Water Safety

– in the Scottish Parliament on 23rd March 2016.

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Photo of Elaine Smith Elaine Smith Labour

The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S4M-15772, in the name of Alex Rowley, on water safety in Scotland. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.

Motion debated,

That the Parliament congratulates what it considers the excellent, ongoing work of the Fife Water Safety initiative, which has brought together the fire and rescue and police services, the RNLI and the Royal Life Saving Society UK to educate young people about the importance of water safety in Fife; understands that, since the death of her son, Cameron Lancaster, at the abandoned Prestonhill Quarry and the second tragic death of John McKay at the same quarry less than a year after Cameron’s accident, Cameron’s mother has been working with partners to raise awareness of the dangers that water may pose to young people; acknowledges that the Fife Water Safety initiative, which was launched in Inverkeithing High School in the Cowdenbeath parliamentary constituency, has been touring west Fife secondary schools providing an interactive 50-minute presentation to each year group, hoping to encourage all Fife schools to adopt the education package including an age-appropriate programme for primary school children; understands that death by drowning is the third highest accidental cause of death in the UK and that, per head of population, there are twice as many accidental drownings in Scotland as in England; further understands that there are more limited rescue options for response and rescue services for inshore water accidents than at sea through the RNLI, which rescued 7,973 people and saved 348 lives in 2015, and notes that Cameron’s mother is working with agencies across Scotland to explore the potential for creating an education programme aimed at teaching teenagers about the dangers of open waters, which may be used across Scotland.

Photo of Alex Rowley Alex Rowley Labour

I am grateful to the members who signed my motion, which has meant that we are able to have this debate to highlight water safety issues. The Fife water safety initiative has been driven by families who have, sadly, experienced the tragic loss of a young family member from accidental death in an abandoned quarry that is in Inverkeithing in my constituency. The initiative has brought together the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, the police, the Royal National Lifeboat Institution and the Royal Life Saving Society UK to educate young people about the importance of water safety in Fife and the dangers that water may pose to them.

I understand that a session is taking place in a Fife school this morning, as the campaign continues to tour Fife secondary schools to provide a 50-minute interactive presentation to each year group. The aim is to encourage all Fife schools to adopt the education package, which includes an age-appropriate programme for primary school children. The initiative is being supported by Fife Council.

Although I was aware of the tragic accidents at the abandoned Prestonhill quarry in Inverkeithing, it was only after meeting and speaking with affected families that I realised the extent of the threat of water and the number of lives that it takes. As the motion says,

“death by drowning is the third highest accidental cause of death in the UK and ... per head of population, there are twice as many accidental drownings in Scotland as in England”.

I appreciate that this is the last day of the parliamentary session, but I hope that, as a result of this debate, the Parliament will be persuaded in the next session to look at the issue and to consider what more can be done to highlight the concerns.

We have a partnership called water safety Scotland that aims to consider and understand the key risks and engage with partners to develop a consistent approach to the prevention of drowning, water-related deaths and unintentional injuries in and around water. It is part of the national water safety forum, which has produced a United Kingdom drowning prevention strategy that applies to Scotland.

The forum states:

“Coordinated and lasting prevention programmes established by members of the NWSF and other organisations and individuals have had a proven effect, with many lives saved due to existing initiatives. However, in order to save even more lives a step-change in our approach is needed.”

The forum also draws attention to a World Health Organization report that was published in November 2014, which

“highlighted that drowning is a serious and neglected global public health issue, claiming a shocking 372,000 lives each year. The report highlights 10 recommendations to prevent drowning.”

One of those recommendations is that countries should develop and implement a national water safety strategy.

The work that is going on in Fife is very much in line with the national strategy and I hope that the education minister post-election will be prepared to look at it. The strategy states:

“Improved understanding of the events leading up to, during and after a drowning will enable us to understand individual behaviours and design relevant behavioural change messages, activity and interventions.”

It also mentions

“Underestimating risks ... Lack of knowledge of the risks... Lack of competence ... Ill-informed thrill seeking”.

Those and other key points are picked up through the Fife water safety initiative.

