Given the shambles since November on the Euston-Coventry-Birmingham line, and in view of what happened today, will the Minister give an undertaking that he will speed up the modernisation proposals, that he will investigate what has been happening on that line since November and that he will abandon the privatisation proposals? Although the staff give of their best, they are demoralised by the privatisation proposals and, consequently, the railway line between Euston and Birmingham is a shambles.
The hon. Gentleman's comments about the effects of privatisation are total rubbish. However, I shall reflect on what he has said about the problems on the line to which he referred.
Will my hon. Friend ensure that there is an urgent examination of the west coast main line? Is he aware that many of us would like to use it regularly but do not because it is so unreliable? I happened to use it this morning for the first time in months and I was delayed by two hours. There was total chaos. It is a wholly unacceptable position.
My hon. Friend will be pleased to know that the upgrading of the west coast main line is probably the biggest of the upgrading projects being considered. The first phase project study was completed in December. A couple of weeks ago, I announced that the Government had given approval for the letting of the contract for the development of a new signalling system, which is at the heart of the upgrading proposals. The release of funds that will follow will provide funding for the core investment programme that the line most urgently requires.
Is the Minister aware that whenever Members of Parliament raise questions about services at risk, especially services to the peripheral, more remote areas—for example, sleeper services—Railtrack or the franchising director says that their future is a political decision? Does the hon. Gentleman accept that the buck must eventually stop with the Department of Transport in respect of those services and the costings on which their future is to be based?
Does the Minister agree with the announcement by the director of Railtrack Scotland that should the sleeper services be axed in any part of the country, that would reflect badly on and tarnish the privatisation exercise?
The hon. Gentleman should stop arousing unnecessary fears in the minds of his constituents and those of hon. Members who represent Scotland. He well knows that sleeper services to the west country and to Scotland will be safeguarded, for the very first time, by their inclusion in passenger service requirements.
Will my hon. Friend remind those scaremongers who complain about the potential consequences of privatisation that wherever industry has been privatised, that has resulted in much greater investment and much better quality of service? That will be as true with the railways as it is elsewhere.
Does it not show the Government's priorities that they still refuse to fund a penny of the £1 billion required for the desperately needed modernisation of the west coast main line, while at the same time they are quite prepared to shell out £5 billion sweeteners in debt write-offs and capital allowances to ease the privatisation of the railways? Is it not absolutely clear that the Government are far more interested in funding their dogma than in providing higher-quality services for passengers?
What it shows is that the hon. Gentleman does not think that any investment is worth while unless it is paid for by taxpayers. The first stage of the upgrading of the west coast main line can be funded in the private sector, so I find no reason why he continues to argue that taxpayers should pay for the upgrading. It can be funded without dipping into taxpayers' pockets.