis to the one we have established with the precedent of helping with the VAT costs of church repairs.