13 Oct 2014 : Column 124

This is why I support and welcome the amendment tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw). Equality is an essential precondition for peace. A two-state solution requires two states with equal status. They must be equal partners, with an equal future. It shames us in Britain, with our historical obligation to the Palestinian people, that 135 nations have now taken the step of recognising Palestine while we remain among the handful of states in the United Nations that refuse to join them.

Half the population of Gaza is under the age of 18. Their lives are characterised by suffering, humiliation and despair. As Jonathan Freedland wrote recently, their childhoods have been

“broken by pain and bloodshed three times in the past six years”

while the UK stands by and watches. The UK, not Israel, determines our foreign policy. We are members of the European Union and the United Nations, we are in a special relationship with the United States of America and we are permanent members of the UN Security Council. As such, we occupy a privileged position in world affairs, and it is about time we showed the world why.

9.41 pm

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): It is a pleasure to have this opportunity to contribute to the debate this evening. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing the debate and on enabling the space to be created for such powerful arguments from both sides of the House that tonight is the time for the UK to send a clear message that we recognise Palestine as a state. Those who say that this is just a gesture and that it does not matter what the UK Parliament says are simply mistaken. Our historical position in the world in relation to Israel and Palestine, the fact that we still hold a highly influential position and have a close relationship with the United States, and the foreign policy positions that we have taken over many years, mean that we can now send an incredibly powerful message from this House tonight.

This is the right thing to do morally, but it is also the right thing to do politically. It is important in relation to all our other foreign policy in the region that we should be seen to be even-handed and fair, and that we should no longer be accused of having double standards or of failing to stand up for the Palestinians. We have to give our support to those Palestinians who believe in a political route to self-determination based on non-violent action and international pressure. All too often, those people feel that they have not been given that support by the United States and the United Kingdom.

My constituents gave me a clear message this summer that they did not believe that the Israeli response was proportionate to whatever was happening in Palestine. Between 8 July and 27 August, there were 2,104 Palestinian deaths, including those of 495 children. In that period, there were 72 Israeli deaths, seven of which were civilians. The UK urged Israel to avoid civilian deaths, but made no condemnation of Israeli actions. The then United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, stated on 23 July:

“There seems to be a strong possibility that international law has been violated, in a manner that could amount to war crimes”.

She also condemned Hamas for “indiscriminate attacks”.

13 Oct 2014 : Column 125

Recognition of the state of Palestine would mean a more regulated relationship between the international community and Israel and Palestine. At the moment, we are not seen as being even-handed. Whatever people in this House might believe, the reality is that we are the ones who are supplying the components for the weaponry being used against the Palestinians. I asked a series of parliamentary questions this summer and did not get any answers out of Ministers, but on 2 August The Independent detailed the weaponry being used against civilians in Palestine that had been produced from components made by the UK—in particular, that being used by drones and tanks against civilian populations. I say to the House that we need to send a clear message tonight that we are even-handed, that we believe in justice and that we recognise the Palestinian state.

9.45 pm

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): I congratulate the hon. Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing this debate on a matter that is important to many people throughout the UK, Wales and Arfon. My local authority, Gwynedd, has taken a lead in condemning the Israeli Government for the indiscriminate violence used in the recent attacks in Gaza and will not invest in or trade with Israel. Gwynedd sees this debate, and our vote, as a key measure of our concern for Palestine, and of progress on the peace process and on a two-state settlement. That process is vital for both Palestine and Israel alike. People in Palestine who long for progress and peace, and many Israelis, will take encouragement from a positive vote here tonight. For we can vote for politics, for discussions between equals and for an end to war, or we can stall, find excuses and point to the latest outrage. That will help and encourage nobody, other than those who choose the gun, the rocket, the air strikes and the blockade.

Our Government can decide to recognise Palestine. We make our own policy and we are subject to no outside veto. We can recognise Palestine, we can judge that the time is right, and we have a responsibility to seize the opportunity and to wield our influence as a permanent member of the Security Council, as a member of the Quartet, and as the imperial power historically responsible for the mandate. Others today have discussed the history of this question but I will not. I will just say that throughout my adult life there has been war between Israel and its neighbours. We have seen constant invasion, the expropriation of territory by the supporters of war in Israel and, to be clear, repetitive retaliation and a determined cry from the war party, “Not now, not just yet, not until they have stopped it.” That “it” could be bus bombings, hijackings or rockets, but whatever it is at the time we have seen constant blocking and constant concentration on the latest outrage. Those Israelis and Jewish people across the world who work for peace, reconciliation and a just settlement have been sidelined, ignored and worse. Recognition of Palestine by the UK would call time on this constant conflict.

