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Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:21 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Steve Reed Steve Reed Shadow Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government 1:21 pm, 24th June 2020

I would like to make a little progress, because an awful lot of Members—not just in the Chamber, but elsewhere—would like to contribute to the debate.

The Secretary of State admitted last week that he was fully aware that his decision helped Mr Desmond avoid these charges. Why was it so important that this decision was rushed through on 14 January rather than, say, a day later or a week later? He has given no compelling reason for that, so suspicion arises that he was trying to do favours for a Conservative party donor.

The Secretary of State’s own advisers from his Department believed the scheme was viable with the higher level of affordable housing, so on what specific grounds did he overrule professionals with relevant experience that far outweighs his own? Without a credible answer, the suspicion arises once again that the Secretary of State was bending over backwards to do favours for his billionaire dinner date.

Barely two weeks after the Secretary of State forced the scheme through, in the teeth of opposition from his own advisers and the local council, the beneficiary, Mr Desmond, made a donation to the Conservative party— what an astonishing coincidence! The Secretary of State can see, as we all can, how that looks: cash for favours—mates’ rates on taxes for Tories that everyone else has to pay in full. Do this Government really believe that taxes are just for the little people? No one will believe a word they say on levelling up until the Secretary of State levels with the British people over why he helped a billionaire dodge millions of pounds in tax after they enjoyed dinner together at an exclusive Conservative party fundraising event.