HL Deb 20 June 1996 vol 573 cc514-22

7.12 p.m.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill was introduced in the other place by my honourable friend Mr. Mark Robinson. It had a speedy passage with all-party support. It falls to me to shepherd the Bill through your Lordships' House. I am delighted to do so. All my life I have been a steam train buff. I am a shareholder in the non-profit making North Norfolk Railway and a former director and now vice-president of the Bluebell Railway, which was the first steam railway in this country to be preserved.

Steam trains are part of our national heritage. It would be a sad thing if many of the items connected with them were to disappear. The sole intention of the Bill is to fill a vacuum and to ensure that the same restrictions apply to privatised railways, so far as concerns records and artefacts, as apply to the British Railways Board and its subsidiaries. It replaces Section 125 of the Railways Act 1993, which applies only to public bodies.

The Bill will help preserve our heritage for posterity. Posterity may wonder when going through a quiet country village and seeing a public house called "The Railway Arms"; or, indeed, when going through a small town and parking—legally, I hope—in Station Street with no railway within 20 miles. The heritage links those things back to the present. It is necessary, I believe, for people to be able to carry out that kind of trace. The disappearance of documents and other artefacts would be very sad.

The existing Railway Heritage Committee has been tireless in its work. One of its great achievements has been the designation of thousands upon thousands of Brunel's drawings—many of them signed. In passing, I have to say that I only wish that Brunel's Great Western Railway broad gauge had become universal instead of the standard gauge; our journeys would have been infinitely more comfortable.

The Railway Heritage Trust has also carried out valuable work in preserving railway buildings and historic structures. The work already done will be enhanced by the Bill, the main features of which are sixfold. First, it defines the bodies to which the Bill refers; secondly, it strengthens the Railway Heritage Committee and enables it to have sub-committees; thirdly, it sets out the objectives and gives power to designate artefacts; fourthly, it provides for disposal methods; fifthly, it gives the Railway Heritage Committee power to withhold consent; and, finally, it contains very valuable powers for the Secretary of State to give guidance to the committee and to provide a means of arbitration should it become necessary.

I hope that my brief introduction has set out the purposes of the Bill and that your Lordships will now allow all the signals to go green.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Finsberg.)

7.15 p.m.

Lord Mountevans

My Lords, it is a pleasure to support the Second Reading of this Bill so ably, albeit briefly, introduced by my noble friend Lord Finsberg and to congratulate our colleague, the honourable Member for Somerton and Frome on his initiative in bringing the Bill forward.

I feel that it is absolutely right that, Britain having invented the railway and then having given it to the world, we should take all possible steps to preserve all the documents and artefacts which make up a substantial element of our railway heritage.

Having invented the railway, it was logical that subsequently we more or less invented the railway preservation movement. Apart from our excellent National Railway Museum, we have more operating preserved railways than any other country; and, indeed, more rail-related museums than any other country. All those ventures are dedicated to preserving parts of our railway heritage.

Further, most of those ventures are largely the result of volunteer effort—that is, volunteer fund raising and volunteer expertise. It seems to me that the Bill will send a clear signal and will very much encourage that very substantial voluntary effort. By doing so the Bill will, if enacted, also contribute to our tourism industry, to education and to public enjoyment and awareness of our wonderful railway heritage.

While in no way reducing my support for the Bill, I have two concerns which I hope either my noble friend Lord Finsberg or my noble friend the Minister can allay. The first is the expression in Clause 1(d) at line 11 which refers to, any publicly owned railway company". The word "public" can mean, for example, in the public sector—such as a railway formerly run by HMG or a local authority—or alternatively, it can mean, among other definitions, a quoted company. Several of our preserved railways have had share issues and, of course, they own artefacts. But I presume that those artefacts, be they locomotives, coaches or the equipment required to print ticket stocks, would not fall within the remit of the Railway Heritage Committee. I would appreciate comments on that issue.

My second concern relates to finance. Modest artefacts require modest funding, and the success to date of the voluntary sector makes me confident that funding the acquisition of such modest artefacts will not pose a problem. However, sooner or later someone may want to preserve, say, a high speed train—20-plus years after introduction it remains the world's fastest diesel train. But here costs become a serious issue. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that there is a possibility that National Lottery funds may be made available for a preservation project of this magnitude were the volunteer sector to take it on? Those are two queries, but, none the less, it is a marvellous Bill. I am happy to volunteer my endorsement.

