Westferry Printworks Development

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 respect the right hon. Gentleman’s experience in those matters, and of course there may well have been a need to move at speed. It is not so much the speed I am concerned about as what happened during that timeframe.

Westferry is not the only example of that kind of behaviour by the Secretary of State. Similar allegations were reported yesterday in The Times about a case in Surrey. There are fresh allegations just today that when Westminster City Council’s planning officers twice recommended refusal of the Secretary of State’s plans to refurbish his London home, Conservative councillors called it in and overruled their own officials for him, but, to my knowledge, nothing about that relationship was disclosed in any register of interests.

Westferry is not a one-off. It is part of a pattern of behaviour, and the questions do not stop with the Secretary of State. They reach right into No. 10 Downing Street to the Prime Minister. In his final days as Mayor of London, the Prime Minister pushed through an earlier version of the same development. He was photographed at numerous convivial meetings with Mr Desmond, but No. 10 has refused to answer perfectly legitimate questions about whether and how often the Prime Minister has met Mr Desmond since he took office and whether they discussed the scheme. We need to know.

Will the Secretary of State tell us whether any other Ministers or their officials contacted him about the scheme before he took his unlawful decision? Did he disclose those contacts to his officials as he is required to do? Honesty is the best disinfectant for the very bad smell that hangs around this decision. Today, the credibility of the planning system and of this Secretary of State hangs in the balance. We cannot allow the planning system to be auctioned off at Conservative party fundraising dinners. There cannot be one rule for the Conservatives and their billionaire donors, and another rule for everyone else. So I say to the Secretary of State: it is time to come clean. Publish the documents. Let us see what he was really up to and let us see if we are staring into a new era of Tory sleaze.