1 Natalie Elphicke debates involving the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office

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Natalie Elphicke Excerpts
Monday 24th January 2022

(2 years, 3 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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Natalie Elphicke Portrait Mrs Natalie Elphicke (Dover) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher) on his opening remarks and the Petitions Committee on securing the debate. I thank all those who petitioned to bring this important matter to us.

The tragic death of Mark Allen highlights the dangers associated with open water. I send my prayers and best wishes to Leeanne and Mark’s family and friends, and to Sam’s. His death was so sadly and effectively described by the hon. Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion), whom I thank.

In this context, I would like to talk about the terribly sad death of my constituent, Lucas Dobson, from Deal. Lucas was only six years old when he fell into the River Stour in Sandwich and drowned. Lucas was excitedly enjoying a barbecue and a day out with his dad at a privately owned jetty. While his father was checking an engine nearby, Lucas tried to jump on the boat by himself. He missed his footing and plunged into the water. He was instantly swept away by the strong tidal currents. He disappeared for four days. During that time, thousands of community volunteers and police searched high and low on the river for Lucas. Tragically, he was found dead on Wednesday 21 August 2019, some four days later.

The inquest heard that on that day neither Lucas nor his friends were wearing lifejackets while they played amid the boats on the jetty. That is why I support Lucas’s family—his mother, Kirsty Furze, grandmother Donna Kentfield and cousin Zoe Alldis—in their calls for a new law, Lucas’s law, which echoes and builds on Mark’s law, which is being discussed today.

Lucas’s law has three parts. It would make it compulsory for young children to wear lifejackets on and around boats. It would require more life-saving buoyancy rings and lifelines to be installed near rivers, lakes and seas, and would start a new safety awareness campaign for parents of young children, including encouraging them to use float suits and swim vests when the children are playing near water, particularly on hot days. It can take only a moment for an accident to happen that can take a young life.

Children’s float suits and swim vests can be inexpensive and cost as little as £10. Like cycle helmets and seatbelts, it just makes sense to be water safe. Yet more people die from drowning each year than from cycling, so we really need to start doing something about it.

I have been working alongside Lucas’s family to raise awareness of this incredibly important issue. I have called on the Royal Yachting Association, as well as other water safety organisations, to back these life-saving plans. In the year that Lucas died, the RNLI helped about 40,000 people in the water to safety. I thank the RNLI and Her Majesty’s Coastguard for all the work that they do to help keep people safe in my constituency, which is a coastal one.

However, I am disappointed that organisations such as the Royal Yachting Association and others, who should have water safety in their DNA, are not backing calls for new safety laws around water and compulsory lifejackets for young children. It is essential that such provisions extend to private boat owners and private jetty owners, and that they take legal responsibility and appropriate action for ensuring the safety of young people.

There have been changes in other areas of privately owned transport such as the car, and it is time for action on privately owned boats and jetties. Many other countries, including America, Ireland, Australia and New Zealand already have mandatory lifejacket laws. It is about time the UK put in place basic life-saving laws to protect young children near water.

Like Mark Allen, who also lost his life by drowning, Lucas Dobson might have been saved if the right safety processes had been in place and been followed. The tragedy in both those cases, and that of Sam, is that they were accidents that might have been avoided with better water safety support. We must now do what is right to stop accidents from resulting in drowning and death.

In my coastal constituency, water safety is an extremely important issue for me and my constituents. I look forward with hope that in the next year we can see Lucas’s law, Sam’s law and Mark’s law move forward together. There is a need for a comprehensive strategy in this place.

I want to end by paying tribute to Lucas’s mother, aunt and grandmother. Since the death of their child, the years have been tough for them. I commend them for pulling together and campaigning for better water safety to ensure that no other families go through what they had to go through, and to ensure that no further lives are lost in water unnecessarily.

At a time when enhancing all aspects of public safety is seen as an important function of Government, safety, especially of the young, around bodies of water must not be a poor relation in the safety debate. That such tragedies happen rarely is not a justification for inaction. There is a responsibility to tackle water safety with a rigour that befits an island and water nation. The challenge must be to stop avoidable deaths by drowning happening at all: to educate, to legislate and to save lives.