Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the report of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail, Engaging the Next Generation: Young People and Heritage Railways.
My Lords, first, I express my appreciation to all noble Lords, and the right reverend Prelate, who have put their names down to speak in this debate, especially those who took part in the inquiry carried out by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail. I declare an interest as a vice-chair of that group, and as president of the Heritage Railway Association. The HRA is a remarkable organisation whose 300-strong membership includes no fewer than 156 operational railways. These stretch for 562 miles—almost the same distance as from London to Mallaig on the north-west coast of Scotland. There are also 460 heritage railway stations, a similar number to those managed by Northern Rail.
From the pioneers on the Talyllyn Railway in 1953, and the first standard-gauge heritage railway, the Bluebell, in 1960, heritage railways have come a long way. They attract 13 million visitors a year, employ around 4,000 staff and depend on 22,000 volunteers. Railways were Britain’s gift to the world, starting with Trevithick’s locomotive of 1804, and the first railways in other countries were built by British engineers such as the Stephensons—father and son—and Brunel. The first steam locomotives in France, Germany, America and many other countries were made in Britain. This contributes to the strong interest of visitors from other countries in the origins of their own railway systems.
The economic benefits of railways and tramways spill over into the wider communities, with research suggesting that local economies benefit by almost three times the turnover of the railway or tramway. That in turn suggests that heritage rail is worth as much as £400 million to the UK economy.
Rail enthusiasts, of course, have their own agendas and itineraries, but the location and nature of many railways also appeal strongly to visitors to the UK. Heritage rail’s full contribution to Britain’s inbound tourism economy is not easy to measure, but there is no doubt that it is as significant as that of many of the UK’s other international attractions such as Buckingham Palace, the Tower of London, Edinburgh Castle and others.
Heritage railways also support local economies through employment and spending on supplies. Many operate in rural areas where alternative employment is limited and the opportunities for jobs in engineering non-existent. They also provide valuable skills training, often in areas where employment opportunities, particularly for skilled workers, are low. They provide entry level jobs for a wide range of skills and disciplines. For younger staff and volunteers, they offer a valuable training ground for subsequent jobs on the mainline network.
Recognising this, and following the publication of the all-party group report, the HRA has introduced a new annual award for outstanding young volunteers, which I have the privilege of sponsoring. Earlier this year, the first awards were made to seven exceptional young people working on heritage railways around Great Britain and Northern Ireland. For students, a steam railway offers a living example to support so much of the school curriculum, particularly the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and maths, but also history, geography, economics and geology.
For older volunteers, steam railways offer an active and productive activity for people who might otherwise have a sedentary lifestyle. They unite people from a wide range of backgrounds and a wide geographical area, supporting social cohesion. I commend to your Lordships Nicholas Whittaker’s comment in his book Platform Souls: The Trainspotter as 20th-Century Hero:
“Trainspotting has always been a democracy, embracing all men, from right scruffs to Right Honourables.”
Heritage railways bring big environmental benefits through the green corridors that they provide, with their own flora and fauna. Perhaps surprisingly in view of this, heritage rail in the UK is unsubsidised. Other than modest grants, for which bidding is often competitive, the industry pays its own way.
Heritage rail travel in the UK is not limited to the sector’s own track. The country’s mainline network owners understand the historic and commercial benefits of steam-hauled trains, carrying passengers in heritage carriages on substantial journeys across some of the country’s most spectacular scenery, using iconic locomotives such as “Flying Scotsman”. Other heritage railways provide public transport services or sustainable tourist transport, especially at destinations where car-free access is a benefit, such as national parks.
Britain is the only country in the world that has passed legislation specifically to ensure that we secure the preservation of evidence which is significant to the nation’s railway history. No other industry in the UK is viewed in this way, and I am happy again in this House to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, for his willingness back in 2013 to listen to me and other noble Lords and agree that the statutory powers contained in the Railway Heritage Act 1996 to designate artefacts and archives would be maintained following the abolition of the Railway Heritage Committee.
Those of us involved in railway heritage have a duty to ensure that what is important to Britain’s railway history is preserved and made available for present and future generations to enjoy. We do this in a variety of ways. The most important is to maintain world-class railway museums which tell the complete railways story, from their effect on social, business and industrial life through to demonstrating the very latest developments in modern railway operations. The National Railway Museum York, part of the Science Museum Group—I declare a former interest as a recently retired trustee and deputy chair—is the very best example, and maintains the proud tradition of free entry. Another member of the family is the Science and Industry Museum in Manchester, which contains the world’s oldest surviving railway station at Liverpool Road, dating from 1830.
Only people over 50 now have any memory of steam working on the BR network, but subsequent generations are just as engaged and knowledgeable about the steam railway as we were. We need that to continue to ensure an adequate succession of younger volunteers who can acquire the skills and continue the operation of this precious legacy of heritage railways for future generations to enjoy. It is not easy. Regulation is more stringent than when the movement started, and safety, quite rightly, is more closely managed and overseen than in the past. The cost of materials rises as Britain’s industrial base shrinks, and in some cases the future supply of basic raw materials such as coal is in doubt—as we heard in a recent debate—and is the subject of the APPG’s current inquiry.
The last thing the movement needs is obsolete legislation that hinders the recruitment and retention of that next generation of volunteers to carry the torch forward. Yet that is the position with the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920, a piece of legislation introduced following the establishment of the International Labour Organization in 1919—an era when, of course, no heritage railways existed and working conditions were vastly more dangerous than they are today. The concept of employment was deemed to include volunteers by the Education (Work Experience) Act 1973, which disapplied the 1920 Act in the case of children undertaking work experience. But this does not address the situation where a young person wants to volunteer for work on the railway on a long-term basis and is not linked to a work experience scheme.
