I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
This short Bill serves a vital purpose. It ensures that the undertaking that this Government have given, supported by the official Opposition and all parties in this House, is honoured, and that a fitting, Government-led national memorial and learning centre to honour the 6 million who died in the holocaust is established in a suitable, prominent centre at the heart of our capital city.
I know that everyone in this House recognises that the holocaust was a unique evil. Genocide—the greatest crime that humanity can inflict on other human beings—has been a dark feature of our shared history since the dawn of time, but the holocaust stands out in scale and in horror. It was a unique desire on the part of a nation to wipe out an entire people. Mechanised cruelty executed on a scale that could never have been imagined beforehand meant that, from the Pyrenees to the Urals, the Nazi war machine was bent on the elimination of an entire race. I think all of us, whatever our views on the Bill and all of the inevitable details that follow in making sure that an appropriate memorial is sited, will share a desire to ensure that the commitment “Never again” is in all our hearts.
I fully concur with what my right hon. Friend has just said, and I am fully supportive of a national holocaust memorial, but the reason I will not be supporting the Government in the passing of this Bill this evening—if it is passed—is that there appears to have been a complete lack of public consultation. Westminster City Council was against it, and it seems to me as though this has been imposed from above by Government. That is not what we do in this country: we need a much wider consultation. That is why many prominent Jews, including Malcolm Rifkind, former rabbis and so forth, have signed the open letter arguing against the siting of the memorial in Victoria Tower gardens.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. There has been controversy and there has been opposition to the site of the memorial, but it is only fair to say that the decision to site it in Victoria Tower gardens has followed consultation. There was extensive consultation on this project, starting with Prime Minister David Cameron’s holocaust commission in 2014, which received almost 2,500 responses. Following the announcement in January 2016 that Victoria Tower gardens had been identified as the most fitting site, an international design competition was then held to select a suitable design team.
I do not put this as a point of argument, but as something that I hope my right hon. Friend is aware of: when the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation put out its specification in September 2015—a copy of which, I think, is available to my right hon. Friend—it said that it wanted various criteria to be taken into account, including a possible location in central London, which on page 10 of the specification is illustrated as west of Regent’s Park, east of Spitalfields and down from the Imperial War Museum. In the four or five months between September 2015 and January 2016, there was no public consultation about the site at all. I do not want my right hon. Friend to feel that he needs to answer that point now, but if he could say before the end of the debate what consultation there was between September 2015 and January 2016, that might be helpful to the House.
The consultation was undertaken after the announcement of the winning design, and from January to September 2017 the public were invited to comment on the shortlisted designs, which were exhibited in Parliament and across the United Kingdom. Of course, as the Father of the House will know, there was a planning inquiry, and during that inquiry extensive material about the memorial and the learning centre was published and shared. Interested parties were given an opportunity to raise concerns and objections, and objectors had the opportunity to make their case to the independent planning inspector at that point.
However, I stress that the decision on the site was not taken by Government Ministers, and—in respect of the understandable concerns raised by my hon. Friend Mr Baron—it was not imposed by the Government themselves. The decision was arrived at by the independent Holocaust Memorial Foundation, with representations from different political traditions, including the right hon. Ed Balls and the right hon. Lord Pickles; the Chief Rabbi; the very distinguished president of the Community Security Trust, Gerald Ronson; and a host of others from civil society. While my hon. Friend is right to say that some people within the Jewish community have expressed concerns, the overwhelming view of the Jewish community and its representative organisations is that this is the right memorial in the right location, and that we must press on.
I am extremely grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way. On the location, what assurances can he give that the Bill does not undermine the environmental protections that Victoria Tower gardens currently enjoy?
Victoria Tower gardens will continue to be a park with public access—only some 7.5% of the location of the park will be occupied by the memorial. Of course, when David Cameron initiated the commission, it was made clear that any memorial should be suitably striking, suitably prominent, and in a location that has political, cultural, emotional and historical resonance, which it will be.
When I was Leader of the House of Commons, between 2017 and 2019, I received so many representations personally from people who made the case that there are now so few holocaust survivors still living that we simply have to get on with this. As my right hon. Friend said, that consultation began under David Cameron’s leadership, which is now a long time in the past. If we are going to do this, and it needs to be in a prominent place to show our respect and commitment to remembering that horrific time, we must get on with it.
I am very grateful to my right hon. Friend, who was a brilliant Leader of the House, for making that point so clearly. As she reminds us, the holocaust is moving from living history to history. The voices of those who are survivors and witnesses are fading, and we must ensure that their example endures.
Just a fortnight ago, Ben Helfgott, an ambassador for the Holocaust Educational Trust, sadly passed away. Ben was a holocaust survivor who went on to represent this country in weightlifting at the Olympics. Thanks to the Holocaust Educational Trust, I had the privilege of meeting Ben and hearing his testimony. I do not think any of us who have heard the testimony of any of the witnesses and survivors for whom the Holocaust Educational Trust has provided a platform will forget that—there is nothing as powerful as hearing from those who lived through and survived the hell of the holocaust. As Ben and other survivors pass on, it is our duty and our responsibility to move as quickly as we can to ensure that the memorial they fought for and wished to see is established suitably.
Of course, one of the other reasons why it is so important that we move quickly and show resolution is that not only are voices fading, but antisemitism is rising. In 2022, the last year for which we have figures, the Community Security Trust recorded 1,652 antisemitic incidents. In the year before that, the number of antisemitic incidents in this country had reached a record high. As Jonathan Sacks reminded us, antisemitism is a virus that mutates. We need to be vigilant, always and everywhere, against hate and prejudice, and the memorial and learning centre will establish a means of doing so for generations to come.
I agree with everything that the Secretary of State has just said. He will be aware that the Jewish Museum in Camden is due to close because of a lack of funds—that is my understanding. What consideration have the Government given to providing some funds to keep that recognition of the holocaust alive?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Of course, the Government stand behind the memorial, but there will also be philanthropic funding. Here again, Gerald Ronson CBE is one of the figures at the forefront in supporting this cause, as he has so many good causes. The Government also support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust. Indeed, I was proud as the Education Secretary to carry on the great work of Ed Balls in making sure that holocaust education was a critical part of the history that every child learns in our schools.
As the former Leader of the House, my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom, pointed out, David Cameron established a commission with cross-party support in 2014, and it is that commission’s work that we seek to honour today. Again, the commission was clear that the most important thing is to make sure that we have a striking new memorial in a prominent central London location and accompanied by a world-class education centre. That is what the holocaust memorial commission is charged with delivering, and the detail of its proposals have commanded respect and approval from historians and from within the Jewish community.
This Bill seeks specifically to change the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900, which governs public parks. All we seek to do is to make sure that those parts of the 1900 Act that Mrs Justice Thornton rightly invoked in the case that was heard before her are altered. We wish to ensure that it is the clear will of Parliament—both the Commons and the Lords, across parties and across political traditions—that the memorial goes ahead, while also continuing to respect free access to Victoria Tower gardens, respecting its position as a public park, and making sure that those green spaces are accessible to all and that the existing memorials there are respected as well.
As I have mentioned, the choice of venue has attracted some controversy, but I can put it no better than the Chief Rabbi himself. When questioned about why, he said that this
“is an inspirational choice of venue… this is a most wonderful location because it is in a prime place of great prominence and it is at the heart of our democracy… we don’t want to tuck the Holocaust away somewhere—similar to…a tiny monument in Hyde Park, that most people have never heard of. We want all of British society to be aware…for the sake of the whole country and its future.”
We are all privileged to be parliamentarians, and we all know that when people think of this country, the symbol they associate with it is this House. We all know that this nation—the mother of Parliaments, the home of Parliamentary democracy—has a proud tradition. It is only appropriate that, when we reflect on the greatest evil that humanity has ever been responsible for, it is here in the home of parliamentary democracy that we find the space, the time and the common endeavour to make sure that a fitting memorial can be established, and that is what this Bill seeks to do.
My right hon. Friend is making a very effective and powerful speech in support of the Bill. The point he has just made about the proximity of the memorial and learning centre to this institution is exactly right. Does he agree with me that, when we talk about the holocaust and the horrors of the past, it is not just something that happened to other people over there; it is actually part of our story and our history as well? So Westminster, close to Parliament, is the ideal location for this memorial.
I could not agree more. There are representatives in this House and in the other place who are the relatives of those who died or survived the holocaust. Lord Austin, a distinguished Cross Bencher in the other place, is the adopted son of a holocaust survivor. This is about recognising the intimate links between this country and that crime, and the fact that distinguished figures such as those responsible for the Kindertransport played an heroic role in helping people fleeing persecution to come to this country. However, it is also the case that all history is complex, and there are mistakes that this nation and some of its leaders or leading politicians made at that time that we also need to remember, if we are to ensure that “never again” is a phrase that resonates with meaning rather than being simply an empty repeated platitude.
My interest in this Bill is primarily driven by constituents of mine who are related to Thomas Fowell Buxton, and there is a very important monument to his memory and the campaign he waged against slavery on this site. If this Bill proceeds, what can we do to ensure that this memorial complements that memorial?
Again, the hon. Gentleman makes a very important point. The whole design by David Adjaye and his team is designed to complement the Buxton memorial. Indeed, the hon. Gentleman is quite right that it is fitting that a memorial intended to ensure that we remember those who fought against the evil of slavery is located alongside a memorial to ensure that we remember the victims of the greatest crime that humanity was ever responsible for.
My right hon. Friend has been right in talking about the site for the memorial, and colleagues have raised the issue of opposition to it. Does he agree with me that the principal reason why some Jewish people and Jewish leaders are raising objections is the sheer length of time this whole process is taking? Actually, they do not object to where it is sited, but just want to make sure we get on with the job and get it done.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. From the meetings I have had with the commission and the conversations I have had with people in the Jewish community and beyond, I know they want us to proceed. They understand that we are a country governed by laws and they understand why the court came to the decision it did on the 1900 Act, but they also want the Government, as well as this House and the other place, to proceed at the fastest possible pace—giving due consideration to all the arguments that are and have been made, but at the fastest possible pace—to ensure that an appropriate memorial is established.
I would like to close by reflecting on the words of Mala Tribich MBE, who is now 92 years old, and a holocaust survivor herself. As she says:
“As the Holocaust moves further into history and we survivors become less able to share our testimonies this Memorial and Learning Centre will be a lasting legacy so that future generations will understand why it is important for people to remember the Holocaust, to learn from the past and stand up against injustice. The memory of the Holocaust cannot be left to fade when us eyewitnesses are no longer able to share our memories.”
I believe we owe it to Mala and to all survivors to pass this Bill, and I commend it to the House.
I want to start by saying that Labour strongly supports this Bill and welcomes the Second Reading of it today. We agree very much with the sentiment expressed by Conservative Members that the sooner and more swiftly we are able to make progress with this, the better. The movement to create a fitting national memorial to mark, to remember and, most of all, to learn from the horrors of the holocaust is something that rightly commands the support of Members on all sides of the House. So we welcome the Second Reading of the Bill and its, I hope, swift progress through the House.
The holocaust is undeniably the greatest crime of the last century. People were taken from their homes, stripped of their possessions and subjected to the horror of the concentration camps, forced labour camps and ghettos just, in many cases, because they were Jewish. The murder of 6 million Jews and so many others by the Nazis must never ever be forgotten.
I was in my early 20s when I first visited Auschwitz, and it is something I will never forget. I knew it would make an impression, but I do not think I had any real comprehension of what a deep and lasting impression it would leave on me to this very day. History lives in that camp, and we can feel the pain in the air. It is a very difficult thing to comprehend, but it is a privilege to be able to learn and to understand about the horrors of the past in order to ensure that it never happens again.
For my generation, whose grandparents lived through and, in my grandfather’s case, fought in the war and fought for the establishment of the state of Israel as somewhere where Jewish people could find a natural home and where they were safe—where they would always be safe—this is not just history. We have grown up with the stories of what happened in that era, and of why it matters so much that we remember. However, it has actually been through the work of those incredible charities and museums, and those who support them—they provide the chance to hear from those who survived and, through them, the stories of those who did not—that we have been able to understand the true horror of what human beings are capable of.
