VAT on Air Ambulance Fuel Payments

Part of United Kingdom Borders – in the House of Commons at 6:00 pm on 11th July 2012.

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Photo of Matthew Offord Matthew Offord Conservative, Hendon 6:00 pm, 11th July 2012

It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate and I congratulate my hon. Friend Guy Opperman and Hugh Bayley on securing it. Rushanara Ali has already spoken about the London helicopter, which serves not only her constituency but mine and, indeed, the rest of London, so not all the comments I will make are about London’s air ambulance because I do not wish to replicate the fine things she has already said.

I want to describe for the Minister some of my experience of one of the UK’s air ambulance services. He is probably unaware that I grew up in Cornwall, which was the first county to have an air ambulance. Indeed, I have quite some experience with that air ambulance. There was not a great deal to do in Cornwall when I was young, so one of the things I did was surf, which led me to become a lifeguard, and on several occasions we needed to make use of the air ambulance.

Before the air ambulance service was established, the RAF had to become involved if someone needed to be airlifted—I look to my hon. Friend Julian Sturdy, who talked about what would happen if there was no air ambulance. I remember one occasion when a Frenchman had fallen down a cliff and I could see that the back of his head was open. The RAF was called in from the royal naval air station at Culdrose and a helicopter came out to pick him up. That was the cost of not having the air ambulance, but it was a cost for the RAF, so someone did pick up the bill. The difference between the RAF helicopter and the air ambulance was what was on board.

On one occasion I had to call an air ambulance myself when I was a lifeguard in Crackington Haven. The chairman of my local Surf Life Saving club had managed somehow to cut his leg on his surf board. When we brought him to shore, we called the ambulance service, which sent the air ambulance. That necessitated that we clear the beach very quickly, which we did with the help of the Surf Life Saving club, so that the helicopter could come in. We loaded the chairman on board and got him safely away.

I had the foresight to pick up a loudhailer and ask all the tourists on the beach to put their hands in their pockets and fill up a bucket that I sent some of the nippers around with. That was a good way of raising money, and one of the points I made was that the people on the beach might one day need the air ambulance themselves, so I asked them to dig deep. However, I found having to do that quite demeaning. The air ambulance was an emergency service, but I was asking people who were visitors to Cornwall and who did not actually live there to pay for it. But they did the air ambulance very proud.

The air ambulance in Cornwall has continued. My hon. Friend Greg Mulholland spoke about an individual who raised money in his constituency. When I grew up in north Cornwall there was a lady called Pearl Cory who did the same. Pearl was well known for going around the pubs and clubs and selling her lottery tickets, which funded the air ambulance. Again, I look to the Minister and say that there are people such as Pearl who go out and do that kind of work, which is admirable. Pearl was well known in every pub for the work she did. She received an OBE for her service, for which I am grateful.