I have heard arguments that the vote tonight will change nothing. We have seen such arguments in an article in The Daily Telegraph today by my close neighbour, who is unaccountably not in his place, the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb). He says that the vote is

“non-binding and has no implications for British foreign policy.”

13 Oct 2014 : Column 126

Paradoxically, he says that it will damage decades of hard work towards peace. He says that

“international opinion won’t be swayed by a few squabbling MPs on Britain’s Opposition benches”

but also that the motion

“damages Britain’s role in the Middle East”.

With such confusion and contradiction coming from one opponent—

Sir Alan Duncan: Does the hon. Gentleman not find it astonishing that having tabled an amendment and withdrawn it, and clearly feeling so strongly about this issue, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy then advocates abstaining not just from the vote, but from the debate itself?

Hywel Williams: I know him of old and I am not surprised. As I said, with such confusion and contradiction coming from just one opponent, let alone opponents of the motion as a group, it is not surprising that many of them will, apparently, choose to abstain tonight.

I want to take the opportunity to reject yet again the conflation of opposition to the Israeli Government’s war policy with supposed enmity towards the Jewish people. That is a peculiar charge, given that a significant number of Jewish people support peace. It will hardly surprise anyone in the House to hear that Plaid Cymru MPs say that to recognise Palestine is to recognise Palestinian people’s rights to self-determination. We support the rights of all people to self-determination, and that is why we will support the amended motion in the Lobby tonight.

9.49 pm

Lilian Greenwood (Nottingham South) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) on securing this debate and on setting out the case for recognising Palestine. I support the motion and the amendment in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) because it is the right and just thing to do. It is time to act to save the prospect of a two-state solution. The feeling among my constituents, a great many of whom have contacted me about today’s vote, is strong. From the hundreds of e-mails and letters I have received from Nottingham South, one message above all stands out. It is simply that our Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel.

Throughout my life, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has ground on and on. We have seen a chronic cycle of violence, stalled negotiations and recrimination. Today, Parliament has the opportunity to reiterate and confirm our resolve to help end the suffering and conflict that began before I was born and continues to this day. It is not just the people whom we represent who are looking towards this House in the hope of finding leadership on this matter, and it is not just the people in Palestine. People across the world look to Britain because they are conscious of our historical role.

More than 60 years of history frames today’s debate, but this summer’s violence in Gaza is very much in our minds. All of us were horrified by the images we saw from Palestine this summer. We saw shocking images of dead and wounded civilians—men, women and of course children—shattered homes and wrecked lives. I am sure

13 Oct 2014 : Column 127

that we were also appalled by the indiscriminate rocket attacks on Israeli civilians from positions within Gaza. We cannot stand by and allow this conflict to continue. Sadly, it seems that the window of opportunity for a two-state solution is narrowing. That is why it is time to show political leadership in an effort to break the impasse, providing, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wrexham (Ian Lucas) said, a bridge to negotiations.

Britain recognised the state of Israel in 1950. Recognising Palestine now is about equality of treatment. It is about sending a message that a peaceful lasting solution depends on both parties, Israel and Palestine, coming to the negotiating table as equals. It is about sending a message to Israel that it should recognise the state of Palestine as the state of Palestine has recognised Israel. It is about sending a message to Palestinians that gives them hope that freedom is possible, resolve in rejecting the path of violence that brings no solutions and belief that a diplomatic and political settlement can be reached.

Last week, Sweden became the 135th state to recognise Palestine, joining 134 other members of the United Nations that have already done so. Britain can and should join them. Israel has a right to exist in peace and security and Israelis have as much to gain from the peace process as Palestinians. A just and lasting resolution is needed. We have an opportunity tonight to bring that possibility closer. We must grasp it.

9.53 pm

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): A power struggle is going on not just in the whole Arab world but within Palestinian society, between those who believe in a democratic and secular way forward and those who believe in political Islam that will wipe out not just moderate, secular Arabs but the Christians and the other religious minorities in Palestine. This motion is about not just the question of recognition but what kind of Palestinian state will be created—whether it will be a state that is in the hands of Hamas or, even worse, al-Qaeda elements within Gaza. It is about whether we, at this time, as an international community, recognise the momentous challenges that are facing the whole region. It is not possible for us to go on as we have for the past 15 or 20 years. The programme “The Gatekeepers”, to which some Members have referred, was very clear. It talked about a series of missed opportunities, and only one Prime Minister who had the courage to take the necessary action, paying for it with his life. I am talking about Yitzhak Rabin. The fact is that the current Israeli Prime Minister and Israeli Government do not have that courage and are not doing that.