Given the experience of my predecessor in this place, who was targeted due to her allyship with the Jewish community, does my hon. Friend agree that this memorial and education centre is more important than ever before in telling the truths of the holocaust, and in remembering the 6 million lives lost to it, so that we learn those lessons and people never have to go through that kind of thing again?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Like me, she will have had the experience of going into schools and colleges in our constituencies, and had the privilege of meeting survivors of the holocaust, and watching the faces of young people as comprehension dawns of the true horror of what happened, with resolve forming in them that never again should that be allowed to happen. The power of that cannot be overestimated, and I am grateful to my hon. Friend for adding her voice and support to the Bill.
Does my hon. Friend agree with the Secretary of State, as I do wholeheartedly, about the importance of the positioning of this memorial, and of it being right next to the mother of all democracies, with the symbolism that that provides?
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. There are many, many lessons to learn from the darkest era of our recent history, but one of those lessons must surely be the importance of political courage and political leadership. Those of us on the Opposition Benches know how important that is, and that no institution is immune from the scourge of antisemitism. One of the reasons why I raced back from Manchester this morning, where I had been at a conference debating housing, was in order to be here today to say loudly and clearly on behalf of the official Opposition how strongly we support what the Secretary of State and his colleagues are doing.
My hon. Friend mentioned Manchester, and as the MP for Bury South I am proud to represent many holocaust survivors, and I have been fortunate enough to meet them and share their stories. An institution and a museum, and more importantly an educational facility such as this, is intrinsic to us not only learning those lessons, but to making sure such things are never repeated. Does my hon. Friend agree that the best thing we can do to honour their memories and have a legacy for them while they are still alive, is to get this project going as quickly as possible, and ultimately to get it built and used?
Absolutely. As a former student of Holy Cross College in Bury, I have met many of my hon. Friend’s constituents over the years. I know how important it is to them that they hand on the baton to the next generation, and that we do not allow this to be the moment when understanding and comprehension of what happened in that darkest moment of history is lost. They can then hand over that baton, and feel reassured that the future is safe in our hands and with future generations. I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done in standing up for his community over and over again in this place. It is noticed in Bury, and it is noticed here.
With the march of time and the continued loss of survivors, the holocaust is moving from being part of lived experience to being part of history. As we begin to approach that moment, our generation should commit to teaching the next about the horrors in our past, and the lessons for the future. That is what this new, purpose built memorial in the heart of London is. It is a commitment to arm future generations against the horrors of the past, so that when we say “never again”, they can be sure we mean it. That is why Labour stands squarely behind the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Board of Deputies. We pay tribute to their work, and to the two co-chairs, Lord Eric Pickles and the right honourable Ed Balls, who have shown that this is not, and should never be, an issue that divides us.
As Karen Pollock, the inimitable chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said yesterday:
“It is crucial to remember that the Holocaust Memorial—and remembering the Holocaust in general—is not about planning permission, or square footage, or underground pipes. What these discussions are about at their heart, is people. People who were subjected to unimaginable suffering, simply because they were Jewish.”
Like many others, she has reminded me that none of us should ever make the mistake of thinking that this is history. Antisemitism did not die at the end of the holocaust. Around the world, Jewish communities have been targeted by terrorists in Germany, France, Belgium and many other countries.
Last year, anti-Jewish hate hit a record high in the United Kingdom, with abuse, threats and violent assaults levelled at Jewish children, women and men on the streets of Britain. The Jewish Leadership Council and the Community Security Trust are powerful advocates for their community. They have reminded me so often of the human cost of this, often with heartbreaking stories about the impact on their own families and children—children who go to school behind locked gates; security guards at the doors of synagogues. It shames our nation. This group accounts for less than 1% of the total religious population in the UK, but antisemitic hate crimes account for a staggering 23% of all religious hate crimes. It is completely unacceptable in a modern society where the experiences of the past are still so raw that that is happening every day in our communities, on our campuses and in our workplaces. We on the Labour Benches know that only too well and we are determined to tackle it.
From what she has chronicled, my hon. Friend reminds us how easy it is for history to be forgotten but, were it not forgotten, these incidents would not occur. That makes the creation of this memorial doubly important. Does she also agree that the argument about the location has just got to stop? The location that has been chosen puts the memorial in the centre of London where it will be visible and accessible to the largest number of people. That is what we want. We want as many people as possible to see something that will ensure they do not forget. Arguing about the location does a disservice to the memory of the 6 million Jews who were killed in the holocaust.
As ever, my right hon. Friend speaks incredibly powerfully. I do not doubt the sincerity of those who have taken part in the debate on the location, but that debate has run for long enough. Labour Members share the Government’s view that it is now time to move forwards with a memorial that is incredibly important to every single person in our country, but holds particular significance for our Jewish community here in the United Kingdom.
I personally am not convinced by the location, but want the memorial to go ahead. If it is to go ahead, surely it must do so speedily—that is the point the hon. Lady is making. If Second Reading is passed this evening, motion No.8 on the Order Paper is about paying a Select Committee Chair to come and do a job. That is normally done—it happened with High-Speed 2—when something is going to take a long time. It is not about meetings in one or two Committees. When the hon. Lady talks about speed, what is she talking about and why are we paying someone? That indicates to me that this is going to be a long process.
I thank the hon. Member for that intervention. As I said, I do not doubt the sincerity of those who have raised concerns about the location, including the Father of the House. It is right and legitimate that we should have a debate about that, and it is right, fair and proper that they should make their concerns known. Labour Members believe that this is the right location and that it is important that we do not delay any further. We believe that it is important that the hybrid process is followed; that is the process set out for the path of the Bill. We cannot make that process any quicker, but we can remove any unnecessary obstacles and delay. We know that that is the Government’s intention and we will support them in that.
As I said a moment ago to my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge, the battle for progress is never won. My father and his generation were involved in fighting the race relations struggle. My dad came to this country from India in the 1950s, and dealing with racism and discrimination is something that he, I and my family have dealt with all our lives. It was one of the motivating forces for me to go into politics—seeing the impact of that on people around me and people in my community. That generation went on to deliver the Race Relations Act 1976, and helped to build the architecture of modern Britain that aims to make racism and discrimination a thing of the past. They remind me constantly that that battle is never won, and it falls to every generation to pick up the baton and fight those battles anew. That is what we are determined to do, and that is why we strongly support this memorial and its location next to the Palace of Westminster, within walking distance of the heart of our democracy and the centre of decision making, to show how important it is to us in this place that we never, ever forget.
There are many people in the other place who have worked on this matter. The Secretary of State mentioned Lord Austin, but I also think of Lord Dubs, who came to this country on the Kindertransport, has been a powerful advocate for child refugees and is someone we admire greatly. It pays tribute to the work they have done over many, many years that this House is speaking with one voice, on all sides of the House, to try to move forward.
The speakers from the Front Bench have so far been generous in giving way. I appreciate what the hon. Lady said about the sincerity of those who are concerned about the location. We in our family have Jewish blood, and I do not think there is any doubt about the sincerity of all views on this. Would she acknowledge that, while we all agree there needs to be a national holocaust memorial, a lot of people within the Jewish community oppose the siting of the memorial that the Bill will install, if there is a vote and it passes? That should be acknowledged. They include people such as Maureen Lipman, Malcolm Rifkind, former rabbis, Jonathan Romain, Sir Richard Evans and several holocaust survivors.
I am more than happy to acknowledge that and to restate the commitment that we on the Labour Benches do not doubt the sincerity of those engaging in this debate. We acknowledge the strength of feeling and the different views that exist within the Jewish community and across the country, as well as in this place and on the Government Benches in particular. The hybrid process provides an opportunity for those concerns to be expressed and for those debates to be had. I would say to the hon. Gentleman that, having worked with the Jewish community in this country and leaders of major Jewish organisations for a long time, I am left in no doubt about the strength of feeling among many members and leaders of the Jewish community that they support the location at this venue and that they want to see it proceed at the heart of democracy, where it matters most that we remember the past in order to shape the future.
We believe that the symbolic siting of the memorial next to this House is a demonstration that the British Government, the official Opposition, our Parliament and our nation are committed to remembering the horrors of the past and ensuring that we do not repeat them. This memorial is a vital step on that path and Labour is pleased to support the Bill today.
I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:
“this House, while accepting the value of a national Holocaust memorial, declines to give a Second Reading to the Holocaust Memorial Bill because no adequate reason has been given for seeking to build the memorial and learning centre in a long-established small public park, thereby contradicting the Government’s own policies on environmental and green space protection;
because the Government has not implemented its 2015 promise to establish an endowment fund for Holocaust education, which would have spread the benefits of the learning centre around the country;
because the proposed site is opposed by many in the Jewish community, including many Holocaust survivors;
because there was no public consultation on the choice of site;
and because there has been no consideration of alternatives to Victoria Tower Gardens since the criteria declared in September 2015 were set aside.”
I am grateful to the Opposition spokesman, Lisa Nandy, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for how they have introduced the debate on the Bill. Just to clear up one thing that may have been inadvertent, my right hon. Friend responded to my intervention by talking about 2016 to 2017. My precise question was on how it went from the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s specification in September 2015 to
I meant to start my remarks by saying that, within months of my birth in July 1944, and besides my father getting rather badly injured in Normandy, later that year, Margot and Anne Frank caught typhus in Bergen-Belsen. They died early in 1945. In April 1945, my father’s cousin—my first cousin once removed—Dr George Woodwark was one of the Westminster medical students who went to Bergen-Belsen to try to save as many lives as they could. They did valiant work in appalling conditions.
When I heard directly from George what it was like, I was as moved as I was when I first read reports of the concentration camps, the death camps and the treatment of Jews. That feeling is only reinforced when I go to the Imperial War Museum’s holocaust galleries. If anyone has not done so, I commend them doing so. One only need go there, or look at the online material on the education side, to be reminded that the purpose is, as set out by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, that we should know what was happening when those who survived are no longer with us. There was no intention in the Holocaust Commission report to the Government and there was no intention with the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation in September 2015 that the memorial had to be up before holocaust survivors had died. That is a later creation and justification, and some regard it as pretty weak.
I think it was
I have a home here, so people can say I have a vested interest. I have also got a vested interest in having proper education about the holocaust. Since this process started, one of my cousins has established what we knew vaguely, which is that more than 100 of my grandfather’s cousins died during the holocaust. I do not regard myself as Jewish—I regard myself as Christian—but I am proud to be associated with what they went through, which I know is possibly still happening now around the world, whether that is in Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Cambodia or Srebrenica. We are not going to stop holocausts by where our memorial is. It is right that we should have one, but the education side matters.
The Holocaust Commission recommended, and the then Prime Minister accepted, that there should be an endowment fund for education. In the years since, that has not happened. We then go to the Government’s commitment that, if the voluntary side can raise £25 million, they will put in £50 million. The Government have now raised that to £75 million. The majority of the money should be spent on education, as set down by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. That has not happened.
The principle of this Bill—here I disagree with the Government—is not clause 2 as well as clause 1, but clause 1; it is regularising future payments. The earlier payments, which amount to well over £17 million so far, have been paid under common law. It is right and necessary that there should now be legislative authority for the Government to spend more and that is why I do not oppose clause 1.
If we go to clause 2, we come to the reasons that I tabled my reasoned amendment. I should say to the Front Benchers that I do not propose to push my reasoned amendment to a vote. A reasoned amendment, to be acceptable for the Order Paper, needs in effect to kill the Bill, and I am not trying to kill clause 1. I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Baron for supporting the reasoned amendment, as I know do many others.
Page 10 of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s proposal for a memorial and learning centre illustrates the acceptable area of central London. It goes from the west of Regent’s Park to Spitalfields in the east and down to Victoria Tower gardens.
