HC Deb 07 March 1955 vol 538 cc116-24

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—[Mr. T. G. D. Galbraith.]

7.58 p.m.

Mr. Cyril Osborne (Louth)

I wish to raise a matter which affects my constituency to a very considerable extent. If I can get a satisfactory answer from the Minister it will compensate me in some degree for the vast open spaces to which I am compelled to talk tonight. It would surprise our constituents if they knew how, in the Mother of Parliaments, matters which vitally affect themselves seem to pass with very little interest.

My questions relate to the Immingham—Grimsby Electric Railway. In the last year or so I have received many com plaints from my constituents as to its working. This railway was built before 1914. It is interesting to remember that it was built to connect the Port of Grimsby with the new Port of Immingham, and to note how conditions have changed since those days. The Port of Immingham was built largely so that we could export coal to the Baltic areas that was being produced in Nottinghamshire and South Yorkshire. Today, it is being used for the import of coal, largely from America. It is astonishing how things have changed since this little port was first conceived and since this tiny railway was laid down. It was laid down to bring labour from Grimsby, where labour was plentiful, to what was then only a riverside village where a great port had been built.

Now the railway is obsolete, inefficient and dangerous. The track and carriages are forty years old. They are not merely antiquated, but they look like Heath Robinson inventions that have been neglected. I ask my hon. Friend, on behalf of my constituents, who are compelled to use this rickety, rackety affair, either to scrap it or to bring it up to date.

The track is only about six miles long, and 80 per cent, of it consists of a single track with a series of loops. However, it takes 25 minutes to journey along those six miles, and that is far too slow for modern times. The extraordinary thing is that if the electric trams were to be run any faster they would roll off the track. They were not built for the job. In the last twenty or thirty years this rail way has been so neglected as to have be come a danger to those who use it, and that is why I appeal to my hon. Friend either to scrap it or to mend it.

The total carrying capacity of all the trams is not more than 800 or 900 per sons, and yet at the peak hours in the morning and, at night, between 2,000 and 3,000 people, mostly male workers, want to get from Immingham to Grimsby, or the other way. So it will be seen from these figures alone that this little old rail way, which may have satisfied the local needs in 1912 when it was built, is no longer adequate. I would remind my hon. Friend that in the village of Immingham, which is in my constituency, there are about 2,500 people who would like to be able to travel easily between the village and the town.

My plea is emphasised by the fact that between Immingham and Grimsby there is no direct road. The people who want to go by road have to take a twisty, in-and-out sort of way, and have to travel 11 miles, whereas the two places are only five miles apart, and I know from my personal experience, at General Elections, for instance, that to go about from village to village by that road is highly dangerous, especially if there is a little fog. For many years there has been an argument about the building of a direct road.

The urgency of this problem has been made all the greater because, since the end of the war, on those five miles of the Humber bank, there has been developed a new and important industrial site. As the years go by that industrial site will grow and compare with the great industrial areas of London, Liverpool, or Clyde-side. Already, five or six great chemical companies have built on the site modern factories employing hundreds of men.

Although some of the workpeople come from the villages round about, most of them come from Grimsby and Cleethorpes at either end of this Heath Robinson railway, and the building of those factories has made a new problem for this little old railway. The factories tend to open and close all at the same hour, so there is a peak rush hour with which the little railway is quite unable to cope. Thanks to its re-equipment, which, we hope, will be carried even farther, the Port of Immingham itself has grown in importance. About 1,200 or 1,300 British Transport employees travel along this rail way daily in consequence.

Even if this little railway were as good as it was when it was established in 1912 it would still be totally inadequate to deal with the increased burden that has been put upon it. It is a danger to ride on it at times. I am told that at the peak hours the little coaches are packed to suffocation, and that there are far more people standing in them than ought to stand in them. Some years ago half a dozen extra coaches were purchased to help to solve the problem of the rush hours, but they were "throw-outs" from Gateshead, and were not built for this track; and when the wind is blowing fiercely from the sea, it becomes quite an adventure to travel in them.

Therefore, a temptation has grown, naturally enough, among the workers who use that railway, and who are employed in some of the new factories. The temptation is to go to work a little late, and to get away a little early, with the object of getting a place on a tram. Consequently, the private companies that are providing good jobs and good wages in the district, jobs and wages I very much want to be retained for my constituents, have had themselves to organise transport, by private buses, cars and taxis, to carry their people, especially their experienced staff, from the rather isolated places to the town. They have had to do so to keep their employees.

The present track and facilities are utterly inadequate, and the position will get worse—very much worse. The latest great corporation to start building in this area is Courtaulds, which has started building a huge factory on 500 acres and which will employ a great many people. There are two or three other companies that are considering building in that area. Unless something is done this railway will break down completely under sheer weight of numbers. I ask my hon. Friend what he can do about it.

