RNLI Bicentenary — [Carolyn Harris in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:51 am on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (AI and Intellectual Property) 9:51, 26 March 2024

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Mrs Harris. I congratulate Anthony Mangnall on his excellent and stirring speech about the service of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution across this country. I pay tribute to the RNLI: it is a wonderful service, and today’s speeches have been inspiring.

I am here to say thank you on behalf of an inland community and to raise a related point about water safety. The RNLI has given 200 years of service to this country, and it is a privilege to speak in this debate. I will pick up on some hugely important points that the hon. Member made about the RNLI’s expansion into taking over beach safety and about its international and education work.

The RNLI already covers estuaries of major rivers. I represent a town further upstream, beyond the tidal reach of the Thames: the tidal section goes as far as Teddington, and Reading is some way from there. However, every year we have tragedies when people fall in the river and, in some cases, need to be rescued. The police are the rescuing authority, but I have been approached by a number of residents, particularly boat owners, small business owners and others based by the river, who potentially have access to rescue craft. They want to learn more about the experience of the RNLI and about how inland waterways could be made safer by assisting the police in rescue, with trained personnel who are used to driving boats in river situations.

In fact, one of my residents was awarded a medal by Thames Valley police for doing exactly that last year: at very short notice, he jumped into his boat and rescued somebody who had fallen into the river. The gentleman concerned was quite severely injured; he had struggled and was no longer able to swim. He was floating downstream in the centre of the river, some way from the bank, and if it had not been for that resident the incident could have been much worse.

I address my points to the Minister. Is it possible to look into the RNLI’s experience with inland waterways and see what we can learn as a country? We must not only thank the RNLI for its outstanding work in saving lives at sea, which has been spoken about beautifully today—we all share a great sense of gratitude to this wonderful institution—but see what can be learned from the collective endeavour about which the hon. Member for Totnes spoke so effectively and clearly in his inspiring speech. I pose that question to the Minister to see what might be done to further assist to local police forces: they are the rescuing authority in inland waterways, but they are often under enormous pressure, and police boats may take some time to get to an emergency.