Clause 1 - Expenditure relating to a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre

Holocaust Memorial Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:06 pm on 22 May 2024.

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Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 4:09, 22 May 2024

I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(d) educational purposes and activities related to the memorial and the centre for learning”.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

With this it will be convenient to consider:

Amendment 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(1A) Expenditure incurred under this section must not exceed £50 million.”

Clause 1 stand part.

Amendment 2, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert

“in so far as those paragraphs relate to a Holocaust Memorial.”

This amendment would provide for restrictions, in relation to certain land under the 1900 Act, to be removed only for activities described in paragraphs (a) to (c) of section 1(1), in relation to a Holocaust Memorial.

Amendment 3, page 1, line 18, at end insert

“subject to the total area used for such activities not exceeding 1,429 square metres (including in that total area any entrance pavilion, courtyard, ramp, associated hard standing, service access, access paths and any areas which are inaccessible to the public or inaccessible without tickets).”

This amendment would limit the area of Victoria Tower Gardens for which restrictions are lifted for the purposes of the construction of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre to 1,429m2.

Amendment 5, page 1, line 18, at end insert

“provided that any such activities shall not cause any harm to any other memorial in the land described in section 8(1) of that Act or to the setting of such memorials.”

This amendment would permit works to be carried out on land subject to restrictions under the 1900 Act provided that no harm is caused to other memorials in that area.

Clause 2 stand part.

Clause 3 stand part.

New clause 1—Review of security arrangements—

“(1) The Secretary of State must, prior to the commencement of construction of a Holocaust memorial or learning centre—

(a) carry out a review of proposed security arrangements for the proposed Holocaust memorial or learning centre;

(b) lay before Parliament a report on the outcome and findings of the review of the proposed security arrangements;

(c) by regulations, specify the security arrangements which are to be implemented for the proposed Holocaust memorial or learning centre.

(2) Regulations made under subsection (1)(c) are subject to the affirmative procedure.”

New clause 2—Review of sites—

“The Secretary of State must, prior to a decision being made in relation to the site of a Holocaust Memorial or Learning Centre—

(a) carry out a review of potential sites for a Holocaust memorial or learning centre, which must include—

(i) consideration of the views of professional property consultants,

(ii) consideration of the way in which each site would meet the objectives of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission Report 2015,

(iii) consideration of the way in which each site would meet the objectives of the Search for a Central London site 2015,

(iv) consideration of estimates of costs for construction for each site, and

(v) a full public consultation on the shortlisted sites;

(b) lay before Parliament a report on the findings of the review.”

This new clause would require the Government to carry out a review of potential sites for a Holocaust Memorial or Learning Centre, and lay a report on its findings, before a decision is made in relation to the final site.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

When someone asked me if there was going to be a general election soon, I thought they must have read the carry-over motion for the Bill and that had misled them into thinking we were about to have an election. Perhaps, by the end of the debate, we will know whether that was right or wrong.

In one of the explanations of the present proposal, to put a box with 23 fins in the middle of Victoria Tower Gardens, a design that was not accepted for Ottawa before it was submitted for London, we were told that people would come out of the experience looking at Parliament—at democracy. In fact, if it happens, they will come out and look at the House of Lords. Although the House of Lords is an important part of our democracy, it is not necessarily democracy itself; it has the remaining hereditary peers, as well as people who are appointed. The House of Lords will have the opportunity to consider the Bill, if it reaches their lordships’ House, and I believe it will pick up the points made in the Select Committee that considered the hybrid Bill in more depth than this House will.

In the specification in September 2015, the Government and their agency made plain they did not want most of the money spent on construction and building; they wanted most of it spent on education. In terms of education about the Holocaust, we are in difficult times. Protests in London mean the existing Holocaust memorial gets covered up for protection and, if the present proposal goes ahead, it will be quite often be closed on security grounds. Other hon. Members will speak to the security considerations that were heard in front of the Select Committee.

When the Government put forward their proposal, the indication was it would cost £25 million from Government and £25 million raised from charitable sources. Since then, my guess is—I hope the Minister will correct me—that £40 million has already been spent without anything being achieved. As the Select Committee set out, the costs go way above the £137 million plus contingencies indicated a year ago. I believe the Government should recognise that they went off on the wrong route when they considered the site options proposed by consultants that were put forward after the consultation starting in September 2015.

When the Government responded to that early in 2016, they did not co-locate the learning centre with the memorial. As Ministers and those advising them know, in the consultation and specification in September 2015, there was no mention of having the memorial close to Parliament at all. Page 10 of the specification document shows a map of what the foundation regards as the acceptable area of central London; it went from the west of Regent’s Park to Spitalfields and down to the Imperial War Museum.

In the eight or nine years since then, the Imperial War Museum has totally reordered and expanded its Holocaust Galleries, the Jewish Museum has closed and the Wiener collection is in some difficulty. If the Government were serious about getting most of the money spent on education, they would have already diverted money to the Wiener collection and the Jewish Museum, and they would have charged up the Holocaust Memorial Trust with money. Last year, the trust had an income of £5,000 and spending of £6,000, which is apparently dedicated on the presumption of getting the Government’s proposal through. If they were serious about education, the Government would not have waited to get some kind of memorial up, and possibly some kind of learning centre associated with it, before they started to get on with the educational work.

When the Holocaust Commission was set up, its purpose was to get education going now. Its work was taken over by the foundation and then pursued by Government Ministers. We have used up eight years because the Government have made mistake after mistake after mistake. The most recent one was to believe that their Bill to overcome the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 was in some way not hybrid; it clearly was hybrid. The next mistake they made, one they made both before and after, was not to say there had never been a comparison between the present proposal and the best alternative. It took me three years to discover that they had not done that. If I am wrong, the Minister can lay that on the table, and I hope that he will do so now. It is the only time in modern times when the Government have brought forward a proposal without showing why it is better than the alternatives. They commissioned consultants who came forward with 26 schemes, three of which would have been put to the Government. But in a moment not of genius or necessarily of madness, but of peculiarity, those who were making the decision chose not to pay any attention at all.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby 4:15, 22 May 2024

May I just clarify something that my hon. Friend has just said? He stated that £40 million has already been spent on a scheme that has not moved forward in any way.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

I think that is the right figure, but the Minister will know. I am just a Back Bencher, and have been for quite some time, but I think that is the figure. I believe that it was between £35 million and £40 million. That could have paid for a prominent memorial and we could then have enhanced the learning and educational facilities.

The arguments against using Victoria Tower Gardens are clear. It is an area of quiet recreation for people who live locally. I live nearby. It is a place where people who work round here can quietly enjoy the open space.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank the Father of the House for giving way. He is making an important point about how Victoria Tower Gardens is a local park. Does he agree that there are thousands of social housing tenants, living 10 or 15 minutes’ walk away, who benefit from having the green space that Victoria Tower Gardens offers and would be concerned if it were overtaken by a memorial and an education centre?

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

My hon. Friend is right. She has the advantage of having led Westminster City Council and will not need reminding that the Government originally said that they wanted their proposal to have the support of the local authority. When they gained the impression that, on merit, the local authority was not likely to give its approval, they took the proposal away from the local authority.

On a number of occasions, the King’s counsel leading for the Government in front of the Select Committee, said that what has been considered by the Committee was not planning permission. He constantly said that planning would be dealt with in the normal way. The normal way is for an application—because the present one has been squashed—to go to the local authority. The Government can, if they choose to do so, call it in if they think that the local authority has got it wrong or it is of national importance. They should not, in this case, have regarded it as of national importance to stop the local authority having the option of considering the interests of local residents, as my hon. Friend has remarked.

Between Vauxhall Bridge and Victoria Street or Birdcage Walk, there is no other large green space open to the public. The Minister will know that. He will have walked around Victoria Tower Gardens as many times as I have. He may also have walked the extra 1,200 yards to the Imperial War Museum, where there is a big park dedicated to peace. Why was the Imperial War Museum not allowed to put forward a detailed proposal? And why did the Government then turn round and say, because it had not put forward such a proposal, it could not be considered?

