Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 4 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Daniel Zeichner Portrait Daniel Zeichner (Cambridge) (Lab)
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It is a particular pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Ms Ghani. I congratulate the hon. Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher), on behalf of the Petitions Committee, on bringing forward this debate. I was a member of the Committee in the past, and I know how important these debates are.

The hon. Gentleman introduced the subject with a gravity and comprehensiveness that did justice to a serious set of issues. He particularly dealt with the pain that has been represented in all today’s speeches. Most of all, I express my admiration for the campaigning that Mark Allen’s mother, Leeanne, has done. When I was researching this issue, I was struck by the impact that the campaign has had in garnering support. A magnificent number have signed the petition, not just here but in Wales. I hope that all of that will lead to change, and that is the purpose for which we are here today.

We have heard powerful speeches from around the Chamber. What struck me was that every single one reflected a tragedy for families and constituents. The roll-call of names is very sad indeed. I was struck by the comments of the right hon. Member for Clwyd West (Mr Jones), who represented his constituent very effectively. I thought his point from the coroner’s report was quite striking. We all think we are bulletproof, do we not? I suspect we can all look back on occasions in our own lives when we have done things that, on reflection, were probably not wise. Mostly, we get away with it, but occasionally we do not. That is the key to trying to find a way to make our fellow citizens’ lives safer.

I was struck by the comments from my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion). It seems almost indescribable that people could be vandalising safety equipment, but that is the world we live in, unfortunately, and I thought she made strong points about the need for action on that. The hon. Member for Dover (Mrs Elphicke) mentioned the sad situation of Lucas, and a strong series of points were made, to which I hope the Minister will listen closely. The hon. Member for Southport (Damien Moore) spoke of Ben. On it goes, it seems. Important points about the RNLI were also made. The hon. Member for Hendon (Dr Offord) can at least come to our rescue as a lifeguard. He made a very positive contribution as well.

I was also struck by the fact that this is not the first time that the issue has been debated in this place. There was a debate last July that was slightly more education focused, but in which more sad cases were recounted and the same points were well made that it is not just about swimming; it is much more about an awareness of the dangers, and the need for that message to be put forward effectively in schools.

I ask the Minister what impact that discussion—I think it was raised by one Member in the debate—has had on the Department for Education? I know that the curriculum is crowded, but what has the Department been doing to ensure that these important issues are raised, because the number of deaths is striking? A number of us have been involved in transport over the years. Of course, we work hard to improve cycle safety and road safety, but to have so many people dying from drowning each year rather makes the point that we need to do more about it.

I contacted the water company in my area, Anglian Water, and was grateful for its guidance on quite a complicated subject in terms of the advice from the National Water Safety Forum and the Visitor Safety Group on when and how to use public rescue equipment. Although I am grateful, I also could not help noticing over the weekend the amount that the water company has paid out in dividends to shareholders over the past few years. Resources could be made available by a number of water companies to help us with this exercise in public education. I think the right hon. Member for Clwyd West asked what advice the Government expect landowners to be taking and what they expect them to be doing. What assessment have the Government made of the effectiveness of the panoply of measures that supposedly ensure safety, and what conclusions have been drawn from it? I also ask the Minister to outline what actions have been taken following last year’s petition and debate.

I noticed that there appeared to be a slight delay in responding to the Petitions Committee. I remember that during my time on the Committee we had many complaints about Government replies, but not always delays. I wonder why that was. The response seemed to me to be an account of the current layout, but I am unsure that that quite amounts to a response. I would be grateful if the Minister could produce a response, rather than just an account of the current landscape. Given the roll-call of Mark, Sam, Lucas, Ben and so many others, we need to make some progress, and I hope that the Minister can give us some assurance.