7.19 p.m.

Baroness Thomas of Walliswood

My Lords, from these Benches I too welcome the Bill so briefly introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg—indeed, an example that I hope to follow. There is no point in talking to death a Bill which I believe everyone favours. The Railway Heritage Trust was one of the first organisations to lobby me on this very subject when I came to your Lordships' House.

As an historian, I have always taken a great interest in the preservation not just of beautiful country houses but also of our industrial heritage. I entirely agree with the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. I share his concern about the cost of items which may require preservation at a later date. I hope that the noble Viscount the Minister will be able to tell us that his ministerial colleagues will look on this kind of heritage preservation with the same sympathetic eye with which they look upon heritage preservations. A time may come when funding greater than that which can be put together by volunteers will be necessary. I welcome the Bill and hope that we can grant it a Second Reading without further ado.

7.20 p.m.

Lord Berkeley

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Finsberg, on introducing the Bill. I am not sure that we shall talk it to death—I rather hope that we shall talk it into greater life. It is an important Bill. I declare my interest in such activities; I have a project to create a museum of the Channel Tunnel. I do not believe that the Channel Tunnel is included in the scope of the Bill, but I refer to boring machines and other items. The museum is an example of things that can go right or wrong.

Our railway heritage is one of the most important parts of our industrial history. Sir Neil Cossons, director of the Science Museum, has said that the railways were the most important development that Britain gave to the world during the past 150 years. That is quite a claim.

The railways have retained and in some cases actively collected a unique range of artefacts, documents and memorabilia. The start was not particularly good. Many of us who have an interest in railway history are saddened that there is no broad gauge rolling stock. I believe that it was scrapped in 1906. But since the requirements in the Transport Act 1968, to preserve artefacts, the National Railway Museum and the London Transport Museum were born, and I believe that they are probably the best railway museums in the world. Perhaps it is true to say that we led the world in railway technology developments; and we lead the world now in museums to demonstrate the development of history.

Perhaps we should not be too hard on our ancestors for not preserving broad gauge and other equipment, since the immediate past is often thought of as not being of particular concern or interest—we have just experienced it, and do not see the need to have it formally recorded. In taking a view for or against such preservation, we must not forget that our children and grandchildren have not had that experience. Therefore it is important to preserve even those items that we may not believe are particularly interesting.

While the railways were in public ownership, BR had the obligation under the Transport Act 1968 to preserve equipment and artefacts. But with privatisation and fragmentation that situation has changed. I am pleased that the Government have supported the Bill to widen the obligations on companies in the railway industry to preserve their heritage. The Bill, therefore, has the support of the Labour Party. We wish to see it receive Royal Assent at the earliest opportunity, not so much because there is any suspicion that any of the new privatised operators are seeking to junk any unique artefacts, but rather that with the present uncertainty over legislation which does not complete its passage before the Summer Recess, there is a danger that it could be lost. Once an artefact is lost, it is gone forever.

Although we have some concerns about parts of the Bill, they are positive concerns. I hope that the Minister will be able to respond to some of my comments with words of comfort—or even motherhood, if that is the right expression.

I have three concerns. The first was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans. I refer to Clause 1. To which bodies does the Bill apply? There is a comprehensive list but I am unsure about whether all the operations and organisations which have succeeded the various parts of BR will be included, and whether all the artefacts that they own now and will own in the future will be included.

For example, is the promoter of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link included, and, if so, under which subsection? London and Continental Railways Limited has been handed the assets of European Passenger Services and Union Railways which were formerly publicly owned companies. But are the artefacts and assets now owned by LCR included, whether inherited from the Government or created subsequently by themselves?

The same comments apply to English, Welsh and Scottish Railways which took over the former British Rail freight companies. As a new company, are its artefacts included? The answer is presumably, yes, to the old limping locomotives which it has stated that it will replace, but what about the new US locomotives which it has just ordered?

