Meeting date: Thursday, March 14, 2019
Meeting of the Parliament 14 March 2019
Agenda: General Question Time, First Minister’s Question Time, Longhope Lifeboat Disaster (50th Anniversary), Portfolio Question Time, Brexit (Impact on Further and Higher Education), Space Nation, Parliamentary Bureau Motion, Point of Order, Decision Time, Correction
- General Question Time
- First Minister’s Question Time
- Longhope Lifeboat Disaster (50th Anniversary)
- Portfolio Question Time
- Brexit (Impact on Further and Higher Education)
- Space Nation
- Parliamentary Bureau Motion
- Point of Order
- Decision Time
Longhope Lifeboat Disaster (50th Anniversary)
I ask the members of the public who are leaving the gallery to do so quietly, as the meeting has resumed and we are moving on to a debate.
The next item of business is a members’ business debate on motion S5M-15935, in the name of Liam McArthur, on the 50th anniversary of the Longhope lifeboat disaster. The debate will be concluded without any question being put.
That the Parliament commemorates the 50th anniversary of the Longhope lifeboat tragedy, which took place on 17 March 1969; recalls with great sadness that all eight crew members on board the lifeboat, TGB, perished as it capsized in heavy seas after responding to a call from the Wick Coastguard to assist the Liberian-registered vessel, Irene, which was in difficulty and drifting 21 miles east of Duncansby Head; understands that, while the Irene was finally driven onto rocks at Grimness in South Ronaldsay, and the crew brought safely ashore, TGB and her crew were not so fortunate, with the vessel being discovered capsized four miles south west of Tor Ness on 18 March; recognises the shock felt by the whole Orkney community at such a tragic loss of life, but in particular acknowledges the devastating impact on the small community of Brims in Longhope on the island of Hoy, which suffered the loss of a quarter of its population that night; believes that the tragedy was compounded by the fact that fathers and their sons were among those who perished; pays tribute to the ultimate sacrifice made by Coxswain Dan Kirkpatrick, Second Coxswain Jimmy Johnston, Bowman Ray Kirkpatrick, Mechanic Robert B Johnston, Assistant Mechanic Jimmy Swanson, and lifeboat men Jack Kirkpatrick, Robert Johnston and Eric McFadyen; agrees wholeheartedly with the sentiment on the memorial to all eight crew members “that greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his fellow men”; notes that the current crew includes relatives of the crew from 1969, and that they, along with others, help run the Longhope Lifeboat Museum, which provides a fitting reminder of the disaster, as well as the life-saving work carried out by the crew of the TGB; wishes those from the local community involved in organising events to mark this difficult anniversary all the best, and extends its heartfelt thanks to lifeboat crews across the country for the selfless work that they do on behalf of the island and coastal communities they serve with such bravery and distinction.12:49
Dan Kirkpatrick, coxswain; James Johnston, second coxswain; Ray Kirkpatrick, bowman; Robert B Johnston, mechanic; Jimmy Swanson, assistant mechanic; and Jack Kirkpatrick, Robbie Johnston and Eric McFadyen, lifeboatmen: those are the names of the eight men who perished when the Longhope lifeboat TGB capsized in high winds and heavy seas in the Pentland Firth on the night of 17 March 1969. Fifty years on, neither the significance nor the poignancy of that tragic event have diminished.
It is not possible in seven minutes to do justice either to what happened or to the bravery of those who lost their lives that night, but it is right for Parliament to have an opportunity to mark the anniversary and to pay tribute to Dan Kirkpatrick and his crew. I am therefore grateful to the many MSPs from all parties who signed my motion, which has allowed the debate to take place, and to colleagues who are in the chamber this afternoon.
There have, of course, been many tragic events in which the loss of life has been considerably greater, but the fact that the eight men died in the selfless act of trying to save others helps, I think, to explain why it had, and continues to have, such a profound impact on the public consciousness.
