HC Deb 16 October 1952 vol 505 cc551-60

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.)

11.59 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

I apologise to hon. Members and servants of the House for raising this matter at so late an hour. I only do so because the point at issue is one of importance in my constituency and in the neighbouring constituency. If I may be allowed to say so in parentheses, I remember reading in my history books that lawyers were regarded as a nuisance in the Parliament of Edward I. I do not think that things have changed much since in that respect.

I plead with the Minister that more money shall be spent in Grimsby commercial docks and in Immingham docks. Since the war these docks have been very badly neglected. In the case of the Grimsby commercial docks, especially, I am advised that there is great danger of their falling into complete decay and that unless they are modernised fairly quickly the transport authorities may be tempted to close them down altogether. Neither Immingham nor Grimsby have had anything like a fair share of the money that has been spent on the Eastern ports.

The extent to which Grimsby commercial docks have declined can best be illustrated by two facts. Before the war there were from Grimsby commercial docks 15 weekly ships' sailings and one fortnightly. Today there are only two weekly and one fortnightly sailing. That great decline in sailings indicates how this port has fallen.

To put it in another way, during the years 1931–37, which were supposed to be the bad years, the years of depression, there went through this commercial port at Grimsby an average annual tonnage of 561,000 tons, excluding coke and coal. For the past three years, 1949–51, the amount was only 366,000 tons, excluding coal and coke. Therefore, there has been a fall of nearly 50 per cent. as compared with those years before the war. It is because of the lack of modern facilities that the trade has been going from these ports. The question has been raised time and time again since the war and nothing has been done. I plead now that we be given no more fair promises, but that some real action be taken.

In January, 1949, at the North Midland Regional Board of Industry, it was stated that the two ports were not only handicapped by out-of-date equipment but, at that time, only about 15–20 per cent. of the berth space was being used. That was an absolute scandal from the local point of view. It was stated that although the dockers in the area had done a very good job, they had not magnetic equipment, like other ports, for dealing with the scrap metal brought in from Germany; and since everything had to be manhandled the work was done extremely slowly. That was not in any respect the fault of the workers.

From that conference two promises were made by different Government Departments, The Board of Trade said that the ports' future development and railway facilities were then being considered. That was four years ago, and so far as I can find out nothing came of that consideration. If it did, we have seen no actual results in the port. Then the Ministry of Transport said that, following a report on the turn-round of shipping, a small team of experts had been formed to consider increased mechanisation at these ports. That, again, was four years ago, and nothing has been done. What has happened to these two Departmental reports, and why was not some action taken?

A month later, Sir Reginald Hill, then chairman of the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, made an astonishing statement. He said that there was no intention of abandoning Grimsby—that is the commercial docks, not the fish docks—and Immingham merely because there had been a lot of money lost in them. He added—this is what I want the Minister to deal with—that it is no use spending money fitting a dock for work which it is not going to do. Who says that the Grimsby and Immingham docks are not going to do work? Why should a Government Department say that these two docks are not going to be given work? Then he went on to make this startling statement, as far as the constituents of mine and the right hon. Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) are concerned: "It is no use having three ports to do the work of one." Why should all the work be sent to Hull, and Grimsby and Immingham be starved?

I am told by my constituents who work at Immingham that there have been times when ships had been left in the Humber for three or four days waiting a berth in Hull, while berths just across the river at Immingham were idle. That wastes shipping and labour, and I suppose the explanation would be merely that the facilities on the south side of the river are not so good as those on the north side. The answer is not to keep plugging traffic to Hull, but to equip our ports so that we can deal with the traffic equally well.

Local tradespeople have done their best to try and increase the ports' traffic. In 1951 they managed to induce the British car exporters, who are charterers of ships, to ship one load from Immingham to Australia. I was told by my constituents who did that work that it was good work, that it produced good extra wages, that they liked it and would like a lot more. But they did not get more. The shippers said they were disappointed with the facilities at Immingham and until there was more modern equipment put in the ports there would be no more work of that type sent there.

I am pleading that something should be done to help our people in these two ports. As far as I can tell, the amount of money spent on these two ports since the war has been almost negligible. But look at what is being done for Hull on the other side of the river. The Lord Mayor of Hull, speaking in May this year, said that for the coming year alone they were going to spend the following sums in that port: a quarter of a million for developing the new quay at St. George's Dock, a million and three quarters for rebuilding the Riverside Quay, a million for the other Hull docks, and a substantial sum, not disclosed, for the equipment of the Humber Dock. The Humber Dock is older than the Grimsby Royal Dock.

Money is being found almost in bucketsful to bring Hull up to date, and we are getting nothing. We cannot get traffic in our two ports because we are told that the facilities are not good enough, and they are not good enough because money is not being spent on them. Whilst I agree that Hull took a heavy battering during the war, and it should therefore have priority for re-equipment, I think we ought to have some money spent on the other side. If we had had a quarter of the money spent on Immingham and on the Grimsby commercial docks that is being spent on Hull, our position would be very different.