I interrupt my flow to say that the inspector, who took over consideration of the planning application by the Secretary of State—this is a planning application by a Secretary of State, albeit one of the previous Secretaries of State—said that he would not be able to consider the Imperial War Museum’s proposals because they were not detailed. I do not think I am giving away any secrets in saying that the Imperial War Museum was told not to provide detailed proposals to the Government’s call for where the site should be and what should be there. The Government are responsible for allowing the inspector to come to that perverse decision that alternatives should not be considered.
The Government, through their foundation—for the foundation is an arm of Government—said, “Where should it be?” Fifty places were put forward and one person—albeit the then chairman of the Conservative party—wrote to a Conservative Minister to say, “Have you thought about Victoria Tower gardens? Perhaps the learning centre could be at Millbank.” The Government later decided that they would put the learning centre and memorial together in this very small royal park, thereby wrecking it.
I say this, through you Madam Deputy Speaker, to the Secretary of State and to the country. If the Government continue with their proposals, they know that there will be a four-year construction programme after permission eventually gets through the Houses of Parliament and the Secretary of State’s junior Minister—I will say his colleague Minister, to put it politely—makes a decision, independently of the Secretary of State as the applicant. That will take, say, another nine months in Parliament. We are talking five years from now, so that takes us to at least 2028—people talk about 2027, but that is unrealistic—for a proposal made in September 2015. If it is important that holocaust survivors can be there for the memorial’s opening, we should not be continuing with this process. Indeed, it is not the one that we should have started with.
I make this proposal to the Secretary of State and the Government: why not have a competition for an alternative memorial by itself? The learning centre can come later; survivors do not need to be waiting for the learning centre. It should be a proper memorial—preferably not the one rejected in Ottawa, which is essentially what we have adopted; although the fins may have changed slightly, it has the same number of fins and the same interpretation—that could be put up in Whitehall, in Parliament Square or on College Green across the road from Parliament. Then, once the education centre at the north end of Victoria Tower gardens is gone, it can be placed there.
We know that space in Victoria Tower gardens will be needed for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster—I doubt that Parliament Square will be used for that—and we know that memorials can be moved, because the Buxton memorial was moved from Parliament Square to Victoria Tower gardens. We could have a competition for a memorial to be created for less than £20 million and to be erected within two years. We could have the opening ceremony with holocaust survivors there, and then later the memorial could be moved to wherever people chose. That would not be a rush, but it would be three years faster than the current proposal.
The Government are stuck on a course that any sensible person could have diverted them from at any stage. I invite the Secretary of State to ask the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to have a roundtable with him, me, Baroness Deech, holocaust survivors and others who are interested from the local community—including the Thorney Island Society, of which I am a member, and London Parks & Gardens—so that rather than shout at each other in public, we discuss the issues together. Suppose that we set the object of establishing, at reasonable cost, a memorial that would open within two years as an alternative to this process? I am not saying that we should stop the process straightaway; they could run in parallel and then we could have the option between my proposal and what the Government appear to be committed to.
I commend the House of Commons Library’s good briefing on this saga. It is pretty comprehensive, although in my view it does not give quite enough attention to the September 2015 specifications. Let us remember what they were. One was that the local authority would approve the plan. Westminster City Council was not going to do so, and that is why a former Secretary of State took the decision away from the council. There was consultation with local people, who overwhelmingly and rationally argued against putting the memorial in Victoria Tower gardens, and especially having this tank of a learning centre associated with it.
After that, either the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation or the Government—I cannot remember which—got a firm to go and stand outside asking, “Would you like to have a holocaust memorial?” A load people put a tick, as many people in the establishment have to this proposal. It was not argued. My hon. Friend Nickie Aiken could probably give more evidence if she chose to. That was bogus and irrational. Then, we come to the planning process, which I do not want to go into.
To those who think the way I do, in whole or in part, I commend not voting against Second Reading, but not voting for it. That will show that the Government have not been able to establish large numbers of people in support of it. We will have a separate debate on the instruction, and I will invite colleagues to vote with me on that. When we come to it, I will argue more about the hybridity.
I am probably the only person in the Chamber who was present when Michael Heseltine conducted the Labour Back Benchers as they sang “The Red Flag”. Something peculiar had happened in the votes on the hybridity of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, which had been classified by the Speaker as hybrid. The then Labour Government put down a motion disregarding that. There was a draw on the first vote, so the Speaker left things the way they were. On the second vote, when the Speaker would have pushed things backwards had there been a draw, the then Government managed to create one more vote in their favour, which led to a degree of uproar. Speaker George Thomas—Viscount Tonypandy—dealt with that quite effectively when it came back to the Chair, then suspended the House and let the apologies come the following day.
That hybridity issue caused embarrassment to the Government. This one does too. When the hybridity was announced, the Government claimed that they were pleased, but they had spent all their time in the weeks before arguing against it being hybrid. It is hybrid because it affects other people’s interests. When it comes to the instruction, I will go into more detail, but now I want to say, in friendship to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that he should try the alternative process in parallel. In private or in public, he should say that if we now want the memorial very close to Westminster, which “we”—I say that in quotation marks—did not in September 2015, and if we want it open before the last holocaust survivors die, that will not happen in the next five years under the present plans. He should think of an alternative, and compare the merits of both.
I am pleased to speak in this debate to put on the record my party’s firm commitment to ensuring that the holocaust and subsequent genocides are not forgotten. We must take steps to actively remember. Because of that, part of the memorial needs to be focused on learning. The particular memorial that the Bill deals with is to be situated in London. I do not have a strong view about where it should be in London, but I have no objection to the Government’s proposal, given that I represent East Renfrewshire—a constituency hundreds of miles away in a different country altogether. It is reasonable that I look to those who are closer.
I appreciate the range of views that have been expressed, but the thread that runs through this debate is one that we all take an interest in, regardless of our own geographies and the range of views on the detail. We all support the principle of taking practical steps to ensure that holocaust remembrance is made possible. I am sure that none of us thinks differently. That matters. The truth is that we need to reflect. We need to think about how to make sure that the cold reality of what happened is not lost or diluted as time passes. The remaining survivors are fewer and fewer with every year that passes. That in itself means that we need to take practical steps to ensure that history is preserved and remembered.
The hon. Lady is giving a powerful speech about something that is not just practically and politically important, but emotionally important. I believe there is a great emotional need in this country to do something to recognise the suffering of the holocaust on behalf of those citizens of this country who are survivors of it. Does she agree that we could argue forever about location, but we have a location, we have a plan and what is important is that it now goes ahead as quickly as possible?
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. I agree with every word she said. She is spot-on when she talks about the emotional, human side of this issue. We are talking about human history—a history of individuals, families and friends—not about some unfathomable number of people who were murdered by the Nazis because of their identity. It is about how we protect and preserve these individual histories, even when the people who could give first-hand testimony are no longer with us.
I have heard the different views. We must respect those and still find a way for everyone to move forward. The Chief Rabbi has spoken about the worry that holocaust survivors have expressed to him, describing the panic in their voices as they say that they fear the world will forget in the course of time. Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, has said that time is running out; survivors will not be with us forever, and many who dreamed of taking their family to the memorial have, unfortunately, passed away. She said that those who are still with us hope to see the day that the memorial is complete, and pointed out that it is important to the liberators as well. She and the Chief Rabbi make very strong points.
The Holocaust Memorial Commission was asked what needed to be done to preserve the memory of the holocaust, and obviously a significant conversation went on, but that was nearly 10 years ago, and here we are in some kind of limbo while the arguments continue and the positions probably become more entrenched, because that is the nature of these things. As I said, I do not have an especially strong view on where a memorial should be located, but I do have a very strong view that we should not still be in a holding pattern nearly 10 years on. We need to make progress.
We need to move things along and make sure that in doing so, we take into account the views of survivors and the Jewish community. I was pleased to hear Jonathan Edwards refer to the closure of the Jewish Museum in London because of funding problems. We need to think about that as well, because the museum’s collection includes the testimony of holocaust survivors, and hearing those testimonies may become more difficult. All those things coming together suggests to me that we need to get on with delivering the memorial and the learning centre, to make sure that active remembrance and education are possible and accessible.
We need to make sure that the voices of those who survived are accessible. I have seen at first hand the profound impact that hearing from survivors, Henry and the late Ingrid Wuga, had on children in my constituency. The holocaust is certainly not the vague memory of some moment in history in the community where I live; it is part of the living memory of many families. I can well understand why people correctly have a very strong view that we need to preserve the testimonies. A holocaust memorial could be a powerful tool for doing that. It needs to be able to make history come to life, so that we can understand better.
I was fortunate to be able to visit Yad Vashem a number of years ago. Like Lisa Nandy said of her visits to Auschwitz, I will carry the memory of my visit to Yad Vashem with me forever—seeing the faces of individual people who had been living perfectly ordinary, pedestrian lives before being plunged into unimaginable horror; seeing their shoes and their abandoned spectacles. It was a very powerful experience. That is why my colleagues and I support the construction of this centre.
When I was looking at the Yad Vashem website earlier today, I noticed that on this day—
That is why we need to get on with the memorial. These details—these threads of history—cannot be lost. This must go hand in hand with other initiatives that are already doing powerful work, such as the Lessons from Auschwitz project, which has had such an impact on schools in my area, as have Vision Schools Scotland and the excellent Gathering the Voices programme—which does exactly that, capturing the voices of those who survived. All those have a place in the fabric of how we remember, and the memorial can play a vital part in that as well. I think that in Scotland it would be welcomed as one of a range of ways of ensuring that this information is accessible to people.
I hope that the memorial will remember Jane Haining, a Scottish schoolmistress of whom I have spoken often here, who died at Auschwitz after refusing to leave the Jewish children in her care. She has been named as Righteous Among the Nations at Yad Vashem, and will also be memorialised by the installation of a Stolpersteine in Edinburgh, thanks to an initiative from Angus Robertson MSP, the Scottish Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture.
That story of Jane Haining—standing up for others because she knew that what was happening was wrong—could not be more resonant today. For us to know that the construction of a holocaust memorial is under way while atrocities continue in too many places across the world—Sir Peter Bottomley spoke to us about that—should give us pause for thought, and make us wish to proceed apace. In China, for instance, Uyghur Muslims are persecuted, sterilised, enslaved and forced to live in labour camps. The lessons we can take from a memorial could not be more relevant to the situations that they and too many others are facing. We need to ensure that we reflect on the lessons of the past.
As the Holocaust Educational Trust pointed out in its excellent briefing for today’s debate, this kind of facility also allows us to better confront the contemporary rise of antisemitism. I think it important that we acknowledge the rising tide of extremist views, including holocaust denial. The Community Security Trust found last year that antisemitic incidents had reached a record high, with a 49% increase in such incidents in the first six months of 2021. Let us be clear: the climate is increasingly intolerant and hateful. Sickening and public displays of antisemitism are increasing both in the UK and overseas. Nowhere is immune, and we now also have to deal with the amplification of holocaust denial and distortion, conspiracy and misinformation in the online space.
To deal with that, the most powerful tool in our arsenal is education, which is why the learning element of the memorial matters so much. The facts of what happened could not be more resonant in the here and now. I hope that we can agree to proceed with the plan today.
The first holocaust survivor whom I met, as an 18-year-old working in a kibbutz in Israel, was Lena. She spoke as much English as I spoke Yiddish, but we got through it together. She was an amazing woman to work with and for. I will always be grateful for the support and friendship that she gave me, an 18-year-old away from home for the first time. For me, that was a lesson in human spirit and human survival.
We are fortunate in this country to have many holocaust survivors who are still willing to share their stories. Sadly, however, this living testimony will not be with us forever, and their stories show us why the memorial is so important. Critically, today’s debate is not about whether we should have a memorial—that, I think, is something on which we all agree—but about whether the right location is Victoria Tower Gardens, and, therefore, whether the Bill is necessary.
As we have heard, the Bill would amend the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900, which preserves the park for the public, and repeal the prohibition on building in the park. That would permit the building of the holocaust memorial and learning centre. The centre is not just a simple monument; it would require excavations going down two storeys to fulfil a design that has come under heavy criticism on account of its scale and suitability for the area. Naturally, that has caused concern for many of my residents in the surrounding area and so, as the local MP for the proposed site, I stand in support of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign.