We all know that massive pressure was put on the Imperial War Museum trustees, and that their chair was made a member of the foundation. I do not think that the Government have approached this in the right way. Let me put the Government’s words on the record. The United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial is seeking

“a prominent location in Central London with significant existing footfall so as to draw in and inspire the largest possible number of visitors.”

Under the present proposals, we will not be able just to walk in. We will have to be cleared by security and that, at times of heightened security, the memorial will either be closed or there will be airport-style security, which is not the point of a memorial to the victims and to the dedication that it should not happen again.

To return to the Government’s words:

“The site will support several features and activities, the number and extent of which will depend on the size of the space available. Sites capable of accommodating 5,000-10,000 sqm of built space for the UKHMF over no more than three contiguous floors will be considered.”

That is not what is being proposed, but the proposal would, in effect, take over about a third of the park regardless. The Government claim that it would be a much smaller proportion, but if we take all the associated parts of the proposal, it would be much more than the Government say.

The final sentence of that section says:

“In order to achieve the maximum benefits for the public, the UKHMF needs to allocate as much of its funds as possible to educational purposes rather than to land and construction and so the site must be highly cost effective.”

The only cost-effectiveness in this site is that the Government believe that they can get it for free. They had not factored in the additional costs of building a box by a river and by a main road, where people are trying to enjoy the park. Some estimates suggest that the park will be basically out of action for up to five years. If the Government say, “You shouldn’t believe that kind of estimate,” I will tell them that for the past 12 months it has not been possible to walk along the river walk in Victoria Tower Gardens because Ministers who are responsible for the state of repair of the Buxton memorial fountain have allowed contractors to barrier it off way beyond what was needed to stop people going over the fountain itself.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

We could have had a fantastic, beautiful, moving memorial—roughly the same size as the Buxton memorial, or the memorial to the abolition of slavery or to the campaign for women’s votes—eight years ago, if only the Government had not persisted with the crazy idea of an underground learning centre in a totally unsuitable location.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

My right hon. Friend is right, and most people will agree with him, even if their job is to stand up and say something different.

I will not spend much time on the planning permission, because it is not the subject of the Bill. When the inspector’s report was received by the Government and considered, this was the conclusion under the signature of the planning casework unit:

“This decision was made by the Minister of State for Housing in line with the published handling arrangements for this case…and signed on his behalf. In particular, those handling arrangements state that:

‘Christopher Pincher MP (the Housing and Planning Minister) will be responsible for exercising the functions of the Secretary of State under sections 70 and 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act’” and so on. Who here believes that a Minister of State would, on merit, turn down an application by their own Secretary of State? I will give way to anybody who wants to make that suggestion. It is just incredible. It would not happen.

I will now change tone a bit. During the Select Committee hearings, the Government counsel suddenly switched from saying who the lead designer and architect for the proposal was. The Government’s press notice announcing the winner contained 13 references to Sir David Adjaye, now Order of Merit, four references to Ron Arad, and no references to Asa Bruno. Proper tribute has been paid to Asa Bruno. It is true that he was the one who put a number of points to the inspector. He is recognised as a leading designer, and his obituary, which I refreshed my mind on just now, showed that he was a startlingly good person. However, when the Government announced the lead designer and architect for the proposal, they named Sir David Adjaye, who could hardly be mentioned by the promoters at the Select Committee for reasons that I will not go into now. They are well known and in the public domain.

Let us turn to the points that the Government made to the Select Committee after I raised that issue:

“On 24 January, in a debate on the Business of the House (col 439), Sir Peter Bottomley MP referred to the proceedings at the seventh public session of the Holocaust Memorial Bill committee and suggested that counsel for the Promoter may have ‘inadvertently told the committee things that are contradicted by the facts…’ in relation to responsibilities for the design of the Memorial.”

I was then told that what was said was right. I think that that leading counsel, over and over again, was trying to write Sir David Adjaye out because of the embarrassment to Government. If it was Asa Bruno who was responsible for the Ottawa proposal, so be it, but that was not what Government said seven years ago in public.

I am going to go on fighting this, but not so long this evening, because my colleagues have more to say. I say to those watching the proceedings, “Look into the details of what has happened.” I commend to them early-day motions 711, tabled on 1 May, and 775, tabled on 21 May. In particular, the latter “regrets that the promoter” —that is, the Government—

“has failed to understand the justified requests for a detailed comparison of the present unsatisfactory scheme with the alternatives studied by the Government’s consultants;
further regrets the continuing lack of updated costings for capital and recurrent costs;
disagrees with the suggestion that planning permission and all other necessary consents were obtained in the usual way;
regrets there is no known plan to spend more available resources on education rather than on construction;
further regrets that known and growing security restrictions are not being adequately addressed;
and believes the promoter is not meeting its obligation to achieve an appropriate memorial at a justified cost in a suitable location, associated with opportunities to learn and to understand the Holocaust and to reduce the likelihood of a repeat of the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

I end with words from the Holocaust survivors who gave evidence at the Committee, who said, in summary, that the proposal is too big for the gardens and too small for its purpose.

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission

Certainly—I was calling the hon. Lady because she is the only Member on the Opposition Back Benches who had indicated she wished to speak, but there is no need for her to contribute at this stage. We will save her contribution for Third Reading and continue with the Committee stage, with the Chair of the Committee that has examined this Bill, John Stevenson.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

Thank you, Dame Eleanor. I wish to speak to amendment 1 and new clause 1 and take the opportunity to speak to some of the other amendments. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley for his contribution and his dogged determination, and for covering many of the issues that are relevant to this discussion.

Before making my other remarks, I would also like to say that I fully support the idea and concept of a Holocaust memorial and learning centre; indeed, I voted for it on Second Reading. I recognise that this is an incredibly important project, and one that is probably as important now as it ever has been in the past. The idea of a specific memorial is entirely appropriate, but the concept and idea of a learning centre is in many respects vital and, in my view, the most significant part of the project. It is coming up to 80 years since the end of world war two and there are fewer people who have a direct link with that time or indeed with what happened during the second world war. Therefore, it is even more important we do not forget and that we ensure that we learn from what happened then and educate for the future.

Please be in no doubt, therefore, of my support for an appropriate memorial and a worthwhile learning centre—something that I am sure the whole House will support. However, having had the privilege and responsibility of being part of the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee, I have concluded that there are some serious issues that need to be properly addressed before this specific scheme potentially proceeds—if it does at all. My advice to Government would be to take a step back and pause. Is this really the right scheme? Is it really the right location? What about the appropriate costs involved?

We all want to see a successful scheme. We want to see it constructed in a timely fashion, and arguably too long has already passed. We want it to be built in the right location, and at a cost that is realistic and fair. If I may be so bold, I would suggest that such a scheme could be built quite quickly at the Imperial War Museum and fulfil all the ambitions and wishes of the original Committee and everybody in this House.

Let me turn to the Bill and the various amendments. Four key issues arise, but I will touch first on planning, on which I am sure the Minister will respond. Time has passed and circumstances have changed. What are the issues relating to air quality and flooding, the changes to the area in traffic management terms, and the prospect of thousands of visitors to such a site? Is a new planning application now required, to go back to the proposal’s origins, or should we just consider updating the current version, and, if so, what are the requirements for that? The planning application touched on security, but circumstances have fundamentally changed. I will come back to that point in due course, as it relates to my new clause 1.

Secondly, there is consultation, which new clause 2 touches on. It is something that the Select Committee picked up on very early. The original Committee had instructed consultants to seek an appropriate site. Recommendations were made and sites were located and considered. The Holocaust Commission itself came up with Victoria Tower Gardens. I understand that it has been said—allegedly, at least—that that was a lightbulb moment. What I find extraordinary, however, is that no further consultation on that particular site was taken. Had such a consultation taken place, it may have revealed the issue relating to the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900—the reason for our deliberations today—and because that issue was missed, the amount of time spent on this whole project has been extended.

