Heritage Railways and Tramways (Voluntary Work) Bill [HL] - Second Reading

– in the House of Lords at 12:50 pm on 15th July 2022.

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Lord Faulkner of Worcester:

Moved by Lord Faulkner of Worcester

That the Bill be now read a second time.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I remind the House of the unpaid interest I declare on the register as president of the Heritage Railway Association. I should say that I am the sponsor of the HRA’s young volunteer of the year award and co-chair of the Heritage Rail APPG.

Britain’s heritage railways generate more than £600 million a year for the UK economy and are critical to the tourism economy of many areas. They attract more than 30 million visitors a year, directly employ 4,000 people and are supported by more than 22,000 volunteers. The Bill is about those volunteers and its purpose is to correct an anomaly that was created by an Act of Parliament passed in 1920. That Act was full of good intentions and reflected the mood of idealism that pervaded the immediate aftermath of the First World War. Various international conventions were drawn up which sought to restrict the employment of women, young persons and children then employed in a variety of potentially hazardous industries. The content of these conventions was incorporated into United Kingdom law by the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920. One of the principal provisions of that Act was the prohibition of young persons and children undertaking employment in certain specified industrial undertakings. The definition of “industrial undertaking” included the construction, maintenance and operation of a railway or tramway, and a child was defined as any individual not over compulsory school age.

In moving the Second Reading in your Lordships’ House of what was to become the Act of 1920, Lord Onslow—your Lordships will recall that we had one of his descendants as a Member of our House until relatively recently—observed that:

“The acceptance of these Conventions makes little practical difference as regards employment in this country.”—[Official Report, 9/12/1920; col. 3.]

This was because of the advanced state of social legislation in the United Kingdom at the time, but it was nevertheless clearly an enlightened and praiseworthy landmark in acknowledging the need to safeguard the vulnerable in our society.

However, in the period after the ending of the Second World War, the circumstances which had led to the 1920 Act had radically changed. In the transport field, many railway branch lines were closing, and tramways had almost entirely disappeared from the country. This led to moves on the part of many rail devotees to take steps to preserve some of these lines to provide future generations with something of the experience that their forebears enjoyed in travelling to work or school by these means, and so the concept of heritage railways and tramways was born, a concept wholly absent from the minds of the legislators of 1920. Often operated on an entirely voluntary basis, there are now more than 170 such lines offering rides to passengers, and this development has done much to encourage local employment and tourism.

It has also done much to draw the attention of children and young persons to the possibility of participating in these activities and possibly seeking a career on the national railways in due course. Apart from engaging young minds in these pursuits, rather than in other less socially useful activities, it is of course to the benefit of heritage sector rail operators to foster this interest as they think about who is to come after them in running their railways.

However, this is where the Act of 1920 presents a stumbling block, given its prohibition of the employment of children. Some of your Lordships may think that “employment” in this context just means paid employment. Unfortunately, that is not the case. Leading counsel has advised that the true meaning of the word when used in the Act extends to work in a voluntary capacity, so no individual under the age of 16 may perform any such activity on a preserved railway or tramway. It is the removal of this constraint that is the object of this Bill.

In 2018, the All-Party Group on Heritage Rail carried out an inquiry on young people and heritage railways, which was chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Cotes, then the Member of Parliament for Loughborough. She cannot be with us today, but she asked me to say that she strongly supports this Bill. Her introduction to the APPG’s report said:

“This report shows the important role of heritage railways in education and the training of young people, not just in the technical aspects of railways, but in life skills as well. It is a symmetrical relationship as young people benefit greatly from working on heritage railways, while the future of heritage railways is greatly dependent on the young people they attract.”

The group took evidence from Her Majesty’s Railway Inspectorate, which indicated that the interests of young people would be far better protected by risk assessment under the railways’ safety management procedures, rather than by relying on outdated legislation enacted for another purpose. This would ensure that proper consideration was given to competence, capability and fatigue, rather than just setting an arbitrary age limit.

