Public Bodies Bill [HL] — Committee (7th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 28th February 2011.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 3:45 pm, 28th February 2011

My Lords, my name is attached to the amendment and I fully support what my noble friend has said about the concerns and needs of the railway heritage sector. I congratulate him on the work that he has put in over many years to look after and preserve the heritage of the railway, which I think is unique. I suppose I would say that because I am very interested in it, but it is part of our national heritage.

Many noble Lords will know that the whole of the Great Western Railway was built to broad gauge by a fellow called Brunel, whom we all revere as having built wonderful smooth tracks, great bridges and excellent locomotives. However, many noble Lords might not know that not a single broad-gauge locomotive has been preserved because at the time the industry was much more interested in conversion, making money and moving forward. However, if this organisation had been around then, I am convinced that one or two locomotives and other pieces of equipment would have been preserved.

I worked on building the Channel Tunnel for 15 years. We managed to preserve one of the boring machines on the UK side and stuck it beside the motorway at Folkestone. The French half of the organisation put another one on a roundabout on the motorway at Calais. The UK one has been chopped up for scrap but the French one is still there, so we do not have a very good record in preserving these things. When something has lost its usefulness, people say, "Let's make some money and scrap it", or they are too busy doing something else. Therefore, this heritage committee forms a very important link in ensuring that a selection of the most important pieces of the railways is preserved.

My noble friend also mentioned the history of the heritage committee, starting off in its British Rail days. It went through the Strategic Rail Authority stage and then, as he said, became a bit of an orphan. The Government are going through another reorganisation of the railways at the moment. I do not know what it is going to produce but a similar thing has happened every five or 10 years for the past 20 years. My noble friend's proposal that the Railway Heritage Committee responsibility should be transferred to the National Railway Museum, which I hope will have a much longer life, until the next railway restructuring is an excellent idea, so I wish him well in his onward negotiations with the Minister. I hope that the Minister in his response will give us some comfort that this might actually happen.