The long-term policy for him is this. He has either to agree to spend a lot of money in building a direct road, which may cost many millions, and which, I think, would be the ideal solution because it would provide the workpeople with modern buses and generally much better transport facilities; or he has to spend some money in putting down a double track on the railway, and on putting on better coaches and providing a better system altogether for the increasing number of people who want to use it.

In my constituency and in the Grimsby area we feel that this is part of a bigger problem. There are people who feel that we are, as it were, the poor relations in the transport family. We have heard of millions of money being spent north of the Humber on re-equipment. We wish good luck to Hull, but we feel at times a little envious. We read of millions being spent on the docklands of London, Liverpool, and the Clyde, but, in our part of the country, we feel that we have been neglected. I should like my hon. Friend to make a note of this and to see what can be done to help both ports. We feel we have not had our fair share of the good things going by way of capital equipment and capital expenditure.

I have discussed this matter with the local government representatives, and I am told that the question of the direct road has been discussed with successive Ministries of Transport since 1923. Thirty-two years is a long time to wait for a favourable answer, and I do not want my hon. Friend to tell me that the matter is under active consideration. I would like a decision, and I would like it in three months. I think three months, after waiting for 32 years, is fair.

At one time there was disagreement among the three local authorities concerned about the problem of building the new direct road. The Lindsey County Council, the Grimsby Rural District Council, through whose area the road must run, and the Grimsby Borough Council, who are much affected by it, did not always see eye to eye as to what should be done, but I understand that they have now come to a large measure of agreement, and I believe that before long a deputation, representing the three local authorities, will be calling upon the Minister of Transport.

When that deputation arrives 1 would like the Minister to give a straight, un equivocal answer. If he can afford the money to build the direct road, I want him to say so. I want him to find the money so that a start may be made straightaway. It is no good the Minister saying that he agrees that a road should be built, and then finding, as they say in Yorkshire, that he has got no "brass" to do it. The Minister must find the money. If, on the other hand, he says "No, we cannot see our way to doing this. There are far too many calls upon the money and you will have to wait," obviously he must do something to put this tiny railway in proper working order.

Unless there is better transport, this wonderful industrial site will not be developed as it ought to be. I do not like to say this, but it looks as though the fishing industry in the Grimsby area will not be as important to the area in the future as it has been in the past. Therefore, unless the Grimsby area is to become a semi-depressed area, we must encourage new industries to go there.

The place for them to go is on this extraordinarily fine site south of the Humber between Immingham and Grimsby, but there is no way to get to this place without going through three or four villages and winding in and out like a drunken man might do on a Saturday night. If it is to be developed as it should be, then we have got to have either a better electric railway or a new road.

I beg of my hon. Friend to do what he can to help us, because we have waited long enough. We believe that we have not had a fair share of the good things which have gone to the port areas since the end of the war. I beg of him not to think that we are too small as com pared with the other great port areas, because the day may come when Immingham will be wanted very much for strategic purposes. Many people say that this is the finest deep sea port on the east coast. It is available to big vessels at all tides. But it is no good having a first-class port there, even with the new equipment which we have been promised, unless there is access to and from that port.

Therefore, on behalf of my constituents who are keenly affected by this matter, I beg my hon. Friend to promise that an answer will be given one way or the other about the building of the road. If the answer is "Yes," will he promise to find the money, and will he also promise that a start on building it will be made within twelve months? If, on the other hand, my hon. Friend says that he cannot find the money and cannot make these promises, I beg him to do something to improve the transport for the sake of the men and women who work in that area and who, on nights like this, are some times left by the track side in the bitterly cold east winds which come in from the North Sea.

8.6 p.m.

The Joint Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Transport and Civil Aviation (Mr. Hugh Molson)

I think that anyone who has listened to the speech of my hon. Friend the Member for Louth (Mr. Osborne) will agree that he has established his point that the communications between Grimsby and Immingham at present are not satisfactory.

Immingham I know to be a modern port, which has special advantages because of the deep water which enables even large ships to enter. I agree with my hon. Friend that although the original purpose for which it was built, the export of coal, has now unfortunately greatly declined, it is now important as a port for the importation of iron ore, timber and grain. Therefore, there is no question that Immingham is an important port, and we should naturally like there to be satisfactory communications between it and Grimsby.

Although development has taken place between Grimsby and Immingham, it is still the case that there are comparatively few houses actually at the port of Immingham, and therefore it is necessary for the vast majority of those who work in the port or in the factories which have been built in the vicinity to travel there in the morning and back home again in the evening.