However, it would do a disservice to the memory of Dan Kirkpatrick and his crew to focus solely on what happened that fateful night. They all had lives well beyond their involvement with the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, but even with that, their wider achievements deserve recognition. The crew had shown its worth and proved its mettle over the years by saving many lives and receiving numerous awards for bravery. Indeed, Dan Kirkpatrick was due to have travelled to London in the week following the disaster to receive an RNLI silver clasp and the award for the bravest act of lifesaving in 1968, in acknowledgement of heroics that he and his crew performed in saving 15 men aboard the Grimsby trawler Ross Puma. It was their third such honour. He would have vigorously rejected any such suggestion, but Dan Kirkpatrick was something of a celebrity. As well as the RNLI silver medal and clasps, he received the British empire medal and even appeared on “This Is Your Life” with Eamonn Andrews in 1963.
That is all a far cry from the events of Monday 17 March 1969. The lifeboat was launched just before 8 pm in response to a call for help from the Liberian cargo ship, the SS Irene. It was reported to be in difficulties east of Orkney, apparently out of control and drifting in a south-easterly force 9 gale that had been blowing for days, and which was creating mountainous waves of up to 60 feet. As it turned out, the stricken vessel was to run aground at Grimness in South Ronaldsay, where the crew of 17 were brought safely to shore by the Broughness and Deerness coastguard teams in a textbook rescue by breeches buoy, for which those involved were later honoured.
However, amid the relief there was growing anxiety about the fate of the Longhope lifeboat. She was spotted by the Pentland Skerries lighthousekeepers around 9.30 pm, but radio contact with the TGB had been lost an hour or so after she launched. As those ashore clung ever more desperately to the hope that it was just a radio fault, a massive air, sea and land search operation got under way. It continued all through the night and into the following day until, shortly after 1 pm, the Thurso lifeboat sent word that it had found the upturned TGB four miles west of Tor Ness Point on Hoy.
Precisely what happened will never be known, but a fatal accident inquiry in June 1969 heard evidence that it was likely that the mountainous seas broke two windows in the front of the wheelhouse, allowing water to rush in. The coxswain was swept from the wheel and so lost control of the boat, which then went broadside to the sea and capsized. The vessel was towed to Scrabster harbour where it was righted, and the bodies of Dan Kirkpatrick and six of his crew were retrieved. Sadly, Jim Swanson’s body was never recovered.
Needless to say, expressions of sympathy, condolence and support were quick to flood in from all over the country and all parts of the globe. An appeal fund for the families soon exceeded £100,000, and the funeral and memorial services in Longhope and St Magnus cathedral drew thousands of mourners and well-wishers.
However, as The Orcadian reported,
"The whole of Orkney sorrows over this terrible calamity, but only in Brims itself and Longhope can the utter tragedy of it be felt".
Brims is a small township that, at the time, numbered 30 people. The catastrophic loss of a quarter of its population at one stroke is quite unimaginable. More than that, the eight men who lost their lives included two fathers, each with two sons on board, which prompted the local MP Jo Grimond to question whether the RNLI should be allowing fathers and their sons to be going out on the same lifeboat on such operations. All told, the community of Brims was left with seven widows and 10 fatherless children.
However, as Howard Hazell explains in his fascinating account of events,
"there was no recrimination or bitterness from anyone who’d lost their menfolk."
He quotes Margaret Kirkpatrick, who was married to Dan for 29 years. She said:
“I have no regret about the boat being lost on its way to help others, because that is why it was there.”
“I am happy that the lives of the crew of the Irene have been saved”.
Later that year, Margaret was named Scotswoman of the year at a ceremony in Glasgow.
Her sentiments were shared by the rest of the community in Brims and Longhope, who were anxious that the lifeboat be replaced without delay. When that happened in August 1970, albeit initially on a temporary basis, local lifeboat secretary Jackie Groat said:
“the arrival of another boat is what we have been working and waiting for. It is already bringing a new outlook to the community and a much needed uplift. With no lifeboat here we have felt something vital missing in our midst.”
