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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:13 pm on 15 July 2022.

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Photo of Lord Snape Lord Snape Labour 1:13, 15 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 Depriving our young people of the opportunity to work on a heritage railway because of this somewhat outdated Act is an issue that this House should do something about.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.