RNLI Bicentenary — [Carolyn Harris in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:43 am on 26 March 2024.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Margaret Greenwood Margaret Greenwood Labour, Wirral West 9:43, 26 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I congratulate Anthony Mangnall on securing this important debate.

This year marks the bicentenary of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, an extraordinary organisation that could not operate without the outstanding bravery and courage of those involved. RNLI lifeboat crews launched more than 9,000 times in 2022, aiding 16,476 people and saving 389 lives. RNLI crews, the vast majority of whom are volunteers, put their lives at risk to save others. They do so at all hours of the day and night, often setting out on very rough seas. Many families have been involved with the RNLI for decades, with expertise handed down through the generations. As has been said, being involved in a lifeboat station is a way of life.

I am honoured to represent a constituency with two RNLI lifeboat stations: one at Hoylake and one at West Kirby. Crews are prepared to go out in all weathers to rescue people, whether they are in yachts, dinghies, canoes or large commercial vessels or have been caught by the tide when walking out to the Hilbre islands. There is a long tradition of courage in west Wirral, of which local people are rightly proud. The first lifeboat station in Hoylake was founded in 1803, before the RNLI was established in 1824. Those early lifeboats were dragged into the sea by horses, their effectiveness reliant on the strength of the crews at the oars.

Tragedy struck in 1810, when eight men of a crew of 10 were drowned as they tried to assist the ship Traveller. The disaster struck the entire local community. A report cited in Nicholas Leach’s excellent book “Hoylake and West Kirby Lifeboats: An Illustrated History” describes the aftermath:

“The bodies were found the same day, and carried to their respective homes, where a scene of misery was witnessed which defies all power of expression. The deceased were all near neighbours, and lived in a small village called the Hoose, near Hoylake...these brave fellows were the flower of the Hoylake fishermen, and had always displayed the greatest promptitude and alacrity in assisting vessels in distress;
nor could England boast a set of braver men...They have left large families totally unprovided for”.

To mark the bicentenary of the disaster, a memorial to those lost was unveiled outside the RNLI lifeboat house in Hoylake in December 2010, and due respect was afforded by today’s lifeboat crews, members of the local community and descendants of those who lost their lives in 1810.

Thankfully, things have come a long way since those perilous days. In 2014, a new 13-metre Shannon lifeboat was stationed at Hoylake, where it remains today. It is a state-of-the-art vessel, with every conceivable safety feature. The smaller West Kirby inshore lifeboats were introduced in the 1960s. The roll call of brave men and women who serve at Hoylake and West Kirby is a source of great pride to the local community. Without them, there would be no rescue service for people who get into difficulty at sea and on the estuary. Fundraising is crucial to the RNLI, and it is unsurprising that local people are so keen to support it. It is vital that that support continues, because less than 1% of RNLI income comes from Government.

The stories of rescues are heroic indeed. I have had the great privilege of hearing at first hand from John Curry, chair of the Hoylake and West Kirby RNLI management group, about some of these rescues. One powerful image stays firmly in my mind: a hand reaching out from the waves. It is an image of a drowning man, woman or child, in the very last moments while rescue is still possible. The intense bravery and dedication of the RNLI volunteers, who will put themselves at risk to reach out and grasp such a hand before it sinks beneath the waves, deserve all our thanks and tributes.