Fast forward 50 years, and how fitting it is that Kevin Kirkpatrick carries the mantle of coxswain. I am in no doubt at all that his grandfather, Dan, and his father and uncle would have been proud beyond belief. It just so happens that Kevin’s wife, Karen, like her husband, also lost her grandfather, father and uncle in the tragedy. Perhaps unsurprisingly, their son, Jack, and daughter, Stella, are crew members in Kirkwall and Longhope respectively. It is clearly in the blood.
Looking ahead to the commemorations this weekend, they will be an opportunity to reflect, pay tribute and give thanks. As Kevin Kirkpatrick has said:
“What happened that night is part of our history. We want to mark the 50th anniversary as we want to remember them, probably in a quiet way as that is normally the way we do it.”
Ahead of the commemorations, I am delighted that Longhope lifeboat museum is being refurbished, following a remarkable public response to an appeal for donations. It really is a wonderful facility.
Seventeen months after the fatal capsizing, as the TGB returned to service in County Donegal, a memorial to the eight men who lost their lives was unveiled by the Queen Mother. At the ceremony, the Rev Ewan Traill spoke powerfully of the disaster and its victims. He said:
“These men were not saints, but essentially they were good men. They had qualities, which constituted greatness. As a crew, they were unsurpassed anywhere in the world for efficiency, judgment, for loyalty and for courage.”
Inscribed on the base of the memorial are these words:
“Greater love hath no man than this, that he lays down his life for his fellow men”.
They were truly the heroes of Longhope. I am pleased that Parliament has a chance to honour them today, and I look forward to hearing colleagues’ contributions.12:56
I thank Liam McArthur for lodging the motion for this members’ business debate. As soon as I saw it, I knew that I wanted to speak in the debate.
I remember the tragedy very well, and all the media sources in our house being on for any update about it. That was because my uncle—I think that his job title would have been chief engineer of the RNLI—had the job of going around all the lifeboat stations in the northern half of Scotland to check the lifeboats’ seaworthiness and to give them regular services. He knew all the lifeboatmen particularly well, as he was an Orkney man himself. With the name Alec Cursiter, it was obvious that he was an Orkney man. He was from Stromness.
I remember us listening for any update that we could get about the Longhope lifeboat disaster, and I remember my uncle being very badly affected by it. As I said, he knew all the crew very well because he had been born and brought up in Orkney, although he lived in Aberdeen at that time. He had to dash up to Orkney. I remember seeing him on television a few hours after the tragedy, while people were waiting for news of what had happened to the lifeboat. As Liam McArthur said, there has been a Longhope lifeboat in Orkney since 1874, so the TGB was replaced very quickly after the tragedy.
Many members of the Brims community were affected by the disaster. Shortly afterwards—within the year—there was a similar disaster when the Fraserburgh lifeboat was lost one wintry January morning while responding to a call to assist a Danish fishing vessel. It seems that the same thing happened to that lifeboat, so the two tragedies led to the design of lifeboats being changed shortly afterwards, so that they were self-righting vessels. Fortunately, the number of RNLI and lifeboat disasters has reduced significantly since then, but it is unfortunate that it was those disasters that led to new vessels being designed.
It is important to remember that the RNLI is a voluntary organisation. I take my hat off to all the people who are prepared to put their lives at risk in pursuit of helping others. We should never forget that, and we should donate to the RNLI whenever we can.13:00
I thank Liam McArthur for lodging the motion for debate in Parliament. It is on a matter of great poignancy for our islands.
On 17 March 1969, if you looked out across the Pentland Firth, you would see a broad strait that had, for several days, been battered by gales, lashed by heavy rain and had snow hurled across it by the winds. My home overlooks the island of Hoy, with Longhope tucked behind. I have often seen how changeable that environment can be—the tides are among the fastest and strongest anywhere on earth. That energy, which today we recognise as a power source to be harnessed, makes for an inhospitable climate for seafarers.