The UK strategy has a number of specific targets, some of which some local authorities already work to, but it would be good to demonstrate wider support for those targets across Scotland. Specifically, the strategy states:

“Every child should have the opportunity to learn to swim and receive water safety education at primary school ... Every community with water risks should have a community-level water safety risk assessment and water safety plan ... Increase awareness of everyday risks in, on and around water ... All recreational activity organisations should have a clear strategic risk assessment and plans that address key risks”.

In this debate on the last day of the session, and moving forward, I aim to continue to press those issues and to support wherever I can the work that is going on in Fife and across Scotland. I am clear that words cannot bring about justice for the families who have lost loved ones. However, I am inspired by the way in which those families, in the face of adversity and grief, have focused on their determination to do all that they can to ensure that the same thing does not happen to others. I hope that members in the new session of Parliament, and the new Government, will look at what can be done to support those families and the campaign.

I have discussed the abandoned quarry in my constituency with the chief executive of Fife Council. He advises me that ownership of and responsibility for the quarry and surrounding land lie with Letham Bay Developments, which is registered in Scotland with a registered office in Glasgow. The council served an abatement notice on that company under the statutory nuisance provision of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Following the company’s non-compliance with that notice, the council is in the process of reporting the breach to the procurator fiscal with a view to action being taken.

In terms of seeking action around ownership, the council understands that a number of loans over the quarry in favour of third parties remain in place, which gives rise to a complex financial background. The council’s chief executive is clear that the council will continue to pursue the matter proactively. I make it clear that, if legislation is needed to support the council in its action, such legislation should be brought forth.

Photo of Clare Adamson Clare Adamson Scottish National Party

I thank Alex Rowley for bringing to the chamber this important debate. As convener of the cross-party group on accident prevention and safety awareness, I extend my thanks to my colleagues from all sides of the chamber who have supported our efforts in the CPG, and to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents Scotland, which provides our secretariat.

ROSPA runs the water safety Scotland initiative, which in turn runs and supports the Fife water safety awareness project. As Mr Rowley has said, that programme was set up following the tragic drowning in 2014 of Cameron Lancaster from Burntisland.

ROSPA has issued a call to action and it is keen for the Fife programme to be rolled out across Scotland. I look forward to hearing the minister’s response to that call.

A lot of other work is going on in Scotland. The Royal Life Saving Society UK has launched a spring clean awareness campaign, which runs from 21 to 25 March, to warn parents about the dangers of water around the home. That follows the tragic death in Fife of Rhys and Shaun Scott, who drowned in a fish pond in their garden on 12 March. I am sure that all members will wish to extend their condolences to the Scott family, and also to the McGrotty and Daniels family, who suffered such a terrible tragedy at Buncrana pier in Donegal.

Every year the Royal Life Saving Society runs drowning prevention week, which runs from 18 to 26 June this year. It aims to reduce the number of drownings and similar incidents that occur in the UK by showing people how to be safe in and near water and how to recognise water danger.

I have learned from all the work that I have done on accident prevention over the years and from the experts in the field that brain development is not complete until young people are in their 20s. That is what leads to the risk-taking behaviour and the bad decision making to which Alex Rowley referred.

What is so important about all accident prevention initiatives, whether they are on water safety or road safety, is that they teach people transferable life skills. Any work that is done in that area can only contribute to increased safety for our young people as they grow up and start to drive and take part in life’s adventures.

Our CPG conducted an evaluation of the group over the past five years and one of the comments was that it

“has been an ideal way to meet like-minded safety professionals, share information, highlight research and to both give and receive updates”.

That is nice to know, but we were also keen to find out what difference the CPG had made, so the evaluation asked participants what would not have happened if they had not attended the meetings. The response, in one area of water safety, was:

“Department of new ideas such as ‘Smart Signs’ (A Coastguard registered, uniformed approach to the design of all UK safety signage—with each sign carrying a unique location, identifying number, a grid reference and smart phone QR code”.

Further, water safety Scotland would not have got started or been where it is now. I hope that, no matter what the make-up of the new Parliament is, the work of the CPG will continue in some form or other.