The campaign is a group of local people who care deeply about this area. They have worked with a variety of groups, such as Historic England, the Thorney Island Society, the Buxton family, London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust and, most importantly, holocaust survivors, to make sure that we get the project right. After consulting those interest groups, the campaign has raised several concerns about the project, which come back to one major issue: location.
Location is a key consideration for every development, and it is no different in Westminster. There is a shortage of community parks in the City of Westminster, so the loss of even the smallest open space can have a big impact on the community. In central London, such losses are felt even more keenly.
I appreciate the concerns of the local community about their amenities, but in the suggested location, the holocaust memorial would offer more than just education and a reminder to the public. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would also offer a reminder to those of us in this place for generations to come about the danger of allowing a repeat and allowing racism—antisemitism—to grow? That is why the location, although I accept it is not ideal for everyone, is important.
I agree that we must remember the holocaust—all holocausts, across the 20th and 21st centuries; sadly, they continue today—but this is about the location. As the local MP, and having been leader of Westminster City Council during the planning process—believe me, I saw it all, from start to finish—I know that the local people have no problem with the memorial; it is about the location. As I said, the concern is about the shortage of community parks in the City of Westminster. The park’s loss will be felt.
It is important to outline what an important neighbourhood park Victoria Tower Gardens is for thousands of local people, and not just those in expensive houses and neighbourhoods. Let us not forget that yards from this place and Victoria Tower Gardens, thousands of people live in housing association and council homes. They do not have the benefit of gardens. Every single green space is precious for them. I have spoken to people living on those estates and they fear that losing their local park will mean their children cannot play. Going for a walk or for lunch, or doing a media interview, is one thing, but losing a family park is another thing completely. There were more than 1,000 objections to the original planning application for the memorial, mostly on the grounds of loss of green space. I remember that time, and those were genuine concerns from local people.
The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign also noted the site’s important legal functions and its role in protecting the Palace of Westminster world heritage site. That is an important point. We must remember that Victoria Tower Gardens is a grade II listed public park. For this reason, the design of the monument and learning centre matters greatly. Historic England, the Government’s adviser on historic environment, has raised significant concerns about overwhelming the existing monuments. The gardens have notable existing memorials to oppression and emancipation: Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais,” the statue of the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and the Buxton memorial to the abolition of slavery.
There is a good argument, which I accept, that the presence of these monuments makes Victoria Tower Gardens an appropriate site for development. However, the proposed design of the holocaust memorial and learning centre is almost triple their size. The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign believes it will overwhelm the other monuments, perhaps making them fade away. The design was originally intended for a memorial in Ottawa, Canada, and it was imported here without much alteration and without taking into account the very different context.
The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign also has legitimate concerns that such extreme development will harm the park itself, and this has been clear from the very beginning of the project. The Secretary of State has left the Chamber, so I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend Felicity Buchan, to consider looking again at the current design of the memorial and the location of the learning centre as the Bill progresses through Parliament. The design is far too large, and it will dominate this public park.
In response to the original public exhibition run by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, there was a clear concern that the excavation operations will cause significant harm to established trees and invite concern about flooding. During the planning process, I remember the Environment Agency making very clear its objection because of the flood risk to this place. The Environment Agency has since changed its mind, and I do not know why, but it was very clear at the time.
Equally important is that the scale of development will considerably change the feeling of the park. It is not just a statue or small monument; this is a large-scale development that will need two storeys to be excavated for the learning centre. By its very design, it will lead to an increase in the number of visitors, which will distort the functionality of Victoria Tower Gardens as a place of recreation.
Local people remain concerned that Victoria Tower Gardens will cease to be a neighbourhood park and will become a civic space, dominated by the holocaust memorial and learning centre and its associated infrastructure and security installations. In the meantime, the park will become a building site for many, many years, leading to a serious loss of amenity for local people and more congestion and noise pollution. Along with the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, residents will have the simultaneous repair of Victoria Tower, the replacement of the Parliamentary Education Centre and a memorial construction that will last for years.
My hon. Friend is making an intelligent speech, and she speaks with authority as the local Member of Parliament. When she talks about the loss of the park, is she talking about the temporary disruption caused by the construction phase? My understanding is that the park will remain. It will still be there in perpetuity for local people, but there will be a modest reduction in its size as a result of the memorial being built. We are not talking about the permanent loss of the park, are we?
My right hon. Friend and I will have to agree to disagree, because this will change the nature of the park. At the moment, it is a community neighbourhood park. It has a playground at one end and a massive open space where local people, particularly children, can play, run around and take their dogs for a walk. The size of the current design will mean that the memorial completely changes the atmosphere of the park.
May I perhaps help my hon. Friend a little? The estimate by the London Historic Parks & Gardens Trust is that up to 30% of the park will be lost, so this is a major construction. In addition to the excellent point she is making, for some of us this comes down to the essential principle about a lack of consultation about the siting. The public were consulted and Westminster City Council said no, and the Government have decided to override it. That troubles us; as I have said before, it is not how we do things in this country. Perhaps that is the central point here.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was the leader of the council when the planning application was going through, and I remind the House that we were very surprised at the lack of consultation in many parts of the application. As I have said, there were 1,000 objections to the planning application within that process. The Father of the House was right when he outlined the issues between 2015 and 2016.
It is also worth remembering that when the Government decided to call in the application and take this away from Westminster City Council, they indicated that they had been asked to do that by the council—that was never true.
Let me just make a comment on the intervention by my right hon. Friend Stephen Crabb. While the memorial and learning centre’s basement box and bronze fins are being constructed, up to two thirds of the park would be unusable for people. As for the estimate that the Government have put forward, whether directly or through their advisory body, the foundation—that only about 7% or 8% of the park would be taken—no one else believes that.
I thank the Father of the House for his intervention. I reassure him that I am not aware of any local authority that wants to have decisions on planning applications taken away from it at any time, but particularly not where such a major application is going to really affect local people, because of the loss of amenity they are going to feel from the loss of this park. I agree that more consultation should have taken place, as this will change the make-up of this neighbourhood park. I am a Westminster resident, but many Members come here for the working week and go home. They may use Victoria Tower gardens for doing a media interview, going for a walk at lunchtime or meeting friends. However, I can tell them that the park is a vital amenity for many local people, particularly those living in social housing, who do not have the benefit of gardens in their homes. Taking away any amount of space from that public park will be a real shame.
I appreciate that this is a hugely complex and emotional issue. However, concerns about the Bill are not a nimby cause whereby the wish is to block all development. Rather, they are rooted in the reality that there is very little support among local people for this memorial being placed in Victoria Tower gardens. That is on the grounds of loss of green space, increased visitor numbers, environmental concerns, traffic and the effect on surrounding monuments. Rightly, there are strong policies in place about building on parks and public green spaces. It is obviously important to remember the horrors of the holocaust—of course it is—and to ensure that the next generation, the one after, the one after that and those that come after should never forget what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and subsequent genocides since then. But for many, especially those who live in crowded urban areas such as Westminster, our neighbourhood parks and gardens are vital to the quality of residents’ lives. That is why, for me, this is the right memorial but in the wrong location.
After 27 years in this place, I suppose I should never be surprised about the direction in which debates go, but it is slightly unseemly that we are spending so much time talking about such an emotive matter, down to the location of a particular monument. I understand entirely the views of local people, but this is a national—indeed, international—centre of democracy, which has world importance. Of course local residents matter, but so does the site itself, which has been here for centuries.
I will make a case for the location that the Government propose, but first let me reflect that today’s debate takes place in the shadow of the most vile and appalling event: the unspeakable capacity of human beings to inflict the kinds of activities carried out by the Nazis against the Jews. Part of our debate needs to reflect upon that, as well as looking at local issues.
There is no doubt that a memorial is well overdue, but the Minister may well feel that some of the discussion about location and the nature of the monument is unseemly. I urge the Government to reflect carefully on the debate, and to try to get the discussion about where it is and how it is constructed out of here and into a place where a consensus can be arrived at.
In the explanatory notes to the Bill, the Government say the memorial
“will help people understand the way the lessons of the Holocaust apply more widely, including to other genocides.”
That makes me think of racism, which takes many different forms. For example, the slave trade is a great stain on our nation, and on other nations too. There are families and institutions that benefit from the wealth that originated from that horrible trade to this very day. Why do I mention that? I mention it because Members of the House, who may have stood in the very place where I am standing now, fought against slavery, and it was in this House that the anti-slavery legislation was passed. We built an anti-slavery monument. Where did we build it? We built it next to our Parliament, in the very location now proposed.
As other Members have said, the sculpture of the Burghers of Calais, an amazing monument to the human spirit, is in the same park, as well as a statue that is a tribute to the suffragettes. Where else would we put a memorial to what happened in the holocaust but alongside our Parliament, in the same place as those other sculptures?
I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech. The answer to his question is that the holocaust memorial, preferably without the basement box, could be put where the Buxton family memorial was put, which was in Parliament Square. It does not have to be in Victoria Tower gardens.
I thank the Father of the House, who I always listen to with respect. He is widely respected, but on this matter he may be wrong. I occasionally go to the anti-slavery monument and to look at the Burghers of Calais, which is an amazing sculpture. I then sometimes quietly go and sit on one of the benches, watch the river go by and think about the struggles for emancipation over the centuries, so many of which happened in this very building. I am not sure that putting a monument of the kind we are talking about in Parliament Square, surrounded as it is by traffic, is necessarily conducive to the quiet reflection that I and many others experience in the park.
I want to reflect on antisemitism, which was the root of the holocaust, and on my family’s history. I have never spoken about this before, either in public or in private, but it has been on my mind throughout my life and I want to go through some issues, because antisemitism is on the rise. It has long disfigured so many parts of our western European culture, as well as parts of our nation. It is a vile, centuries old, unforgiveable hatred that gave rise to the most appalling crime here in Europe in the last century. As I have said, we all still live in its shadows.
Fascism and the holocaust occurred in Germany, but we must never pretend that antisemitism is solely restricted to that nation. I wish to reflect on the lives of previous generations of my family and on what I have seen. My ancestors escaped antisemitic pogroms not in Germany, but in Tsarist Russia. They came to Britain on their way to the United States. They stopped off in London—the great port of London—first. In Victorian times, Britain welcomed asylum seekers—Jews escaping the tyranny of the time. It is hard to imagine whether that could happen today. Although that is not the point that I wish to make, it is important to reflect on that.
As I said, my family were on their way to America from what is now Poland. They were heading for Liverpool to get the boat across to New York and to freedom, as they saw it. They passed through Leeds. The older generation had by then become aged and infirm, so it was left to my grandmother, the youngest daughter, to stay and care for them—that was the tradition. The rest went on to Liverpool and then to Chicago. I have cousins who finally arrived in the west, in California. It is odd in a way to reflect that those cousins have almost circumnavigated the globe across four generations of my family.
Let me focus on the Leeds part of the family. They were hard-working cobblers—boot and shoe makers. They worked in a small place next to the synagogue on North Street, Leeds. There was a great Jewish community there. Although it was a tight-knit working class community, I heard many stories of harassment and racism, including violent attacks. The housing conditions were appalling—three generations living in slum housing, sharing one or, if they were lucky, two bedrooms. My grandparents had three children, one of whom was my mother. They lived in similar conditions. The house that I was brought up in was declared a slum and cleared. They were the generations of people who were building a life here.
My grandmother regularly told me that she lived in fear of the pogroms, from which she, her parents and grandparents had suffered in Russia. She said to me, “Here Jon, I need to tell you something. Whenever anyone unknown knocks on your door, you kid to be daft.” That might not mean much to Members in this place, but what she meant was to pretend to be stupid if somebody in a shirt and tie—a bit like I am dressed today—knocks on the door. In other words, do not comply with the wishes of strangers, especially those who look like they are in authority, because they may well be representatives of a hostile force. That was her experience. She had a lifelong fear of strangers and of authority. Perhaps it was just one of her foibles, I do not know. Equally, though, it might have reflected a part of the wider Jewish experience.