Counsel’s opinion, taken by the HRA, confirms that this prohibition on working on railways extends to ancillary activities, effectively barring under-16s from enjoying the experience of working on a steam railway. The experience of member railways is that this period between the ages of 14 and 16 is crucial for many youngsters in deciding the activities, interests and career choices they want to follow as they grow up. Losing them at this early stage leaves the movement with insufficient young volunteers of 16 or over.
The issue has been discussed with Ministers and officials, and back in July 2017 I introduced a Private Member’s Bill, the Heritage Railways and Tramways (Voluntary Work) Bill, which would have resolved the issue. As it was so far down the list, it is unlikely, even in this extraordinarily long Session, to make progress. But assuming that the Government are unwilling to support primary legislation, I ask the Minister whether they would be prepared to consider secondary legislation under the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974, which I understand from the HRA’s legal team would achieve the desired result. That Act makes express provision for the 1920 Act to be amended by statutory instrument by the Secretary of State and so enables the removal of the prohibition on the engagement of young volunteers in the activity of heritage railways. I make this request to the Minister today: will he please help us to resolve this anachronism and, in the first instance, use his good offices to convene a meeting with the Heritage Railway Association and myself that involves his department, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Transport? Between us, we can resolve this issue.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on initiating this debate and thank the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail for producing its report. I shall concentrate my remarks on the heritage railway that I know best—the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, which is run almost entirely by volunteers. I declare an interest as a very small shareholder in the GWSR. The railway runs from Cheltenham Racecourse for nearly 15 miles along a picturesque route through Gotherington, Winchcombe, Hayles Abbey Halt and Toddington, and now all the way to Broadway. It runs through the Greet tunnel, which, at 693 yards, is the second-longest tunnel on a British heritage railway. It also crosses the Stanway viaduct, which has 15 arches and is 42 feet above the valley floor.
Having served on the High Speed Rail (London - West Midlands) Bill Select Committee, I have seen documentation of protests back in the day opposing this and other railways. Petitioners claimed that railways would spoil the countryside and that the noise would be intolerable. It was ever thus, right up to the current day. The HS2 committee sat for four days a week over several months and heard from more than 800 petitioners. I enjoyed the moment when a distinguished former military officer took the stand and told us, “My Lords, my Lady, we don’t want these things rattling past our homes”. We were fortunate to have access to advice from Rupert Thornely-Taylor, one of the most experienced sound specialists in the world. We called him to give evidence and I asked him, “Are these trains really going to rattle?” He thought for a moment and then replied, “Lord Jones, if they rattle, they are in desperate need of maintenance”. The truth is that HS2 trains will simply go whoosh.
The noble Lord who initiated this debate knows the GWSR well as he graciously opened the Broadway extension on 30 March—my birthday—last year. The herculean efforts in completing the extension were acknowledged in February when the GWSR was awarded the Heritage Railway Association’s annual award for large groups. In the latest annual report, the chairman of GWSR, Richard Johnson, recalls that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, suggested that Broadway would become a very attractive destination but doubts that even he would have envisaged quite how attractive.
The Broadway extension has been a great success, attracting many more visitors to the railway. The GWSR employs seven staff and has more than 900 volunteers. It takes more than 50 volunteers to run the railway on a three-train day. The latest annual report tells us that all scheduled services were run over the past year, a remarkable achievement, and that more than 125 volunteers help each day with the Santa specials held on 11 days during December.
Local passenger services ended in 1960 and the line was officially closed in 1976. In 1979, the track was lifted and many buildings were demolished. Between 1976 and 1984, local people and railway enthusiasts—volunteers—initially tried to save the line. Then they raised money and bought 15 miles of track bed and the remaining associated buildings. They were granted a light rail order permitting them to rebuild the line between Broadway and Cheltenham. Track-laying began and public services started, initially over 700 yards of track. Between 1984 and 2016, volunteers steadily restored the line, building stations and signal boxes and replacing lost signals and other infrastructure. Despite major landslips, the track was gradually extended to 12 miles in length and comprised three main stations and one halt. During this period, work began on the major extension to Broadway with the line ending at Laverton.
The GWSR has five resident engines: the Churchward 28XX class 2-8-0, No. 2807, the oldest GWR locomotive in working order and the third-oldest in existence; the Churchward 42XX class 2-8-0, No. 4270; the Bulleid Merchant Navy class 4-6-2, No. 35006; the Hawksworth Modified Hall class 4-6-0, No. 7903; and the Collett Manor class 4-6-0, No. 7820, “Dinmore Manor”. The last two were rescued from Barry scrapyard.
On 25 to 27 May this year, GWSR held a festival of steam and welcomed three other engines: Mackintosh 0-4-4T, No. 419, in Perth blue from the Scottish Railway Preservation Society; B1 class 4-6-0, No. 1264, in LNER lined black from the North Yorkshire Moors Railway; and, making a return visit, GWR King class 4-6-0, No. 6023, “King Edward II” from the Didcot Railway Centre. The festival attracted large numbers of enthusiasts and was a great success.
Since 2016, the railway has experienced tremendous growth, which has enabled the volunteers to rebuild Hayles Abbey Halt and Broadway station, wherever possible in the style of the original stations. Volunteers include carpenters, bricklayers, plumbers, upholsterers, electrical engineers, painters, mechanics, health and safety professionals, accountants et cetera, as well as many with experience in IT, social media, administration, catering and so it goes on.