I speak as a long-standing friend of Israel. I have been denounced as some kind of Zionist child killer by certain people in e-mails and on Twitter. I was even attacked today when I said I was going to vote for the motion by somebody who thought, “No, he can’t possibly be.” The fact is that this is an historic moment because the Palestinian people need a way out of the despair they face. We as an international community—the United States must also heed this message—must help the moderate forces in Fatah by getting their strategy, which is to take the issue internationally, to provide the way forward. Otherwise, the people who believe in the rocket attacks, the suicide bombs, the destruction of civilian

13 Oct 2014 : Column 128

communities and the killing of children—not just Israeli children but their own children, who are used as human shields—will gain the ascendency.

This is not a position that Hamas wants brought to the UN, and Hamas opposed the previous attempts by the Palestinian Authority. The leader of my party was quite right when he said that Hamas is a vile terrorist organisation. We need to support Fatah and the democratic and secular voices in Palestinian society. This is the chance for us to do so and for that reason I will vote for the motion and support the amendment. I hope that all other friends of Israel in this country will understand that this is the right thing to do.

9.56 pm

Grahame M. Morris: I will wind up very quickly. I thank everyone who has participated in the debate. I counted more than 43 Members who made speeches and numerous interventions. I thank the Backbench Business Committee for having the foresight to allocate time in the Chamber. We have had a tremendous debate. I am perhaps a little biased, but it is a rare occasion on which the House speaks with one voice, as I think it has this evening. Excellent points have been made. It would be unfair to pick out anyone, but some people have made excellent contributions.

I want to impress on the Minister, in view of everything that has been said—he has sat patiently and he is a decent man—the need to reflect on the debate. The will of Parliament has spoken tonight. It is the right thing to do to recognise Palestine and I hope that he will go away and implement the motion.

Amendment agreed to.

Main Question, as amended, put.

The House divided:

Ayes 274, Noes 12.

Division No. 54]


9.58 pm


Abbott, Ms Diane

Abrahams, Debbie

Ainsworth, rh Mr Bob

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Ali, Rushanara

Allen, Mr Graham

Anderson, Mr David

Ashworth, Jonathan

Bacon, Mr Richard

Bailey, Mr Adrian

Bain, Mr William

Baker, Steve

Banks, Gordon

Barron, rh Kevin

Beckett, rh Margaret

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Benyon, Richard

Betts, Mr Clive

Birtwistle, Gordon

Blackman-Woods, Roberta

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Bottomley, Sir Peter

Bradshaw, rh Mr Ben

Brennan, Kevin

Bridgen, Andrew

Brooke, rh Annette

Brown, Lyn

Brown, Mr Russell

Bruce, rh Sir Malcolm

Bryant, Chris

Buck, Ms Karen

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Byrne, rh Mr Liam

Campbell, rh Mr Alan

Campbell, rh Sir Menzies

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Carmichael, Neil

Caton, Martin

Champion, Sarah

Chapman, Jenny

Clark, Katy

Clarke, rh Mr Tom

Coaker, Vernon

Connarty, Michael

Cooper, Rosie

Cooper, rh Yvette

Creasy, Stella

Crockart, Mike

Crouch, Tracey

Cruddas, Jon

Cryer, John

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

Curran, Margaret

Dakin, Nic

Danczuk, Simon

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Davies, David T. C.


Davies, Geraint

De Piero, Gloria

Denham, rh Mr John

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Donohoe, Mr Brian H.

