Railway Heritage Committee repreive?

Friday, November 12 2010

Hanwell Station, December 2008. Though the down fast platform has been removed, the rest of the station retains many original features, such as a wooden waiting room. Rather than undergoing a radical modernisation like its neighbours – West Ealing and Southall – it has been carefully restored to its GWR condition. Photo Sunil Prasannan.

(Click image to enlarge. Click here for details of reuse.)

A late night speech by Lord Faulkner of Worcester on Tuesday has probably saved the work of the Railway Heritage Committee. The Public Bodies Bill received its second reading during a mammoth 8 hour 38 minute debate in the house of Lords on Tuesday. Lord Faulkner had prepared a comprehensive speech regarding the cost effectiveness and usefulness of the Committee, but was only called to speak at 21:54. He cut his speech to the bone and the result was a very eloquent intervention. He first made a short analysis of the constitutional implications of the bill and then said –

I was going to make a speech about a public body with which I have a particular interest and which I had the honour to chair until 2009, standing down when I became a Minister in the Government Whips’ Office: the Railway Heritage Committee. It is a body which has a link with Henry VIII because, as your Lordships may recall, Benjamin Disraeli predicted as long ago as 1845, in his novel ‘Sybil’, that the railways will do as much for mankind as the monasteries did. This is a debate which I want to have on another occasion and in Committee with the Minister.

However, I make the point now that that is a committee with a budget that costs the taxpayer little more than £100,000 a year. That can be reduced further, but that budget would have to be enhanced because the National Railway Museum will in future have to spend at least that amount of money on buying the artefacts and records which, at present, it gets for nothing. It is staffed entirely by volunteers-there is only one paid employee-and works with the grain of the railway industry and the heritage railway section. It was established by three separate Acts of Parliament, two passed by Conservative Governments and one, most recently, by the Labour Government in 2006. It is a body which fulfils the functions that were set out by the Minister standing at the Conservative Dispatch Box in 1996, to the letter, and has never attracted any criticism or scandal. It was abolished, or at least it is facing abolition, as the result of a single sentence in a Department for Transport press release, with no consultation whatever. The only warning that the members of the committee and the industry had that something was coming was the leak in the ‘Daily Telegraph’ on 23 September. As a consequence of that, over 30 individuals, ranging from some very high-profile in international organisations-the Heritage Railway Association itself, the Keeper of the Records of Scotland, Sir William McAlpine and others-all wrote to the Minister begging her to think again before including it in the list for abolition. To no avail, though; that organisation is in Schedule 1 of the Bill. I hope that it will be possible, when we get into Committee, to do something about this deplorable state of affairs and that we can do something that recognises the importance of railway heritage in the tourist sector and in the economy more generally.

I do not want to speak any more tonight other than to say that I hope that my noble friend’s amendment will meet with approval in the House. It is important that we have more time to look at these proposals and redress, at least to some extent, the scandalous lack of consultation that has led to the Bill in its present form.

In the event the amendment to which Lord Faulkner referred – that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee was lost by 151 votes to 188. However, on Thursday Lord Faulkner received a communication to the effect that, following his intervention, the Department for Transport was considering ways in which the work of the Committee could be continued.


One comment

  1. Has this blog died?? Nothing for nearly a year now……..

    p.s. the Polish blog gets better and better though so this is not a criticism!

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