I told GWSR about this debate and asked whether it had any advice on engaging the younger generation. I received a helpful reply from Ian Stewart, the volunteer resources director. He wrote:
“GWSR works hard to attract younger volunteers. One-third of the 17 who attended our latest induction course were between 18 and 25. That is healthy, as with two-thirds of our current volunteer force over 60 we clearly need to build the next generation of enthusiasts. We concentrate on attracting youngsters over 18. Once fully trained, they can make a significant contribution to our many departments. Interest from volunteers under 18 is directed towards the youth group, which is carefully run to maintain and strengthen their interest so that they will join one of the departments once over 18. We are guided by current legislation affecting young persons, and also the clear legal responsibilities we have towards all our volunteers. We are content with the current structure”.
The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, has already raised some legal issues, so I shall ask about another issue on which GWSR would like some clarification. With decarbonisation targets necessary to halt climate change, whatever President Trump may say, what are the Government’s plans for heritage railways that use coal to power steam locomotives? Will there be exemptions for these historic railways, or what else might they do to help meet these targets? If the Minister cannot say today, perhaps he will write to me.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on securing this debate and on the work he has done with the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail. It is vital to keep interest going in this area, and tonight many of us will concentrate on the problems related to volunteering.
Years ago when I worked on the Channel Tunnel, we tried to get volunteers in France and the UK to help to make life better for everybody, and I was very struck by the difference in attitude towards volunteering between the British and French people. Here, I think we do very well. We could do better but we have a long tradition of volunteering in many businesses and sectors and occasionally in industries. In France, there was nothing. They said, “We’re not going to volunteer because, if it’s worth doing, the state will provide”. We can comment on that but that is the way it is, and we should be very grateful for what we are able to do in this country.
I was also struck by the summing up of the noble Lord, Lord Henley, at the end of the previous debate on energy. He said that very soon we will not be burning any more coal. I nearly stood up and said, “Except on the heritage railways if you know what’s good for you”. It is really important that we have a continuous supply of coal, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, has just said. However, I will not talk about that tonight.
I declare an interest as the patron of the Helston Railway in Cornwall, which claims to be the southernmost railway in this country—a claim that I do not think anyone is competing with. When it comes to volunteering and business, this is probably one of the few sectors where this combination is to be found. Each heritage railway is a charity and a business, and it has lots of volunteers—not all its workers are volunteers but a large proportion of them are—and it is a very safety-conscious sector, as it has to be. It is probably unique in that. We know that if the volunteers have to be paid, most railways will close, but how will we keep them coming? If we do not, we will not have many heritage railways.
My noble friend mentioned that getting people to volunteer in their formative years and giving them practical experience is very important in this day and age. It is also very important that people study science, technology, engineering and mathematics rather than going off to do media studies, which an awful lot of them seem to want to do these days. It is a great start to a career in many fields, including the mainline railway, and it needs to be done during school age because that is when children’s friends do it and talk about it. Working on the railways provides a kind of pipeline of skills and I am sure that it leads to a sustainable future. As I said, lots of volunteers go on to work on the national railway system.
Looking at the age profile of many people in the transport sector, the situation with the mainline railways is getting better. They have even discovered the need to have women, which is a great step forward. There need to be many more but at least a start has been made. In the trucking industry, people tend to be older and that industry will have problems. Whether people who have worked on heritage railways as trainees or volunteers would move on to drive trucks is a debate that we can have, but we are lucky in the railway sector because, once people have learned the joys of working on trains, it is more likely that they will go on to work for the national railways.
Therefore, I am really pleased that the HRA is pushing the question of volunteers—a point mentioned by my noble friend Lord Faulkner. My understanding is much the same as his—that the HRA has been informed by counsel that the engagement of children as volunteers on the heritage railways is contrary to the provisions of Section 1 of the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920. It is appropriate to ask, “What about the men?”, although I suppose they are covered by “Young Persons”, but I find it interesting that women were singled out in 1920. The Act states:
“No child shall be employed in any industrial undertaking”.
The definition of an industrial undertaking includes railways. Whatever we think, that is what it says. As my noble friend said, the 1920 Act was amended by Parliament to make provision for formal work experience through the Education (Work Experience) Act 1973. Formal work experience is therefore allowed for those under school leaving age, while simply volunteering is not. Many people would prefer, for various reasons, just to volunteer. Section 558 of the Education Act 1996 states that,
“any person who is not over compulsory school age shall be deemed to be a child”.
I do not know whether that is stating the obvious but it is not very helpful.
I have been advised that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions should be able simply by statutory instrument, as my noble friend said, and without resort to primary legislation, to exclude heritage railways and tramways from the requirements of the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920. Again, it is believed that this can be done through powers vested in the Secretary of State by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. I would be very grateful if the Minister could confirm that. If he says that that is not true, then, as my noble friend has already asked, what other solutions does he have?
In conclusion, it is good to recall that when the right honourable Margaret Thatcher was Secretary of State for Education, she responded to demands for practical work experience within the school curriculum by introducing legislation to amend the application of the 1920 law to permit work experience in industry—I repeat, in industry—as part of the curriculum for students in the last two years of compulsory education. I am sure all noble Lords will agree that that is an important need: to give students, or young people, some practical experience of what life is like in industry. There seems to be some support for a change in the law. The Department for Education has not found a legislative route to allow such a change; maybe we should try a different route and a different department. Perhaps the Minister could advise us. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on the number of attempts he has made in this place and many others, including through the National Citizen Service Bill, but his amendments have not been accepted.