Is it possible that a franchise could be let to a foreign registered company; and, if so, would this legislation have any jurisdiction over that company? Is Eurotunnel included? I do not believe that it is. It has never been a publicly owned company. Is Ulster Railways included; and, if not, why not?

I appreciate the constraints on the drafting of the Bill. But I hope that the interpretation of it could be more along the lines of, any company or organisation which has or does operate with, on or in connection with the national railways network and system". In short, a little motherhood from the Government, along the lines of a presumption that the procedures and responsibilities of the Bill should be applied albeit on a voluntary basis to those not covered, would be most welcome from those who have the railway heritage at heart.

Secondly, Clause 3 defines an artefact. Broadly, it is an item that can be moved. I view the intent underlying this clause as being broadly similar to the listing of buildings, except that in certain cases it will probably be a voluntary scheme. However, limiting though the Bill may be of necessity as regards the scope of Clause 1, it is important that those who own what might be considered an artefact are aware of their moral and sometimes legal obligation to offer it to the committee for designation.

Opinions will always differ among historians, enthusiasts and owners as to the historic interest of a specific item. Much of that opinion is by its very nature subjective. But the knowledge that some item might be an asset worthy of preservation may come as a shock to some people. Therefore, it is important that the work of the committee, its legal and moral rights and obligations, are as well publicised as possible throughout the industry.

Lastly, and inevitably, there is the problem of finance, to which the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, alluded, for the purchase and/or preservation of artefacts. When all was owned by British Rail or London Underground Limited, that was done as a matter of course. The two excellent museums and the enormous collections that support them are a tribute to those who have been responsible for this work through several generations. Those organisations were content to pay for this work out of a sense of public duty.

Clause 4 refers to the notice of disposal and the terms of payment. With the ownership of an artefact in private hands, it must be reasonable that the owner should have the right to receive some reimbursement for a disposal. As I have found with Channel Tunnel artefacts, the value of an artefact can vary very dramatically, sometimes by a factor of 1,000, depending on the perceived worth—whether it is for scrap or commercial use. But even the purchase of an artefact for scrap can make a dent in the budgets of our museums. The PRISM fund is administered by the Science Museum and has been set up for the purchase of such historical artefacts.

However, I understand that there is a budget of about £50,000 to £100,000 per year which does not go very far to buy locomotives or rolling stock which have come to the end of their working lives.

I understand that the Science Museum allocates from its grant aid a budget for purchasing artefacts between its three museums. Last year that was £250,000 but because of reductions in grant the figure has reduced to £100,000.

We have been assured by the Government on numerous occasions that lottery money would be additional to rather than a replacement for heritage grants. However, many of us are not entirely convinced that there is not some connection between the two. The funding requirements may not be as exciting as for a new or subsidised opera house, but I hope that the Minister will impress on his noble friend Lord Inglewood and his colleagues in the Department of National Heritage the importance of ensuring that the work of preserving our railway heritage can continue. Because of the new structure of the railways that requires not just the same funding but more on a continuing basis.

I conclude by commending the excellent and dedicated work done by the Railway Heritage Committee and the museums involved. I hope that this Bill will assist them in ensuring that the occasional "difficult" owner of an artefact understands his obligations, but equally I hope that most of its work will be undertaken with the enthusiastic encouragement and partnership of the many organisations involved. We support the Bill wholeheartedly and wish it a speedy passage through its remaining stages in this House.

7.31 p.m.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Transport (Viscount Goschen)

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Finsberg for introducing this short but important Bill. I recognise the hard work of my honourable friend the Member for Somerton and Frome in another place in taking the Bill through that House.

We have heard from my noble friend Lord Finsberg a description of the Bill, what it does and why it has come about. I believe there has been a broad consensus of support from around the Chamber. I was pleased to hear the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. I welcome his debut appearance at the Dispatch Box from the Opposition Benches. I have a feeling we shall hear a great deal more from him at the Dispatch Box. The speech that he has made today shows the vigour with which he intends to pursue railway issues. However, this is a much happier dialogue than that which we normally have on the subject of railways.

I certainly concur wholeheartedly with the view of my noble friend Lord Finsberg that Britain's railway heritage must be preserved for the benefit of posterity. I am well aware of the excellent work done by many railway preservation societies such as the Bluebell Railway, with which my noble friend is so closely involved. I certainly wish that every success. Of course our railway heritage is not of value only for its own sake: it also plays an important role in the future running of a working railway. That can be seen from the fact that drawings from the Brunel era—those were alluded to earlier—are still in use as working records.