Doran, Mr Frank

Doughty, Stephen

Dowd, Jim

Doyle, Gemma

Dromey, Jack

Duncan, rh Sir Alan

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Edwards, Jonathan

Efford, Clive

Elliott, Julie

Esterson, Bill

Evans, Chris

Farrelly, Paul

Field, rh Mr Frank

Fitzpatrick, Jim

Flello, Robert

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Fuller, Richard

Gapes, Mike

Garnier, Sir Edward

George, Andrew

Gillan, rh Mrs Cheryl

Gilmore, Sheila

Glindon, Mrs Mary

Goodman, Helen

Greatrex, Tom

Green, Kate

Greenwood, Lilian

Grieve, rh Mr Dominic

Griffith, Nia

Hames, Duncan

Hamilton, Mr David

Hancock, Mr Mike

Hanson, rh Mr David

Harman, rh Ms Harriet

Harvey, Sir Nick

Healey, rh John

Heath, Mr David

Hemming, John

Hendrick, Mark

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hermon, Lady

Heyes, David

Hillier, Meg

Hilling, Julie

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Holloway, Mr Adam

Hood, Mr Jim

Hopkins, Kelvin

Horwood, Martin

Hosie, Stewart

Howarth, rh Mr George

Hunter, Mark

Huppert, Dr Julian

Irranca-Davies, Huw

Jackson, Glenda

Jamieson, Cathy

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, rh Mr David

Jones, Graham

Jones, Mr Kevan

Jones, Susan Elan

Kane, Mike

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Keeley, Barbara

Khan, rh Sadiq

Latham, Pauline

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Leigh, Sir Edward

Leslie, Charlotte

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Liddell-Grainger, Mr Ian

Lilley, rh Mr Peter

Llwyd, rh Mr Elfyn

Long, Naomi

Loughton, Tim

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

Lucas, Ian

Lumley, Karen

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Mactaggart, Fiona

Mahmood, Mr Khalid

Mahmood, Shabana

Main, Mrs Anne

Malhotra, Seema

Marsden, Mr Gordon

McCabe, Steve

McCarthy, Kerry

McCartney, Jason

McClymont, Gregg

McDonagh, Siobhain

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Jim

McInnes, Liz

McKechin, Ann

McKenzie, Mr Iain

McKinnell, Catherine

Meacher, rh Mr Michael

Mearns, Ian

Menzies, Mark

Miliband, rh Edward

Miller, Andrew

Moon, Mrs Madeleine

Moore, rh Michael

Morden, Jessica

Morrice, Graeme


Morris, Grahame M.


Mudie, Mr George

Mulholland, Greg

Murray, Ian

Nandy, Lisa

Nash, Pamela

O'Donnell, Fiona

Ollerenshaw, Eric

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Perkins, Toby

Phillipson, Bridget

Pound, Stephen

Pugh, John

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reid, Mr Alan

Reynolds, Emma

Riordan, Mrs Linda

Ritchie, Ms Margaret

Robathan, rh Mr Andrew

Robertson, Angus

Robertson, rh Sir Hugh

Robertson, Mr Laurence

Rotheram, Steve

Roy, Mr Frank

Roy, Lindsay

Ruane, Chris

Ruddock, rh Dame Joan

Russell, Sir Bob

Sanders, Mr Adrian

Sarwar, Anas

Sawford, Andy

Seabeck, Alison

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Sheridan, Jim

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Smith, Sir Robert

Soames, rh Sir Nicholas

Stephenson, Andrew

Stewart, Bob

Straw, rh Mr Jack

Stuart, Ms Gisela

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Sutcliffe, Mr Gerry

Swales, Ian

Tami, Mark

Teather, Sarah

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Thornton, Mike

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Mr Andrew

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Derek

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, rh Keith

Vaz, Valerie

Vickers, Martin

Walley, Joan

Ward, Mr David

Watts, Mr Dave

Weir, Mr Mike

Wharton, James

White, Chris

Whiteford, Dr Eilidh

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williams, Hywel

Williams, Mr Mark

Williams, Roger

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winnick, Mr David

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wishart, Pete

Wollaston, Dr Sarah

Wright, David

Wright, Mr Iain

Yeo, Mr Tim

Tellers for the Ayes:

Alex Cunningham


Crispin Blunt


Beith, rh Sir Alan

Blackman, Bob

Djanogly, Mr Jonathan

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Freer, Mike

McCrea, Dr William

Mills, Nigel

Offord, Dr Matthew

Paisley, Ian

Shannon, Jim

Simpson, David

Syms, Mr Robert

Tellers for the Noes:

Jeremy Corbyn


Mike Wood

Question accordingly agreed to.

13 Oct 2014 : Column 129

13 Oct 2014 : Column 130


That this House believes that the Government should recognise the state of Palestine alongside the state of Israel, as a contribution to securing a negotiated two state solution.

Jeremy Corbyn (Islington North) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The House has voted emphatically tonight to support the recognition of the Palestinian state. That is good news, which will be well received by many people, and we should bear witness to those thousands who marched and demonstrated and those thousands who e-mailed us.

If I may, I will briefly explain why I and my hon. Friend the Member for Batley and Spen (Mike Wood) were tellers for a position that we do not actually hold. It was to ensure that democracy could take place and that Members could record their vote, because those

13 Oct 2014 : Column 131

who were opposed to the motion declined to put up tellers. We have thus ensured democracy here tonight. The constituents whom we all represent will be able to see what influence they were able to have on their Members of Parliament, ensuring that this historic vote took place.