That consultation may or may not have shown that that was the correct site, but at least there would have been proper consultation, people would have had the opportunity to consider the merits of the site and, perhaps, whether it was inappropriate, and it could have been compared with other locations. It was very telling that the counsel for the promoter and the Government all but acknowledged that a consultation should have taken place, and that it would have been better if one had. In my view, that was a serious error of judgment. I appreciate that the Government will argue that there was a consultation during the planning application, but I would dispute that it was the one that should have been carried out.

Let me turn to my two amendments. Amendment 1 would address the overall cost: the original amount set aside by the Government to kick-start an endowment fund was £50 million, as set out in 2015 by the then Prime Minister, David Cameron. By 2017, the figure quoted was still £50 million, but then the costs started to increase. In 2018, they had risen to an estimated £102 million, of which the Government would fund £75 million, and private donations the rest. We now have a cost estimate of around £138 million, but are we really suggesting that when the digging starts in Victoria Tower Gardens, the costs will remain anywhere near that? I suspect that they will escalate considerably to a much higher figure.

It does not end there. In 2021, the then Minister announced that entry to the site would be free. The estimated annual running costs were, at that time, £6 million per year. In 2024, they have risen to somewhere between £6.5 million and £8.5 million—and, indeed, they could go higher. Of course, we have still not considered the potential security costs, which are, in many respects, a complete unknown. Amendment 1 would restrict the funding to the original amount, which could be increased by substantial private donations. Might the Minister advise the House on the estimated private donations to date, and on what they are likely to be in future, so that we have some indication of the private contributions that could be made to the overall project?

New clause 1 is probably the most important of my two amendments. Security will become a huge issue in the future—we are already acutely aware of it, given the circumstances of what is going on in Gaza. I appreciate that some thought was given to security during the planning process, and would be again, but circumstances have completely changed. If the project goes ahead and we build the memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, we do not want to see them being closed most of the time because of security considerations.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 4:30, 22 May 2024

Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a serious issue regarding the security of Victoria Tower Gardens if the memorial and education centre are built? We have already seen the current Holocaust memorial that is based in Hyde Park covered up by the authorities to protect it during a recent pro-Palestine march that went through Hyde Park.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Security issues should be one of our key considerations as a Committee, which is why I think somewhere like the Imperial War Museum would be a far better location.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

I will address the security issue in my speech, but I think it is all the wrong way round to make a decision about where to place a memorial to 6 million murdered people because some protesters and activists might threaten it. That is giving in to bad behaviour.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

Security is one of the many considerations with regard to the site, and I think it is a valid one to look at, but what we want is somewhere that is actively attended—somewhere that people go to on a regular basis, and are not hindered from doing so because of security concerns. My new clause 1 asks the Government to get a security review and bring it to Parliament. That review may well conclude that there is no issue and we should proceed, or it may suggest to Government that there are active concerns and we should respond accordingly.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

I apologise if I am taking words out of my hon. Friend’s speech before he gets to them, but was it not Lord Carlile, the Government’s terrorism adviser, who made the point about security very strongly?

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

My hon. Friend is exactly right—he certainly did so at that time.

I have tabled two amendments to this Bill: one is about cost, and the other is about security. Overall, the security issue must have priority, and I will certainly be looking to push that amendment to a vote, but I will just make some final comments on those amendments and, indeed, the whole project.

I believe the amendments to the Bill are sensible and appropriate, and sadly, I feel that unless the Government take a step back and give serious thought to the proposed project, there can be only two ultimate outcomes. Either at some point in the future, someone will have a lightbulb moment, reassess the whole matter, review where we are going with it and maybe draw back from the ideas that are being put forward, or we will press on and potentially create a very expensive white elephant, which will defeat the worthwhile aim of creating the memorial and learning centre that I believe we all want to see. I hope it is the former, rather than the latter, that prevails.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

First, I thank the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee for its very hard work. That Committee was excellently chaired by my hon. Friend John Stevenson, and its report makes for interesting reading. It was clear that that cross-party and impartial Committee shares many of the concerns that I and many of my constituents hold.

I would go as far as to say that the Committee’s findings mirror our own criticisms of the Government’s handling of the whole question of the merits of building a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens. Those are that no proper consultation or assessment took place of the merits of Victoria Tower Gardens as a proposed location; there is no grip on the costs to build it or to maintain it once completed, specifically the cost to the public purse of the ongoing security that will be required; and no thought has been given to security plans for protecting the park, its visitors, or the children’s playground at a time of heightened national security risk.

I wish to speak to amendments 2, 3 and 5, as well as new clause 2, which stand in my name. I also wish to speak in favour of new clause 1 and amendment 1, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and to which I have added my name. As we reach the Committee stage of this hybrid Bill on the proposal to build a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens, a small but much-loved park in my constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster, I wish to reiterate my long-held view that this is the right memorial but the wrong location. I say that as a huge supporter of the Jewish community not only in my constituency but across the nation. I have friends who would not be here if their families had not escaped eastern Europe during the 1930s and ’40s. One of my closest friends, Daniel Astaire, certainly would not be here because his grandmother was one of the final children on the Kindertransport and she lost her entire family in what is now the Czech Republic.

Having read last summer the outstanding book by Lord Finkelstein, “Hitler, Stalin, Mum and Dad”—I recommend everybody read that brilliant book—I concluded that we really do need a Holocaust memorial in this country to remind ourselves of past events but also to pay homage to the many British Jews still affected by the Holocaust and who lost so many of their families. This is not about being anti the brilliant idea of a Holocaust memorial, but about its location only.

The Select Committee report concluded that no public consultation was undertaken regarding possible locations for the memorial. In fact, Victoria Tower Gardens came about as the idea of an unnamed individual. We cannot permit such a precedent to stand: that an individual and then a Committee can decide on a location for such an important memorial without proper consultation. New clause 2 would require the Secretary of State to carry out a consultation on the potential merits of alternative sites for the Holocaust memorial. I absolutely believe—and find it astonishing—that no such consultation was carried out before Victoria Tower Gardens was chosen as the Government’s preferred location.

When the Holocaust memorial was first mooted, it was suggested, as my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and the Father of the House, my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley have said, that the Imperial War Museum, less than a mile from Parliament, would be an appropriate location. I have visited the Imperial War Museum, including its outstanding Holocaust galleries and exhibitions, numerous times and I believe tourists, school groups and others would sincerely benefit from being able, having visited the galleries, to then spend time in a garden of the Imperial War Museum, which I believe would make an appropriate location for the Holocaust memorial.

I remember the first time I visited the Holocaust galleries: I came out after what was a very harrowing experience—a real human harrowing experience—and felt I wanted to sit down and reflect on what I had seen. I absolutely think that having the Holocaust memorial in the Imperial War Museum gardens would be appropriate, because after visitors see the exhibits in the museum they need time to reflect and remember those who have been lost.

With such a major proposal as the Holocaust memorial and learning centre, it is imperative that those who would be directly impacted by the construction and then the continuing existence of such an installation—local residents, local businesses, organisations and relevant public bodies—should have been, and should still be, properly consulted.

We should also hear the voices of those who have been directly impacted by the atrocities of the Holocaust that took place across eastern Europe during the 1930s and ’40s, and the subsequent genocides across the world that we have witnessed since then. Indeed, the Select Committee heard from Holocaust survivors who expressed objections to Victoria Tower Gardens as the chosen location.