Before the second world war, a stereotypical English gentleman who had attended Winchester College, a public school, launched the British fascist party. He was supported by a section of the establishment as well as by people from all sectors of society. This was Oswald Mosley. He decided to lead his blackshirts through the Jewish quarters in Leeds, where my family lived. It was a naked attempt to mobilise antisemitic sentiments to distract residents from the post-1929 depression and the conditions that prevailed in Leeds at the time.
As a Leeds-born citizen who eventually become leader of that great city’s council, I am proud to tell the House that Mosley was refused permission to march through the Jewish areas. He did, however, rally his supporters on Holbeck Moor, in south Leeds, not far from where I came to live. Thirty thousand Jewish people turned out to resist the fascists. Jewish and gentile, socialists and communists, Liberals and Tories, trade unionists and fair-minded citizens, community groups and others rallied against Mosley. There was a battle and Mosley retired injured.
Members of my family were there. My mother and our family talked about that victory, but we did not fool ourselves that antisemitism had been quelled. Then came the second world war and the ghastly news of the concentration camps, which I imagine even today chills the bones of all of us in this House.
I do not want to exaggerate. Leeds is a tolerant place. Most people would say, “Live and let live”. That is the kind of people they are in West Yorkshire where I come from. When I was at school in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we lived on the edge of a large Jewish community. We got on pretty well, and I do not mean to say that the school was a bad place at all, but there were antisemitic actions, language and bullying in that school. I am not a violent man—my mother taught me to believe in non-violence—but I will not hide the fact that at times there were fights and there was resistance to the antisemites at the margins of the school, all motivated by anti-Jewish racism.
As I entered my teens, my mother began to say to me, “Let’s get out of here.” She wanted me to go to Israel to be on a kibbutz. The kibbutz seemed to offer a different way of living communally, inspired perhaps by some notions of common ownership, mutual endeavour, equality and peace. We decided that I would go to live on a kibbutz, but then the six-day war happened, and in any case we needed me to go out to work and earn a living at 16. Thinking about the six-day war, it is probably worth recording that our family knew that people could disagree with an elected Government and its actions, but that that is not the same as hating a whole nation or even a race. We can clearly see today that there are many Israelis who oppose their Government, and no one would suggest that they are being antisemitic in doing so.
I come now to a distasteful few sentences. When I joined the Labour party in 1969, there were many working-class Jewish socialists in our part of Leeds, and I never witnessed any antisemitism in any of those meetings. However, and I regret to have to record this, when I entered my constituency as the MP, only 12 miles away from Leeds, I was subjected to the most shocking antisemitic comment by a party member. It was vile. Equally, though, I am pleased to record that the individual concerned was confronted by fellow members for his outburst and was told he must never come back to another meeting.
Let me turn to one further final anecdote. I was out canvassing not so long ago in my constituency, which is in the wonderful area of Wakefield, when a man who I knew had a reputation for being a Nazi approached me. He was a man who could not control his emotions, a man with extreme anger, and he told me he was going to fill the streets with “patriots”, as he called them, and that they would eliminate people such as me from the area and from the country. It was a terrifying moment, but the police decided to record it as a hate crime and I am glad to say that he was charged and pled guilty to an antisemitic hate crime in Leeds Crown Court.
I hope that the House will understand that I have spoken in this way in order to condemn with every single fibre in my body all forms of racism and antisemitism. The holocaust is an appalling crime against our common humanity. It is right that we pledge today never to forgive or forget what happened, and never to let down our guard for a moment—because, while antiracism is a powerful force, antisemitism is still there and needs to be resisted.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for sharing that very personal and compelling account. I agree with everything he said. I think he said it was his grandmother who talked about the living scars in his family. I can say the same from my own experience. My father fled the holocaust with his mother, father and uncle, who have passed away. My grandmother, who was the living testimony in our family, passed away in 2005. I understand all the planning and site discussions and deliberations, and I hope they can be resolved in Committee, but the longer we talk about the technicalities, important as they are, the more we risk losing that living testimony without having something powerful to replace it. When I think about instilling the ethos of antisemitism in my children, that is the part that concerns me most.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman and I agree with him. With my kind of politics, it is very rare that I agree with anybody on the Conservative Benches, but it is good to recognise that these strong pulses of hatred towards racism are shared by all of us in the House.
Finally, let the memorial stand as a reminder of the need to fight injustice, just as our country did in the second world war. This is not a battle that can be finally won; it is a battle that we need to fight in each generation, and each one of us must stand in witness to what has happened. Let the monument stand as a reproach to humanity, that our species is capable of the most unspeakable crimes—but equally, as a sign that we are prepared to sacrifice ourselves, as so many people in our military did, to fight for a better world.
I rise to speak in favour of the Bill, which I am pleased to see presented to the House for its Second Reading. I say for the record that I am secretary to the all-party parliamentary group on holocaust memorial.
The need for a permanent memorial and learning centre to remember the lives of those who perished in the holocaust has never been more pressing, and I thank the Government and colleagues from across the House for their commitment to this important project. Before I kick off, it is worth reiterating a comment that the Secretary of State made: the memorial will take up 7.5% of the park. That is helpful context for the debate. I will focus my remarks on two important reasons why the memorial is needed now more than ever.
First, as the number of survivors sadly dwindles, our generation has received the baton from those who experienced the atrocities of the holocaust to ensure that the lives lost are never forgotten. Without a physical memorial, that task is not only more difficult but susceptible to being forgotten by successive generations. The placing of a permanent, physical and fitting memorial to the millions of lives lost is the best way to ensure that that does not happen, especially given that the memorial will be right at the heart of the country, adjacent to Parliament. The juxtaposition of the mother of all Parliaments standing next to an ever-lasting memorial immortalising those who perished in one of the world’s worst periods could not be more stark. The new memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower gardens will be among many other national memorials, and will place the UK on a par with countless other countries across the world. It will also demonstrate that holocaust memorial is a national priority that we take seriously.
Sir Ben dedicated most of his life to educating others about the atrocities of the holocaust. It is unfortunate that, although the memorial and learning centre was promised eight years ago, Sir Ben did not have the opportunity to see it for himself. He said that he had hoped to “one day take my family to the new national memorial and learning centre, telling the story of Britain and the holocaust.” I can think of no better way to honour Sir Ben’s life and legacy than for this House to vote in favour of the Bill and ensure that there is no further delay to the building.
The second reason it is essential that the memorial is built is the rise in antisemitism, in the UK and globally. I speak as the co-chair of the APPG on antisemitism when I say that education is the most effective way to combat the appalling rise in Jew hatred. I am delighted that the memorial will be accompanied by a learning centre so that people from across the country, as well as visitors from abroad, will be able to learn about what took place. Social media has made it much easier for misinformation to spread and for conspiracy theories to take hold in the minds of many. The learning centre will provide meaningful education, which, alongside holocaust education on the national curriculum, will help to counter antisemitism and ensure that a wide range of people are able to benefit from the teaching on offer.
I would like to end by quoting the Chief Rabbi, who perfectly summed up why we cannot delay the memorial any further. He said of holocaust survivors:
“There’s a panic in their voices. They are saying one thing to me. Please, world, never forget. They know they cannot live forever. They are asking us to be their ambassadors. They fear the world will forget in the course of time. We have a responsibility to ensure we will remember”.
I encourage all Members to vote to ensure that we do just that.
I, too, rise to support the construction of the holocaust memorial and learning centre. I hope that we will be able to remove any remaining barriers and get the work started as soon as possible.
We have heard important voices, including my friend the Father of the House, Sir Peter Bottomley, raising concern about the location of the memorial. Of course, they must be listened to with courtesy and all consideration. However, surely it is right that the memorial be somewhere in close proximity to the heart of Britain’s democracy, where we can reflect and remember the most extreme consequences of despotic dictatorships and the atrocities committed by elected and unelected regimes around the world. That must be what drives all of us here to do and be better, and to unite in condemnation of the ethnic cleansing and genocide still being inflicted on many peoples today. The world looks to us for our collective voice and our actions, and a memorial to the victims of the holocaust is a positive and permanent signpost of our commitment to uphold human rights and affirm definitive rejection of anti-Jewish racism.
A memorial speaks louder than the badges we sometimes wear in this Chamber. It is a mark of our pledge to interfere and disrupt when we see mass murder, racial injustice, and acts of terror carried out by weak and failing Governments in their increasingly desperate pursuit of ultimate power over their own citizens. We see and condemn the treatment of people in Ethiopia, the Hazara persecuted in Afghanistan, Uyghurs, Rohingya, Ahmadi, Baluch and Christians around the world, but closer to home, our own recent past with regard to antisemitism is nothing to be proud of either, and we have heard a lot today about how it is absolutely on the rise.
My party in particular has moved considerably in the past few years, but that does not eliminate the need to be open and honest about our shameful record. A change of leadership and the adoption of a tougher approach are not necessarily all we need to do. When those of us who did speak up were trolled, hounded and harassed, particularly as new MPs, we received absolutely no support whatsoever. Indeed, the supporters of our former leader used his name in the written or verbal attacks spat at us across the rooms in which meetings were held. Although the majority of that unpleasant minority group of members decided to leave the Labour party on the election of a new leader, some do shamefully remain.
In March 2018, when the Jewish community felt they had no choice but to gather in protest, they chose Parliament Square and peacefully held placards reading, “Enough is Enough”. While many members of our shadow Cabinet and Front-Bench MPs chose to do and say absolutely nothing—present company excepted—those of us who attended that rally to support our Jewish friends and colleagues were watched by a senior member of the former leader’s staff, who stood under the arches as we re-entered through Carriage Gates and wrote down in his notebook the names of all who attended.
There followed almost two more years of relentless calls for some of us to be deselected and removed from our seats, with former colleagues and activist journalists inciting social media pile-ons, appearing at rallies and roadshows, and sharing platforms alongside celebrity socialists. Decent Jewish women, democratically elected as Members of Parliament, felt that they had no choice but to step away from this place. We must never allow such things to happen again.
For me, a memorial is a reminder to fight antisemitism wherever and whenever we see it, reminding ourselves that in the evil design to create a so-called Aryan master race, Hitler and the Nazis targeted and murdered millions of Jews, Roma and gay people. We cannot ever be complacent, and that nudge to remember ought to be somewhere we in this House can see and visit.
“It is crucial to remember that the Holocaust Memorial—and remembering the Holocaust in general—is not about planning permission, or square footage, or underground pipes. What these discussions are about at their heart, is people.
People who were subjected to unimaginable suffering, simply because they were Jewish. People who were stripped of their homes, their citizenship and their dignity;
and forced into overcrowded ghettos, labour camps, and concentration camps. People who were made to dig their own graves and were shot into pits in forests and ravines across Europe, or gassed to death in purpose-built killing centres.
And it is about people who against all odds survived, and made their home here in the UK.”
That is what we need to never forget. If there is a tangible reminder on our very doorstep, we have no excuse to ignore the plight of others persecuted by evil despotic regimes around the globe.
It is a pleasure to follow Rosie Duffield and her own personal testimony in terms of some of the, frankly, in this day and age, awful abuse that too many representatives in this House and members of the Jewish community have suffered. I say that as someone who had the greatest privilege when I was growing up: I grew up alongside the Jewish community. One of the most extraordinary things is that, when I used to go to school with my friends on our school coach every day, from Radlett to Watford, never did we think that 40 years later, antisemitism would be in the ascendancy in the way it so clearly is today, as Members have spoken about.
It is in that context that I welcome the Bill, and I congratulate both Front Benchers, my right hon. Friend Michael Gove and Lisa Nandy, on their contributions. We need to bring this memorial forward—I have always felt that. For me, that is unequivocal, but it is astonishing that it was the former Prime Minister David Cameron, many years ago now, who made the commitment that we would have the memorial and cited the location that has already been subject to a great deal of debate today. While the decision is welcome, the commitment to bring the memorial forward—which is absolutely essential—clearly has to be done with a great deal of sympathy for its surroundings. Members have spoken today about the sensitivities of the location, but it is vital that we go ahead with the memorial, because it serves as such a powerful and sombre reminder. It is a monument that represents the loss suffered by the Jewish community and Jewish people through that most horrendous and horrific period in our history. It is living history, and we should always remember that.