The Office of Rail and Road is the safety authority for all railways; I think we can all agree that it does a very good job in making sure this industry is safe. It supports the change of law, and assured us in 2016 that enforcement action under this 96 year-old legislation would not be in the public interest; that is some comfort, but we need more. I hope that when the Minister responds he will be able to give us lots of comfort.
My Lords, while congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, on securing this debate, I must confess to some surprise at standing to speak in it. I have little knowledge or experience of heritage railways, despite having had such a beast going through the village where I was for eight years a vicar in Rothley in Leicestershire and now having several in the diocese of Leeds. I am not proud of my ignorance, but engineering never quite got me; I guess I was more of a media studies man. I fully accept that this probably makes me a rarity among clergy in the Church of England, but I do see the import of this report and fully endorse what this debate seeks to achieve.
Heritage railways seem to hit two nails on the head in a changing Britain where social capital and the development of skills in young people need some investment at all levels. The two nails are volunteering and skills development in team contexts. We know from history and experience that, if you want to get commitment out of children and young people that will shape their adult engagement in the wider world, you need to start them young. Volunteering in a fairly selfish age has to become part of the DNA of people when they are very young, so raising the lower age limit for young people to develop as volunteers—learning skills in basic civil engineering, teamwork, track-laying and so on—is not something to be celebrated. We know that teenage volunteers often train for roles such as assistant guards, station assistants and locomotive cleaners, gaining skills and experience that will shape them for the future.
The culture of safety, as has been mentioned, is essential, but also beneficial to those growing up in it. These young people get to work with the public, learn timekeeping, and learn craft skills including woodwork, painting, metalwork, hedging, land management and so on. Given a school system that often wants to measure results in a limited way, surely these learnings have to be gained outside formal education; such railway environments offer something unique. Young people need to start before they get into GCSEs, exams and the pressures that we all know about. Under-16s have an opportunity here to gain practical and human skills through volunteering in a safety-conscious environment that has purpose and gives satisfaction. Working in teams across all age groups teaches responsibility and helps maturity.
The Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920 was surely once useful and necessary, but it is not the right instrument for today’s world. Our young people do not now need to be protected from industrial exploitation as they did in the past. Surely it is time to lift the current uncertainty over the implementation of this law so that young people can continue to access and benefit from the kind of life experience that heritage railways are uniquely placed to offer.
In Thomas Comes to Breakfast, Thomas the Tank Engine comes out of the repair shop and is not happy. He says, “It’s nice to feel mended again, but they took so many of my old parts away and put new ones in, that I’m not sure whether I’m really me or another engine”. Imagine being the teenager who has the opportunity to cause Thomas the Tank Engine such serious existential angst. We need to encourage our young people.
My Lords, I am not just being pleasant, polite and traditional when I say thank you to my noble friend for introducing this debate; his commitment to heritage railways is second to none. I also want to thank very much indeed Chris Austin, who is described variously as secretary or clerk to our committee and known to so many people for his encyclopaedic knowledge of the railway. He has had a lifetime in the industry in one way or another and, more than anyone else, has been responsible for our reports. I have been in a lot of all-party groups over the years but I am very proud of the work this one has done and in particular of two very substantial reports, copies of which I have here. They are substantial pieces of work and are Chris Austin’s work more than most, and those involved in heritage railways. They have been brought to the attention of the Government without a Civil Service secretariat, something we associate with most reports that are presented to Parliament. Thanks to Chris are massively in order.
The specific subject of today’s debate is young people and heritage railways, but that really cannot be discussed except in the context of our previous Report on the Value of Heritage Railways, which highlighted the value that such railways present to many local economies up and down the country. They are continually bringing benefits—and not just economic benefits—to their areas and, of course, they are expanding all the time. I can barely believe how this industry or sector has expanded in, as my noble friend said, a matter of just 60 years, beginning with the Talyllyn railway—literally a very small railway that is half the gauge of a standard gauge railway. At the time, that seemed about as much as could be managed, but the sector went on to take on standard gauge lines. I remember going to Bridgnorth shortly after the line was closed and, if anyone had said to me then—with the weeds growing, the saplings coming through and the dilapidated buildings—that that would be a thriving railway line now, I would have said, “I would love to believe you, but I can’t really get my head round that”.
Today, as we have heard, there are more than 100 heritage railway lines, involving at least 22,000 volunteers and 3,500 or possibly 4,000 full-time equivalent employees. Many of them have a turnover in excess of £1 million a year, with a total benefit to local economies estimated at £250 million. In addition, most trains on these lines run on time and at no cost to the public purse, in contrast to those of a number of train operating companies.
Our report emphasises the importance of young people to the future of the sector. There is perhaps an image of heritage railways as being about people of roughly my age with a nostalgia for steam playing at trains in a kind of amateur way, chuffing up and down a few miles of track and being drivers and guards and all the rest of it. Well, there may be a bit of that, but it is far more significant. I pray in aid the range of skills that you will see functioning on an average heritage railway today, where the volunteers may include engineers, plumbers, planners, electricians, accountants, surveyors, carpenters, lawyers—all people giving of their professional skills in their spare time. They are not just maintaining existing railways but for ever opening new extensions and new lines. It is an ever-expanding industry. The relevance of that to young people in particular—and we could all give examples from the railways that we are familiar with—is that 16 and 17 year-old youngsters, working alongside professionals such as those that I have described, derive tremendous benefit, which may quite possibly include economic benefit for themselves and employability benefits later on. It is almost like a traditional apprenticeship where they are working with senior people with skills.