That night, the lifeboatmen who set out to assist another vessel—the Irene—did not come home. Their boat was of wooden construction and very different to the lifeboats of today. Such vessels were strong, but unlike many modern lifeboats, they could not self-right if they capsized.
Visibility at the time was virtually nil and the waves were 60 feet high. As day broke, lifeboats from Kirkwall, Stronsay, Stromness and Thurso searched the area. The bodies of all but one of Longhope’s lifeboatmen were recovered, still with their boat. The eighth man, James Swanson, was never found. The islands mourned.
Among the names of those eight men lost, we see three Johnstons—James, Robert and Robert—and three Kirkpatricks, who were Dan, Jack and Ray. Eric McFadyen was the final name of those who died. Orkney is a small place. Such tragedies are felt not just in the homes and in the streets, but across our islands. For those two families, the tragedy must have been hardly bearable. As Liam McArthur said, the population of Brims, the small community on Hoy where the lifeboat was launched, was decimated.
Nevertheless, even today, we find the relatives of those men still faithfully serving the RNLI in Orkney. Today, another Kirkpatrick—Kevin—serves as coxswain at the Longhope lifeboat station. He lost his father, grandfather and uncle that night. However, as he says,
“being in the lifeboat is a way of life. It is in us, it is my blood”.
My home overlooks Scapa Flow, which is one of the world’s great natural harbours. When bad weather threatens, it is a refuge, even for some of the largest ships in the world. Anyone who stands on the cliffs at Yesnaby or travels to the south isles in a storm will understand just how ferocious the seas around Orkney can be. No-one who lives in an island community like Orkney needs to be persuaded of the importance of the RNLI. It is part and parcel of the heritage of the islands and touches so many of us directly. When I was young, my mother chaired the local ladies’ lifeboat guild. From an early age, I helped fundraising efforts to support the work of lifeboats in Orkney. More important was that I learned of the commitment of the men, and of their sacrifice and bravery.
We acknowledge the bravery of those men today—not just on that ill-fated voyage, but in every other launch when they put their lives in danger to help and rescue others. That night was not the first night on which a Longhope lifeboat crew was far from home in challenging weather conditions, and it was not the last. Today, there is still a lifeboat at Longhope, well over two centuries since it was inaugurated. The crew faces the same conditions that Orcadian lifeboat crews have battled time and again, over the centuries.
Outside Orkney, lifeboat stations can be found at many other coastal and island communities across the British isles. As members have mentioned, those communities also have a long heritage and have had their fair share of tragedies. Still, brave men and women, who are self-funded and mostly volunteers, venture out in the face of grave risks, simply to help others. They share their successes and, when tragedy hits, they mourn together.
That is why it is fitting that, to mark the 50th anniversary, the RNLI flag will fly at half-mast at the organisation’s headquarters in Poole. It will also be lowered at lifeboat stations around the country. As always, the crews will remain on call, ready to respond, as they have for centuries. That is the most fitting tribute to those eight men from Orkney, who did not come home.13:04
I, too, congratulate Liam McArthur on securing the debate, and on his moving tribute. He has brought the Longhope lifeboat disaster to the attention of Parliament a number of times and it is therefore fitting that he marks its 50th anniversary here.
The disaster devastated Hoy, especially the small community of Brims, which experienced such a great loss. Eight people lost to a small community not only creates heartbreak but can break a community. The people who were lost were essential to their communities not only for their work on the lifeboat; they had other roles to fulfil.
To lose a quarter of your community in one night is difficult to come back from, and it is a testament to the strength of those who remained that they have supported the families and gone on to provide a fitting tribute to those who were lost. The personal loss was enormous, too, as we have heard. To lose one family member is tragic; to lose generations is unimaginable.
The events surrounding the tragedy are well known. As others have said, the crew of the TGB did what all lifeboat crews do when they responded to the call for help from the Irene. There was a storm and the Irene was adrift in the Pentland Firth, a notoriously dangerous stretch of water. The conditions were atrocious and on the way home the lifeboat capsized. It is not clear what happened, because all hands were lost.