On that point, we should give some thought, consideration and support to many of the leaders within the Jewish community, including those from the Jewish Leadership Council. I have had the privilege of working with the CST and its leadership, both during my time as Home Secretary and as a Member of Parliament. It is so sobering that the reason why the CST exists today is still to protect the Jewish community while they live their lives, day in, day out. I still have parents who live with the Jewish community in a part of Hertfordshire and, when I visit them, we still see local private security firms outside the synagogue, driving up and down our roads to protect the community. We have incredible Jewish schools that are protected, day in, day out—as we have heard today from testimony in this House—by private security firms. That is because of the rise of antisemitism, the level of intolerance and the hatred that wrongly exists across society, which is why education is so vital.
Of course, the holocaust marked one of the darkest and most sinister moments in the history of humanity. None of us can forget that, and we do not want any future generations to forget it, either. This is how we improve ourselves as human beings; it is how we learn to respect one another, work with each other and live alongside each other, regardless of our backgrounds, our faith or anything of that nature. That cruelty, shown in the most systematic persecution and that awful, barbaric phrase, “the extermination of the Jewish people in Europe”—it is a horrible sentence to even utter—along with the persecution and murder of other minority groups, continues to shock. It shakes us to our core as human beings, but it did happen in that way, and we have a responsibility and a moral duty to remember the barbarism that took place back then. Six million people were the victims of genocide, motivated—let us just think about this—by hatred, prejudice, and an intolerable and evil ideology.
I want in particular to pay tribute to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust for the work they do. I also pay tribute—I am going to say this now—to many colleagues in this House, such as those who represent communities and those on the APPGs, but also those who have given voice to some of the intolerance that we see, day in, day out, and who champion their communities across the country.
I am afraid that, even in my time as Home Secretary, I witnessed the most abhorrent antisemitism. Representatives from the Jewish community came to see me frequently, I am sorry to say. We obviously worked with the police—we had to work with the police—to bring justice to members of the community. I recall—in fact, it was only two years ago—that we had those awful car rallies coming from certain parts of the country straight into north London, with the most vile abuse, hatred, intolerance and threats to harm and hurt members of the Jewish community taking place.
These organisations work tirelessly to educate and inform in our schools and elsewhere about the horrors of the past, the holocaust and other genocides. We should also remember other genocides that have taken place, and frequently too. It is important to spread and communicate the “Never again” message and to dispel some of the appalling narratives that have existed and the language that is used against these communities.
The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust do incredible work—we have seen this—in organising visits to Auschwitz and in the run-up to Holocaust Memorial Day on
The new memorial and learning centre will be an incredible facility for future generations and young people to come together, yes, to be educated and to learn about the horrors of the past, but also to make sure that such events actually change the way in which we think, for the betterment of humanity and society.
Many of us have met holocaust survivors or heard them speak—I have had the incredible privilege of meeting many, and also of growing up alongside some of them when I lived in Radlett in Hertfordshire. We have been moved by the accounts of the suffering and the loss. If I may, I will just commend Jon Trickett for the very strong way in which he spoke about his own family background and what took place in the 1950s in particular, which was absolutely shocking. That has gone on—we should recognise this—to shape many of these organisations. The CST exists for the very reason of what happened back then, and some of the leadership of the CST right now comes from some of those dreadful experiences.
The stories of resilience, the inspirational tales and the fortitude have gone on to define the Jewish community’s successive generations. They have experienced and survived unimaginable suffering, and I pay tribute to them. I think frequently, given where I base myself now, in north London, about their own suffering, but also about the courage they still have to speak about their experiences and the campaigns they have led.
It is 78 years since the concentration camps, which were the sites of such horrors, were liberated, and thank goodness they were liberated. As each year passes, the number of holocaust survivors, sadly, reduces. So we think of them on a day like today, and I think we are privileged in this House to even have this debate to reflect and to recognise the past and the horrors, but also to pay tribute to them. I say that again within the context of what we see in this modern day, with antisemitism on the rise, social media intolerance, and abuse and trolling, which the hon. Member for Canterbury has spoken about.
That is why I think this Bill is so important. I would like to see it pass, but I also think that we have to demonstrate respect for many of the concerns that have been raised today; it is right that we do that in a very respectful way. I personally think that there can be no better place in our country to have a memorial located, at the heart of democracy, because it is a reminder of how fragile and precious our democracy is. We look around the world right now, and at how the flame of democracy can so easily be extinguished. Earlier today, there was a debate in Westminster Hall on Hong Kong, where people have been fleeing for their lives because of the national security laws.
This is also about the importance of our country standing up against those who commit such atrocities in the world, and our commitment to defend freedom, liberty and human rights. The Bill reflects that in the right way, and I am confident that the centre can be built in a sympathetic and respectful way. I hope that colleagues will work to ensure that that happens. That is why I support the passage of the Bill. I know that all colleagues will work with mutual recognition and respect for many of the sensitivities that have been aired today.
I rise to support the Bill, and I speak as vice-chair of the all-party group on the holocaust memorial. I think that this is long overdue. It is taking too long to make progress on this important project. It is a project of real significance for us as a nation, as has been demonstrated on several occasions already during the debate. When we talk about the holocaust and the suffering—I made this point earlier in an intervention on the Secretary of State—we are talking not just about somebody else’s history; we are talking about our history and our national story as well.
I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Priti Patel who, as Home Secretary, was fearless and strong in tackling antisemitism. We thank her for the work she did in that area. It has been a real privilege to be in the Chamber to hear the remarkable speech by Jon Trickett. I enjoyed listening to his speech. I had no idea of anything to do with his family history. The words he spoke, he spoke with real power and authority, and I think they reinforced the strong argument that is coming from both sides of the House in favour of a national holocaust memorial.
I place on record my thanks and appreciation to the co-chairs of this national project, Lord Pickles, my good friend, and the right honourable Ed Balls. The fact that they are working so strongly and so well together speaks volumes about the cross-party consensus and support that underpin this project and they continue to do tireless work. As other Members have done, I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust for the work they do out in communities, and with young people doing holocaust education, ensuring that the important lessons of history continue to be learned.
I also thank both those organisations for the work they do in Parliament, because they organise meetings that many of us have been to. We have had the privilege of meeting holocaust survivors they have introduced us to in Parliament. Many of us have sat in jaw-dropping awe when we have listened to those holocaust survivors talk about their experiences, and about what they saw, witnessed and suffered during those dark years at the end of the 1930s and into the 1940s. They left us in wonder at how they could speak with such grace about reconciliation, unity and peace. As many Members have said, it is their memory, and the work they do, that we need to preserve.
We have heard tributes to Sir Ben Helfgott, who sadly died on
I listened with great interest to my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, who spoke with real authority on behalf of her constituents. I am not sure how I would feel, were I a resident in the neighbourhood, but I am not; I see it in terms of the national picture and the national importance of this memorial, and we need to get on and deliver it. The Father of the House, my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley, spoke about no progress being made five or eight years from now—what a disaster that would be. What will it say about this place and about us as a generation of politicians if we just go around in circles and cannot deliver something where there is such strong cross-party consensus and such strong support?
I hope that the Bill passes tonight with such a strong message of support that it is clear we need to get on and do it. I think the memorial can be done sympathetically. I do not know whether it will take up 7.5% of Victoria Tower gardens or a different figure—we have heard three different figures already this afternoon—but my understanding is that it will occupy only a modest space in the park and that the vast majority of it will still be left for local residents.
As with so many other significant developments—we see this in our own constituencies and regions as well—it is impossible to get unanimity on a particular location. My hon. Friend Mr Baron mentioned that there are Jewish voices who are opposed to the site of the holocaust memorial. I am afraid that we are not going to get unanimity on that particular site—it is just not going to happen. If we are going to make that the test of where a project like this should be located, the blunt truth is that it will never happen. There will continue to be opposition to it, but I am in no doubt that when it is constructed and people are visiting it, learning and sharing in that experience, they will be thankful that it has been built. We will look back on it and recognise it as an important thing that we delivered. I hope that the Bill passes strongly tonight.
This has been a debate in two parts. First, we have heard moving testimony from Members on both sides of the House about the evils of antisemitism and some personal experiences, particularly from Jon Trickett. Everybody in the House agrees wholeheartedly with those moving testimonies, and everybody in the House accepts that we should have an appropriate memorial to the holocaust. That has been one part of the debate.
Then we have had two well researched, well thought-out speeches from my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken—the local Member of Parliament—and my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley, which have not denied the need for a memorial, but in great detail have explained why this sort of memorial and the way it will be constructed are not appropriate for this site at this time.
This is such an important issue, and we are all united in wanting to do it well, so we should ensure that the memorial is done well. I have been to the holocaust museums in Berlin and Washington. They are the most comprehensive, moving, enormous edifices. People are taken through a whole series of rooms, explaining exactly how antisemitism originated and the final result of the holocaust. We should have that sort of holocaust museum in London.
The problem is that this site is so constrained that it cannot do justice to the cause and to the issue. We will have to dig down into the park and, while the centre will have two storeys, it will have only a couple of rooms, which will not allow the whole narrative to be developed. That is why the Imperial War Museum, which already has a good holocaust gallery, was quite right to make its offer. There is a lot of space next to that museum, and it was prepared—I am sure that it is prepared—to develop a world-class holocaust museum.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West in suggesting a compromise. I have asked a series of questions about this. I declare an interest in that I, like many Members of Parliament, live half a mile or a mile away and of course work in this building. I am conscious that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster said, this is one of the most overcrowded parts of the United Kingdom. Literally thousands of people live and work extremely close to this very small park. Anyone who goes there on a summer’s afternoon, like those we have had in recent days, will see every inch of it packed with people who work and live in Westminster trying to get a bit of sun and air and green.
I have suggested a compromise to the Secretary of State and to many others. I, and I think many others, am perfectly happy with the concept of having a memorial to the holocaust in the park. Such a memorial could be aesthetically pleasing, dynamic and express the whole issue in powerful terms. I am conscious of the superb monuments that we already have in the park, which, for instance, detail anti-slavery. This country led the world campaign against the slave trade, and the Buxton memorial explains that campaign powerfully in an aesthetically beautiful way. There is also the superb Rodin monument, the Burghers of Calais, which explains that story in a powerful way, and the superb Pankhurst monument, which powerfully proclaims the fight for votes for women. I have always argued that it would be perfectly possible to have a monument fairly close to the playground that would tell the story but not, as my hon. Friend said, overpower the park.
The trouble with the Ottawa monument, which we are importing, is that it is simply huge. It is a vast mound with great metal spikes sticking out of it. It is frankly hideous, and it would completely or partially block from that end of the park the iconic view of the Palace of Westminster, which is the subject of thousands of photographs and pictures. As my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West said, if we had started the process without proposing a totally inadequate underground learning centre and just satisfied ourselves with a monument, that could already have been built. People give the powerful message that we should get on with this, so let us get on with building the monument. Whether we build it in Victoria Tower gardens or on College Green, as he said, let us get on with it. We do not need to start by building the underground learning centre.
The letter to The Times on
The gardens are under the purview of the Royal Parks, which has never supported siting such a prominent and large memorial there. Its chairman, Loyd Grossman, wrote to me specifically to clarify that. He said that the Royal Parks
“has concerns about the potential risk of such a building on the intrinsic qualities of a well-used public park in an area of the city with a limited number of open spaces.”
There are concerns that if that beautiful space is sacrificed, it would create a precedent that could be repeated in other green spaces under the management of the Royal Parks. Everyone knows that the park is frequently used on a daily basis by visitors to the city, those who work nearby and local residents. It would simply be impossible for Victoria Tower gardens to continue in its current, useful way if the plan goes ahead. The London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 introduced statutory protections for Victoria Tower gardens that are being decisively undermined. That Act of Parliament was solemnly created to provide a green space for working class people in the middle of Westminster.