I turn to the express provisions in the Bill. Clause 1 would remove the restriction on children working on a heritage railway or tramway by allowing them to undertake voluntary work on such lines. It maintains the embargo on their taking up paid employment on lines of this nature, and the standard legal safety and safeguarding requirements will continue to apply. Clause 2 is an interpretation provision, in which, in Clause 2(a), “heritage railway” and “heritage tramway” adopt the definition of those terms in the enforcing authority regulations of 2006, which stipulate that “heritage railway” means a railway which is operated to

“preserve, recreate or simulate railways of the past” or to

“demonstrate or operate historical or special types of motive power or rolling stock”, and which is

“exclusively or primarily used for tourist, educational or recreational purposes.”

There is a comparable definition for heritage tramways. Clause 2(b) defines voluntary work as an activity carried out unpaid, apart from any travel or other out-of-pocket expenses, on a heritage railway or tramway, with the aim of benefiting that body. Finally, in Clause 2(c), the expression “young person” is given

“the same meaning as ‘child’ in section 558 of the Education Act 1996 save that the person concerned must have attained the age of 12 years”.

This has been identified as the optimum age at which the person, if he or she has gained an interest in the subject, is less likely thereafter to lose that interest. Clause 3 is the routine provisions relating to extent of application and commencement, and the Short Title of the Bill.

This short and, I hope, uncontentious Bill, aims to correct an anomaly which was never foreseen when Parliament passed the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920. Preventing young people from volunteering on heritage railways was clearly not intended by Parliament when the Act was passed. The principal issue for heritage railways is that it is precisely between the ages of 14 and 16 that interests among young people are highest. If they cannot participate then, they tend to follow other outlets, such as football or computer games, and they miss out on one of life’s rich experiences, as well as being lost to the sector.

The 1920 Act does not apply across the voluntary sector but only to activities considered to be industrial undertakings. The Act was primarily concerned with safety risks for children working in factories and mines in those days, and safeguarding was not specifically addressed in the legislation. Awareness of this is much higher now and heritage railways generally have safeguarding policies in place to ensure the safety of young people volunteering with them.

I hope that your Lordships will agree and give this Bill a speedy passage. I look forward particularly to the Minister’s reply. I hope that she will agree to convene a meeting of representatives from the heritage railway sectors, her department and other departments, to see whether we can find a way through, either by adopting the Bill or by some other means. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 1:00 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I support this Bill, which my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester so ably described. He has covered so much of the background and the need for the Bill. It is a really important small piece of legislation.

I declare an interest as patron of the Helston Railway in Cornwall, which is one of the shortest heritage railways. It is a very good example of the need to have volunteers of all ages. It runs without any paid staff whatever, like some other heritage railways do, as it is quite small. I was there a couple of months ago and my friends there were telling me about the difficulty of recruiting young people, which my noble friend’s Bill tries to change, before they get interested in things that older teenagers get interested in. As my noble friend says, this would give young people an interest in what we might call the industrial undertaking. It is really important that they learn the importance of such businesses—whether it is the business side, taking locomotives to bits or making sure the track is safe—in a safe environment before they have to make choices later in their school or college career.

My noble friend said that there had been some discussion with the Office of Rail and Road on this. I questioned my friends on the Helston Railway about what the Office of Rail and Road does. I have had meetings with it myself, on this and other lines. Its role is to make sure that the whole operation is safe—which it has to be, of course. It is so easy for people, particularly volunteers, to cut corners and think it will be all right, and then there is an accident—I hope not a serious one. The railways have to ensure that all their documentation and procedures are up to date and absolutely suitable for whatever they are operating on. I pay tribute to the people in the ORR who operate in this field. They certainly operate with a light touch, but they also can come down like a tonne of bricks if they need to. That gives confidence to the people, largely volunteers, who run a railway that they could safely welcome younger volunteers, as my noble friend proposes.

The problem is that some of the people who drive the trains or do the infrastructure are getting on a bit. Very few people now remember how to drive a steam train. I am told that some of the younger visitors to these tourist attractions are as interested in the first generation of diesel as they are in steam. We can all have different views on that, but that is what some of the current visitors want and that is fine. The key is to be able to start at a young age, with as many people as possible getting interested in this so that they can carry on, perhaps for all their working life—although they might have to go away and work somewhere else. It is very important that the option is there to start something that is really exciting for a 10 or 12 year-old before they go off and do other things.

