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

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

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Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 12:50, 15 July 2022

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.