The purpose of the memorial is to commemorate victims of this great crime, and to teach current and future generations. That means that we want many people to go there. We hope that it will be well used. There are practical points: the existing pressures on Millbank will only be compounded by traffic related to people accessing the memorial. We have not been informed of any plans to deal with coach traffic and halting, which putting the memorial there would be bound to generate. There are no parking spaces or drop-off zones for coaches. The local Thorney Island Society has stated that it is
“obviously very concerned at the loss of this small valuable park, because it is difficult to imagine that a project of this size and importance would not dominate the space and transform it from a tranquil local park to a busy civic space”.
The subterranean nature of the plans for the holocaust memorial add a further layer of complication to using Victoria Tower gardens. This is a riparian location, right on the banks of the River Thames. As recently as June 2016, 50 local properties were flooded from underneath following heavy downpours. In such ancient marshland, it is all too easy for the water table to rise alarmingly when there is a period of sudden and heavy rainfall. Further objections can be raised on the grounds that Victoria Tower gardens is already home to existing memorials of a smaller but appropriate scale, as I have mentioned. Those incredibly important memorials to the slave trade and to votes for women will be overshadowed.
The design remit sent out to architecture firms competing to design the memorial included the criterion that the monument must
“enhance Victoria Tower Gardens—improving the visual and sensory experience of the green space”.
This plan simply does not meet that criterion. Instead, we will have an 80-metre ramp, creating a wide moat splitting the park, with paving areas replacing swathes of grass. Since it was created, Victoria Tower gardens has been associated with an uninterrupted sweep of grass between magnificent rows of trees, superbly framing the Palace of Westminster and Victoria Tower. If the plan goes ahead, that splendid view will be lost forever.
I sit on the programme board for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. The holocaust memorial project has a direct impact on this huge undertaking. Mr Deputy Speaker, as you are also on the board, you will know those problems well. Renovating the Palace will take many years—almost certainly over a decade. To do the job well, effectively and with good value for money, we will need as much flexibility as possible. Some part of Victoria Tower gardens will be useful as a staging ground for the works that will be undertaken at the Palace. We need as much wiggle room as possible. The holocaust memorial would make working on the Palace more constrictive and possibly more costly in both time and money.
There are suitable alternative locations. I want to stress this point: instead of building an entirely new holocaust learning centre, why do the Government not take advantage of the Imperial War Museum, where there is plenty of room? This site at the Imperial War Museum is less than half a mile away from the current proposed site, so it would still be an accessible and prominent central London location. I repeat that almost nobody objects to having a memorial in the park but not the underground learning centre.
For all those reasons—especially those given by my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken in her brilliant speech—the proposed design is simply the wrong design. In its complexity and controversy, it undermines what we are trying to achieve. I appeal to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, who has now rejoined us in the Chamber, to try to achieve a compromise. This whole controversy, this whole delay, is doing no good to the cause. If he can work with the Father of the House and with Westminster City Council, I am sure that in a matter of months they could come to an agreement to build a worthy memorial. Then, in time, we could work with all interested parties to create a fantastic, world-class holocaust museum, which would explain the whole story properly. I am simply suggesting a compromise and a way forward. I hope the Secretary of State will agree that that compromise is worth considering.
I declare my interest as co-chairman since 2018 of the holocaust memorial all-party group. We have sought to obtain progress on the establishment of the holocaust memorial and learning centre, but progress has been too slow.
When we talk about the holocaust, it is hard to comprehend how 6 million men, women and children could systematically be murdered. When I was at school in Wembley, half of my class were Jewish and the rest of various other religions, but never ever were we taught about the holocaust. It was not spoken about. Jewish families in our area did not talk about the holocaust; they chose to try to forget it. It is only relatively recently that we have spoken about the holocaust and its horrors. That is why the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust in educating our young people, and the not-so-young, about what actually happened is so important.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that we should be full of admiration for the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust and for the visits to the sites of terrible atrocities across Europe? Does he also agree that any visit to Auschwitz or another such site does more than bring home to people how devastating this all was? It seems to have happened just yesterday. That is why it is so right of him to reinforce the point that these events must never be forgotten and should be part of the education syllabus.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Like many others, I have been to Auschwitz. I went there with constituents and saw the true horrors—but today is not the day for remembering Auschwitz-Birkenau or any other camp; it is for dealing with the horrors of antisemitism.
My wife’s family fled Germany in the early 20th century; even back then, antisemitism was rife. Also in the early 20th century, way before the great war and before the holocaust started, my family fled France because of antisemitism and programmes in operation in that country. This problem is not confined to one particular country.
Most people would say the holocaust began around 1933, when the Nazis gained power in Germany; although they had a minority of the vote, they were ruthless. The German population were experiencing very tough times, with hyperinflation and severe reparations to pay in the wake of the great war. In such times, they sought a scapegoat, and in “Mein Kampf” we see exactly where the finger was pointed, namely at the Jewish population. Civilians had no qualms about turning their backs on Jewish friends or neighbours, and we should remember that. They isolated them from society. The momentum grew, and Jewish businesses were attacked, books were burnt, and stringent regulations restricted the freedom of Jews in the country. We should also remember, however, that of the 6 million Jews who were murdered by the Nazis, only 100,000 were German Jews. Most of those who saw this coming got out of Germany as fast as they could.
In 1938, on the awful “night of broken glass”—more commonly referred to as Kristallnacht—Nazi mobs, SS troops and ordinary citizens torched synagogues throughout Germany. They destroyed German homes, schools, businesses, hospitals and cemeteries. When the second world war broke out in 1939, the persecution escalated severely. The antisemitic undertones had now become grave systematic murder. There is no doubt that the holocaust is one of the most tragic events that the world has seen, and the brutal, wicked murder of 6 million Jewish men, women and children by the Nazis and their collaborators during the second world war must never be forgotten.
The conditions undergone by Jewish communities during that time are incomprehensible today. The testimonies of survivors paint a grave picture of what happened in the concentration camps: initially forced labour, then starvation, gas chambers and minimal hope of survival. Maria Ossowski, a brave holocaust survivor, described the experience as one
“which will haunt me all my life.”
Even today, those survivors and their families must live with the remnants of their past, to which they were subjected simply because they were Jewish. It is essential that we commemorate the hardships that were undergone, to preserve the extraordinary stories of survival and give our future generations an accurate account of history in order to educate them and prevent such scenarios from ever occurring again. We must do all that we can to prevent genocides in any form and in any part of the world—the killing of innocent people simply because they are the wrong type of people.
The memorial will serve as a national monument to commemorate the men, women and children lost during the holocaust. Alongside it will be an education and learning centre, an accurate and detailed account of this slice of history with testimonies—this is an important element—from a British perspective. Jon Trickett made a key point about what had happened to his family. As he said, there were undercurrents in this country of what was happening in Nazi Germany. Under Mosley and his Blackshirts, a dangerous energy was brewing in this country. They sought out members of Jewish communities, who were fearful to go on the streets—certainly after dark—and who were verbally and physically attacked during the organised rallies that Mosley held.
Many Members who are present will have visited memorials dedicated to the Jewish struggle, such as Yad Vashem in Israel. In 1992 I had the opportunity to visit the original Yad Vashem, which was even more powerful than the Yad Vashem of today, because it was more personal and intense. Today’s Yad Vashem is a much bigger, bolder museum, but loses some of the original, key intentions. However, the powerful audio-visual exhibitions and the stories told by survivors send an exceptionally powerful message to visitors, ensuring that those narratives will live on forever as a stark reminder. It is expected that our site will attract half a million visitors a year, which emphasises how wide the outreach of the project will be.
The holocaust is fast moving from living history to just history. Sadly, holocaust survivors are dying, and far too many have passed on already. It is therefore important that we build the memorial at the earliest possible opportunity to pay tribute to those who have suffered in both the past and the present. The longer we take with this project, the fewer survivors will be left to see the finished memorial. Prime Minister David Cameron began the process in 2014, some eight years ago, and we still have no memorial. Devastatingly, we have lost many survivors in the last eight years, including the iconic Zigi Shipper. We need to press on urgently to ensure that as many as possible can be there to see this important site opened. Holocaust survivor Manfred Goldberg BEM recently put the situation in perfect perspective, saying:
“I was 84 when Prime Minister David Cameron first promised us survivors a national Holocaust Memorial in close proximity to the Houses of Parliament. Last month I celebrated my 93rd birthday and I pray to be able to attend the opening of this important project.”
The Prime Minister at the time announced that the holocaust commission was to examine what more should be done in Britain to ensure that the memory of the holocaust is preserved and its lessons are never forgotten. The commission concluded that a national memorial should be built, stating:
“The evidence is clear that there should be a striking new Memorial to serve as the focal point for national commemoration of the Holocaust. It should be prominently located in Central London to attract the largest possible number of visitors and to make a bold statement about the importance Britain places on preserving the memory of the Holocaust. It would stand as a permanent affirmation of the values of British society.”
I could not have put it better myself. However, eight years on, we have made little or no progress, and with the complex parliamentary process it is predicted that things will take a further four years. That adds up to 12 years and counting—longer than the second world war and longer than the holocaust itself.
There has been much discussion of the proposed location of the memorial. I thank my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken for her speech about the site. I understand completely her concerns as the local Member. I strongly believe that Victoria Tower Gardens—already home, as has been described, to another memorial—is the perfect location. With its close proximity to Parliament, it will both serve as a reminder to us decision makers to ensure that this never happens again, and attract large numbers of tourists to visit the site and learn the history. We should remember that large numbers of people come to this place already, so many will come to this place and go to the holocaust memorial centre too.
The Bill will permit Victoria Tower Gardens to house the memorial. No place in Britain is more suitable for a holocaust memorial and learning centre than Victoria Tower Gardens—right next to Parliament, the very institution where decisions on Britain’s response were made in the lead-up to the holocaust, during it and in its aftermath. I hope that we will see detail about the decisions that were made, what people knew about what was going on in the holocaust, and what we did as a nation as a result. The memorial will serve as a reminder of the potential for abuse of democratic institutions and its murderous consequences, in stark contrast to the true role of democracy in standing up to and combating racism, hatred and prejudice.
Only Parliament can change the law. It is right that Parliament should consider whether the unique significance of the holocaust justifies seeking an exception to the protections mentioned by my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough, which were put in place by Parliament more than a century ago. I am aware that, for many reasons, several of my colleagues oppose the development. I hope that I can defuse their concerns and persuade them that this significant project should get the backing it deserves and that current plans should be protected.
The proposals for the memorial include sensitive landscaping that will improve Victoria Tower Gardens for all users. More than 90% of the area of the gardens will remain fully open after the memorial is built. Local residents and workers will be able to visit and enjoy the gardens just as they do now. Further, it is important that the relevant section of the unique legislation that we seek to override—the 1900 Act—applies only to Victoria Tower Gardens, meaning that the Bill will not impact any future development rights at other sites.
In response to the many concerns about the environmental impact of the site, I am assured that landscape improvements to Victoria Tower Gardens will ensure that this important and well-used green space is made even more attractive and accessible than ever before. The new development will take only 7.5% of the current area, and all the mature London plane trees will be protected. Additional planting and improved drainage of the grassed area will increase the overall attractiveness of the gardens and reduce any potential risks of flooding. There will still be a clear and unobstructed view of Parliament from all areas of the park.
It is important to note that the holocaust memorial will not be the only memorial on the site. The Buxton memorial, as has been mentioned, was placed in Victoria Tower Gardens in 1957 to commemorate the emancipation of slaves in the British empire. For years, this well-placed memorial has attracted visitors and become a loved and popular part of the park.
It is clearly a very different type of memorial. My right hon. Friend is referring to the holocaust memorial and the learning centre combined, but the learning centre will be underground. Only 7.5% of the park will be used for this purpose. The holocaust memorial will complement the Buxton memorial, being no greater in height and with bronze fins designed to step down progressively to the east, in visual deference to the Buxton memorial.
The Father of the House has suggested that the memorial would be better placed at the Imperial War Museum. Contrary to those comments, the Imperial War Museum has said it supports the current plans for the memorial to be situated in Victoria Tower gardens and that it has no wish for the memorial to be built on its site.