It is very easy to say that there are many other things to do in a town or city, but many of these heritage lines are in the countryside, where there is not much alternative work. I live in Cornwall, and some of the young people in the villages would love to work on this railway. It would give them something to do and give them a great interest—one they could keep for ever.

The Office of Rail and Road has more or less said that it will turn a blind eye but that if something goes wrong, it could always fall back on legislation. That is not a position that any voluntary organisation would want to get into.

I follow my noble friend’s request to the Minister as to whether there is an answer to the statement made in June 2019 by the noble Lord, Lord Ashton of Hyde, who was the Minister for Civil Society, hoping that the Government would actually come up with a solution to this issue and that, whatever is done

“in a paid or voluntary capacity … that is not incompatible with young people volunteering on a heritage railway.”—[Official Report, 5/6/19; col. 169.]

He made that statement three years ago now. Perhaps the Minister will have had time to think about it and come back with a positive answer.

Photo of Lord Jones of Cheltenham Lord Jones of Cheltenham Liberal Democrat 1:06 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, for introducing the Bill and for his superb explanation of why it is needed.

When I was a young trainspotter, uncles and aunts often asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up, young man?” The answer was always, “A train driver”, and I had many friends who felt the same way. None of us achieved it because, by the time we had grown up, steam trains had been replaced by diesel locomotives, which somehow did not present the same drama.

Some of the most interesting people you can meet are old steam engine drivers. They know how to make these things work, maintain the correct quantity of coal, build up the appropriate level of steam and charge through the countryside leaving a trail of smoke behind them. They tell stories of near misses, when perhaps someone had missed a signal and they had to slam on the brakes to come to a juddering halt before they rammed into another train on the line. They know what it was like to plough their way through blizzards, trying to keep to a timetable. They are an outstanding generation of dedicated and skilled people. Sadly, as time goes by, fewer and fewer of them are still around, but fortunately many have passed on their skills to volunteers on the network of heritage railways around the country. That network needs to recruit the next generation of steam engine enthusiasts, which is what the Bill from the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is about.

The career progression for a volunteer on heritage railways is the same as it was in the golden age of steam. You start as a cleaner, getting to know the locomotives, the engine parts and the drivers. After a couple of years you may become a fireman, and then eventually a driver. It is very structured. A volunteer on the Swanage Railway says: “It’s lovely to work on these really elegant old heritage machines. They’ve all got their quirks; even engines of the same class behave in different ways. You have to learn to know what they like and what they don’t want”.

Heritage railways across the UK attract millions of visitors and passengers a year, but the shortage of young volunteer drivers is worrying the industry. The Swanage Railway in Dorset has 42 drivers, the oldest of whom is 79 and the youngest 27. As the older ones step down from the footplate for the last time, there is a dearth of younger people ready to jump in. The shortage means that the railway draws in people from far and wide. One driver comes to Swanage from the east Midlands; another travels all the way from Preston. The Bill would enable and encourage interested young people to get involved with their own heritage railway.

Why do people volunteer? There are two main attractions: the locomotives themselves and the people. Everyone appreciates a steam engine and the engineering side of it, but the other half is the people. The railway is one big family. The beauty of it is that there are so many different jobs in one organisation: the drivers, the people in the booking office, and those in maintenance and catering. You get to know people across other railways as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, is very involved with the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway —my heritage railway—and the Sapperton tunnel, which is featured in one of the Edward Marston books in the Railway Detective series. Looking at its website, GWSR currently has vacancies for volunteers in many departments, including carriage and wagon maintenance; safety and first aid; the trust’s information centre and promotions; estates management; the model railway at Winchcombe; railway catering services for the cafes at Winchcombe and Broadway stations and the buffet bars on trains; retail, or helping to run the shop at Toddington; special events, including the special Santa trains in December; and the Toddington Narrow Gauge Railway. Many of these voluntary positions can be a starting point for the young people at whom this Bill is aimed. I wish this Bill well in encouraging more young people to get involved in our heritage railways across the United Kingdom.