If we had a consultation, I think we would confirm the public’s view on the merits of locating the memorial and learning centre at Victoria Tower Gardens, and allow for a full debate on alternative locations that may or may not prove to be more appropriate. I have mentioned the Imperial War Museum, but it does not have to be there. It could be anywhere across our capital, or across the nation—this is, after all, a national memorial. Nevertheless, if after a consultation Victoria Tower Gardens was chosen, I am sure that the plan would receive more good will from local people.

I was interested to note in the special report of the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee that many petitioners had voiced their dismay at the lack of consultation. It highlighted their view that, if a proper consultation had taken place about sites and Victoria Tower Gardens had come out on top, it would have been considered more legitimate. From my many conversations with constituents over the years since this memorial was first suggested, as a counsellor and now as an MP, I have found that what local people want is the confidence that this project is not being steamrollered into being without due consideration, and that a full and proper consultation is undertaken.

So much time has passed since the idea of a Holocaust memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens was first mooted that any proposals are more than likely to be out of date. I think I had my first meeting about the proposal in 2016, as leader of Westminster Council, and we are now eight years on. The costs have clearly skyrocketed with inflation and other pressures on construction. The surrounding area has changed and it continues to change dramatically. For example, the roundabout on the north side of Lambeth bridge is undergoing a fundamental change, which will have consequences for local traffic flow and management.

Since the proposal was suggested, we have seen the development of residential areas on that roundabout; what were once offices now house scores of residents who would be immediately affected by having such an important memorial in their local park. We have to take all sorts of issues into consideration, and there may also have been changes to the water table after the past decade of our living with climate change. Obviously, the security concerns in this part of London have sadly increased in recent times, which I will speak about later.

After so much change in the past decade, since the planning application for this installation was made, I consider that it is likely to be out of date. If we are all honest, a new application should really be made to address the developments that have occurred since and to respond to many of the concerns raised in the Select Committee’s report. For all these reasons, I believe a complete review of the proposal is required, combined with a consultation on the location. Perhaps that is more important than ever before.

The special report from the Select Committee makes it clear that local people are concerned about the environmental impact, and I have therefore tabled amendment 2, which is designed to reduce the damage to Victoria Tower Gardens. This park is a special place for many people. Local residents of course frequent the gardens as their neighbourhood green space, but also many parliamentarians, parliamentary staff, journalists and others find much-needed solace in the park during lunchtime and after work. I have to tell the House that I have been invited to Victoria Tower Gardens this evening to do several interviews, which I may not be doing, but it has always been a favoured place for the media and journalists to undertake interviews.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby 4:45, 22 May 2024

I thank my hon. Friend for giving way and for all her hard work campaigning on this issue. I was on the Select Committee, and what came to light, as she knows, was that residents and a significant number of petitioners from the Jewish community, including some Holocaust survivors, were against this location. One of my biggest concerns is that if this legislation is allowed to go through, it will set a precedent by lifting a covenant on the gardens that will mean they are no longer there for people to enjoy for recreation. It could have planning permission on it, which could open up all sorts of cans of worms across the country. Does she agree?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. Having read the Select Committee’s report, it is clear to me that there is a genuine concern about the Bill setting a precedent, which I will talk about slightly later. The London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 is clear about protecting public spaces. In a constituency such as mine in central London, we do not benefit from huge amounts of neighbourhood green spaces, where a family can just pop out on a Sunday morning after breakfast to give the children a run around. As I have said, thousands of social housing tenants live on Page Street, Regency Street and in the Peabody blocks just behind Great Peter Street, and they do not benefit from having their own gardens and are desperate not to lose their local park.

Photo of Richard Bacon Richard Bacon Conservative, South Norfolk

Has my hon. Friend had the opportunity to be in Victoria Tower Gardens on a Saturday or Sunday morning and seen at the south end, where there is a developed play space, large numbers of local mums with their toddlers—not always mums, of course, but often they are—playing in exactly the way we would hope in a green space?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I have seen that. It goes back to the point that for many of us in this Chamber this is a workplace. I am obviously an exception, because this is my constituency, but for most Members of Parliament this is our workspace and then they go home. But this is my home, and I know from local residents—my neighbours —that Victoria Tower Gardens is a much-loved and much-used park. It is not just a workplace for people to do radio or TV interviews; it is also where people take their children and their dogs for walks. It is much-used and much-loved, and it would be an absolute tragedy if we were to lose an inch of it, in my personal opinion, but I may be in the minority.

Madam Deputy Chairman—sorry, I mean Dame Eleanor. This could be my last speech in this place, so I have to get that right. Let us not forget the array of statues situated in Victoria Tower Gardens. They carry special meaning and make it a unique place, and they include the Buxton memorial fountain, which celebrates and commemorates the emancipation of all slaves in the British empire in 1834. It is in the centre of the gardens and has the most amazing location, for absolutely the right reasons. I note that in the special report from the Select Committee, Mr Richard Buxton, representing the Buxton family and the Thomas Fowell Buxton Society, highlighted concerns that the Holocaust memorial and learning centre should

“not cause any degree of harm either actual or to the setting of any other memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens”.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I thank the hon. Lady her for her amendment, which I am happy to support. Members of the Buxton family live in my constituency, so if the Government were to agree to it, that would go some way towards alleviating their concerns.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I did not realise the family connection with the hon. Gentleman’s constituency. The Buxton memorial is unique and should be protected. We would not want any other memorial encroaching upon it.

It is also important to remember that half the entire park itself was a gift to the nation from the newspaper retailer William Henry Smith—the founder of WHSmith —who donated £1,000 to preserve it as an open space, on the condition that it would be a place for recreation, particularly for the children of Westminster. The Government of the day agreed. To this day, local schoolchildren and even younger children continue to take advantage of this rare green space in central London. The notion of charity may have been undermined by this proposal. One may ask what it might mean for the future of other such bequests, if other gifts to be used as public space for the benefit of the environment and local people are similarly overridden.

Amendment 2, which stands in my name, seeks to limit the damage to the park to just the memorial, should the proposal go ahead. The Bill in its current form does not provide for the location of the memorial and the learning centre to be on the same site, and it was not stipulated as a prerequisite in the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission report in 2015. I remember that there was a proposal for the learning and education centre to be in Millbank Tower, as part of the redevelopment. That did not see the light of day, but it would have been a good compromise.

We risk Victoria Tower Gardens being completely overwhelmed as a green space by this development spoiling the setting of Parliament, the gardens and the other memorials and, in particular, overshadowing the Buxton memorial. It is my understanding that the learning centre will take up more space than the actual Holocaust memorial, and the Bill does not state that the memorial and the learning centre are in the same place. Amendment 2 would only lift the 1900 Act restrictions for a memorial to be built, not a learning centre. With the passing of the Bill, could it be that no park is protected from similar applications in future? That is a real concern of the Select Committee.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point, characteristically both passionate and knowledgeable, on behalf of her constituents. I want to put on the record now one point about precedent, given its importance—she is right to highlight it—so that it does not get lost in my remarks when I reply to this wide-ranging Committee debate. This does not set a precedent for the release of other designated open or leisure green space in London—if it did, I would not be advocating for it. Any proposal needs to be adjudged on its merits. It does not create a Trojan horse. It does not open a Pandora’s box. I say that from the Dispatch Box, should anyone ever challenge it during a planning inquiry, a planning committee or a judicial review on an application for another parcel of green open space, as designated either by the 1900 Act or by other Acts. The view of the Minister, and of the Government, is that it does not create a precedent on which anyone could rely in law. That is an important point to clarify, and I wanted to do so with your leave, Dame Eleanor, as a clear and freestanding point.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 5:00, 22 May 2024

I thank the Minister for that clarification. I absolutely welcome that. That is a very powerful message to send to any future Government or future Minister who may be sitting in his place. He makes a very good point about any future planning applications, too.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I am not entirely sure what has amused my hon. Friend Mr Bacon, but there we are. Some people are easily amused.

