RNLI Bicentenary — [Carolyn Harris in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:47 am on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Kevin Foster Kevin Foster Conservative, Torbay 9:47, 26 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Harris. I congratulate my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour Anthony Mangnall on securing this debate, and I thank my colleagues on the Backbench Business Committee for agreeing to it.

It is very apt to be celebrating the 200th anniversary of the RNLI, given the role that it plays for communities in south Devon. The Torbay RNLI has been operating since 1866, serving commercial merchantman traffic and keeping holidaymakers and those visiting the south coast safe. The organisation has been at the heart of the community since then; it is based on volunteering and on funding and support from the community.

It is easy to see why the RNLI is such a loved institution when we hear the stories of its members’ heroism. In Torbay we have Keith Bower, who I think is one of only three living holders of the RNLI gold medal for conspicuous gallantry. Other Members have already referred to those crew members who sadly lost their lives, but there have been many occasions on which volunteers will have absolutely pushed to the limits what they could do to save someone in distress. It is right that we pay tribute and remember them. It was great to see Keith at the heart of the recent service of thanksgiving at Westminster Abbey, in recognition of the role that so many play, in extreme conditions, to try to save the lives of people they will probably never have met. They go out of their way to bring them home safe, for them and their families.

My hon. Friend the Member for Totnes and I have an interesting debate about the Torbay RNLI, because the station on land is in Brixham, which is part of his constituency, but the boat is moored in the waters of Brixham harbour, which—due to the anomalies in how Torbay runs its harbour authority—is part of mine. But the RNLI is loved across the bay. At the event on 4 March, the fleet was out and being saluted by so many people on land, as well as those on the waters who rely on and are reassured by its constant presence.

It is worth noting that the RNLI Torbay lifeboat fundraising team are the ones helping to sustain the crew at the front. We have a song written by Roger Smith to commemorate and celebrate the 200th anniversary; there is also a whole network that exists throughout the year and raises vital funds to support the team we see out on the water.

It is also worth noting how the RNLI supports the wider work of the community. We think immediately of emergency call-outs when someone is in distress and a lifeboat is called out to identify them and bring them back to safety, but a range of other things can happen. There is always a moment for reflection when I am about to do the Boxing day walk into the sea at Paignton sands and I see the lifeboat pull up beforehand; the RNLI effectively provides a safety boat. It is a slightly thought-provoking moment: I sit there thinking, “Is this the best decision I’ve ever made?” as I am about to walk into freezing cold water, with the lifeboat pulling up to keep us safe. It shows what the RNLI does for the wider community: it is not just about emergencies, but about providing the safety and support that such events need. That allows thousands of pounds to be raised for other charities and for fundraising in the community, as well as being an opportunity to get rather cold on Boxing day, if that helps to shake off anything from the day before.

In its 200-year history, the RNLI has been supported by other institutions that contribute towards its efforts and share its goals. It is well worth mentioning the National Coastwatch Institution Torbay and its station up at Daddyhole plain, which works closely with RNLI Torbay. They are both committed to exactly the same purpose of keeping those who use the waters around our bay safe.

The RNLI is an institution that has been well loved and well supported for 200 years. It shows the best of our communities and ensures that they are safe even in the most perilous of conditions. It has had a successful 200 years in which it has gone from strength to strength. I see no reason why it will not go on to further success over the next 200 years, with many thousands more lives saved.