Perhaps I should declare my own specific interest in this at the moment as I am—you will be excited to know—president of the Telford Steam Railway; I happen to have some brochures with me, if anyone would like to come along. That railway is only a small line, but it has a turnover of £1 million a year and has big ambitions. Due to various rules and regulations—some of which emanated from the EU, I am afraid—the coal-powered station has closed down and we now have a redundant branch line, but we are hoping to run passenger trains on it. However, that is a diversion. I simply wanted to say that there are examples from that railway of youngsters benefiting. One young chap who worked with a skilled engineer now has an apprenticeship with Network Rail. Two youngsters who worked as guards on our railway went on to be guards for a couple of train operating companies. So there is an obvious benefit to young people who can acquire skills.
Of course, those may not be just economic skills. As the right reverend Prelate has already mentioned, heritage railways can also prepare people with all the advantages that we recognise from volunteering, such as turning up on time, involvement in collegiate activity and developing confidence. If you have been working on a heritage railway, and then you start an apprenticeship with Network Rail, on the uncertain first few days, weeks and months at work, you have a basis for discussions with the people who are now your colleagues. People get a lot of confidence from that.
I emphasise again that the skills required for heritage rail are not all rail-specific, by any means. If your interest happens to be catering, you can find an outlet at most heritage railways. The same applies if it is retail, marketing or even journalism—pretty much every heritage railway produces quite an impressive magazine. There are a whole range of non-rail-specific skills, talents and potential careers available to our young people through heritage rail. It brings not just economic benefits but social benefits as well.
I hope the value of this report is that it will draw to the Government’s attention the significance of our heritage railways. They are not an amateurish operation by elderly people who are more or less just chuffing up and down a line. They are professional organisations and are professionally run, although without pay in most cases, with young people coming on within them. I hope that the Government will listen to what we are saying and act on it, helping in the numerous ways they can.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Grocott. Like him, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Faulkner on securing this debate and on the work he has done in this field over the years. I also take this opportunity to welcome the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leeds. All too often, these debates are fairly exclusive; I find we are apt to be known as the verbal gricers of the railway industry. Bishops and railways go together quite well, of course. Bishop Eric Treacy was a well-known figure during my time in the railway industry. There was only one line of the right reverend Prelate’s speech with which I might disagree at some future stage. He said that young people do not need protection under the 1920 Act. Of course, he is right as far as the railway industry is concerned, but if this House ever gets around to debating the fast-food industry, I might take issue with him on that point. However, I commend his speech and his contribution today.
Looking back at the history of the railways, particularly in the context of this debate, it is a sobering thought that the youngest former cleaner who embarked on his first shift on a locomotive and left the depot on the British Rail standard gauge would now be approaching 70 years of age—an ominous warning to all of us of the passage of time. However, the attraction of the railway industry, particularly the heritage railways and steam locomotives, is one that includes all generations.
The “Flying Scotsman” locomotive is currently on tour. There has been some adverse publicity about the thousands of people who have gone to see it, some of whom got a bit closer to the lineside than they should have done because of the attraction of this particular locomotive. I visited the East Lancashire Railway with my grandson towards the end of last year, when the “Flying Scotsman” was there. My grandson is now 15 and if he remembers his grandfather for anything, I hope it is for getting him on the footplate of the “Flying Scotsman” on the East Lancashire Railway.
As my noble friend Lord Grocott said, people do not volunteer for just the locomotive department. There are various other jobs in the railway industry and he reminded us of some of them. On the mainline railway, there are still many hundreds of signal boxes. Of course, the intention is to concentrate mainline signalling on 10 or 12 regional operating centres in the years to come, but there are still lots of manual signal boxes on the mainline railway. Certainly as far as the heritage railways are concerned, operating those signal boxes will continue for many years to come.
The debate is first and foremost about attracting young people to the railway industry, and not just because of steam locomotives, as I have indicated; there are lots of other valuable jobs that they can do and to which they can contribute. Like previous speakers, I will for a moment be somewhat parochial. Towards the end of last year, I visited the Tyseley Locomotive Works just outside Birmingham. I talked there to some of the people who operate the works and the locomotive department. Subsequently its chairman, Mr Michael Whitehouse, contacted me about attracting young people to what is a working locomotive maintenance and operational depot—possibly one of the few left, certainly alongside British Rail. I quote from his letter:
“We already run an apprentice scheme for three students in conjunction with Bournville and South Birmingham colleges. We intend to introduce further training schemes and are already in dialogue with the Office of Rail and Road to establish a training scheme for railway operational staff”.
He says that they are anxious,
“to expand and upgrade our facilities to meet the significantly increasing demand for repairing heritage steam locomotives”.
I hope the Minister will be able to convince his colleagues in the Department for Transport of the need for a ministerial visit to the Tyseley works so that they can see their operational nature, and that any application made to the ERDF, for example, is sympathetically supported by the Minister’s department as well as the DfT.
I would like to draw your Lordships’ attention to another aspect of heritage railways—the need for connectivity between the heritage railway and the main line. If we are to attract young people and to train perhaps young would-be managers in the mainline system, they would certainly find that connectivity between the heritage railway and the main line attractive. It would be enormously useful.
Network Rail has lots of problems, some of which come in for considerable criticism in your Lordships’ House, as well as in the other place. Without adding to its burden, we should point out that occasionally Network Rail shows itself to be both expensive and uninterested in its connection with the heritage railway system. I will give your Lordships an example. Recently, the Swanage Railway was not a consultee on proposed changes involving its main line connection near Wareham, even though this was re-signalled to rejoin the railway with a grant from Dorset County Council. Network Rail is something of a Goliath as far as the heritage railway sector is concerned, but the voluntary sector faces heavy expenditure for track and signalling alterations. I wonder whether the Minister could take back the message that it would certainly be extremely helpful if heritage railways were made a statutory consultee where this sort of work, which might well affect their own operations, is concerned. At the moment, it is very much a matter of whether Network Rail consults them. In the case of Swanage Railway, it did not.