Photo of The Earl of Shrewsbury The Earl of Shrewsbury Conservative 1:10 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, on securing his Second Reading debate today, and for giving me the opportunity to put on a tie for the first time in six weeks, with my arm in a sling—quite a difficult one.

I support the noble Lord’s Bill, and I shall be very brief in doing so. I am a Staffordshire man born and bred, and I declare an interest as a deputy lieutenant of that county. That is why I am speaking: close to where I live on the edge of the Staffordshire Moorlands, we have a fine example of a heritage railway. The Churnet Valley Railway is a preserved standard gauge heritage railway, originally opened in 1849, which runs from Leekbrook to Froghall in north Staffordshire. A further branch line runs to Cauldon Lowe, where it used to service my former quarries at Cauldon. I believe that that line is one of the earliest light freight lines still in existence in the UK.

The Churnet Valley Railway is a vibrant and popular tourist attraction; I have taken my grandchildren on it many times. It is a truly magical attraction running through a beautiful hidden valley. Originally, it went to my former old family home, Alton Towers, in what is known as the Rhineland of England. But this excellent and spectacular railway, preserving a sizeable chunk of north Staffordshire’s rich history, would not exist if it were not for the volunteers who run it and make it happen. They are all great enthusiasts, and I congratulate them. However, such ventures must be able to attract the younger generation, both boys and girls, as enthusiastic volunteers to be trained up in a wide variety of skills if the railway is to have a vibrant future.

Finally, I make a small plea to my noble friend on the Front Bench. These railways rely on a supply of coal to drive their steam engines. Would she please try to ensure that coal will still be able to be sourced from the South Wales Coalfield for this purpose?

Therefore, I am delighted strongly to support the noble Lord’s Bill, and I wish him a fair head of steam in his endeavours to steer it through the parliamentary process.

Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Labour 1:13 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I, too, endorse the sentiments that have already been expressed from both sides of the House in support of my noble friend’s Bill, and I congratulate him on his persistence in bringing it back before us. When the Minister replies, I hope she will go further than before and, rather than promising action at some time in the future, she will give us a specific response.

The Bill addresses Section 1 of the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920, which states:

“No child shall be employed in any industrial undertaking”.

Like most of my generation, I did some work before I left school, delivering newspapers and working on a milk round as a 13 or 14 year-old. Of course, I was not covered by the 1920 Act, but on reflection, having spent some years working on the railway, I can say that leaping on and off an electric milk float in the 1950s was possibly more dangerous to a schoolboy than any action I have taken since as a railwayman. I hope that this long-term historical anomaly which referred to “industrial” jobs will not prevent the Minister giving us a satisfactory reply this afternoon.

There are many heritage railways in this country. At the last count, it was said that many of them depended almost entirely on voluntary labour and, of course, they do attract young people. There are few sights more moving than that of a steam locomotive. Those of us of a certain generation, of course, do not necessarily share the enthusiasts’ love of a steam locomotive. As a former goods guard in the 1960s I have to say that, when travelling tender-first on a clapped out “Austerity” at 4 am, the romance of steam escaped me from time to time. But to see locomotives these days, restored and brought back to life in the way that many heritage railways have done, is a moving and inspiring sight. Depriving our young people of the opportunity to work on a heritage railway because of this somewhat outdated Act is an issue that this House should do something about.

It is a fact that the hundreds of heritage railways in this country employ many thousands of people. Although we are assured by the Office of Rail and Road that the 1920 Act has never been used to prevent young people working on heritage railways, there is still the thought that that Act lurks in the background. In the event of an unfortunate accident, that 1920 Act may well be invoked by an insurance company in relation to a claim. I hope that we can get a proper response from the Minister and that my noble friend’s Bill, well merited as it is, will perhaps receive a better response than it has in the past.

Photo of Baroness Wilcox of Newport Baroness Wilcox of Newport Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 1:16 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute to this debate but, before I begin, I beg leave from your Lordships to mention another aspect of heritage that I had the great pleasure of engaging in yesterday evening, back home in Newport—in Caerleon in fact. The organisation BCA’37, run entirely by volunteers, ensures that the history of the Basque child refugees who came to Britain in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War is recorded and preserved. Caerleon has strong links to the organisation, as 30 children were placed in Pendragon House.