Let me just make this point. That is not just a binding statement on behalf of the actions of subsequent Governments, but for local authorities, the royal parks and any speculative developer in the private sector. I do not carve it out as a niche, bespoke protection, but as a general blanket cover.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank the Minister once again for that very clear steer and clarification.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

It may be too late for a manuscript amendment to the Bill to be accepted by Dame Eleanor—or Madam Deputy Speaker, if we get to the next stages—but would it be possible for the Minister to offer the House an assurance that when the Bill gets to another place, assuming it does, the Government will move an amendment to make plain what he said here?

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank my hon. Friend, the Father of the House, for his intervention. He makes a very clear point. Perhaps that could be taken through in the Lords.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

On this whole question of precedent, as anybody who has served any period of time as a local government councillor knows, it is the whole basis of our planning law and has been the case since the Town and Country Planning Act 1947.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. He may recall that the planning authority chose to not grant this application when it was first introduced, but was then steamrollered by the Government via the Planning Inspectorate, so I do not think my constituents would be very happy with his comments.

Amendment 3 is designed to ensure that any development of the holocaust memorial and learning centre does not exceed the current proposal of 1,429 square metres. In its current form, the Bill removes obstructions to any Holocaust memorial and learning centre being built in Victoria Tower Gardens, rather than a specific proposed memorial and learning centre. Indeed, one of the Select Committee’s concerns was that without being attached to a specific plan, lifting the obstructions would risk providing a blank cheque for the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens to take a radically different shape than has been anticipated.

There is a genuine concern among local people that without the proper checks and balances the memorial and learning centre may take up much more of the gardens than is currently proposed, and it is unlikely that the current planning system is able to provide a safeguard against that. Therefore, I consider the amendment is completely necessary to safeguard the gardens from over-development. I would welcome the Minister’s views on the matter and assurances that if the Bill is passed, the proposed 1,429 square metres will not be increased.

Finally, amendment 5, the final amendment tabled in my name, is once again tabled to protect the future of Victoria Tower Gardens from over-development. As I mentioned earlier, there are already treasured memorials in Victoria Tower Gardens and we must do all we can to protect them. The park is a much-loved and much-used public space, and, as I have said, thousands of social housing tenants live within a 10 to 15-minute walk from it and greatly enjoy it. It is a local neighbourhood green space, one of very few in my constituency. I am deeply concerned, as are residents including the Save Victoria Tower Gardens group, about the impact that the large-scale construction of the memorial and learning centre will have. Amendment 5 would ensure that works cannot commence if other monuments already in the gardens are likely to face any harm whatsoever, including harm to their setting or to that of the world heritage site that is the Palace of Westminster.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I also support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle. Amendment 1 highlights a real concern, raised by the Select Committee in its report and shared by me and by many of my constituents, about the lack of any proper scrutiny regarding the overall cost of building the memorial and learning centre and—equally important—the ongoing costs of maintenance and security. It seems that the true cost of this project, and the ongoing maintenance and security costs, have yet to be established. The Government’s initial promise in 2016 to provide £50 million of funding has proved to be completely inadequate.

I was shocked to learn from a ministerial statement that in the last 12 months the costs had increased from £102 million—double the original figure—to £137 million, and that the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities had recently recommended a provision for a further £58 million in contingency costs, which brings us to a cost of £191 million today. What will it be tomorrow, what will be next week, what will it be next year? I understand that in the case of all projects keeping to budget is increasingly difficult, but I must ask whether we are really getting value for money when we are spending hundreds of millions on a memorial and learning centre rather than spending it on educating young people properly about the horrors of the Holocaust.

Photo of Lia Nici Lia Nici Conservative, Great Grimsby

Does my hon. Friend agree that that that cost is just one example of a system that does not work effectively for the desired outcome? Virtually everyone in the country would want to see a national Holocaust memorial and a national learning centre, but this is being railroaded through, and that is not the way in which it should happen. People need to feel that they are being taken along rather than being imposed on.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster

I completely agree. Many of my constituents feel that this is being steamrollered and imposed on them without any consultation. They have campaigned so hard over the last eight years, and I pay tribute to them.

I note with interest that the construction of the Buxton Memorial Fountain cost a little over £70,000 in today’s money, and I have no idea why the cost of the current proposal runs into hundreds of millions of pounds. Given the increasing pressures on public finances, I urge the Government to take a proper deep dive into the costs of this project, and to consider whether it is still an appropriate use of public money.

New clause 1 was also tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle. I note the Select Committee’s recommendation in its special report for the review proposed in the new clause to be undertaken “expeditiously” before any planning application is progressed. I believe it is imperative that a review of the security arrangements of this proposal be undertaken immediately. That is not only financially prudent, but necessary from a national security perspective. Sadly we live in uncertain times, and the dreadful events currently taking place in the middle east are being felt on our own streets, perhaps nowhere more than on the streets of Westminster surrounding Parliament. Let us remember that even if this memorial goes ahead, the playground and part of the park will continue to exist. I note that Lord Carlile, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, has expressed his own concern that the site proposed for the memorial and learning centre presents a very real terrorism risk.

It would be unfortunate if, due to increased security concerns, the authorities insisted that the area around the memorial and learning centre should be surrounded by railings and gates, cutting off a wide part of the park from the public, which would be contrary to the idea of Victoria Tower Gardens as a public green space that is accessible for all. I therefore support amendment 1’s call for a full-scale security review to be undertaken before the proposals are permitted to proceed to the next stage. Let us recall that the Holocaust memorial located in Hyde park, which I mentioned earlier, was covered up for its own safety during a pro-Palestinian march only a few weeks ago. If the authorities were so concerned about the safety of that Holocaust memorial, surely they would be equally, if not more, concerned about having a major memorial adjacent to the Houses of Parliament.

I absolutely agree that we need a memorial to the Holocaust, but as the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee clearly concluded in its report, and as reflected in the amendments tabled by its Chair and by me, having read the report, it is clear that there is more work to be undertaken by the Government on consultation, the consideration of alternative locations, costs and security before the House can have confidence that this Bill can be supported.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

It is a pleasure to follow right hon. and hon. Members, who have made very important and serious speeches that the House would do well to consider. I support this Bill and the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend John Stevenson, who made some excellent points about the cost of the memorial. Any project that the Government support must make sensible use of taxpayers’ money, so he is totally right to focus on the cost cap. He is also right to call for a review of security arrangements, for all the reasons that he said.

As a former Planning Minister, I am extremely familiar with the labyrinthine processes of consultation, appeals and delays at various stages, the difficulties of addressing the natural demands to protect an area that my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken spoke about so eloquently, and the importance of siting a national memorial of this significance in the heart of London, next to our Parliament. Now that I have been freed from the duties of making such planning decisions and someone else wears that mantle—at least for now—I can simply say that the impetus for a memorial at this time, and in this place, has never been greater following the 7 October attack, which was the largest pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust.

I am sure that no one is watching this debate, because they will all be glued to Twitter and looking at what is happening at No. 10, but these issues will outlive us and our time in this place. People may wonder why I speak about the Holocaust, and they may say, “You are not Jewish, and you do not have a large Jewish community in Redditch,” but even if there is only one Jewish person in my constituency, I should speak up in support of the things that matter most to them at this time.

Yesterday, the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities gave an excellent, first-rate speech at a Jewish community centre in north London. He spoke about some things that should shame us all. He spoke about the fact that it is now, in 2024, an arrestable offence for people to be “openly Jewish” near pro-Palestinian marches on the streets of London. He reminded us that there is only one group of people—the Jews—who are told that they are not tolerated in this country, and he said that growing antisemitism

“is a mark of a society turning to darkness and in on itself… It is a parallel law that those countries in which the Jewish community has felt most safe” are countries where freedom and freedom of speech prosper, and the memorial is a vital part of bolstering Jewish people’s freedom of speech and their freedom to live in our country. Let us not forget that British Jews who have lived all their lives in our country are the only group who are routinely held up to blame for the actions of foreign Governments.