I referred to the fact that there are many jobs that young people could do in the sector, as did my noble friend Lord Grocott. We have heard about the plea and desire to look again at the regulations and the 1920 Act. Of course, it is all very well for the Office of Rail and Road to say that it does not anticipate taking any action under this statute—I welcome that news—but if a young person is injured I am not sure whether the legal profession would take the same laid-back view of its responsibilities. It would be useful if the legislation was withdrawn.
Referring to some of the other work that takes place in the railway industry, I have mentioned signal boxes previously and bored your Lordships with stories of my own involvement. I will try not to do so again on this occasion.
Oh, go on!
Well, all right, just this once I will be led astray.
One of the signal boxes in which I used to work, just outside Stockport, is still there—I will not go into the details of why, but it still operates as a mainline signal box. When it was necessary to modernise it, yet still retain the lever frame installed by the London and North Western Railway in 1888, locking fitters had to be brought in from India to do the work because we have largely lost these skills. If we could retain those skills through the heritage railway sector, that would be invaluable. This is probably an apocryphal story—fake news, as a distinguished visitor to our country might say—but I am told that after six months of modernising the signal boxes in my home town of Stockport, they were delighted to get back to India.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as a member of the APPG who took part in the inquiry. I am delighted to follow what has been a united front and I certainly give credit to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for leading us through this debate and for all the work he has done with heritage railways so far. I wondered how far we would become tourists ourselves this evening, and we have been to the Talyllyn Railway, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, and railways in Helston, Telford, East Lancashire and Swanage. My noble friend gave us a tour de force on the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway, including details of all the steam locomotives. As I said, we have had a united front.
The report produced is unlike many reports because although heritage railways are not averse to money—particularly not to accepting it for capital projects—the report is not about money. Heritage railways have an immense involvement in tourism, which makes this an interest for the Minister. Several are in conurbations but several others are quite remote. Some of those who are able to participate travel great distances to volunteer on heritage railways; for some, it is only a few miles because they are not far from the conurbations.
The report is about the involvement of young people and volunteering. Volunteers need renewing and it is important to catch them young. There is much in the report but our real concern is about the 1920 Act, which has become a serious impediment for heritage railways by discouraging young people, particularly 14 and 15 year-olds, from volunteering. We do not want another Beeching for a lack of sufficient volunteers. The lawyers have had a look at the Act and we can take another look. It was passed in 1920; at that time, the school-leaving age was 14. So does the Act apply today, as if the school-leaving age was 14, or is it some later time? That may be an open point.
I should like to cite my own experience at this point. I had always been interested in railways and was one of the trainspotters. When I got involved with the Talyllyn Railway, there were several people from the West Riding helping on it. I went as a 15 year-old to the Talyllyn on several weekends. In particular, I went at that age on the Dolgoch slip when the earth had moved away from the track and it was unsafe for the whole line to be used. Groups of amateurs and volunteers turned up and I, at 15, was one of those who helped to build a great piece of concrete to keep that track in place. I enjoyed that group activity. I had no idea, by the way, that I was breaking the law as a 15 year-old taking part in that activity. However, it gave me the thought: was being a civil engineer in later life something I might do? I gave it serious thought. It did not happen, but it shows that it is one of the things that can happen for youngsters when they take part in such work. The work they do as a volunteer can be a precursor to work later in life.
I am pleased that a DCMS Minister will be responding to the debate. He may not like the idea of new primary legislation, although June and July 2019 would not be a bad time to give us the job of producing a new Act of Parliament. If that cannot be done, surely an order-making power can be rooted out so that we can get rid of this impediment, because even though people are saying, “No one’s going to bother about it if people of 14 and 15 do these things”, it quite clearly is an impediment. Who knows in litigious times whether it could be real? I hope the Minister can look at that.
It is interesting that DCMS and the Minister deal with other leisure pursuits, particularly sport. Volunteering on heritage rail seems similar to being involved in heritage buildings, rambling, youth hostelling—all these things. There are many types of leisure-time activity. Some involve much physical activity, while others are quite sedentary, such as collecting stamps, coins and even railway tickets. I want to mention sporting activity. The document 2010 to 2015 Government Policy: Sports Participation states:
“To make sure as many people as possible are playing sport, the government is … funding … to help community sports grow, including helping 14- to 25-year-olds to keep playing sport throughout their lives”.
I do not want to detract from people being involved in sport or from the Government supporting that, but I do not see why they should not put people who are interested in heritage railways in the same position as they put those who are excited about sport.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester, both on securing this debate and on the comprehensive and informative report from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail. My noble friend was instrumental in establishing the APPG and then in ensuring that it became an active and meaningful parliamentary group on behalf of heritage railways.
As my noble friend said, he is also president of the Heritage Railway Association. He does not do things by halves. When he becomes involved—and he has had and continues to have a range of interests and campaigning issues—he becomes involved big time, and he has a very impressive success rate in achieving and delivering the desired objectives. He just does not do being a passenger or passive supporter. I say that with some personal knowledge as I have shared an office with my noble friend ever since I became a Member of this House 15 years ago.
I also congratulate all the other parliamentarians associated with the report, a number of whom have spoken today—indeed, all those who are Members of this House. In addition, as my noble friend Lord Grocott said, the work of Chris Austin, described in the APPG report as the clerk, cannot be underestimated. A retired senior career railwayman, Chris is involved with the West Somerset Heritage Railway and has co-authored with my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester a couple of well-received books on recent railway history, covering all the political machinations prior to and since the Beeching cuts.
