Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:58 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Mary Foy Mary Foy Labour, City of Durham 2:58 pm, 24th June 2020

There seems to be to be a bit of a theme developing here. The Government seem to think that the rules that apply to everyone else do not apply to them. First, we had the Prime Minister’s chief adviser flouting the lockdown rules that he himself helped to create, and now we have the Housing Secretary seemingly deciding that planning regulations are flexible—as long as it is your friend asking and he has a spare £12,000.

I welcome the fact that we are having this debate, because, as they say and as we have heard, sunlight is the best disinfectant. Accountability should be at the heart of this place, but, sadly, it is often lacking. With that in mind, it was a shame that the Secretary of State refused to submit himself to parliamentary scrutiny the other week. Whether a Government have a majority of eight—[Interruption.] It is a shame that he did not present himself for scrutiny the other week when it was an issue—the issue was raised. Whether the Government have a majority of eight or 80, the same scrutiny should apply.

To me, and in the minds of many of my constituents, it is clear what has happened here. Two influential figures in the Conservative party have gone out of their way to approve a development project, headed by a Conservative party donor, that blatantly broke regulation and was strongly opposed by the local authority. Following that, the same developer made a £12,000 cash donation to the Conservative party, before the Secretary of State admitted an apparent bias and that he knew he was saving the developer millions. Whatever else we call that, it is clearly morally wrong.

The legalities are one thing, but this is also about local democracy, and I want to talk about who the Secretary of State was really short-changing: the people of Tower Hamlets. As someone who has served as a councillor for 14 years and who knows the hard work that the desperately underfunded county council does in Durham, I know the importance of that money to local authorities. I also know the importance and value of social housing.