I will not give way any more, because I have had 11 minutes and have some way to go and other hon. Members will want to speak. I am sorry.
In February, Porterbrook reached an agreement to transfer nine Class 170 trains from TransPennine to Chiltern Railways, as I said, where they will be used on new services between Oxford and London. I am informed that the DFT was kept completely in touch with these negotiations and therefore, I assume, so were Ministers. It is vital that the House be informed of who knew what and when. Indeed, I echo the questions asked by the esteemed Chair of the Transport Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman). Who decided to transfer the trains away from TransPennine? When did DFT officials first learn of the proposal? When were Ministers informed of the proposal? The trains concerned currently run on routes from Manchester to Cleethorpes, Hull and York, taking in Sheffield and a large part of south Yorkshire. They are modern trains built between 1998 and 2005.
The rail industry press is reporting that Northern Rail’s older Class 158s could be transferred on to TransPennine routes as replacement stock. If these stories are correct, the logical consequence will be a problem passed on ultimately to Northern Rail, which is already short of diesel-powered trains.
The other logical consequence of delayed franchising and the rush to privatise the east coast main line is that commercial imperatives encourage rolling stock companies, such as Porterbrook, to distribute their stock to train operating companies that can offer deals over a longer period. Hence Porterbrook signed a lease with Chiltern Railways in February, with the full agreement of the Department for Transport. I have had that in writing. This was confirmed in correspondence between Chiltern Railways and the DFT.
It is accepted that First TransPennine Express tried to negotiate with Porterbrook to prevent the trains from being transferred and leased to Chiltern Railways, but it is also accepted by First TransPennine Express that it could not enter into a new lease, because of the short period left before its franchising agreement expires.
The Minister has questions to answer. First, with these matters in mind, can he, today, offer a cast-iron guarantee that no passenger service will be downgraded or withdrawn, even temporarily, as a result of transferring these Class 170 Turbostar trains to Chiltern Railways? Will the Minister also confirm or deny the press reports that the Department is considering transferring Northern Rail’s Class 158s to the TransPennine franchise to plug the gap? After last week’s Prime Minister’s questions, when the Prime Minister said that he “will look carefully” at this issue, will the Minister tell me what progress has been made on resolving it, given that commitment from No. 10? Why does not the Minister just put our minds at rest by using powers under section 54 of the Railways Act 1993, which enable him, apparently, to secure the continued presence of the rolling stock in question on TransPennine services?
TransPennine runs some of the most overcrowded services in the country, as my hon. Friends have said. The franchisee itself has warned that, from May 2014 to the end of the current franchise term, it will require all its existing fleets to be able to deliver the significant capacity increase that it has committed to provide, and the same number of vehicles will be required to sustain the same level of service into the new franchise from April 2015. Let us not forget the other part of the equation, Northern Rail, which serves, as the name suggests, much of the rail needs of the north of England and which is also threatened, as I have explained, as a direct consequence of any loss of TransPennine trains.