The document issued by the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive, which the Minister may have seen, shows the amount of work for re-equipment and renovation up to 9th September this year. I shall pick out only two items as affecting the Immingham dock which is in my constituency. There is an item which shows that a new outer lock gate was authorised as long ago as January, 1950, and that it was to cost £60,000. The note at the side says "Tenders are still to be invited." The work was sanctioned nearly three years ago. This, I consider, is making haste slowly, if it is not going backwards. At the same time, on the northern side of the river they are spending three or four million a year. I want to know why it is that a renovation costing only £60,000 authorised nearly three years ago has not yet had tenders put out.

The second item that intrigued me was with regard to four new 10-ton Portal cranes for the mineral quay at Immingham. The expenditure there was authorised on 1st November, 1951, and the note at the side says that the tenders have been accepted. Can the Minister tell us when the work is to be started and when he thinks it will be finished? I went round these docks with some of my constituents and the cranes there are hydraulic. They complained that they are old and out of date, that they are dirty and wet to work under, and that this makes their work a great deal more disagreeable than it ought to be. I want to know if the Minister can tell us when some of that work is to be completed and when we shall see some results.

In order to leave time for the right hon. Member for Grimsby, I want to make concrete suggestions to the Minister. First of all we desire a good deal of money spent on the re-equipping of these two ports. Immingham, as the right hon. Gentleman knows, is the best deep sea port there is on the Eastern coast. Ships of a good size can get in there at any time, but there has been no real amount of money spent on that port since it was opened in 1912. The commercial docks in Grimsby are even worse, and unless some money is spent on them very soon they will be useless. What little work is still left there will be gone, and it will cause considerable unemployment amongst the men engaged in the ancillary trades round about the commercial docks.

These are the things we desire—which I think the Government can do for us and which they should do for us pretty quickly. I would ask them that all Government Departments should consider Grimsby and Immingham for the importation of their traffic. To a greater or lesser degree they control the importations and they decide where the cargoes should come in. We wish for our fair share. So far the two ports have been neglected, and we want something done fairly quickly.

Secondly, we wish to know if the Government can do anything to re-start those continental lines that we used to have before the war. Thirdly—and here I feel confident I can appeal to the right hon. Member for Grimsby, we desire the Admiralty to use these two ports as much in peace as they have used them in war. They were very pleased with these ports in the critical days of war, and we do not wish them to neglect them now, because one day they may need them again. We say the Admiralty have not given us the fair share of the peacetime work. Fourthly, can the Government use their influence to get back the Australian Conference Line that would permit Grimsby to be classified as a terminal port?

My last point is that one day we all hope the iron curtain will cease to stop trade between the East and the West—and we all hope that it will happen soon. When it does, trade between Britain and the Baltic and the Eastern countries will have to come in mainly at some eastern ports. When that happy day comes, Immingham and Grimsby ports wish to handle their fair share of the trade. Unless some money is spent on re-equipment, they will not be in a position to do it. It seems the height of folly to be choking Hull with traffic it cannot adequately handle and to keep our two ports only moderately employed. I plead very hard with the Minister to do something for us. After all the promises made to us in the past four or five years, will he please see that something is done—and done soon?

12.18 a.m.

Mr. Kenneth Younger (Grimsby)

I only wish to associate myself with the very strong plea made by the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne), because I wish to give time for the Parliamentary Secretary to reply. I hope he will be able to give some reward to the very many people in Grimsby and Immingham who have shown great interest and activity in this matter over a fairly prolonged period—the civic authorities and the merchant interests, in conjunction with the hon. Member for Louth and myself.

The hon. Member has already mentioned the docks and city of Grimsby, and what he has said is perfectly true; but at the same time we pride ourselves, even in these days, that we are capable of giving a very quick turn-round to ships and of providing facilities, so that we feel we should be fully capable of plying more trade.

I do not want it to be thought that the Executive have proved unco-operative. It is true, however, that not much money has been spent, and a little too often we have heard the argument, "Get the trade and we will then supply the facilities." It is, of course, equally true the other way round, that we will not get the trade until we have the facilities. I hope that the Minister will have something to say about this.

12.20 a.m.

The Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport (Mr. Gurney Braithwaite)

Hon. Members need not apologise for the lateness of the hour when making use of this valuable procedure of the Adjournment to raise constituency problems, particularly when one often has to wait so long to draw a successful place in the Ballot for the purpose.

We all know the interest which my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) has shown in this subject over a period of years. Perhaps the best thing I can do in order to place the situation before the House is to compare the figures of pre-war and post-war inward and outward cargo, treating for this purpose the two ports of Grimsby and Immingham as a unit. The figures which I give are expressed in millions of tons. I am excluding fish for the purpose of this category, because, of course, Grimsby remains the premier fishing port of the country.

In 1938, the total cargoes handled in the two ports were 4.2 million tons, of which coal provided 2.9 and other cargo 1.3 million tons. Last year, the total was 3.7, of which coal provided 1.9 and other cargo 1.8. Both my hon. Friend and the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Grimsby (Mr. Younger) will see that fluctuations in activity have been almost entirely a reflection of coal movements. The trade other than coal has improved since the war and is, in fact, now actually above the pre-war level.