I thank Stuart McMillan, convener of the cross-party group on recreational boating and marine tourism, because we had a good joint meeting between the two CPGs, which included presentations from the RNLI. All our presentations—on water safety and other areas of safety—are hosted on the ROSPA website.

I recommend that all members look at the national water safety forum’s drowning prevention strategy for the UK, which Mr Rowley mentioned. I hope that we can develop a strategy specifically for Scotland.

Photo of Murdo Fraser Murdo Fraser Conservative

I congratulate Alex Rowley on securing this important debate and join him in thanking the Fife water safety initiative for its work.

Members have already spoken about the tragic deaths of John McKay and Cameron Lancaster. I echo the thoughts that have been expressed and add my condolences to both families. The deaths of both those young men have left huge holes in the lives of their families and friends. I hope that the Fife water safety initiative can help to ensure that no one else has to go through that trauma. The nature of those deaths shows that dangerous water is clearly a particular issue in Fife. I hope that raising awareness is the first step in preventing deaths under those circumstances.

We cannot and should not wrap up our youngsters in cotton wool, but we should ensure that they have the best information to make the safest possible choices. That is exactly what the Fife water safety initiative is trying to provide.

Although the motion mentions the proportionally higher death count in Scotland compared with the rest of the UK, quarry deaths are not a problem unique to our country. Communities in Northern Ireland, Stoke and Bedford have all been affected by high-profile quarry lake deaths.

We were all young once—contrary to popular belief—and I think that we can all understand the attraction, for young people, of cool water on a warm day. Many of these deaths are marked by the same chain of events. A swimmer enters the water, usually from a significant height or with a sudden plunge, which results in shortened breathing and a racing heartbeat. As a result of poor circulation, their co-ordination reduces, which increases their risk of drowning. That chain of events is particularly dangerous in quarries, where the water temperature is far lower than one would expect it to be in shallower water or even in the sea. Educating youngsters about the dangers associated with quarry swimming is therefore extremely important.

The Fife water safety initiative follows other examples in the UK, notably Northern Ireland with its “Stay safe—stay out of quarries” educational campaign. The RNLI, the Royal Life Saving Society, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, Fife Council and Police Scotland have combined to create a hard-hitting interactive video that highlights not only the dangers of quarry swimming but best practice for swimming in open water. By introducing the programme to primary and secondary pupils, the initiative aims to be fully immersive and accessible to pupils of all ages. As we have heard, Fife has a number of quarries, and it is extremely important to help children to make the right choices from the start.

If it is successful, I hope that other local authorities will use the materials and messages from the Fife water safety initiative to create their own tailor-made public awareness campaigns. This is a problem that occurs in other parts of Scotland and I hope that other councils will take up the template.

The motion mentions the tremendous work that is done by the RNLI in saving lives in coastal areas throughout the country. There are three lifeboat stations in Fife and I thank them for their hard work and determination to ensure that days at the beach do not end in tragedy. This summer, RNLI lifeguards will patrol beaches at St Andrews, Leven, Burntisland and Aberdour, and last year RNLI lifeguards responded to 17,000 incidents, rescuing 1,769 people and saving 92 lives across the UK. Having such high-calibre lifeguards on our beaches helps make Fife an extremely attractive draw for young families, who feel much safer swimming as a result.

It is important that the lives of both John and Cameron were not lost in vain and that both families can use their tragic deaths to help ensure that no other Fife family has to go through the same pain. I know that Cameron’s family are actively involved in the Fife water safety initiative and I would like to thank them for their efforts. I call on local authorities throughout Scotland to consider following Fife’s example and create their own educational campaigns.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

Before I call Drew Smith, I advise the Parliament that this is his valedictory speech. He was elected to the Parliament in 2011, having previously worked with an MSP. He has worked tirelessly since then, representing constituents and serving this Parliament in committees and the chamber, and I am sure that members would agree that he has done that with humour and insight. On behalf of the Presiding Officers and the Parliament, I wish you well for the future.

Photo of Drew Smith Drew Smith Labour

Presiding Officer, thank you for the opportunity to take part in this short debate and for all the support, encouragement and occasional discipline that I have received from you and your colleagues over the past five years.