We have a series of events this week, with people from the Basque country joining us in south Wales to celebrate the 85th anniversary of the people of the UK, with no British Government support, welcoming 4,000 children—just one boatload—into the country. They were subsequently supported by volunteers and voluntary funds, and I am proudly wearing the badge that all the children wore as they came into the country. This exemplifies how volunteers are so important to our society. I was privileged to be part of that event last night, with colleagues from the Welsh Government and our Westminster representatives.

I add my congratulations to those already expressed to my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester on bringing forward his Bill and on the instrumental role he has played in establishing the APPG on Heritage Rail, ensuring it becomes an active and meaningful parliamentary group on behalf of heritage railways, in line with his work as president of the Heritage Railway Association. The world movement began in Britain 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; since then, the movement has gone from strength to strength in Britain. Clearly, I am proud that it began in Wales.

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. They provide a memorable attraction for around 13 million visitors per year, who take 18.6 million journeys covering 130 million miles, contributing about £400 million to the economy. Wales is lucky to be able to claim ownership of a very good number of these, including the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway, just up the road from Newport on the edge of the Brecon Beacons. That has been a wonderful re-addition to our area and would not have been possible without an awful lot of hard work from volunteers, who have undertaken numerous projects to improve the visitor experience.

I have enjoyed many a trip from Furnace Sidings to Big Pit, where I take my own visitors to see this amazing Welsh coal mine that pays tribute to the heritage of our industrial past, where people such as my dear late stepfather toiled underground to build the wealth of our nations. I am sure this story of heritage railways is being replicated across the UK.

It is therefore concerning that the 2018 report on young persons’ involvement in heritage railways from the APPG on Heritage Rail, which my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester chairs, found that the number of young, under-18 volunteers is only around 5%, that the number of young female volunteers is extremely small at 1% and that the outdated legislation in the form of the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920 has become a significant constraint on recruiting young volunteers under 16. It is an indirect consequence, as so many things can be. The Office of Rail and Road has been helpful in confirming that it had no intention of enforcing the Act and provided clear guidance on how to approach the management of young people engaged in railway activities. Either way, as the report says:

“This not only prevents them benefiting from the experiences their parents and grandparents had, but risks losing them altogether to railways, as they find another outlet for their interests”— as other noble Lords have mentioned—

“at a crucial stage in their lives and when exploring future employment.”

When the report was debated in 2019, my noble friend Lord Rosser said of my noble friend Lord Faulkner:

“When he becomes involved … he becomes involved big time, and he has a very impressive success rate in achieving and delivering the desired objectives.”—[Official Report, 5/6/19; col. 165.]

And here we are again, as my noble friend would have expected. I have little doubt that achieving and delivering the desired objectives will eventually be managed, whether it is through this Bill or by the Government’s hand. In this case, the objectives are twofold, with the ultimate goal being to encourage the engagement of young people with heritage railways, but a step in that direction would be to ensure that a law which predates heritage railways does not indirectly stop young people being able legally to volunteer on them. As we have heard during the debate, the Government committed to progressing this matter in a safe way, so I look forward to the Minister updating us on that. I can understand that there have been slightly more pressing issues at hand over the last three years—and over the last three weeks—but I hope the Government have given some thought to this. After all, they have made a commitment.

As keen as we all are to encourage youth volunteers, my caveat is that it is important that it is done safely. I am particularly keen to hear from the Minister what assessment has been made since that debate on any possible risks. I urge the Government to cease prevaricating any further and enable this barrier to be lifted.

Photo of Baroness Stedman-Scott Baroness Stedman-Scott The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 1:23 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, for bringing to the House this important debate, which I believe he has tried to secure since 2017. I congratulate him on his tenacity. The Government think that it is important to recognise and support the valuable opportunities that young people have through volunteering. I stress that modern health and safety legislation does not prevent children and young people volunteering on heritage railways or tramways, which I believe is a great experience for all involved. Also, the noble Lords, Lord Faulkner and Lord Jones, referred to the difference these activities make to the local economies in which they are based.