Mr Speaker: Residents of Islington North and the nation at large are now fully apprised of the motivation of the hon. Gentleman and of his colleague. I thank him.

Business without Debate

delegated legislation

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

representation of the people

That the draft Representation of the People (Supply of Information) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 6 May 2014, in the last Session of Parliament, be approved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 118(6)),

road traffic

That the draft Drug Driving (Specified Limits) (England and Wales) Regulations 2014, which were laid before this House on 3 July, be approved.—(John Penrose.)

Question agreed to.

13 Oct 2014 : Column 132

Isle of Wight (Ferries)

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(John Penrose.)

10.11 pm

Mr Andrew Turner (Isle of Wight) (Con): At its closest point, the Isle of Wight is just 4 miles from the mainland, but if one cannot cross that stretch of water when one needs to at a reasonable cost, the mainland might as well be a thousand miles away. We have no scheduled air services, so the two ferry operators and the hovercraft provide lifeline services for island residents. They also carry visitors and holidaymakers, business traffic and goods, and, of course, islanders and their families and friends.

The ferry links are essential to our economy. We need them to be regular, reliable and affordable. The two main operators each have an effective geographical monopoly on their own routes. Islanders have always grumbled about the ferry services. It is a popular local pastime. But the ferry companies were taken over by huge financial institutions—Wightlink by Macquarie in 2005 and Red Funnel by Prudential in 2007. Since then, things have become more difficult for the ferry companies.

The companies were sold during the boom years for completely unrealistic sums. The then chief executive walked away with £30 million when Wightlink was sold to the Australian Macquarie bank. He and other former owners have benefited hugely, but the island’s economy has suffered. Like all islands, the Isle of Wight faces particular challenges. Looking at a key economic measure, the gross value added figure for Hampshire is well over £22,000. On the island, it is a smidgeon over £14,000. Our economy is fragile and wholly dependent on good connectivity.

In 2008, I asked the Office of Fair Trading to investigate the cross-Solent ferries. The OFT suspected that there were issues

“preventing, restricting or distorting competition”

but found

“limited evidence of consumer detriment”.

But I do not think that it looked very hard to see the damage being done to the island, because it also made it clear that there was no obvious regulatory answer to the problems. When it found no easy answers, it put it in the “too hard to deal with” box and closed the lid. The blunt truth is that Macquarie and Prudential paid well over the odds for these lifeline public services, but it is the island and islanders who are suffering from over-inflated prices and service cuts caused by those decisions.

It is sometimes claimed, including by the ferry companies, that talking about high ferry fares damages tourism, but they never suggest that the fares themselves might put off tourists. David Thornton of Visit Isle of Wight says that he gets few complaints, but he does not hear from people who do not visit the island because the ferry is too expensive. Tourists sometimes get very good deals. Some buy packages with a low ferry price hidden in the total. Surely it has got to the point of madness when it can be cheaper to book a week’s holiday, including the ferry and accommodation, than to pay for the fare alone. Some visitors come for an annual break or a few days away. They book in advance and can be flexible about the route and time of travel. They, too,

13 Oct 2014 : Column 133

can get reasonable fares. But those who need to get to work, education, a hospital appointment or a funeral do not have that flexibility, and it is overwhelmingly the islanders who make such journeys.

I believe that the huge debts of the two ferry companies have prevented them from serving islanders as well as they should. By contrast, Hovertravel, a UK family-owned firm without any debt, has high levels of customer satisfaction. In 2012, Wightlink’s debt was £192 million on a turnover of £59 million. Red Funnel was in a better position, with £80 million of debt on a turnover of £14 million. The ferry companies deny that such large debts could have an impact on their services, but the OFT disagreed, stating:

“We remain of the view that the high levels of debt and gearing carry a higher risk…that the operators might have to cut back on service improvements.”

I told the OFT that if it did not act, prices would rise and services would go. Since its report in 2009, Wightlink has cut crossings by 26% and Red Funnel has cut them by 14%. It is very difficult to compare prices for vehicle travel because of the airline-style yield management pricing that both ferry companies use. Fares change constantly, and some of them are eye-watering, with people paying up to £200, or even more, for a vehicle crossing.

Two initiatives, the Isle of Wight Better Ferry campaign and the “Are Wightlink the Right Link” Facebook group, have 5,000 supporters between them. I would like to give a flavour of some of the comments:

“I’m fed up with not being able to book with my Multi-Link ticket, only to find that there are dozens of spaces if I pay the Non-Residents fare. Get a grip, Wightlink.”

