Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:13 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 2:13 pm, 24th June 2020

The hon. Lady is right. She refers to her experience in local government. It is clear that anybody in this House who has served as a councillor—I have not—would realise that this is something from which they must absolutely run for the hills and at least flag it to their departmental officials—and, presumably, their political advisers too.

At that stage, without any shadow of a doubt, the Secretary of State’s position was compromised, but he ploughed on regardless. It was, I am afraid, a clear political decision that has directly enriched a Tory party donor and is worryingly close to being a textbook example of cash for favours.

The Conservative party, however, does not appear to care. Let’s face it: why should we hold our breath? This, after all, is the party reportedly nominating Peter Cruddas, a man who resigned from the Conservatives as co-treasurer in 2012 following a cash-for-access scandal, for a peerage. The Conservatives do not seem to see anything problematic about rewarding someone who donated £50,000 to the Prime Minister’s leadership campaign and £3 million to the Tory party since 2007. Why on earth, then, would we expect them to hold the Housing Secretary to higher standards? I think, however, that Opposition Members will.

Transparency is now imperative. It is important that the papers called for in today’s motion are released without delay and without obstruction. I am afraid I do not buy the point made by the Secretary of State that some papers would be published. If the Government want to publish the papers, they will not oppose the motion at four o’clock this afternoon. Anybody who hears Conservative Members yelling “No” tonight will find that there is something seriously to be hidden on their part and I do not think that that is a good look. If the documents released do reveal a direct link between the decision that the Secretary of State made and Mr Desmond’s donation to the Conservatives, then the Secretary of State must demit office.

The Government need to accept that this scandal is not going to go away. We can all quite clearly see, without the need to take a day trip to Barnard Castle, that this episode further damages the credibility of a Government who are losing trust faster than Dominic Cummings can run out of Downing Street to escape for his Durham bolthole. A little over a decade ago, David Cameron said, “We’re all in this together”. Except we’re not, are we? Whether it is rewarding party donors with life peerages, a different set of rules for the Prime Minister’s special adviser or the Westferry Printworks scandal, time and again the Tories are proving that it is one rule for them and one rule for everybody else.