The railway preservation movement in Britain—and the world—had its beginnings in 1951, when a group of enthusiasts, led by, among others, the author and co-founder of the Inland Waterways Association, Tom Rolt, saved the narrow gauge Talyllyn Railway in mid-Wales from almost certain closure. The Talyllyn project was the first railway preservation scheme in the world, and since then the railway preservation movement in Britain has grown from strength to strength. The first standard gauge preserved railway, formerly operated by British Railways, started running as a private company in 1960: it was and is the Bluebell Railway in Sussex.
Today, the number of preserved or heritage railways in Britain runs well into three figures, thanks to the work of dedicated volunteers and paid staff who provide a memorable attraction for millions of visitors each year and a stimulus to the nation’s tourist economy. I am pleased to have it confirmed tonight that, like other great shows, the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway has finally made it to Broadway. There is even, I believe, one such preserved railway in the Channel Islands, on Alderney. Queen Victoria and Prince Albert visited in 1854 and became the first passengers on what was normally a freight-only line.
A moment ago I mentioned volunteers and paid staff. Heritage railways employ more than 3,000 full-time equivalent staff and some 22,000 volunteers. The majority of volunteers are in the 55-plus age group. The number of volunteers under 18 is around 5%, with the number of young female volunteers under 1%. About 800 volunteers are under 16. On this point, the APPG report says:
“The current number of young volunteers … is not adequate to ensure the continuation of the present level of heritage railway activity in the long term”.
Last year marked the 50th anniversary of the end of main line steam on British Rail, so those under 60 years of age today will not have personal memories of our national railway network in the steam era. Heritage railways are concerned that, with the inevitable loss over time of older employees and volunteers, engineering and other skills associated with the era of steam motive power are being and will be lost.
Attracting and training young volunteers, both male and female, is an issue that heritage railways are seeking to address, and some innovative and successful schemes have already been introduced. It is a less difficult development for the larger heritage railways to deliver than it is for smaller ones run entirely by volunteers. This issue is, of course, a key part of the APPG report that we are discussing. There is clear evidence, as my noble friend Lord Berkeley said, that the training, knowledge and experience acquired by young people who are volunteers on heritage railways can lead to regular employment and a career in the national railway system.
However, heritage railways need some help in delivering a number of the recommendations in the report, and one in particular. At the end of his interesting and informative speech, my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester made reference, as did the APPG report and other speakers in this debate, to the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920 and the significant constraint it places on recruiting young volunteers under 16. My noble friend asked the Government for some help in removing that constraint. The APPG report states that this constraint in legislation, which predates the creation and rapid development of working railway heritage lines and the large number of volunteers involved, not only prevents young volunteers under 16,
“benefiting from the experiences their parents and grandparents had, but risks losing them altogether to railways, as they find another outlet for their interests at a crucial stage in their lives and when exploring future employment”.
There have been previous debates on this specific point. One was in the other place on 15 March 2017, with earlier ones in this House on 7 December and 22 November 2016. On the latter date, the Minister, speaking for the Government, said he agreed that there should be no barriers to young people volunteering their time to support heritage railways. In the debate the following month, the Minister said that his officials had already made contact with the Office of Rail and Road and that the matter was now with that body.
In the debate in the other place on 15 March 2017, the government Minister said that, like the noble Lord the Minister, he too did not want there to be any barrier to young people volunteering their time on heritage railways or in other appropriate environments. The Commons Minister went on to say:
“There is a clear benefit to young people in being able to take part in such volunteering activities: it gives them practical and social skills, develops a sense of community and social engagement, and equips them with a formative degree of knowledge of safety and risk management”.
I am sure we are all agreed on that. The Commons Minister also referred to his department having spoken with the Office of Rail and Road, which had apparently confirmed that,
“there is a long-standing role for those under school leaving age to work on such systems in the heritage sector”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/17; col. 482.]
The Commons Minister then referred to a series of presumably then pending meetings with the ORR.
However, subject to the Minister in his response persuading the House otherwise, not a lot seems to have happened on this issue over the last two and a quarter years. While the ORR under its current leadership may have no intention of enforcing the 1920 Act, a private third party might—as might the ORR under different leadership. In addition, the attitude of insurers to claims in this situation could become unhelpful, which adds further to the uncertainty and risks of recruiting volunteers under 16 for those managing a heritage railway.
On the face of it, the amount of discussion by government in the past seems to have been in inverse proportion to the amount of action by government now. I hope that the Minister, on behalf of the government departments involved, will be able to show that that is not the case and that a helpful response will be forthcoming to my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester’s request for government help on this issue—a request that of course is also one of the recommendations in the APPG report itself.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for tabling this debate on such an interesting area of our national heritage. I can honestly say that I have greatly enjoyed this debate, because I have agreed with every speaker tonight. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions.
I enjoyed the stories of all noble Lords’ local railways, particularly the description by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, of his local heritage railway and the engines that run on it, because that is my local heritage railway as well. Perhaps it is just that, as my daughter was delighted to tell me the other day, I was described on Twitter as “Lord of the nerds”. The noble Lord is definitely on the right on end, not the right scruff end, of the trainspotter continuum.
I enjoyed the fact that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, even managed to bring Brexit into this debate, but I am certainly not going down that branch line. He also talked about the variety of skills involved—as did many other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Snape. I absolutely agree with this. It is not just the specific skills to do with things such as boilers and engines but, as the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, outlined, many different skills—including timekeeping and timetabling, which he did not mention; in heritage railways, they tend to stick to the timetable—which give a structure to young people which they sometimes do not have. They can take those skills, as he said, on to employment. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, agreed from his experience of this, and I will certainly take back to the relevant department his remarks about the statutory consultation.
