Westferry Printworks Development

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 24th June 2020.

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Photo of Mike Amesbury Mike Amesbury Shadow Minister (Housing, Communities and Local Government) 3:41 pm, 24th June 2020

In this afternoon’s debate, we have heard strong and powerful interventions from parliamentarians, particularly from the Opposition Benches, that were centrally about restoring faith and trust in our planning system. In fact, it is about the integrity and honour of our Ministers and the moral authority of the Government—an authority that has been undermined by the actions of some, which imply that the rules, and in some cases even the laws, do not apply to them. From Dominic Cummings to, seemingly, the Secretary of State, it is a case of do as I say, not as I do.

I thank many of the MPs who have spoken today in defence of the standards required in the ministerial code and an accountable transparent planning system. I thank the shadow Secretary of State, my hon. Friend Steve Reed, for opening the debate. I thank David Linden, my hon. Friend Mr Betts, the Chair of the Select Committee, who spoke eloquently as always, and Mark Eastwood, who gave a personal and touching maiden speech on which I congratulate him. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Ilford North (Wes Streeting), for Poplar and Limehouse (Apsana Begum), for City of Durham (Mary Kelly Foy), for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith), for Sheffield, Hallam (Olivia Blake), for Leeds North West (Alex Sobel), for Stockport (Navendu Mishra), for Nottingham East (Nadia Whittome) and for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones).

I also thank Government Members for their creative attempt to defend the indefensible. At the heart of their argument, the defence of the Secretary of State is that he was merely caught in a timeline of an extraordinary set of coincidences. There was the coincidental seating arrangement at a dinner, with Richard Desmond as well as four senior executives from Northern & Shell and Mace; the coincidence that the Minister was shown a four-minute promotional video for the £1 billion development by the said guests on the table; the planning approval that coincidentally occurred the day before a £50 million levy—I stress: levy—would be charged; and the coincidence that a £12,000 donation was paid into Tory coffers just two weeks later. Just coincidences.

What is not a coincidence—Tory Members skated over this one—but is a fact of the matter is that the Secretary of State overruled the planning inspectorate, was taken to the High Court by Tower Hamlets Council, and has admitted acting unlawfully, with apparent bias. I stress in big bold capital letters: unlawfully, with apparent bias. Fact. What is also a fact is that the Secretary of State has resisted every request and every attempt to disclose all correspondence leading up to this unlawful planning direction, up until this debate today. I know that, as we have been speaking in this debate, the media have been well briefed about what is going their way. If the Minister had nothing to hide, he knew what to do, and he has had weeks to do it, so why wait until now and go through all this pain and grief and claim that these are cheap political points? Unlawful. Broke the law.

At least we know now, unlike when I first called for an investigation by the Cabinet Secretary, that Mr Desmond donated to the Minister’s party after his application was approved. We know that the Minister watched a video all about the development at a fundraising dinner. In fact, Richard Desmond has been quoted by Opposition Members as saying, “He got the gist after three or four minutes.” Those were his words, not those of Labour or Scottish National party Members. The Secretary of State not only saved Mr Desmond £50 million in money that would have gone into community development by approving the application when he did—