Another islander says:

“My daughter and grandchildren live on the mainland. They can’t afford to visit the island and I haven’t seen them since February.”

Here is another comment:

“Once again, same ferry, same stretch of water, same travel time but different prices…They’re pirates.”

I have deleted the expletive. Here is another comment:

“Both these companies are disdainful of their captive market and are doing a huge amount of damage to the island economy.”


“It’s just too expensive to get off the island. It’s not fair for island people. The prices make it difficult for us to take our children over to see friends and relatives. Please do something about this. Make a blessed change.”

There are hundreds of similar comments, and more are added every day.

I thank the Better Ferry campaign, which has supported me on this issue for years, and John Keyworth and Steven Caudle, who set up the Facebook page. John Keyworth told me:

“Since we set up our campaign, we have been flabbergasted at some of the stories that we’ve heard. There are very high levels of distrust and concern at the outright abuse and overcharging by this industry which provides an essential service to Island residents.”

The Barnett formula gives the Scottish Parliament money to spend on many things that this Government cannot afford. CalMac provides ferry services to Scottish islands. It received a grant of £73 million last year—more than half its revenue. My constituents living on the island receive no such benefits. They pay the full operating costs and profits, and the fares that they pay also have

13 Oct 2014 : Column 134

to service the company’s massive debts. Through their taxes, they subsidise Scottish ferries. Will the Minister explain why Scottish island residents get a much better deal than my constituents? For the life of me, I cannot. Channel islanders are protected from unfair ferry fare increases because the companies operate under licence from the islands’ authorities—another protection denied to Isle of Wight ferry users.

There are other worrying issues. Wightlink operates a multi-link ticket system for islanders. People pay for multiple crossings, giving the company hundreds of pounds in advance. They are rewarded for their loyalty by being denied access to many popular ferry crossings. In July this year, the mezzanine deck on the 30-year-old St Helen ferry collapsed. The investigation is ongoing, but even before that happened it was known that St Helen would need to be replaced. However, we are told that there is no money in Wightlink’s coffers to replace her and the banks are apparently refusing to stump up. I have yet to hear plausible plans from Macquarie to maintain this vital link for the island’s economy.

In preparing for this debate, I spoke to all the operators, including Kevin George, the new chief executive of Red Funnel. Under his leadership, Red Funnel seems to be getting it and is looking for ways to address some of the concerns—2014 prices have been held into next year; ferries refurbished at a cost of more than £2 million each; there has been a greater focus on customer satisfaction; and there are new plans and discounts designed to benefit islanders.

Red Funnel has been taking market share. Recent figures show that, for the first time in living memory, it has overtaken Wightlink as the most popular route to the island. In a properly competitive market, that would be good news, but in a duopoly with no prospect of new competitors, it can be destabilising. It is more difficult for the company losing market share to build an investment strategy and to develop services rather than cut them. Worse still, if the trend continues, the company taking customers may be unable to cope properly with the increased demand. That could lead to deteriorating services or even price increases to manage the market.

The UK’s largest constituency needs support. One option would be helping us to go back to the competition authorities. The customer detriment not found by the OFT in 2009 is now woefully apparent. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Minister will support us if we need to do that. However, even if we do there is still no easy regulatory solution, so I want to suggest a bigger and more imaginative way forward.

The island must find a sustainable solution to its transport issues. To be fair, the ferry companies, their owners and the banks also need to find a way forward. There have been constructive discussions between the Better Ferry campaign and the owners of Wightlink and Red Funnel. If we could find a new way of managing our transport infrastructure in which the ferry owners had a smaller stake in a bigger investment pot, they might welcome the reduction of risk. We need a model in which the community’s needs are recognised and addressed. The ferry owners would need to be realistic and take a patient approach, but we may be able to find a structure with a longer-term opportunity for investment, and we would surely want them to participate. The island would then have a public transport system that addressed the unique challenges that separation from the north island present.

13 Oct 2014 : Column 135

The current ownership model of the ferry companies represents a real danger to the island’s economy, because the ferries are just small cogs in much larger businesses. They are expected to achieve profitable growth to enhance their market value. The end game is typically to sell them on for a higher price than was paid for them, scooping a windfall profit. However, that would burden the companies with even more debt on which interest must be paid from the fares. It is therefore a totally unacceptable model for businesses with weak competition offering lifeline services.