My hon. Friend has raised the question whether there should be a new direct road built between Immingham and Grimsby. The existing road is a class I road, No. A. 1136. He is asking me whether I can give an undertaking that a new direct road will shortly be constructed between those two towns. My hon. Friend, I know, will hardly suggest that a road in tended for this special purpose which he has described should be a trunk road. It would obviously be a classified road, and therefore the responsibility for taking the initiative in this matter rests with the local authorities.

It is not merely 30 years ago that this road was first discussed. It was in 1914, or more than 40 years ago. But down to the present time the two local authorities concerned have not been in agreement. The two local authorities are the Lindsey County Council and the Grimsby County Borough Council. I am glad to say that a technical meeting was held in February between the borough engineer and the county surveyor at which our divisional road engineer was present, and I under stand that at that meeting agreement was reached that the road should be mainly on the west side of the railway, except at its southern end. The technical officers have reported back to their councils, but we have heard nothing of the matter officially since then.

The Lindsey County Council has in formed us of the programme of work which it would like to undertake during the next few years, and no proposal for any road of this kind appears in that programme. I am, therefore, bound to say that I shall be surprised if we hear from the Lindsey County Council that it now desires to give that road priority over the many other road works which it regards as urgently important.

I am also bound to say that, although we should naturally give careful consideration to any scheme which the county council puts forward, there is at present so great a backlog of work to be under taken, after the passing of no fewer than 16 years with very little in the way of road works being done, that I do not think it is at all likely, to say the least of it, that if this road were proposed we could authorise it in the near future. I feel reasonably sure that we are already too deeply committed in respect of the grants available for the finance to be provided.

I would also remind my hon. Friend that the alignment of the road has not yet been decided, so far as I know. If it has been agreed upon, at any rate no preliminary work has been done on the acquisition of land, and that inevitably takes a considerable time.

Mr. Osborne

I should like to correct my hon. Friend on one point, if I may. He said that two authorities were concerned. In fact, there are three; there is also the Grimsby Rural District Council, through whose area the proposed road will have to run. I have a letter from the clerk of the rural district council, dated 3rd March, which reads: The position at the moment as to the direct road between Immingham and Grimsby is that the County Council, the County Borough of Grimsby and this Council have all agreed in principle as to the necessity for a direct road. As soon as certain facts and data have been prepared, it is intended to meet the Minister of Transport or his representative in London.

Mr. Molson

I am very interested to hear that. All we knew was that agreement had been reached last month, but since then we have received no official information. I would point out to my hon. Friend that when it is agreed to undertake a road, it almost invariably takes two to three years before the land can be acquired and before work can be started. I should also repeat my words of caution that we are already deeply committed financially in many other schemes in the County of Lindsey.

My hon. Friend also referred to the existing electric railway. He pointed out that it is only a single-line railway, and I understand that it is almost of the nature of a tram track. It is certainly a matter for careful consideration whether it would not be cheaper, speedier and more satisfactory if this line were modernised in order to deal with the increased traffic. I do not think it is at all likely, however, that the British Transport Commission would agree to spend money upon that if there were any likelihood that at any time in the foreseeable future a road would be built which would be in direct competition with the railway.

I therefore agree with my hon. Friend that we must regard this as being a choice between alternative ways of improving the communications. There is not, and is not likely to be, any great demand for the conveyance of goods between these two seaport towns. It is a natural state of affairs in ports that the goods traffic should be inward and outward and not along the coast. It may well be, therefore, that the modernisation of this line, with multiple-unit diesels or with electrification or in some other way, would enable this problem of passenger transportation between Immingham and Grimsby to be solved.

I am not able to say anything definite upon the subject tonight. I think that my hon. Friend has performed a most useful service both to industry and his constituents tonight. I have indicated what I believe is the case, that it is a choice between the two ways of improving communications. I will certainly make sure that the British Transport Commission is informed of what has been said by my hon. Friend. At the Ministry of Transport we shall certainly do what we can to expedite a decision on what should be done to meet what I admit to be an unsatisfactory state of affairs.

Mr. Osborne

I appreciate the difficulty of my hon. Friend in not being able to give an answer tonight. Without being unfair, I hope, may I ask for an undertaking that within three months, if I come to him again, he will give me a definite answer, either about the road or the railway?

Mr. Molson

Really, that is quite impossible. I do not think that my hon. Friend has fully understood what I have said. In the case of a classified road, the initiative rests with the local authorities; in the matter of the modernisation of a railway the decision rests with the British Transport Commission. Until the Commission knows whether or not a road is likely to be built I do not feel that it would be able to come to a decision. I shall do what I can to make certain that the two different forms of transport are considered in comparison with each other, and that a decision is expedited as much as possible.

Adjourned accordingly at eighteen minutes past Eight o'clock.