As other members have done, I thank Alex Rowley for securing this debate. It has been a privilege to get to know him since he came to this place in 2014, and indeed to get to know members across all parties, many of whom I have come to regard as friends, colleagues and, only occasionally, opponents.

I had not been looking for a debate in which to make a final speech, but the issue that Mr Rowley raises is important to me and I want to make a point that is related to it. Mr Rowley has highlighted the dangers of open water and he is right to do so, on behalf of his constituents and anyone who has been affected by the loss of a child or other loved one. I should declare a very old interest: I am a former member of the Royal Life Saving Society UK. I commend it and the other organisations that Alex Rowley listed for their efforts to reduce our high incidence of drowning. I also recognise the loss of Cameron Lancaster and John McKay at Prestonhill quarry and pay tribute to those for whom their memory is dearest.

The motion rightly highlights the differential rates of drowning that tragically occur in Scotland, which is an issue that I have sought to raise in a previous members’ business debate. Entering or attempting to swim in open water can be dangerous. As we approach the warmer months, we should be clear to young people that quarries are not safe places, and we should be clear to those who own the quarries that they have responsibilities to make them safer.

The point that I want to add to this debate relates to water safety more widely. Promoting good water safety also requires an ambition that every child who would like to learn to swim leaves school able to do so. Teaching all our children to swim would have a myriad of benefits. In the context of this debate, I want to be clear that teaching children to swim also means teaching children when and where not to enter water.

A motion that I had hoped to have debated last summer drew attention to the Government’s decision to withdraw its support for the swimming top up programme, which funded Scottish Swimming to reduce the 40 per cent of children who leave primary school unable to swim. I found that to be a short-sighted cut, not least because it followed Glasgow’s successful Commonwealth games. I strongly hope that the incoming Government will look again at that issue and recognise that swimming can be a lifelong health-enhancing form of physical activity. I hope that that will mean a proper evaluation of what was done and an audit of what the withdrawal of support, combined with local authority cuts, has meant for levels of swimming uptake.

I hope that members in the next parliamentary session will push for a commitment to put both swimming for life and water safety education at the heart of our vision for a healthier and more active nation. In so doing, they should recognise that swimming, although it is dangerous in the wrong places and when overconfidence is at play, is a key life skill. Indeed, it can be a lifesaving skill.

My name appears in the Business Bulletin for question time, so I do not wish to take up more of Parliament’s time now. However, I want to say thank you to my city, my party, my staff, Sir Paul Grice’s staff here in the Parliament and my family for the support that I have had to serve here. I assure you that they deserve my thanks and that I have certainly needed that support at times.

A few kind souls have said that they found my decision to leave the Parliament unexpected. All that I can say in response is that it was not half as unexpected as my coming here five years ago. I express my very best wishes to candidates and to other members who are leaving the Parliament. It has been many different things for me, but it has always been a privilege. The Scottish Parliament has seen us debate big causes but also those small changes that make the most difference to the lives of our people. Thanks for having me.

Photo of Christine Grahame Christine Grahame Scottish National Party

I, too, congratulate Alex Rowley on securing this important and timely debate, as the days lengthen and become warmer. I also congratulate—perhaps that is the wrong word—the mother of Cameron Lancaster on her campaign following the tragic death of her son.

I have a friend who lost a son who was a very strong swimmer who drowned while swimming across a loch on Islay that he knew well. It was a lovely summer’s day and he was 17. Later, he was posthumously made dux of his school. Some months later, I visited his bedroom—I am getting upset, because I remember it to this day—in which mementos of him were everywhere. It was particularly heartbreaking because I had two sons of the same age, and to this day I feel sadness because of that lost life and lost future.

This is a modest but extremely significant debate that impacts on the lives of many people. In my constituency, in the Pentland hills, we have reservoirs that are no longer functioning, although some are. As others have said, given that some people’s brains have not developed until they are in their 20s, notices that say “Danger—don’t enter the water” can act as a challenge rather than a warning. A danger sign may encourage a young man to rise to the occasion, and there have been drownings in the reservoirs of the Pentland hills. That also happens in the rivers Tweed and Teviot in my constituency. On a warm day, usually at the beginning of summer, in the heat, young people forget that the water in the reservoirs is freezing cold. The water in the rivers is also cold, and there are other dangers caused by currents and undergrowth. Harking back to the experience of my friend on Islay, it is important that people are warned that their being a strong swimmer does not mean that they should swim in those places.