I ask the Minister to help us to explore whether there is a possible win-win situation. The future of Island Line, our railway, is under review. I have been involved in asking the Government to support an expert taskforce to look carefully for a viable, long-term outcome for Island Line. I would ask that this taskforce is not only supported but extended to include the whole of the island’s transport infrastructure. We need to take the connectivity of the Isle of Wight out of the “too-difficult” box that the OFT put it in in 2009. This must not be a way of kicking the issue into the long grass but a genuine attempt to find the best way forward, with support and expertise given by the Government. There is already support on the island for such an approach, and we can work to build allegiances on a cross-party basis to find a solution to this difficult situation. Informal discussions with Isle of Wight council have been encouraging. One of its priorities is to improve cross-Solent travel so that it is secure, accessible and affordable. This is a positive way of delivering that aspiration.

At the request of the ferry companies, I would like to turn to two further issues: first, tonnage tax. In January 2000, Red Funnel entered the tonnage tax regime. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs now wants to throw it out. After mountains of correspondence, HMRC, in some desperation, decided that the Solent no longer qualifies as a sea. I would be very grateful if Department of Transport officials tried to help to resolve this. Secondly, Wightlink is concerned about the effect that new marine conservation zones may have on its operations. I hope that the Minister will support me in making representations to colleagues in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs for these costs to be taken seriously.

My right hon. Friend is also a friend in the much more widely used sense of the word, and I would like to extend an invitation to him to visit the island once again. I will work with his office to put together a useful itinerary, as I did when he held another ministerial post. During that visit, as so often, he went a little off-message and said exactly what he thought. I very much look forward to him doing so again in his current job, and in doing so helping us to find a creative solution to the long-standing transport issues that beset the Isle of Wight.

10.28 pm

The Minister of State, Department for Transport (Mr John Hayes): Donne said that

“No man is an island”,

but can there be a Member of this House who is more for and of the people he represents than my hon. Friend the Member for Isle of Wight (Mr Turner), who so admirably and with such dedication advances the case

13 Oct 2014 : Column 136

of the island people of his home? You know as well as I do, Mr Speaker, that one should not be a captive of the ordinary, and my hon. Friend is extraordinary in his dedication to this subject, which he has taken up on many occasions. He met me recently to take the case further, and he has secured this debate, on which I congratulate him.

Moving reluctantly from the metaphysical to the literal, it is my duty in the short time available to avail the House of a variety of facts relating to the case my hon. Friend has made. The essence of his argument—which he described tellingly as an imaginative solution to the island’s problems—seems to me to be absolutely right. I know that he has worked very hard for many years on behalf of his constituents in raising concerns about cross-Solent issues. He did so with my predecessors—my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning)—as well as with the ferry operators. He has worked hard behind the scenes, as well as in his public activities, to ensure that his constituents’ concerns are raised. His persistence, dedication and continued work are most welcome and have, of course, led to today’s debate.

Ships and ports are vital to the economic well-being of this island nation, and so much of this country’s trade—95% by volume—arrives or departs by sea. That is doubly so for our island communities, of which the Isle of Wight is the largest and most populous, as my hon. Friend has said. Ferries are vital to the island, not only for those who work on the mainland each and every day, but for all the island’s residents, as they are the only means for goods to reach the shops and for products to be exported.

The three ferry operators—Red Funnel, Wightlink and Hovertravel—are clearly well used, with nearly 9 million journeys each year between Hampshire and the island across six routes. That is nearly 25,000 journeys a day on roughly 200 sailings to and from the island.

It was not until I was preparing for tonight’s debate that I realised the long history of the Red Funnel services, which go back nearly 200 years. The company that operated the Isle of Wight Royal Mail Steam Packet Company began those journeys from the island to Southampton and back in 1820. Hovertravel is the world’s longest-running hovercraft service: it was established in 1965 and is currently the only scheduled passenger hovercraft service in Europe. That shows the long history of innovation among those serving the needs of the Isle of Wight’s inhabitants.

Those innovations were by commercial operators, and decisions on the service levels today have to be for the three individual commercial ferry operators to make, without Government support. Similarly, the level of fares is also a commercial matter, although I hear what my hon. Friend says: I understand his concern about the impact that fares have both on his constituents and on visitors to the island. Through the use of season tickets and discounts for island residents, fares can be less expensive. I shall come in a moment to my hon. Friend’s other, broader ideas about how costs can be driven down.