We are all desperately concerned, of course, about the position of innocent Palestinians caught up in the conflict, and we all wish to see the humanitarian relief and a lasting and safe peace in the middle east. I support and applaud the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary, who are working tirelessly to achieve those goals, but it should not be necessary to make those points and those caveats over and over again when speaking about the position of British Jews.

To do anything else except place the responsibility for this terrible conflict squarely where it belongs, on the shoulders of Hamas—who could even now put down their weapons, release the hostages and stop the bloodshed and starvation of their own people—would be simply playing into the hands of a murderous terrorist organisation that does not respect the right of Israel to exist. It is dedicated only to the elimination of all Jews and the state of Israel from the planet, just as the Nazis were dedicated to those same goals.

I speak as a practising Christian in support of other people of faith and tradition. I speak about the vital importance of continuing to stand up for the freedom of a group of people to live their lives in this country without fear of being persecuted for the actions of a foreign Government. I speak as someone who is appalled and deeply concerned by the rise in Holocaust denial—

Photo of Eleanor Laing Eleanor Laing Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Standing Orders Committee (Commons), Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission, Chair, Parliamentary Works Estimates Commission 5:15, 22 May 2024

Order. I appreciate that the hon. Lady is dealing with a highly emotive subject, and I think that we would all agree with most or all of what she has just said, but this is the Committee stage of a Bill about a particular structure in a particular place. It is not a time for general speeches about the geopolitical position of the world in general, and I would be grateful if she would confine her remarks to talking about this Bill, which is short and to the point.

Photo of Rachel Maclean Rachel Maclean The Minister of State, Home Department

Thank you, Madam Chairman. I appreciate and value your guidance and I will absolutely abide by it. I hope that the House will see that the reason I make these remarks about the general geopolitical situation is that I wish to show my support for the importance of the memorial in this place at this time, but I will bring my remarks to a conclusion in line with your guidance.

I wish to make it clear that I believe that this Holocaust memorial should be placed in Westminster, next to our Parliament; that is, of course, the matter under consideration, as outlined by the Select Committee. That is because this is where we debate foreign and domestic policy. And of course it is right that we look at all the considerations that have been highlighted by other Members. I would like to ask the Chair’s permission to make one final comment, which is that the safety of the Jewish community is the canary in the mine, so let us build this lasting memorial with the education centre next to our Parliament, to focus on the existential threat to our Jewish brothers and sisters.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I rise to support the Bill in its entirety and against the amendments, which I think will only delay through prevarication getting the Bill on to the statute books. I declare my interest as co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the Holocaust memorial and learning centre, as well as an ambassador for Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I think there is universal agreement that there is a need for a Holocaust memorial and that there should be a learning centre as well. It appears to me that the debate today has centred around where this should be located, what conditions should be imposed and the funding for it, which is the subject of the amendments.

We in this country are deeply involved in Holocaust education. It is a requirement on our schools to ensure that young people learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and where the ultimate destiny of antisemitism leads. But the reality is that the survivors of the Holocaust are getting frailer by the day and the Holocaust is fading into distant memory, so it is vital that we capture those survivors’ testimony and ensure they have had the opportunity to speak to as many people as possible before they unfortunately pass on. It is therefore vital that we have a permanent national institution to preserve the collective memory of the Holocaust. We have to understand the history, what went on and why the Holocaust happened. It is very difficult to contextualise the systematic murder of 6 million people because they were Jewish. It is tough to impart that.

Of course, there are memorials and centres around the world, including in Washington, Paris, Cape Town, Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York, Boston, Berlin and, of course, Jerusalem. Although we were not occupied by the Nazis, we were part and parcel of defeating them. Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees came to this country to make it their home and, of course, our troops liberated Bergen-Belsen and discovered at first hand the horrors of what had happened to the Jewish population, but that saved countless lives.

There are concerns, of course, about Britain’s role. We should remember that children were almost orphaned by the end of the war and their parents were denied entry to the United Kingdom. Our role is not always to say how wonderful we are, and some of the decisions taken at that time need to be explored. Why, for example, were the train tracks into Auschwitz-Birkenau not bombed? We had the ability to bomb them to prevent many people from being transported. In the Channel Islands, British police officers actually carried out German policies. We have to recognise this and face up to it, and the learning centre will give us that opportunity.

There are obviously concerns about the site’s location. I take a strong view that it needs to be alongside the principal democratic institutions of our time, namely, the Houses of Parliament. It is clear that this will be a nationally significant building, and the monument will serve to remember those people who were murdered during the second world war.

The history is that the then Prime Minister, now the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, had a report from the Holocaust Commission that recommended the construction of a striking and prominent new national memorial to be located in central London. The report recommended that the national memorial should be co-located with a world-class learning centre, so the Bill requires co-location.

There is cross-party support. Lord Pickles and Ed Balls, who chaired the commission, committed the Government to providing a site in Victoria Tower Gardens, next door to the Houses of Parliament. I remind colleagues that the 2019 Conservative manifesto committed us to delivering the construction of the planned UK Holocaust memorial.

Planning permission for the memorial and learning centre was granted in 2021, but the High Court ruled in April 2022 that certain sections of the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 were an obstacle to construction and therefore quashed the decision to grant planning consent.

This Bill is specific in dealing with the restrictions to the siting of the memorial and learning centre. Importantly, it does not grant planning permission, which will still have to go through the normal process. We have heard that some colleagues are concerned about the appropriateness of Victoria Tower Gardens. The reality is that there will still be a requirement for the gardens to remain open to the public. The Bill disapplies only the relevant sections of the 1900 Act to ensure that it does not block the building of this memorial and learning centre in the gardens. I would say that no place in Britain is more suitable for a memorial and learning centre than the gardens next door to Parliament, the very institution where decisions on Britain’s response in the lead-up to, during and in the aftermath of the Holocaust were made.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

The point my hon. Friend is making now was not one put forward by the commission, and it was not one put forward by the foundation. Would he agree?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank the Father of the House for that intervention. It is clear that the site was chosen by the commission; it recommended this. The reality is that the development of the planning application followed thereafter, and obviously the impact on the gardens has to be considered. It is right that only Parliament can change the law, and it is right that Parliament should consider whether the unique significance of the Holocaust justifies seeking an exception to the protections it put in place more than 100 years ago.

The proposals for the memorial include sensitive landscaping that will improve Victoria Tower Gardens for every user, and more than 90% of the area of the current gardens will remain fully open after the memorial is built. I understand that my colleagues are concerned about this, but local residents and workers will be able to visit and enjoy the gardens just as they do now. The Holocaust Memorial Bill lifts restrictions in relation only to Victoria Tower Gardens—no other piece of land—and in relation only to a Holocaust memorial and learning centre, and no other form of development. The Bill does not seek to override the planning process, so all the arguments about the use of the park can be properly considered against the benefits of the memorial.

Landscape improvements to Victoria Tower Gardens will ensure that this important and well-used green space, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken, is made more attractive and more accessible than ever before. The new development will take about 7.5% of the site. All the mature London plane trees will be protected, and additional planting and improved drainage of the grassed area will increase the overall attractiveness of the gardens. Alongside the riverside embankment wall, new raised boardwalks will be constructed, helping to make the seating more accessible and making it easier for everyone to enjoy views of the Thames. New pathways will link existing memorials and monuments within the gardens, and additional seating will enhance the visitor experience. The playground will be improved. The objective is to ensure that all current uses can continue after the memorial is constructed. All these matters are fully considered as part of the planning process. During his consideration, the planning inspector produced a detailed report with a careful assessment of the impacts on trees, traffic, gardens, playground and all other relevant matters, and then recommended that planning consent be given.

The construction phase of the UK Holocaust memorial and learning centre is expected to last around three years. The project team aims to make phased closures and reopenings of different sections of the park to ensure that as much of the park as possible is available for all users while the work carries on to produce this important memorial.