The tragedy brings home to us the sacrifice that is made by those who provide voluntary emergency services. Lifeboat crews and mountain rescue teams are very similar, given the dangers that they face while doing what is largely voluntary work. They love the sea or the mountains and that motivates them to do that work.
Since the tragedy, lifeboats have been developed to be self-righting, as Maureen Watt said. If they capsize they will right themselves, so the people in the boat have a chance of survival. That makes their lifesaving work a little safer for them, but it remains extremely dangerous. Trying to get close to other vessels in high seas and being out on deck in perilous conditions is still putting their own lives at risk. It is therefore right that we mark with this debate the sacrifice not just of those lost on the TGB but of all those lost trying to save others.
I also pay tribute to the work of the community in Orkney, which has more than achieved its target for the maintenance and repair of the Longhope lifeboat museum. That is a memorial to the crew of the TGB and other brave lifeboat crews. The target was a lot more than the amount that the community originally had to raise to establish the museum, but they have achieved it. There is also a memorial in the Kirkhope cemetery among the graves of those who died that night.
As Liam McArthur said, the TGB was recovered and towed into Scrabster by another crew. I can only imagine how they felt. Although they recover crew and boats as part of their normal activities, doing that for your own must be very difficult. What also seems strange to me and difficult to contemplate is that the TGB returned to service in Ireland. I wonder how the lifeboat crews sailing on her felt. That said, she continued to provide a lifesaving service and is now in the Scottish maritime museum in Irvine.
The tragedy led to the RNLI introducing self-righting lifeboats. That means that the crew’s lives were not lost in vain and I am sure that many lives were saved as a result of that development in the design of boats. However, we must never forget the risks that crews continue to face. We use this debate to thank them for that and to thank all the people who volunteer to save lives in very dangerous circumstances.13:08
I congratulate Liam McArthur on bringing the motion to the chamber and on his very fine speech, which was a fitting tribute to the community for which he is the constituency member.
I was 12 years old when the disaster occurred and living in rural Lochaber. Lots of communities had disasters. I recall a multiple fatal accident involving north-east fishermen who were returning home that had a significant impact on the communities there. I also recall the community grief when police officers Detective Sergeant Evan Lumsden and Constable lain Ritchie were killed in the Caledonian canal. They were part of the volunteer Inverness burgh police sub-aqua team that was searching the canal locks for a missing person. Both officers became trapped and lost their lives.
It was a matter of only four months later, on 17 March 1969, that the Longhope disaster occurred. Members have vividly outlined the circumstances of the capsizing of the vessel that was going to the aid of the Liberian vessel and of its entire crew losing their lives.
Communities deal with tragedies in different ways and a lot of people were affected by that tragedy. Until I spoke to a member of my staff, Linda, I was not aware that her father-in-law, Ian Williamson, was the policeman there. There were also medical professionals and coastguards there, so the effects would have been wide-ranging.
Earlier this year, the Parliament held a debate on the centenary of the Iolaire disaster, and many members commented on how the communities in Lewis and Harris dealt with grief, which was by not talking about it. What is apparent is that those communities were never the same again, which is the same in Orkney.
A number of members alluded to the weather conditions at the time of the disaster. There was a force 9 gale, near zero visibility and a spring tide that resulted in waves more than 60 feet high. I have reflected on that, because 60 feet is two and a half times the height of a house, which is an astonishing statistic.
Members have talked about a positive outcome of the disaster, which was the design change for the vessels, which are now self-righting.
I am a big fan of the Canadian folk musician Gordon Lightfoot. Members might be familiar with the song “The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald”, which was about a similar and much celebrated tragedy in the Great Lakes in 1975. At his concerts, he often talks about how many vessels perished the same year—48 ships were lost—although only one is remembered in that song. In Longhope, there is a unique situation in that the community will not allow the circumstances of the loss to be forgotten.
