Water Safety (Curriculum) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:04 pm on 19 May 2023.

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Photo of Lord Addington Lord Addington Liberal Democrat 2:04, 19 May 2023

My Lords, this is one of those debates in which you agree with everybody who has spoken. Usually, there are patches and caveats, but I do not think there are any today. The fact is that safety around water is essential. The first building block is probably learning to swim, and you must have somewhere you can learn to swim. The reason we do it in swimming pools is that they are warm, safe and monitored. Some people will get into trouble in swimming pools, but it is probably not the most dangerous place. A dangerous place might be the sea or a river you have accidentally entered, where there are tides or, more importantly—I do not think anybody has mentioned it—where it is cold.

Hypothermia connected to water makes everything so much more dangerous. Indeed, when you are walking, there is an old adage “Cold and wet equals dead.” Hypothermia kills; if you go into hypothermia you cannot swim. The Bill gives us a chance to look at the whole thing. If there is a cold, tidal river, or something with steep banks and you are walking along it and fall in fully clothed, particularly in winter clothing, your situation is incredibly dangerous. What does the person in the water know? What do the people outside know? How do they deal with this? How do they enter into it? That is the sort of knowledge that is required.

I too suffered the pyjamas while swimming. It might have given a rough idea, but it was probably not the best procedure. There are so many sports—this touches on the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, about the social divide attached to this—you cannot do if you cannot swim. Canoeing, rowing or any form of yachting—you are not going to do these without some knowledge of swimming or of what to do when things go wrong. Most sports would do some teaching on it, but we need to get that basic knowledge.

There is even something called dry drowning. If you get water in your lungs, it restricts the lungs, and you can have a bad reaction up to 72 hours later. I thank my researcher Ella Gibbs, a qualified lifeguard, for pointing this out to me. If we know about these risks and somebody has a splash in the water and they feel fine, but then they have a bad reaction and we know what is going to happen, we can react properly. That package of knowledge is what we have to take on board. If we do not have that, we are going to miss things and these incidents are going to happen.

You may never stop an idiot teenager dancing around the edge of a river, but at least you can make sure the others will know how to react, where to call for help and how to shout advice. If they know it is simply a case of trying to float, that you will not beat the current so do not try because you will get exhausted and cold, and that type of knowledge is there, then everybody stands a better chance of either getting themselves out or someone getting to them in time.

I hope the Minister will respond positively here to Members. The amount of educational knowledge in the Chamber is quite frightening, but there is the idea that a school can do something in this field. It can also not do something and not be pulled up on it. In this day and age, that is fairly shocking and really should not be happening.

I hope the Minister can give us a positive answer. It is a small step but one that could be added to the education system quite easily. I know everybody says that about 100 different things, but this is one that carries its weight. Can the Minister say how, if we are not going to do these things in the Bill, which would be a good vehicle, we will do it otherwise? How will we stop these gaps in knowledge and reporting? That is essential to this.

I thank my noble friend for bringing this forward, and noble Lords who have given him formidable support here. I am very proud to associate myself with this cause. The Bill might be the easiest way forward on this occasion, and we need to do something.