However, it is important that such activities are carried out in a safe way, with employers, organisers and those supervising the activities making sure that any risks are properly controlled. The Health and Safety Executive requires duty holders to demonstrate that they understand any potential hazards that may come to young people when volunteering. Those hazards should be set out in the duty holders’ risk assessments, along with the steps they have taken to minimise them. To increase compliance levels in managing risks, the Health and Safety Executive uses a range of regulatory actions, from influencing behaviours across whole industry sectors to targeted interventions on particular sectors and activities. The Health and Safety Executive will continue to hold to account those duty holders who fail in their responsibilities to protect workers through proportionate enforcement action. Because the Health and Safety Executive takes a proportionate, evidence-based approach, the Government are convinced that modern health and safety legislation does not prevent children and young people from volunteering on heritage railways and that there is no reason to amend or repeal current legislation.

The law protecting children in the UK is a complex area, and this Bill touches on not only health and safety protections but also child labour laws and local authority by-laws. These are all devolved matters in Northern Ireland, and this Bill would impose changes there too. To repeal or amend the Employment of Women, Young Persons, and Children Act 1920 may initially seem the best course of action; however, this involves a level of complexity and risk that makes it undesirable and unnecessary. This would still leave legislation owned by the Department for Education—the Children and Young Persons Act 1933—in place which limits young volunteers to undertaking light work only. In addition, many local authorities have by-laws under the 1920 Act which contain prohibitions on types of work that are not suitable for young people. Repealing the Act could have unintended consequences across a number of sectors.

The Government’s view is that there is no need to introduce additional legislation to ensure young people can volunteer on heritage railways. The Health and Safety Executive has policy responsibility for the 1920 Act, but in the case of heritage railways the Office of Rail and Road is the enforcing authority. Previously, both the Health and Safety Executive and the Office of Rail and Road considered what powers they have and how they would be applied in the case of young people volunteering on a heritage railway. Both regulators have reconfirmed that they would not enforce the 1920 Act solely to prevent children and young people from volunteering on heritage railways. The 1920 Act has never been used for this purpose.

A point worth emphasising is that modern health and safety legislation already applies to the activities of children and young people volunteering and requires a risk assessment approach to managing their health and safety. So, if there was evidence of poor supervision, exposure to risk or danger, the Health and Safety Executive and/or the Office of Rail and Road would take action under health and safety legislation, not the 1920 Act.

I think the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Jones, stressed very well the importance of young people having exposure to heritage railways, because it can inspire them in subjects they want to study and in careers they want to take, and we should make sure that opportunity is available to them. So, the Government support volunteers and volunteering. Volunteering can be a rewarding experience for young people and allows them to gain new skills, meet new people and make a difference in their communities.

I would like to recognise the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and the Heritage Railway Association for the important work they do in preserving this part of our nation’s cultural and industrial heritage, as well as for the opportunities that they and their members provide for children and young people on our heritage railways and tramways. My noble friend Lord Shrewsbury mentioned that he had put on a tie today, which is a major achievement, for this Bill, so we should recognise that. I would also ask your Lordships to take a look at the tie of the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, which is absolutely fit for today and a great credit to him to promote his field of work.

I live literally yards away from the line that goes from Tenterden through to Bodiam on the steam railway. On a really great day, when the wind is blowing in the right direction, I can smell the steam when I am sitting in my garden—it is that close. It is very evocative and encouraging. I have gone on Thomas the Tank Engine, gone there for Sunday lunch and gone on the Santa special many times. The difference that it makes to young people and the economy is terrific. The young volunteers on that railway line thrive on their activities.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ashton, about trying to find a solution. I will come on to that later because I will make a definite commitment with a definite timetable.

The UK is a true pioneer in the history of railway, nurturing and benefiting from the talents of Brunel and Stephenson, among others. We are rightly proud of this legacy and must ensure that the next generation is endowed with the skills and passion to protect it. Volunteering is vital for the future sustainability of the heritage rail sector, with approximately 22,000 people giving their time and expertise to support heritage steam organisations across the country. We know from the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail’s 2018 report, Young People and Heritage Railways, that almost 800 under-16s successfully volunteer without intervention from regulators.

