Jamie Stone – 2023 Speech on Lifeboat Services – Search and Rescue

The speech made by Jamie Stone, the Liberal Democrat MP for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross, in Westminster Hall, the House of Commons, on 10 January 2023.

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. I congratulate the hon. Member for Torbay (Kevin Foster) on a characteristically erudite and well-informed speech. I first want to mention the RNLI in my constituency. I have sailed out on the Thurso lifeboat—and did not sink it. The waters in the north of Scotland are treacherous, and subject to very strong tides, changeable winds and fog. My grandfather, alas, put his warship HMS Goldfinch on the rocks in 1915 in a very thick fog, and was not given command of a destroyer again. That proves how treacherous the waters are.

The work that the lifeboat crews undertake is varied. The hon. Member for Torbay touched on some of the big, dramatic stuff, but we have little stuff as well. For instance, in August the Wick lifeboat—the Wick station was put there in 1848—was called out to rescue a lady on a paddleboard. She had sailed out from the beach at Reiss, north of Wick, and, thank goodness, was rescued. It was a small rescue, but so important to the family, and to the people of Caithness.

More locally, we have the East Sutherland Rescue Association, which I have often spoken about to the hon. Member for Totnes (Anthony Mangnall). It is crewed by volunteers and is based at Dornoch in the Dornoch firth. It was founded in 1981 to cover a lack of facilities to rescue people, and it uses Dornoch or Embo beaches. It was called out not long ago to rescue some sheep off the village of Nigg, which got stranded as the tide rose. That might seem semi-laughable, but would a crofter or a farmer want to see their animals slowly drown? No, I do not think so. That shows how much the crews do for the local area.

I want to praise Lord Cadogan, who has given substantial amounts of money to the East Sutherland Rescue Association. He owns land in Sutherland and, out of the goodness of his heart, has seen to it that it is adequately financed and was able to build a new facility, so that it could maintain and launch its boats. I want to put that on the record in Hansard, because I am grateful to him, as is the whole community. I have touched on the treacherous waters of the north of Scotland, and the splendid work done by the RNLI and its volunteers, and how close it is to all our hearts. The hon. Member for Torbay thanked them, and I thank them, too. They do fantastic work.

Thinking ahead, as global warming carries on, and as the ice pack in the Arctic gets thinner and retreats, the north-east route from Europe, round the top of Norway and along the north coast of Russia, to markets in the far east, which we can use in the summer months, becomes more and more important. Scapa Flow is in the constituency of my neighbour, my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael). Before the first world war, Scapa Flow was set up as a natural anchorage for the grand fleet, so that it could defend the United Kingdom. I believe that there is scope for Scapa Flow to once again feature as a shelter anchorage for vessels about to undertake the long journey over the north of the continents of Europe and Asia.

My point is this: in future we will need lifeboat services just as much as we need them today. They are here for a very long time to come—here for keeps. Man can do many things, but man cannot alter the weather and or change dangerous circumstances, so this is a blatant plug. Lifeboat services have long done a great job. They are doing a great job now, and there is a great future for them. We must support them and back them to the hilt.