We should therefore celebrate what our railway heritage involves and ensure, as every noble Lord said, that the next generation is endowed with the skills and the passion to protect this legacy for future generations. I too record my thanks to the heritage rail APPG and especially to Chris Austin, who has also been mentioned.
Many noble Lords mentioned that heritage railways are major contributors to the visitor economy, attracting around 13 million visitors and bringing in an estimated £250 million to the economy annually—although the figure quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, was £400 million. This has created an increasing amount of paid jobs as well as volunteering, with more than 3,000 people now employed on heritage railways. Of course that is dwarfed, as has been said, by the 22,000 wonderful volunteers who give their time and expertise for free to ensure the continued success of the heritage railways. However, many of them are retired, older people who will physically not be able to continue this work indefinitely, as much as they may wish to. We therefore have to ensure that we are enabling young people to take up the mantle to ensure the future sustainability of the heritage asset we have.
Therefore, as encouraged in the APPG report, I was pleased to see the introduction last year of a level 3 apprenticeship for heritage engineering technicians, which includes an option to acquire technical skills for the restoration and repair of locomotive steam engines. In only a few months since it was made available, 25 young people have elected to take up this apprenticeship, and I hope that many more will follow in their footsteps.
The APPG report outlines in its first recommendation the importance of involving young people in railways; the right reverend Prelate mentioned this, understandably, as did several other noble Lords. My department’s long-term Taking Part survey supports this and shows that if people visit heritage sites while they are of school age, they are more likely to visit as adults. Heritage railway museums are doing well on that score. An impressive 45,000 education group visits were made to the National Railway Museum in York and Locomotion in Shildon in 2018-19—which are part of the Science Museum Group, which is the most-visited group of museums in the UK by education groups. Both those museums offer a schools programme with strong curriculum links and a focus on STEM skills. It would of course be remiss of me as a Culture Minister, especially in this debate, not to be quite clear that we also value the benefits of STEAM subjects.
The need to encourage and increase the uptake of STEM skills has been clearly identified and prioritised by government over the last few years. The Government’s national Year of Engineering campaign in 2018 was designed to increase awareness and understanding among young people aged seven to 16 of what engineers do, and to showcase the many different routes into engineering careers. The National Railway Museum—which, as I said, is part of the DCMS-supported national museums network, the Science Museum Group—contributed to the Year of Engineering campaign through its Future Engineers initiative, a half-term programme which attracted nearly 30,000 visitors. Notably, 47% of the engineers involved in the Future Engineers programme were female. In light of the recommendation in the APPG report to “demystify” railway jargon to encourage young women’s involvement, promoting positive female role models in the sector seems a helpful step in this direction.
Virtually every noble Lord mentioned the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act 1920, and it is apparent in the APPG report, as the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Lord Berkeley, explained very clearly, that the interpretation of the Act presents a barrier to encouraging under-16s into volunteering opportunities on heritage railways, of which we all approve. Of course we want young people to have access to as broad a range of volunteering opportunities as possible. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to some remarks I made three years ago. We should strive to build on the momentum created by the Year of Engineering to encourage enthusiasm for heritage railways.
Of course, it is paramount that we ensure the health and safety of all young people in employment, whether in a paid or voluntary capacity, but that is not incompatible with young people volunteering on a heritage railway. There are clear and multiple benefits in doing so. Rather, we must ensure that appropriate safeguards are in place.
As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to my comments. I said at the time that it was left for the Office of Rail and Road. He also referred to the comments of the Commons Minister. I should make the point that, very shortly after, he lost his seat, but I do not think it was connected with those remarks. I am encouraged to hear from noble Lords that a potential solution has been found to the issue through the use of a statutory instrument under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. My officials are currently seeking confirmation from the Department for Work and Pensions, whose responsibility this is, together with the Health and Safety Executive. I confirm to the noble Lord that I am very happy to convene a meeting to take that forward with the Department for Transport and the DWP. Indeed, I warned the DWP Minister this morning that that might be a likely outcome.
The noble Lord, Lord Shutt, mentioned that the APPG report was almost unique in not mentioning money, but money is important. The UK’s largest heritage funder, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, has awarded more than £163 million to more than 450 rail-related projects, such as the Boiler and Engineering Skills Training Trust to address disappearing skills, and to the Welsh Ffestiniog and Welsh Highland Railways for its heritage skills training programme.
Briefly, because I do not have very long, I wanted to mention coal, which the noble Lord, Lord Jones, mentioned. Obviously, we appreciate the need to reduce public health risks, but we are working carefully to consider how we might achieve a successful balance between enhancing environmental and public health protection and ensuring that the UK’s heritage vehicle industry—and, indeed, heritage houses that burn coal in grates—continues to thrive. My officials are meeting counterparts at Defra next week to discuss this, and Defra Ministers have previously publicly stated:
“The proposals in the consultation on domestic burning would not prevent heritage railways purchasing the fuels they need”.
We will progress the issues around the 1920 Act, I hope, although, as I say, we must ensure that health and safety is right, so the DWP will be involved. I think that is a better way forward and more likely to succeed than primary legislation.
We fully recognise the enormous benefits that heritage railways bring to the UK’s economy and tourism industry. We welcome the contributions of organisations such as the Heritage Railway Association and wish them every success. We stand ready to support them in securing the sustainability of this industry for future generations.
House adjourned at 8.29 pm.