I notice that the campaign to heighten awareness of the dangers of our waterways will take place in June. However, I think that it should take place before that, because it will be on the first warm day in May or the beginning of June that the water will be enticing to people and they will decide to take a wee swim in it—which may be the last time they swim anywhere.

I very much welcome the debate and congratulate the mother whose campaign has given rise to it. I say that also on behalf of my friend on Islay, who is, to this day, one son short.

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I offer my sincere condolences to the families of Cameron Lancaster and John McKay, and to the families of Rhys and Shaun Scott, whom Clare Adamson mentioned. We all recognise the tragedy and the deep sense of loss that those families must have suffered. I am a parent myself: it is hard to imagine the pain of losing a child, so to suffer such a tragic loss in such unexpected circumstances must be truly devastating.

As members including Christine Grahame and Alex Rowley have done, I congratulate Gillian Barclay and the families on raising this important issue, and I congratulate Mr Rowley on bringing to Parliament such an important subject for the session’s final members’ debate. As Christine Grahame movingly said, it

“is a modest but ... significant debate”, and it is an appropriate use of time today to raise the issue.

I pay tribute to the courage, determination and selflessness that Gillian Barclay—Cameron Lancaster’s mother—has demonstrated in her work to raise awareness of the potential dangers of water, and in trying to prevent other parents experiencing the tragedy that she, along with, as we have heard, many others, has faced. My congratulations also go to the Fife water safety initiative on the successes of its education package. I wish it continued success in its endeavour to encourage all schools in Fife to adopt the package and to improve water safety awareness among children in the area.

Water safety in Scotland is complex with regard to legislation and responsibilities; inland and coastal waters are affected both by Scots common law and by statutory requirements, the majority of which come under the remit of the local authority. That situation is compounded by our geography—Scottish Natural Heritage estimates that there are more than 30,000 freshwater lochs in a country that is already surrounded by coastal water and has numerous waterways running through it. Although that contributes to our country’s natural beauty, as others have said, and to the range of water-related leisure pursuits that are available to and enjoyed by many of us, it also brings with it a greater element of the risks that are associated with water, particularly when our climate ensures that our bodies of water can be surprisingly cold, even at the height of summer—when we have one. Cold water on the body can incapacitate even the strongest swimmers, as Christine Grahame has said. That is a key message in Fife water safety’s programme.

I whole-heartedly agree with Drew Smith—who made an excellent final speech, if I may say so—that we can educate children about when not to go swimming. That is particularly important because—as others have said—although the water may look enticing, we do not know what lies below the surface, how cold it is and what other dangers, including rip tides and currents, affect them. I will say what I have said privately to Drew Smith: I very much respect him and his work in this Parliament. I wish him every success for the future. Good luck, Drew.

On water rescue, we are very fortunate to have the Royal National Lifeboat Institution at sea. The motion today mentions the impressive number of rescues that it has performed and lives that have been saved by it.

Inshore, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service has a statutory responsibility to respond to serious flood incidents and has discretion to respond to “other eventualities”. The SFRS has a number of water rescue units stationed at strategic locations throughout the country. As well as rescuing people from flooded homes and vehicles during the storms earlier this year, the service has also been involved in a number of non-flood-related water rescues, including that of an 11-year-old boy who was trapped on an island in the River Almond, and the rescue of a man who had fallen down a ravine into the water at Blair Atholl. Scotland also benefits from a number of voluntary water rescue organisations, which work extremely hard to protect people in various parts of the country, including the Scottish Borders.

Our greatest chance of success will lie in an approach that is based on prevention through education and awareness, in order to ensure that people who go near or enter water are aware of the risks that are associated with it, which will in turn reduce the number of deaths by drowning.