I am glad to inform the House that the figures for 1952 up to date are considerably more encouraging. In the first 36 weeks of this year, up to 7th September, cargo handled at the two ports was some 60 per cent. above the total for the corresponding period of 1951. This increase, in which both ports have shared, has come about mainly through increased shipments of coal, which have more than doubled, from 1,110,000 tons to 2,280,000 tons. Moreover, trade other than coal has also improved, being 1,150,000 tons in the first 36 weeks of 1951 and 1,310,000 tons in the same period of this year, or an increase of 14 per cent.

I must, however, make this qualification, and I am sure that the right hon. Member for Grimsby will be the first to be seized of it. While both Grimsby and Immingham shared in the coal increase, the increase in cargoes other than coal has been concentrated upon Immingham. Here I would quote the report of the Ports Efficiency Committee, which has just been published and which says: In the last resort the amount of trade passing through a particular port is dictated neither by the port authority nor by the shipowner, both of whom are, in this respect, servants of the trading interest. So far as Grimsby is concerned, the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive have urged the National Coal Board to make use of this port as much as possible with vessels of up to 2,000 tons, which it can accommodate, and already more coal has been shipped in 1952, in the 36 weeks which I have quoted, than in the whole of 1951.

The British Transport Commission have reviewed on many occasions with the Associated Humber Lines the question of providing sailings from Grimsby to the Continent, to which my hon. Friend referred. Investigations have shown, however, that the volume of trade which importers and exporters would make available would be seriously insufficient to justify this venture.

On the other hand, as my hon. Friend and, doubtless, the right hon. Gentleman know, a deputation from Grimsby attended the Ministry of Food in July, and the Director of Transport in that Department visited the port in August. He is still investigating the possibility of greater use being made of Grimsby for the importation of foodstuffs, primarily from Denmark—for instance, eggs, butter and bacon.

The Australian Conference Lines, to which my hon. Friend also referred, use Hull and Middlesbrough on the northeast coast, and their experience shows that this caters for the regular traffic which offers. Grimsby could not, in any case, accommodate the large liners used in this trade. My hon. Friend will, however, be interested to learn that the Admiralty have suggested to Grimsby the possi- bility of using certain wharves for the berthing of ships of the Reserve Fleet.

This is now under consideration locally. It would enable vessels of this type to lie alongside instead of out in the stream at various ports in different parts of the country. My hon. Friend the Member for Louth referred to congestion at Hull, and asked if some of the cargoes could be brought to other ports. It is true that, during the summer, there has been some congestion at Hull, and it has reflected, in part, the difficulty of handling grain ships at a time when grain storage throughout the country was full. The Ports Efficiency Committee Report refers to this problem, and makes certain recommendations towards preventing its recurrence.

The Ministry of Food was, of course, aware of the Hull position, but, unfortunately, storage space at Immingham was also unable to accept full cargoes. Some of the grain ships had to be discharged into barges, and the grain in the barges was then landed at various ports including Immingham for bagging and storage inland.

I now turn to the situation at Immingham. The Australian Conference ships, to which I referred a moment ago, are at present making special calls at Immingham to load large consignments of prefabricated houses, and this is a new and welcome form of cargo for export. The dry dock is on land leased to a private firm of ship repairers, the Humber Dock and Engineering Company, Ltd., and discussions are now taking place between them and the Docks and Inland Waterways Executive on proposals for widening the dock.

An expenditure of £15,000 has recently been authorised for re-surfacing No. 1 Transit Shed and the adjoining quay, while the position at other berths is under review. The Docks Executive is in close touch with the National Coal Board regarding future exports through Immingham, and has under investigation schemes for providing additional appliances as the need arises, and for modernising present equipment.

The question of increasing the number of discharging berths, the increase of suitable grab facilities, the improving of wheat discharging facilities, and the renewal of cranes, are inter-related subjects. The Transport Commission considers that the first step is not to provide new berths so much as to improve facilities already existing.

As my hon. Friend is aware, and as he reminded us, it was decided some time ago to order four 10-ton electric portable cranes fitted for grab working at a cost of about £135,000. I am glad to be able to tell him that delivery of the first of these is expected next month, while the fourth and last should arrive in May, 1953, unless unforeseen circumstances arise. Further stages of re-craning will be considered.

I would emphasise that the Docks Executive is doing its best to stress to liner companies the facilities available at Immingham and they are being improved as rapidly as possible—witness the arrival of the new cranes, the improvement of quay surfaces, and the prospective modernisation of coal-loading equipment.

I am sure the House is grateful to the hon. Member for raising this important question and I hope he will feel able to report to his constituents that since November, 1951, considerable progress has been made in re-equipping the ports. He has certainly played a leading part in keeping the problem before Her Majesty's Government and its predecessors.

Mr. Osborne

The £135,000 at Immingham and Grimsby compares with £4 million which is to be spent this year at Hull. Why cannot we have a comparable amount spent on the south side of the river?

Mr. Braithwaite

There are the cranes and my hon. Friend should be grateful for that, apart from the other things. The reason so much more is being spent at Hull is that it was badly blitzed.

Mr. Osborne

But that has been repaired.

Adjourned accordingly at Twenty-nine Minutes past Twelve o'Clock a.m.