The learning centre will include a powerful exhibition that will provide context for the memorial and encourage reflection on the relevance of the Holocaust for Britain today.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

From visiting really serious Holocaust museums, as I have done in Washington and Berlin, I know that they are vast spaces. This is a story that takes a huge amount of time and space to explain. The trouble is that the proposed learning centre is really a tiny space, and it simply will not do justice to the horror of what we are talking about.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

I thank my right hon. Friend for that contribution. I am one of those who visited the original Yad Vashem in Jerusalem before it was expanded. Personally, I found the original Yad Vashem even more intimate and poignant than the current Yad Vashem. I understand what my right hon. Friend has to say, but I think this centre will be appropriate for what we are seeking to achieve.

One aspect that has been discussed is security. The learning centre will obviously have entry security arrangements similar to other public buildings in Westminster. I know that the Government—I look to the Minister to comment on this when he contributes to the debate—are working with security experts, agencies and the Metropolitan police to develop the necessary level of security measures. Victoria Tower Gardens will continue to be freely accessible to all. Therefore, the security threats should not be an argument against this memorial; rather, they are an argument for why the memorial is needed in the first place.

As I have said, only 7.5% of the land will be taken up by the memorial at the very southern point of the park. There will still be a clear view of Parliament from all other parts of the park. The Buxton memorial has been mentioned, with concerns about overshadowing.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 5:30, 22 May 2024

I do not want to be nit-picking, but the southern part of the park is a children’s playground. Although some people say it will not be reduced in size, others think it will be reduced in size by 30%. The 7.5% figure is challenged by very many people, but it is probably not the time to go into ground plans.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

We can debate whether the figure is 7.5% or 10%, but the key point is that more than 90% of the park will be preserved. The plan for the memorial is that it will be no higher than the Buxton memorial and its bronze fins will step down progressively to the east, in visual deference to the Buxton memorial. The memorial was designed by Ron Arad specifically for Victoria Tower Gardens.

Some suggestions have been made about the Imperial War Museum. To my knowledge, the Imperial War Museum supports the memorial being situated in Victoria Tower Gardens and has no wish for the memorial to be built in its grounds. A detailed flood risk assessment was prepared as part of the planning application. It concluded that Victoria Tower Gardens is heavily protected by the River Thames flood defences, significantly reducing the risk of flooding on site.

On the issue of antisemitism, I do not think anyone would claim this memorial will be the answer to solving more than 2,000 years of antisemitism. However, it will be a reminder to those in the Houses of Parliament of the potential to abuse democratic institutions to murderous consequences, in stark contrast to the true role of democracy in standing up and combating racism, hatred and prejudice wherever it is found.

Some hon. Members have suggested that certain members of the Jewish community do not support the proposed site. As everyone knows, the Jewish community is not a homogeneous group and there will be multiple differences of opinions, as within any community. Supporters of having the memorial on this site include the Chief Rabbi, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, the chair of the Jewish Leadership Council and chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, to name but a few, plus many Holocaust survivors. The funds assigned to the project are for a Holocaust memorial. The funds have not been diverted from educational budgets and there is no reason to think that abandoning the memorial would mean funds being reassigned to any other project.

The Jewish Museum was not consulted before the joint letter from different members of the Jewish community was written, but the museum plans to reopen in a central London location in the near future, so its concerns should be noted. The aims of the memorial and the Jewish Museum are complementary, but not the same. The memorial will set the Holocaust within a context that includes the history of antisemitism, including in Britain, and of subsequent genocides.

There have been multiple consultations with members of the Jewish and survivor communities. At every stage of the planning inquiry, individuals and groups have been able to give written and oral evidence. The planning inspector took great care to allow all voices to be heard at the inquiry and he recorded all evidence in his very detailed report. After taking account of all views, he recommended that planning consent should be granted.

Some people say there is no rush. The original proposal was made in 2015; we are now nine years on. Even if the Bill makes rapid progress and the development takes place, the memorial will take longer to develop than the extent of the Holocaust. We owe it to the survivors to get on with the job as quickly as possible. The survivors themselves are asking for that. Harry Bibring spoke to Sky News back in 2017, but sadly passed away a few days after the interview. He said:

“I’m very much looking forward to the completion of the new Holocaust Memorial in the Victoria Tower Park next to the Parliament, which we’re going to have a learning centre as well as just a monument and I don’t know whether I’ll live to see it, but it’s in planning stage in Westminster Council and I hope nothing goes wrong”.

Manfred Goldberg, a Holocaust survivor said in May 2023:

“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.”

Sir Ben Helfgott, a Holocaust survivor and an Olympic weightlifter, who sadly passed away last year, wrote in 2021:

“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, Luisa, and my father, Moishe.”

Susan Pollack, a Holocaust survivor speaking at a parliamentary reception earlier this month:

“I am 93 years old. My dream is to see this memorial and learning centre finally built and to see the first coachload of school children arrive and ready to learn. That is what it is all about. And, hopefully, those students will learn what happened to me and become beacons of hope in the fight against contemporary antisemitism.”

I end by expressing my hope that we can complete the Committee stage of the Bill, get on to Third Reading and usher the Bill rapidly through the House of Lords, so that those brave survivors of the Holocaust will live to see the development of the memorial and the learning centre.

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend Bob Blackman. Given the news that has just broken, this may be the last time that I speak in this Chamber—and the last time that anybody from the Brigg and Goole constituency speaks, given that we are being abolished and split four ways. If it is the last time that I speak, I would like to say that it has been an absolutely huge privilege—the privilege of my life—to serve the people of Brigg and Goole and the Isle of Axholme. It is also a privilege to speak on a subject such as this, which is so close to my heart and something that I feel so passionately about.

First, let me pay tribute to Lord Pickles and Ed Balls for the work that they have done on this memorial, which is going to happen. I have absolute confidence that this memorial will be built. I was in the tent pavilion just a couple of weeks ago when representatives from the Government and the Opposition attended an event for Yom HaShoah. Both Front-Bench teams attended to confirm yet again, in front of Holocaust survivors and members of the community, that this memorial will be built and that it will be built next to Parliament. I was very grateful for that confirmation, as were the members of the Jewish community groups and the survivors who were there.

I also want to pay tribute to my hon. Friend John Stevenson. I did not necessarily agree with what he had to say, but he did chair the hybrid Bill Committee. As a fellow Chair of a hybrid Bill Committee, I wish him every success, because his Bill actually made it back to this place. On the HS2 Bill, which I chaired, we spent a year or more listening to petitioners, as he had done, but that turned out to be in vain. We should not worry, though, because those three afternoons a week that we lost were not without some value.

I also want to apologise to my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken for speaking on a matter that is in her constituency. I suppose that it is the burden of representing this area. I would be very protective and my hackles would be well and truly up if I had people interfering in my patch, so, although I apologise for that, I am going to be a hypocrite and now interfere in her constituency. But I may not be the first person in here to have engaged in hypocrisy.

Last night, I hosted an event here for Terraforming, a civil society group from Serbia. I refer the House to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests because I recently visited that organisation in Serbia. We held that event here in Parliament to showcase the story of Serbian Jewry and what happened to them during second world war and the somewhat unique way in which Serbia was divided up. The process of the Holocaust in Serbia was very different depending on where in Serbia the Jewish community lived, but the result was of course the same. The group was so proud to hold that event here in Parliament, the seat of the British Government. It meant so much to them to tell that story here. That is why having the memorial next to this building—intrinsically linked to it, emotionally and physically—is so important.