The Railway Heritage Committee, an independent committee of experts representing both railway heritage and working railway interests, was set up under Section 125 of the Railways Act 1993. The committee is responsible for ensuring that historically significant railway artefacts and records are sent to the appropriate museum or other collecting institution at the end of their useful lives, so that they can be made available to a wider public. I wish to endorse the sentiments expressed in the House this evening in applauding the excellent work done by that committee.

The committee's powers cover the British Railways Board, its wholly owned subsidiaries and the public sector bodies brought into being during the restructuring process. I believe that my noble friend Lord Mountevans asked about the detail surrounding that. I do not think he need have any cause for concern. The description within the legislation is tightly defined. When the Railways Bill was before this House, the Government proposed to introduce a voluntary scheme to cover the private sector, but on further consideration that route proved inappropriate. The Bill now before this House would reinforce the committee's powers by extending the classes of owner to be covered. It would also enable the committee to carry out its work more effectively by empowering it to require relevant information from owners, and by permitting delegation to sub-committees.

Many of the owners of railway artefacts and records including Railtrack have already been privatised so are no longer covered by Section 125. But we certainly have every reason to expect that they will co-operate fully with the committee in the interim period before new legislation is enacted. Mr. Bob Horton, the chairman of Railtrack, has given his personal assurance that Railtrack will continue to work positively with the committee.

A number of questions were asked which I know that my noble friend Lord Finsberg will be eager to answer fully. In fact he will be champing at the bit. However, I should make a couple of points before he does that. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, has a great interest in the subject and great expertise as regards all matters to do with the Channel Tunnel. European Passenger Services is responsible for running passenger services through the Channel Tunnel. Union Railways is responsible for the design of the Channel Tunnel Rail Link. They are former publicly owned railway companies and so are covered by the Bill. London and Continental Railways is not covered. As the noble Lord suggested, Eurotunnel is not included, nor, I understand, is Ulster Railways.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, was concerned that the Bill allowed various bodies to slip through the net. The noble Lord need not be too concerned about that. There has been much effort to ensure that the drafting is as accurate and as all-encompassing as it can be. There will be some instances where bodies will not necessarily be covered by the provisions, but I think it is likely that the private sector bodies which fall outside the scope of the Bill will be keen to co-operate with the Railway Heritage Committee. Certainly I do not think it would do their public image much good if they decided to go against the committee.

The matter of lottery funding was raised. That is referred to on almost any occasion where anyone has a sniff of potential sources of money. I think my noble friend Lord Mountevans, who raised the issue, is aware that the National Railway Museum and the other major institutions which collect railway artefacts and records in the public sector are eligible for lottery money to pay for acquisitions, but other bodies may not be eligible. There is clearly a great deal of interest in the collecting of these artefacts. I end by saying that we all recognise the importance of the railway heritage, be it from the steam era or slightly more contemporary pieces of machinery, records or artefacts. These are of clear value to our national heritage. I wish the Bill every success.

7.37 p.m.

Lord Finsberg

My Lords, I thank those noble Lords who have taken part in the debate. I am most grateful for the support given to the Bill. I would say to the noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, that over the years I have come to believe that the longer the speech, the less the speaker knows about the subject and the more he is trying to conceal. That is why I try to speak as briefly as I can.

I wish the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, every success in his endeavours on the Channel Tunnel. I hope that some items from the earlier 19th century channel tunnel will also find their way into preservation. I think he perhaps misunderstood me as regards broad gauge. What I meant to say was that I wish the whole of our system had been broad gauge and then we might even have thought about preserving the odd bit of standard gauge. But, alas, that was not the case.

As my noble friend the Minister said, Northern Ireland is exempt from this measure. I hope that your Lordships will on the odd occasion table an Unstarred Question on this subject so that we can let the public know what is being done. We can also say from time to time how valuable is the continuing work of the heritage committee and the other bodies.

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

Baroness Trumpington

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until ten minutes past eight o'clock.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 7.39 p.m. to 8.10 p.m.]