I reject the claim that the Jewish community does not want this memorial, which I cannot believe has been put forward and is simply untrue. Of course, as with any community, the Jewish community is not homogeneous—it does not agree on everything—and there will always be a difference of opinion to some degree. But the vast majority are in agreement that the proposals are good and that there is an urgent need to crack on with the project.
Prominent supporters of the memorial include the Chief Rabbi, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council and the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, as well as many holocaust survivors. Throughout this process, there have been multiple consultations with members of the Jewish and survivor community.
At every stage of the previous planning inquiry, individuals and groups were able to give written and oral evidence, which has been crucial to shaping the development. When we get through the parliamentary process, I hope they will have the same rights, as we would expect.
It is quite clear that the majority of the House agrees with the proposals, and we are determined, dedicated and devoted to ensuring the plans become reality as soon as possible. We must remember the horrors that people had to live through during that atrocious point in history, in order to ensure their stories are preserved as lessons for generations to come.
In deference to my hon. Friend Nicola Richards, who spoke earlier, I end with the words of Sir Ben Helfgott, a holocaust survivor and successful Olympic weightlifter, whose words should resonate with all of us when assessing the urgency of the project:
“I look forward to one day taking my family to the new national memorial and learning centre, telling the story of Britain and the Holocaust. And one day, I hope that my children and grandchildren will take their children and grandchildren, and that they will remember all those who came before them, including my mother Sara, my sister Lusia, and my father Moishe.”
Sadly, he died earlier this year, but I have no doubt that, with this memorial and learning centre, his memory and story will live on for his children, grandchildren and future generations to enjoy for many years. I support the Bill.
I start by thanking all the hon. and right hon. Members who have taken part in this debate: the Father of the House; the right hon. Members for Witham (Priti Patel), for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) and for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb); the hon. Members for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald), for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) and for Harrow East; and my hon. Friends the Members for Hemsworth (Jon Trickett) and for Canterbury (Rosie Duffield). Each made their respective case with both force and clarity.
The Bill concerns a matter that arouses strong emotions, and the debate has understandably reflected that fact, but everyone who has contributed this afternoon has done so in a considered and respectful way that has done justice to the significance of the issue at hand. Whatever differences might exist about precisely how we do so, we are united as a House in our commitment to remembering and learning from the holocaust.
The Opposition’s position on the Bill is clear and unambiguous. As my hon. Friend the shadow Secretary of State made clear at the outset of the debate, we support the construction of a national holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower gardens, and we therefore welcome the Bill as a means to facilitate its establishment. Many who have spoken in the debate have touched upon the rationale for creating a national holocaust memorial and learning centre. As we have heard, the idea was first proposed in 2015, and it has enjoyed cross-party support from its inception. In the eight years that have passed since the idea was first mooted, the case for such a monument and institution has only grown. That is not only because of the alarming rise of anti-Jewish hate in recent years, but because as the number of those who survived the shoah dwindles and those who still remain with us grow ever frailer, it is essential that we as a country do more to preserve the memory of this unique act of evil and those who perished in it.
It is also imperative that we continue to educate future generations about what happened, both as a mark of respect to those who were lost and those who survived, and as a warning about what happens when antisemitism, prejudice and hatred are allowed to flourish unchecked. Once constructed, the memorial will stand as a permanent reminder of the horrors of the past, and the need for a democratic citizenry to remain ever vigilant and willing to act when the values that underpin a free and tolerant society are undermined or threatened.
We on the Opposition Benches believe it is particularly important that the thematic exhibition that the proposed learning centre will house is not only engaging and reflective, but honest about Britain’s complicated relationship with the holocaust. The proximity of the proposed memorial and learning centre to this House cannot and should not be taken to imply that the United Kingdom and its Parliament have an unimpeachable record when it comes to the knowledge of, and response to, the systematic mass killing of Jews by the Nazi regime.
Let us put it on the record that, as Winston Churchill said, only one nation in the entire world fought Nazism and fascism from day one of the war to the last day of the war—it was this country and this Parliament.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree with him, although he will know of the many voices of dissent both at the time of and in the years leading up to the moment in which we took that stand. As I was going to say, the proximity of the proposed site renders it all the more important to confront openly the ambiguous and varied responses—and there were some—of our country’s Parliament, Government and society to the still unsurpassed crimes that were carried out by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. We have heard about those examples today.
As the debate winds up, I want to take the opportunity, once again, to put on record our thanks to all those who have been involved in advancing this project, and holocaust education more generally, in recent years. The full list is far too extensive to read into the record, but they include the past and present members of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, including the right honourable Ed Balls, the right honourable Lord Eric Pickles and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis; all those involved in developing the exhibition’s narrative, particularly Yehudit Shendar, who is providing the curatorial lead; all the organisations that have striven to embed holocaust and genocide education and commemoration in our national life, particularly the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust; and finally, all the holocaust survivors who have campaigned for holocaust education and personally championed the project, including a number who will sadly not now see it come to fruition. In that regard, those of us on the Opposition side of the House think in particular of Sir Ben Helfgott, and convey our thoughts and sincere condolences to his family and friends.
I have felt it necessary to dwell again at some length on the rationale for establishing a national holocaust memorial and learning centre, given the Bill’s ultimate purpose, but as has been mentioned, the principle of doing so is almost entirely uncontested and not an issue that arises directly from the Bill. Instead, the Bill is concerned with making provision for, and in connection with, significant expenditure related to the establishment of the proposed memorial and centre, and removing pre-existing legislative impediments that exist to the siting of it in Victoria Tower gardens, namely sections of the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900, so that progress towards construction can be made.
I want to make it clear once again that the Opposition appreciate fully that the selection of Victoria Tower gardens as the chosen location for the memorial and centre has attracted robust and principled criticism and, in some cases, outright opposition, including from prominent members of the Jewish community and holocaust survivors. Several of those who contributed to the debate today have articulated some of the criticisms and objections that have been made in that regard. The reasoned amendment in the name of the Father of the House sets out a number of them.
As we have heard, concerns about the proposed location include the impact on the construction process; rising build costs; the potential generation of additional traffic in the area; security risks; environmental protections; the loss of public green space and amenity; and the impact on existing monuments and memorials.
When the National Audit Office carried out its report last year, it thought the cost had gone up to £102 million. Since then, we will probably need to add an extra 15%, because of inflation in construction. The expansion at Yad Vashem, which was referred to by hon. Members, was completed for $100 million, so we will be spending much more for much less. I am not saying this to change the hon. Gentleman’s argument—I am grateful for the way he is summarising the debate, and he is doing it very fairly.
I thank the Father of the House. Build cost inflation is a serious issue, not just in relation to this project but across the country. That would be the case wherever the chosen location was if we are to move ahead with the memorial, as we must, but I take his point, which is a good one.
We know the concerns that have been raised about the adequacy of historical consultation. While the planning inquiry that took place in October 2022 enabled all interested parties to express their views and to raise these and other concerns and suggestions, the Opposition believe it is important that those with outstanding criticisms and objections have a chance to express them fully and be heard. The hybrid nature of the Bill and the resulting petitioning window that will be provided as a result of its designation will ensure that they are.
We hope that the Government will reflect carefully on the specific points that have been raised in the debate today. However, it is the considered view of Labour Members that this Bill needs to progress and that, amended or otherwise, it must receive Royal Assent as soon as is practically possible. There really can be no further delay if we are to have any chance whatsoever of having this vitally important project finally completed while at least some of those who survived the holocaust and made Britain their home are still with us. I think that would be the sincere wish of the whole House.
It is a real pleasure to conclude the debate. I sincerely thank Members from across the House for their thoughtful, powerful and often very personal contributions to the debate. I was moved to hear such support for the principles of this Bill from all sides of the House. Together we can put our personal politics to one side and get the holocaust memorial built, while there are still holocaust survivors alive to see it.
Regrettably, it is a sombre truth that holocaust survivors who found solace in the United Kingdom are passing away, so we cannot let this opportunity pass us by. We must pass this Bill. We must ensure that future generations remember tomorrow. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Bill will enable us to keep that solemn promise. Through it, we are pursuing our manifesto commitment and a moral commitment.
It is encouraging to know that there is broad agreement about the need for a prominent national holocaust memorial and learning centre, even among those few dissenting voices who have expressed concerns about the site in Victoria Tower gardens. What is not in dispute is that its location at the heart of our democracy has an unmatchable historical, emotional and political significance.
I wish to spend a few moments replying to some of the concerns that have been mentioned, first, in the reasoned amendment, and, secondly, in some of the speeches. We are opposing the amendment. Many of these issues were examined in depth at the six-week public inquiry in 2020.
In his overall conclusion, the planning inspector was clear that the significant range of truly civic, educative, social and even moral public benefits that the proposals offer would demonstrably outweigh the identified harms that the proposals have been found to cause. A number of Members, including my hon. Friend and neighbour Nickie Aiken, raised concerns about the park and the environment. I stress that our proposal is to take only 7.5% of the area of the gardens, with the structure of our learning centre placed underground.
I appreciate what the Minister is saying about the 7.5%. However, does she agree that placing the memorial and the learning centre in Victoria Tower gardens will change the whole atmosphere of the area, which is currently a neighbourhood park to a civic area.
It is our full intention that all activities that, at the moment, occur in the park can continue to do so, and we are being very sensitive in our design of the memorial and the learning centre. On the 7.5% point, I wish to note that the planning inspector, in his decision, recorded that the figure was agreed by all the main parties to the inquiry. I also want to say that the gardens will be enhanced in many ways with new planting, better drainage and more accessible seating. It is important also to note that the Holocaust Memorial Bill itself cannot and will not do anything to alter environmental and green space protections. The Bill will remove the statutory obstacle to building the memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower gardens, it does not provide any sort of planning permission and other necessary consents. These are contingent on an entirely separate planning permission.
I wish to pick up on a few other points that were raised. On trees, I want to reassure everyone that all the mature London plane trees will be protected, and additional planting will increase the overall attractiveness. We are taking measures to minimise the risk of damage to tree roots. Flooding was also mentioned. A detailed flood-risk assessment prepared as part of the planning application has concluded that Victoria Tower gardens is heavily protected. However, we take the risk of flooding very seriously, The Environment Agency has sought planning conditions relating to the condition of the river wall, which we are happy to comply with.
The Buxton Memorial and the concerns about it being overshadowed were mentioned. I want to stress that the design of the memorial means that the Buxton Memorial will be kept in its current position and, with the addition of new landscaping and seating, its setting will be improved. The memorial will be no higher than the top of the Buxton Memorial and the fins will step down progressively.
Concerns were raised about the interaction with the restoration and renewal programme. I just want to stress that the memorial site is at the southern end of Victoria Tower gardens and need not prevent the use of the gardens as required by the R&R project for site offices.
There was mention of having the memorial at the Imperial War Museum. I reiterate that the Imperial War Museum is very supportive of our proposals and, indeed, the chair sits on the foundation board. There was also mention of the fact that the learning centre was too small, but it is of a comparable size to that of the exhibition space underground in Berlin. In the reasoned amendment there was mention of the fact that there should be an endowment fund for education, but nothing that we are doing precludes that. There was also mention of the fact that there is opposition from members of the Jewish community. As my hon. Friend Bob Blackman said, we are never going to get unanimity among any group of people, but we are delighted that we have the support of the Chief Rabbi and of every living Prime Minister, and broad representation from the Jewish community.
Consultation has been mentioned, and the Secretary of State addressed many of those issues, but we have over the years carried out extensive consultation. We looked at around 50 possible sites in central London, and there was a public inquiry as part of the planning process. We conducted a very thorough search of possible alternative suitable sites. All sites were assessed against the same published criteria, which included visibility, accessibility, availability and affordability. Almost all the criteria in the 2015 site selection document can be met at Victoria Tower gardens. I thank Members across the House for their contributions in this important debate and for their support to deliver this long-overdue memorial.
I am not going to continue with the reasoned amendment on obvious grounds, which I spoke about earlier. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Main Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.