Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:18 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Alex Sobel Alex Sobel Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:18 pm, 24th June 2020

No, I will not give way. We have very limited time in this debate.

Mr Desmond added:

“It’s quite long, so he got the gist.”

It is somewhat ironic that Mr Desmond’s autobiography is called “The Real Deal”, as he certainly tried to get the real deal from the Secretary of State.

The advertised prizes on the night of the dinner included a dinner with Michael Gove and Sarah Vine; a flight in a Lancaster bomber with the Secretary State for Transport; a trip to a Tory donor’s house, with shooting opportunities; and a night out with a former Prime Minister—although whether or not she would be wearing kitten heels was not revealed. The prize of a planning decision from the Secretary of State was not advertised.

Mr Desmond challenged the Secretary of State’s claim just two days ago that he did not discuss the decision in any way at the £900 dinner. Just two days ago, the Secretary of State was saying that he did not discuss it, and he has now admitted that he did and that he watched the video. He has backtracked on all his claims.

At the time of the decision, on 14 January, the Secretary of State overruled his officials to approve the scheme. We now know that two weeks later Mr Desmond deposited a £12,000 donation to the Conservative party. That is a bit cheap for a man reportedly worth between £1 billion and £2 billion. The Conservative party fundraising team should try a little harder in future. Tony Blair managed to get £100,000 from Mr Desmond 20 years ago, and six years ago UKIP got £300,000 from Mr Desmond, so Conservative Members might be ruing lost income.

Of course, the real saving for Mr Desmond was the fact that the decision was approved just a day before the council approved the CIL. I take on board the Secretary of State’s view on that, but that CIL still would have bought three high schools, 10 new libraries, 50 new pocket parks or 200 new pedestrian bridges for one of the poorest authorities in the country. That is the cost of such decisions.

I was a councillor for six years. If the chair of my council’s planning committee had done what the Secretary did, he or she would have been referred to standards for a serious breach. That is what we are now facing, and the Secretary of State knows it. He knows that he has not acted with propriety or honour. He should recuse himself and there should be a full investigation on standards, because it is clear that there is a question as to whether he broke the ministerial code.