Maureen Watt talked about people keeping abreast of the news. People today struggle to understand that there was not the same flow of news that there is now. Then, the news came from radio, television—to a lesser extent—and newspapers.
We occupy islands off the coast of continental Europe and we have many treacherous waters. However, there are none more treacherous than the Pentland Firth, which is why we seek to harness it. We need volunteers at sea and on land to support that, and I am sure that those who lost their lives would be proud of their descendants for continuing that work.
I was brought up in a household that placed great significance on helping others and valued public service and efforts for the common good. The men at Longhope and their successors in the RNLI there, and elsewhere, display all that is best about humanity. Their legacy lives on and I thank Orkney’s constituency MSP, Liam McArthur, for giving Parliament the opportunity to remember their sacrifice. The tragic loss of life and the community’s loss will not be forgotten.13:12
I thank Liam McArthur for bringing forward this debate. Like other members, I pay my respects to those men who lost their lives in March 1969. My thoughts go to their descendants and to the community of Brims in Longhope, on the island of Hoy.
They say that time is a healer, but many local communities who experience such tragedies never quite heal. Having seen the heartfelt commemorations in Lewis recently for the Iolaire tragedy, which John Finnie mentioned, it is abundantly clear to me that no community ever truly recovers from such a tragedy, however distant in the past, and tight-knit island and coastal communities seem especially affected.
As Liam McArthur might know, I stood as a candidate in Orkney and Shetland in the 2015 election—unsuccessfully, clearly. It might be an obvious point to make, but, in that election campaign, the importance of the sea in Orkney was brought home to me. Travelling across the islands and speaking to locals, I heard that the sea is very much part of people’s lives, whether they work offshore in oil and gas, are part of the fishing fleet or are on call to go out in a lifeboat to potentially save lives. Clearly, the sea poses dangers as well as many rewards.
I join other members in paying tribute to those who work on our seas and, in the context of the debate, to the RNLI, including the thousands of people who volunteer. RNLI-operated lifeboat crews provide a 24-hour rescue service in the United Kingdom, and they have saved more than 142,000 lives since 1824.
The RNLI also provides education to local communities. Its community safety teams explain the risks and share safety knowledge with anyone going out to sea or to the coast, and the organisation supports people around the world to prevent drowning in areas where there is a high risk.
I am sure that, when we are out and about in our local communities, many of us—probably all of us—find that it is rare that we do not see an RNLI sticker on a car window or on someone’s door. Such is the public support for the RNLI. As Maureen Watt said, it is important that we support that terrific organisation in any way that we can.
Maureen Watt mentioned that it was heartening to find that one of the lessons that was learned following the disaster was the need for the development of self-righting lifeboats. They prevented the loss of life in 1979, when two vessels, from Barra and Islay respectively, were deployed to respond to emergencies. Both capsized, only to successfully right again with no loss of life to the crew.
As with all maritime disasters, it is right and fitting that we remember those who put their lives at risk. I was very moved by the fact that, as Liam McArthur said in his speech, Kevin Kirkpatrick, the grandson of one of the people who perished, now volunteers for the lifeboat crew. I am delighted to hear that some of the descendants of the eight crewmen will remember them by playing the song “The Heroes of Longhope” at the commemoration—what a fitting tribute.
I thank Liam McArthur again for securing this debate to allow MSPs across the chamber to join with the community of Brims in Longhope on Hoy, and to remember those courageous men who were, so sadly, taken away.13:16
I begin by joining the members who have congratulated Liam McArthur on bringing this debate to the chamber. It is entirely fitting that Scotland’s Parliament should set aside time to reflect on the night of 17 March 1969 and the Longhope tragedy and—alongside that—have an opportunity to highlight the heroism of the crews of the RNLI.
