Robert Jenrick said he was “confident that all the rules were followed” when he approved a controversial property scheme two weeks before the developer donated £12,000 to the Tories.
The Housing Secretary faced awkward questions today over his approval of a £1bn property scheme led by former Daily Express owner Richard Desmond’s Northern and Shell firm.
The Secretary of State has been under fire over the Westferry Printworks development, which includes plans for 1,500 homes on the Isle of Dogs in east London.
Mr Jenrick told the Commons: “I took that decision in good faith with an open mind. And I’m confident, confident that all the rules were followed in doing so.”
He made the comments during his departmental questions session in response to Labour’s shadow housing secretary Steve Reed who accused him of being caught up in a “cash for favours” row “that now reaches inside Number 10 Downing Street”.
Mr Reed called on the Secretary of State to make a full Commons statement, publish all correspondence and “disclose all conversations with all Government ministers and officials”.
Mr Jenrick approved the scheme one day before the local council was due to vote on changes to a community charge that would have cost the developer up to £50 million.
Fourteen days after approval, the developer gave the Conservative Party £12,000.
Mr Jenrick has since quashed the decision and admitted he had shown apparent bias in making the ruling in mid-January.
But he told the Commons it was not unusual for a Secretary of State to come to a different conclusion to a local authority and he was taking advice on what further documents can be published relating to the case.
He also said that the Met Police had informed him they would not be investigating allegations connected to the Westferry development.
However, this did not stop the criticism from opposition MPs including SNP’s Tommy Sheppard who described his answers as “entirely unsatisfactory”.
Labour’s Liz Twist asked why he did not immediately recuse himself from taking a decision on the Westferry development instead of “unlawfully trying to force it through” while Sarah Jones asked if he knew a new levy costing the developer tens of millions of pounds extra would come into force the day after he signed planning consent.
Soon after the application was approved, Mr Jenrick sat next to Mr Desmond at a the Tory Party fundraiser at which he is said to have donated £12,000.
Labour’s Ruth Cadbury claimed that a whistleblower in Mr Jenrick’s department had said there was “no record” of a Tory fundraising dinner in official documents, adding: “This is potentially a serious breach of the ministerial code, especially as the Secretary of State himself has just admitted that it is a highly contentious application.
“So will the Secretary of State now confirm when and how he advised the department of this meeting, given the question of bias that this issue raises?”
But Mr Jenrick said he had already told MPs the department was “fully informed” of his attendance at the event, adding: “I discussed with my officials the applicant had raised the matter. Of course I advised the applicant I was not able to discuss it and so I think I’ve answered her question comprehensively.”
Downing Street has said the Prime Minister had “full confidence” in Mr Jenrick and a spokeswoman for the Ministry of Housing has previously denied that there was any “actual bias” in the decision.
A Tory spokeswoman told the Times: “There is no question of any individual influencing party or government policy by virtue of any donations they may give to the party or their attendance at party events.”
Mr Jenrick said a different minister in the department will make the decision on the east London scheme in the future.