The ability to swim is, of course, an important part of feeling confident to enter the water, but there are, as I have said, many other issues to be aware of, including depth, the presence of currents or other, often unseen, hazards below the surface and, as others have mentioned, cold and the immediate and longer-term effects that it can have on the body. Therefore, work such as that which is undertaken by Cameron Lancaster’s mother and the participants of the Fife water safety initiative, including the RNLI, Police Scotland, the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and Fife Council, is vital to the safety of individuals across the country.

In Scotland, decisions on content and delivery of education and the curriculum in Scotland are, of course, very much local decisions. However, the Scottish Government recognises the importance of raising awareness and of making available suitable resource materials to support water safety education, so we encourage local authorities to consider that very carefully for both primary and secondary school pupils.

In 2016-17, the Scottish Government will provide funding of £104,000 to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents to continue to deliver its annual home and water safety programme. I hope that the Presiding Officer will indulge me and allow me to mention the work of Clare Adamson. In the course of her time in Parliament since 2011 she has been working extremely hard to support ROSPA’s work in and outwith Parliament. As the relevant minister, I am very grateful for that. I am sure that ROSPA, were it able to speak in the debate, would also praise her. I very much take on board her points about the need to develop a Scottish strategy for water safety.

The water safety element of ROSPA’s programme aims to assist the UK national drowning prevention strategy to reduce accidental drowning rates in the UK by 50 per cent by 2026. In 2014, ROSPA set up the water safety Scotland group, to which Mr Rowley referred. Its aim is to consider and understand the key risks and to engage with partners to develop a consistent approach to prevention of drowning, other water-related deaths and unintentional injuries in and around water. That is already happening. The group has facilitated partnership working on a number of initiatives, including the Fife water safety initiative, which we have heard about today; water safety for children and young people, which is a joint programme between Dumfries and Galloway Council education department, Nith Inshore Rescue and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service in Dumfries and Galloway; and the “Don’t drink and drown” campaign, which is a joint venture of the Royal Life Saving Society UK, Police Scotland and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service, and is aimed at students.

As Murdo Fraser said, other parts of the UK, for example Northern Ireland, are developing their strategies; I wish them well in tackling the UK-wide problem of drowning incidents in quarries.

ROSPA has recently provided a framework for local authorities to formulate their own policies, and it will continue to promote the framework’s use, as well as providing support to the newly formed Scotland’s water safety reference group and any water-safety-related campaigns.

Go safe Scotland, which was launched by the SFRS and Glasgow City Council in September 2013, is another excellent example of partnership working. It includes Police Scotland, Scottish Water, ROSPA, the British Transport Police, the national health service, Scottish Power, Scotland Gas Networks, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and Network Rail. It provides a national interactive education resource to pupils across Scotland.

As the minister with responsibility for community safety, I would like to pay tribute to all the people who work hard to promote water safety, and to the emergency responders and voluntary organisations that rescue people who get into difficulties in water. As the grandson of an angler who drowned in Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, I can assure Parliament and the parents and families of those who are no longer with us as a result of such incidents that I take such matters extremely seriously.

I congratulate everyone who is involved in the Fife water safety initiative on the production of its presentation and its successes in making young people in Fife aware of the importance of water safety and of the possible tragic consequences of not taking care in and around water. I thank my colleague Annabelle Ewing for engaging in regular correspondence on the Cameron Lancaster case and for raising the issue with me, and I thank Alex Rowley for bringing forward an extremely important debate.

Finally, I will offer my support for the aims of the initiative by writing to all Scotland’s local authorities to encourage them to raise awareness among school pupils across Scotland of the dangers in and around water, and to make them aware of the strong desire that exists across the political parties in Parliament for important work to be done to bring about improvements in water safety. I inform Parliament that following Ms Ewing’s correspondence my officials are due to meet Cameron Lancaster’s mother, Gillian Barclay, to discuss how the Scottish Government might further support that work, and I hope that that will be welcomed by colleagues across Parliament.

Water is one of Scotland’s greatest natural resources and we want people to be able to enjoy it, but it is vital that we are informed about and aware of the potential hazards in and around water, and that we do all that we can to protect ourselves and our children from its dangers.

The Deputy Presiding Officer:

That concludes the final members’ business debate of the session.

10:47 Meeting suspended.

10:59 On resuming—