RNLI Bicentenary — [Carolyn Harris in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:11 am on 26 March 2024.

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Photo of Duncan Baker Duncan Baker Conservative, North Norfolk 10:11, 26 March 2024

I thank my hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall for securing this important debate. First, I will pay my own tribute to the incredible work that the RNLI does. Since its establishment in 1824 its volunteers have consistently demonstrated immense courage, rescuing untold numbers of lives. We honour them today and over the course of the next year for the bicentenary celebrations, and we remember the 144,000 people who have been saved by their work.

The RNLI obviously holds particular importance in my constituency of North Norfolk, given the abundance of coastal communities. I represent 52 miles of glorious coastline. Whether it is the influx of tourists over the summer or the regular beach enthusiasts and dog walkers all year round, I know that my coast in North Norfolk is consistently bustling with activity. As such, the RNLI plays an incredibly important role in ensuring the safety and welfare of everybody who comes to use the North Norfolk coast.

We cannot talk about the RNLI without mentioning the significance of Henry Blogg, the most decorated lifeboatman in RNLI history. He served on Cromer’s lifeboats and, alongside his crew, saved 873 lives and made 387 rescues over a length of service of 53 years. His ancestors are still living in and well connected to the Cromer community. Henry’s story shines a light on the importance the RNLI holds in our local communities.

I would like the Minister to pay particular attention to what I shall say next, as it has been in the local newspapers a great deal, particularly yesterday. I am sad to say that I wish the story had not broken in the way it did, because it has caused a great deal of concern in the local area. One of the vessels that Blogg served on was the Bailey. The Bailey sits in Cromer, in the RNLI Henry Blogg Museum. There are reports that the building has some water ingress. The Bailey is a priceless artefact in the history of the RNLI and priceless to the people of Cromer. I put it on the record that the Bailey belongs to Cromer; it belongs to the people of Cromer and it must stay in Cromer. I know that behind the scenes the RNLI and the local district council are working together to try and put the building right and get the remedial works salvaged, so that the Bailey can remain in place. I will do everything I can behind the scenes to help that to happen, and I want to reassure the people of Cromer, and more widely around North Norfolk, that we are absolutely driven to achieve that. If I need the Minister’s help and support on that, I know he is a good man and that he will give it.

We have already mentioned the RNLI chief executive, Mark Dowie; when I have raised this matter with him, he has picked up the telephone within minutes. He knows how important the Bailey is as one of the most famous vessels in RNLI history, and what it means to the people of Cromer. To reiterate, we will do everything we can to make sure that that priceless artefact is looked after properly in the place where its home should be.

I cannot mention every single lifeboat up and down my coast because that would take far too long, but we are incredibly well served; Wells, Sheringham, Cromer, Mundesley and Happisburgh all have a provision. I know that list seems like a picture postcard of “Book your trip to north Norfolk this summer”.

In the last year, Wells has had a new £2.5 million, 42-foot Duke of Edinburgh delivered, and I was privileged enough to see it brought out of its also brand-new multimillion-pound boathouse just last year. It is phenomenal, and it is now operational. Sheringham needs absolutely no introduction. Already this year we have had the now world-famous Sheringham Shantymen sing to us at a wonderful gala dinner, raising money for the RNLI station there; they do incredible amounts around my community. Furthermore, there is of course Cromer, which I will not mention again. All of those places are synonymous with lifeboat history.

To finish, we have talked a lot about the RNLI crews and the amazing work they do, but I just want to mention the people who are often the unsung heroes—rather gloriously not referred to as the admin staff behind the scenes. They are not necessarily the backbone going out on the vessels, but they are the people who make the whole organisation tick. If we did not have those people rattling buckets on the high streets and running the RNLI shops, the entire organisation would not function. I therefore pay tribute to all of the volunteers; not just those on the vessels, but those behind the scenes as well. They are absolutely just as important as the heroic men and women who risk their lives to save other people’s lives. I would not get away without saying that, because my stepmother works in one of those businesses.