This shows that modern health and safety legislation works. There is supporting guidance freely available, and the Health and Safety Executive and the Office of Rail and Road have previously offered—and are still willing—to work with the Heritage Railway Association to update their guidance for its members; to set out what tasks would be suitable for children and young people to perform on the railways; and to give heritage railway and tramway operators the assurance they require to be able to offer safe and appropriate volunteering opportunities.

As has been said, this is an ongoing issue, with a meeting between the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and my noble friends Lord Ashton and Lady Buscombe to discuss it further planned for the autumn of 2019. I understand that, unfortunately, diaries did not align, for which I apologise; I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, for pointing out that the past three years have not been easy. Anyway, we must move this on and end the delay in resolving this matter. I make a commitment that officials from the Health and Safety Executive and the Office of Rail and Road, with support from DCMS—I am prepared to join that meeting—will offer to meet the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to discuss this issue further, particularly how the HRA guidance can be amended to better support managing the health and safety risks for young volunteers.

The noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, mentioned coal. The Government appreciate the unique importance of the heritage steam industry both in promoting the UK’s rich industrial heritage and for the wider visitor economy. We acknowledge the difficult circumstances facing the heritage steam sector at this time in light of the rising cost of coal on international commodity markets, due in part to the Russia-Ukraine conflict. We are in regular communication with the heritage rail sector to explore how we may be able to assist, including ministerial engagement with the Heritage Rail Association. However, ultimately, we view the decision on where to source coal for use in heritage steam and other industries as a private matter for the companies involved.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, referred to insurance. The detail of each railway’s insurance policies is a matter between the insurer and the heritage railway operator. However, in 2018, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Heritage Rail heard from a witness representing the insurance industry that the 1920 Act would not make any difference to the cost or cover of insurance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, asked why children are prevented from volunteering on heritage railways. As I have said, the Government support volunteering and recognise the benefits for all those involved. They are not limiting the opportunities for children to safely volunteer on heritage railways.

In conclusion, the Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, seeks to allow children to gain valuable experience volunteering on heritage railways and tramways. The Government support this aim. However, we believe that the current framework does just that: existing modern health and safety laws allow children and young people to volunteer on heritage railways, while protecting their education and health and safety. Nothing would be gained from a change to legislation when other, simpler and more effective options are available. The existing framework is fair and effective, which is why the Government do not believe that the Bill is necessary. Nevertheless, the Government are committed to working with the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, and all interested parties to achieve a solution; we will meet in the autumn when the House returns.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 1:35 pm, 15th July 2022

My Lords, first, I thank all noble Lords for their excellent contributions to the debate. The heritage railway sector will be gratified to learn how many friends and how much support it has: my noble friend Lord Berkeley spoke about the Helston Railway; the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, visited both the Swanage Railway and the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Steam Railway; the noble Earl, Lord Shrewsbury, went to the Churnet Valley Railway; my noble friend Lady Wilcox of Newport cited the Talyllyn Railway and the Pontypool and Blaenavon Railway; and the Minister referred to the Kent & East Sussex Railway. My noble friend Lord Snape reminded us of the pleasures of being a goods guard on steam railways at 4 am before modernisation took over that part of the railway’s operation. He is now, I think, the only former working railwayman in your Lordships’ House and, as a result, deserves to be listened to with particular respect.

It is clear that there is general agreement that the 1920 Act must not be used to prevent young people under 16 working as volunteers. The Minister’s speech was really interesting, because she said that the provisions of this Bill may not be necessary because the provisions of the 1920 Act will never be applied. However, as more than one speaker—including my noble friends Lord Berkeley and Lord Snape—drew the House’s attention to, the Minister did not answer on what will happen should something go wrong involving a youngster working as a volunteer. She referred to insurance but there are other, deeper issues that also need to be looked at. Although I really appreciate her offer to meet representatives from the sector in the autumn—we accept that offer with gratitude and alacrity—we should be looking for stronger guarantees in relation to the 1920 Act than she has been able to give us today, however well-intentioned those have been. I therefore hope that the House will agree to give the Bill a Second Reading as a means of concentrating everyone’s minds on this subject. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.