I pay tribute to Mr McArthur for his moving opening speech and to others for their thoughtful contributions. The 50th anniversary of that dreadful tragedy, in which eight men lost their lives while trying to save the crew of the SS Irene—coxswain Daniel Kirkpatrick; second coxswain James Johnston; bowman Ray Kirkpatrick; mechanic Robert Johnston; assistant mechanic James Swanson; and crewmen Jack Kirkpatrick, Robert Johnston and Eric McFadyen—serves to remind us all of the price that has been paid by our coastal communities in helping seafarers in peril, because it is from the ranks of the ordinary men and women who live in the communities that are dotted around the coastline that RNLI crews are drawn.
It is a hugely laudable and frankly staggering statistic that, over the 195 years since the formation of the National Institution for the Preservation of Life from Shipwreck—as it was originally titled—the RNLI has saved more than 142,000 lives, as Donald Cameron highlighted. Alongside that sits the sobering statistic that 778 crew have paid the ultimate price while seeking to rescue fellow mariners. Behind that second figure lie so many tragedies that have devastated the communities that crewed the lifeboats concerned.
Maureen Watt reminded us of the Fraserburgh lifeboat disaster. My constituency was touched by another such event, in the loss, 65 years ago, of the Robert Lindsay lifeboat, which was based in Arbroath, as it returned to harbour from a rescue mission. Six crew perished and the tragedy remains woven into the fabric of the port and, indeed, the county. So, too, with the tiny, 30-strong community of Brims in Longhope, which suffered the loss of a quarter of its population with the capsizing of the TGB in 1969.
The Longhope tragedy was made particularly awful by the close and lasting family connections within the crew. As we have heard, there will be a commemoration of the tragedy on Sunday 17 March at the Longhope bay museum. As Liam McArthur revealed, the organisation of the commemoration has been led by Kevin Kirkpatrick, coxswain of the current Longhope lifeboat, who lost his father, uncle and grandfather on the night of the tragedy. Kevin’s wife, Karen, lost her grandfather and uncle as well—two families as well as a small community left utterly and unimaginably devastated.
The RNLI calls its crew members
“ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
That is right. When conditions are of a type from which most of us would retreat, the RNLI crews head straight into them, because someone is in peril and needs help. The comparisons with mountain rescue services that Rhoda Grant drew—and perhaps those with the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service—are obvious. That point was reinforced for me last year when I joined the current Arbroath lifeboat crew for a joint training exercise with the local fire and rescue team. Those are two different emergency services, but there is a degree of commonality around the circumstances in which they are so often called into action.
Like any charity, the RNLI is heavily dependent on fundraising and donation. It is pleasing that Scottish Government officials have a long-lasting and continuing commitment to supporting an official civil service charity called the Communications and Public Service Lifeboat Fund. The fund started in 1866, when a handful of civil servants decided that they wanted to buy a lifeboat for the RNLI and raised the £300 that it took to do so then. All moneys raised by the fund since then have gone to help the RNLI’s life-saving work.
Down the years, the charity has supported the purchase of 53 lifeboats as well as crew kit, the provision of lifeguard training and the refurbishing of lifeboat stations. The public service charity is the RNLI’s longest-standing supporter. The fund celebrated its 150th anniversary by raising £1.1 million for a Shannon class lifeboat—the RNLI’s latest design—with the efforts of Scottish Government staff contributing more than any other single Government body.
That has been followed by a new appeal, which aims to reduce drowning in Scotland, the UK and overseas. Here in Scotland, children and young people are being helped to stay safe in and around water through a project in Fife, where RNLI lifeguarding is also being supported through the on-going appeal.
The nature of the RNLI’s role has evolved over its 195-year history, but the selflessness, courage and dedication that ran through the crew of the TGB when it set off that fateful day remain the characteristics demanded of crews today.
In marking the 50th anniversary of the Longhope lifeboat disaster, which Liam McArthur has afforded us the opportunity to do today, let us acknowledge, as Rhoda Grant called on us to do, the enormous debt owed to those who put themselves at risk to assist seafarers in trouble around Scotland’s mainland coast and islands.
I thank all members for their contributions to the debate.13:22 Meeting suspended.
14:30 On resuming—