Is my hon. Friend aware of the concern in south-east Essex following weekend press comment that the Fenchurch Street line may be subject to closure in the future for safety reasons? Will my hon. Friend comment on that, and guarantee that the £50 million made available to British Rail to invest new signalling on the Fenchurch Street line will be ring-fenced? Will my hon. Friend meet me at Benfleet station in December to discuss all those and many other problems on the Fenchurch Street line?
The press speculation is entirely incorrect. I have spoken to the chairman of British Rail, who has confirmed that the investment in signalling on the line has been approved. British Rail is now negotiating with the contractor chosen to install the signalling to ensure that the best possible terms are included in the contract, but there is no doubt that the work will proceed.
Is the Minister aware that British Rail has made it clear that it will be able to undertake only repairs as opposed to major renewal schemes? Is he prepared to state that the report that he is to receive will be published quickly so that the general public can assess the accuracy of his chaotic plans for privatisation?
British Rail will have the capacity to invest about £1,000 million next year—which will include investment in safety work—following this year's higher figure, which includes preparations for the channel tunnel.
We have heard that investment in British Rail is reaching a record level. Will my hon. Friend pass on to British Rail a message from the travelling public that they want the money to be spent on improvement in services? Will he tell British Rail that passengers are tired of hearing about British Rail's campaign for yet more funds and feel that, instead of holding out the begging bowl, BR should face up to the challenge offered by privatisation? Only then can the British public be given the real service that they deserve.
The Government have always accepted that investment constitutes one contribution to the improvement of service. That improvement can be seen on the Chiltern and Northampton lines, and will shortly be seen on the Kent link line. On Wednesday, with several other hon. Members, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I will be helping to launch the Kent link service officially. It is to receive £700 million of investment. As for management effort, the citizens charter has made a difference on Network SouthEast. I agree with what my hon. Friend has said.
Will the Minister now admit that the timetable for this unwanted and unworkable privatisation is in tatters? This country's financial settlement will lead British Rail to close stretches of track on safety grounds because it cannot meet the capital costs; on the other side of the channel, the French Government have just announced a grant of £4 billion for SNCF in the coming year—almost three times the British figure. Which Government have their priorities right? Should the priority be unwanted, unworkable privatisation, or decent investment in a safe public railway system?
I welcome the hon. Gentleman to his new post. Sadly, however, he always seems to devalue the strength of his argument by exaggeration.
My right hon. Friend's introduction of a railways Bill clearly depends on the early passage of the paving Bill. I think that all hon. Members would accept that, as a courtesy to the House.