As with railway services, those who wish to turn up and go will find their tickets more expensive than those bought in advance. That means that fares on some services may be more expensive than on others, which is

13 Oct 2014 : Column 137

to the detriment of those who are unable to be flexible on the timing of their journeys or who are unable to book in advance.

My hon. Friend referred specifically to the 2009 report by the Office of Fair Trading, which was replaced by the Competition and Markets Authority in April when the OFT was merged with the Competition Commission. The report summarised and its press notice concluded:

“The OFT’s study found limited evidence of problems for consumers that interventions in this market could address, but found room for improvement both in customer satisfaction levels and the amount of information available to users on the performance of the ferry operators”.

I understand that both Red Funnel and Wightlink provide information on their websites on service performance and customer satisfaction. I would hope that they and Hovertravel will continue to improve the information provided to their users. That is vital if more people are going to take advantage of the discounts I mentioned a moment ago and, therefore, avoid the higher fares.

Establishing user groups, as Wightlink has done with its two ferry user groups, can allow company managers to understand better the concerns of their customers and what impact changes to services and facilities will have on them. It is important that such opportunities are used.

There are improvements in the pipeline. In July, as part of the local growth funding, the Solent local enterprise partnership included £15 million of funding to modernise the Red Funnel terminals in East Cowes and Southampton. Part of that—£6 million—will be available in 2015-16 and it will be matched by Red Funnel investing £15 million to refurbish its fleet. That will allow the ferry terminals to be moved, which in turn will allow important regeneration schemes for East Cowes and Southampton royal pier to proceed. For East Cowes, this will allow for 550 new homes and provide 48,700 square metres of business space. It is an important development for the island, to ensure economic growth as well as provide much needed housing. I spoke about that to my hon. Friend when we met recently.

My hon. Friend mentioned the Isle of Wight Better Ferry campaign, which seeks a fairer and more flexible ferry service for the island through the community working with ferry operators to improve efficiency, flexibility and good connections at fair prices. That is part of a bigger campaign to get Isle of Wight council to develop a plan for building infrastructure for all transport on the island. Hence his proposal for a taskforce to review the whole of the island’s transport infrastructure, look at what is needed and identify a solution.

Mr Andrew Turner: Will my right hon. Friend encourage members of the public and businesses such as Red Funnel, Wightlink and Hovertravel, as well as the council, to look at the issues as soon as possible?

Mr Hayes: I want to go a lot further than that, because my hon. Friend has made a persuasive case

13 Oct 2014 : Column 138

tonight. If Adjournment debates mean anything, they mean Members influencing how the Government do their business, as I know you would acknowledge, Mr Speaker. It would be helpful for me to meet my hon. Friend, the different ferry operators and perhaps other interested parties, such as the local council, to hear at first hand the challenges that they face and to encourage their participation in exactly the kind of holistic review of transport infrastructure that, as I know, is so dear to his heart.

It would be my pleasure to host the review, which should work, where appropriate, with bus and train operators to co-ordinate departures and arrivals of services to facilitate journeys, and should consider the long-term transport needs of the island’s residents and visitors. It would have to be done with a bottom-up approach, led by those who know best—those who deliver the services and those who know the needs of the island—but if we can act as a facilitator or co-ordinator, I will be delighted to do so.

My hon. Friend has done a great service to the House by drawing its attention to the kind of imaginative approach that he outlined and which I have endorsed. The Government very much support such an approach. As he knows, we have adopted it with local enterprise partnerships, which bring together local authorities and businesses to agree infrastructure priorities in their area for which they can bid for local growth fund resources. It is only by working together that businesses and local government can ensure that funding decisions made by central Government have the relevant impact in meeting local peoples’ needs. That is precisely what my hon. Friend has epitomised—indeed, one might say which he personified —in his helpful contribution.

I have no desire to delay the House unduly, but I must suggest that my hon. Friend work closely with the Isle of Wight council—he mentioned this himself—to establish a team or what we might call a taskforce to prepare the terms of reference so that we can begin to put together the plan that he outlined to me briefly in private and has now described to the House.

As my hon. Friend spoke tonight, I thought of Dryden, as I am sure you did too, Mr Speaker. Dryden said:

“Fairest Isle, all isles excelling,

Seat of pleasures, and of loves;

Venus here will choose her dwelling,

And forsake her Cyprian groves.”

I do not think that Dryden was speaking of the Isle of Wight, but he might well have been. In bringing these matters to the House’s attention, my hon. Friend has not only won my support for the concept of examining them in a more rounded way, but done a great service to his constituents, once again confirming himself as the lord of his isle.

Question put and agreed to.

10.39 pm

House adjourned.