As we told the story of what happened to the Jews of Serbia, I was reminded of the visit that I made back in April on the 80th anniversary of the deportation of the Jews of Novi Sad, in the part of Serbia that was occupied by the Hungarian fascist regime. Those Jews were herded into a synagogue on, I believe, 26 April, held there for two days without drink and food, and then shipped off, largely to Auschwitz, and murdered. That synagogue still stands, and we stood in it 80 years to the day on which the Jews of Novi Sad were rounded up and forced into it. Again, that reminded me of the value of having a place to memorialise and remember what happened. We are lucky in Britain, with the exception of the Channel Islands, not to have had that experience ourselves, so we do not have venues in which what happened during the Holocaust took place. That is why it is so important to have a memorial close to the seat of Government.

I am probably the only person present who, when I had a proper job, which I now may well have to return to, taught the Holocaust curriculum to our young people as a history teacher. Such education is perhaps more important than ever, as living memory of the Holocaust fades. People of my generation—officially I am 35, but that may or may not be the truth—had grandparents and family who were directly involved in world war two, so the Holocaust and the experience of world war two was living history for us. For anybody who is below my generation, that is not the case. We have increasingly less living testimony, which is why it is more important than ever that we create new resources and facilities where that testimony can live on for those who are not connected in the same way that people of my generation were, because of our grandparents, or that the generation before was, because of their parents.

As a history teacher, I would have very much valued having a place in the nation’s capital to which we could have brought young people to not only tell them the story of the Holocaust and its horrors but then relate it to how this place, and the decisions that were taken here, played such an important role in ultimately demolishing the machinery of murder that led to the herding of human beings on to cattle trucks in the millions, their transportation to concentration camps, and then ultimately their murder in gas chambers. To have had a place to bring my students, next to this place, which is so important in the story of how the Nazi regime and the Holocaust were ended, would have been so valuable.

Despite the brilliant work of organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, we sadly cannot take all the young people in this country to Europe to see the concentration camps. That is not possible, but the ability to bring young people to somewhere central in this country where we can tell them about not only the experience and the horrors of the Holocaust but the very proud role that our democratic institutions played at that time is so important.

Why is this now more important than ever before? To answer that question, it is important to remember how the Holocaust started. It did not start with Auschwitz. That was the end. It did not start with gas chambers or with cattle trucks; it began with the demonisation of a people purely because of their racial and religious background. Its form, I am afraid to say, is familiar in what we see today. Jewish students were banned from university campuses, and we see Jewish students being questioned and being prevented from gaining access to university campuses across much of the west at the moment.

The Holocaust began with the demonisation of Jews. We see that now through the demonisation of the state of Israel, which is a cover for the demonisation of Jews. It began with boycotts, with people demanding an end to purchasing from Jewish companies and businesses, shop windows being smashed and synagogues being attacked. A synagogue in Toronto was smashed up this week for the second time. It began with attacks on Jewish community facilities, and we have seen that across the west at this moment in time.

This week I sat down with students from the Union of Jewish Students, who told me of the genuinely horrific experiences Jewish students are having on campuses in this country at this time, which have manifested in Jews being afraid to wear anything that marks them out as Jewish. I am proud to be a Reform Jew and I wear my kippah in synagogue, but since 7 October I have deliberately worn it on public transit in this country, to show my pride and my lack of fear. Of course, I am a 6 feet 2 inches big overweight bloke, so I perhaps have more confidence in doing that, but I have been proud to do that at a time when very many people in the community are not.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 5:45, 22 May 2024

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way and glad to be hearing what he is saying, both giving testimony for himself and standing up for those who might be more frightened. Does he agree that those who want to see how the Holocaust developed should go to the Holocaust galleries at the Imperial War Museum, where the displays, as my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken said, are very impressive and very moving?

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

They are indeed—it is a brilliant presentation. I am also very proud that every Holocaust Memorial Day in my local community, particularly in Brigg, the town council ensures that we have a display at Brigg Heritage Centre telling the story of the Holocaust and how we got there. That is really important.

However, the reason I have set out the comparison between what we had in the 1920s and 1930s and what we have today is that those parallels are genuinely frightening for Jews in this country at this moment in time. Of course, that precursor to the Holocaust involved the marching of people through streets in Europe, holding banners and signs singling out Jews for special treatment, demanding boycotts and othering the Jewish community, and that is exactly what we have seen in these past few months.

That leads me on to another argument that has been put in this debate about security. I made some reference to this when I intervened a little earlier, but the idea that we should not build this memorial and learning centre next to Parliament because of security concerns is something I have a real problem with. That is effectively saying to those people who have sought since 7 October, and in many cases well before then, to demonise, frighten and scare Jewish people, that they have won. It is saying that we are so cowed as a people, as a nation and as a democracy by people who shout loudly and aggressively on the street that they get their way and we will put it somewhere else—we will stick it over in Lambeth. I do not think that is an appropriate or credible argument against putting this facility next to Parliament.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow—[Interruption.]

Photo of Andrew Percy Andrew Percy Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons), Chair, High Speed Rail (Crewe - Manchester) Bill Select Committee (Commons)

East, of course—as someone from East Yorkshire, I say east is always best. My hon. Friend Bob Blackman dealt well with the security concerns. We bring young people here to learn about our democracy in the learning centre, and they have to go through a similar process, so I do not believe that should be an impediment.

We have heard about the loss of green space. I am not a resident of the area, so I have no selfish interest in whether I can walk my dog in the park. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East made clear, the land take will be 7.5%. I find it a bit of a strange argument to say, “Don’t build this here because it takes some green space away. Build it over there, where it takes somebody else’s green space away.” I am not sure that I buy that argument either.

We have heard arguments about the Jewish community. Some people have prayed the Jewish community in aid as being against the proposal, but the Jewish community is not homogenous, so there will be very different views. It is worth reiterating again that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East very eloquently made clear, Jewish leadership in this country, including the Chief Rabbi and those at the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Jewish Leadership Council, whom we in government and Parliament rely on and trust to be representatives of their communities, have been clear that they support the memorial at that site. Again, my hon. Friend stole some of my thunder by quoting so eloquently—better than I could have done—some of the Holocaust survivors who so dearly wanted to see the memorial built. Fortunately some are still with us, and I hope they will see it built, but others have passed. It is clear that although there is not one homogenous view, Jewish leadership groups and community leaders absolutely support the memorial being built next to this place.

The Father of the House, my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley, whom I respect very much, described the proposal as a “box”, which I did not think was an appropriate way of describing it, and there have been other comments about the size of the venue. I do not believe that size should be an impediment to coming away from the memorial having had a truly moving and educational experience. As highlighted by my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East, who I am mentioning often—I have to be nice to him at last, after 14 years of us being here together—Yad Vashem is an incredibly powerful place. The parts of it that I find most moving are the small memorial to the children and the room with the photographs, which are so powerful and moving. I do not believe that size should be an argument. It seems strange to argue about costs and say at the same time, “But it’s not big enough; maybe it needs to be bigger but somewhere else,” which may result in it being much more expensive.

I am conscious that the debate is time limited, but I wanted to make this contribution. I believe and hope that the memorial will be built. At the moment, we are seeing a record rise in Jew hate, in antisemitism, so it is more important than ever that the memorial and learning centre stands next to this place, which is the thin blue line—or red line, or whichever colour we want to call it—[Hon. Members: “Green line!] It is the thin green line—and red line—between mob rule and democracy. Over the past few months, that line has been tested in a way it has not been tested for quite some time. That is why it is my deepest belief that the location next to this place—which is all that stands between us and despotism—should be pursued. As we saw in Europe in the 1930s, and as we see even today in parts of the world, democratic institutions are very fragile. On that basis, I will be opposing the amendments this evening, and I look forward to the Bill passing.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

As Members know, everything must conclude by six minutes past 7, and I want to give at least eight to 10 minutes for the Front Benchers to be able to contribute. Rather than imposing a time limit, I ask people to look at around the 10-minute mark, which will give everybody an opportunity. Of course, Sir Peter gets two minutes right at the very end.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Andrew Percy. If that was his last speech in this place and representing his constituency, may I say that he does it proud? He does his constituency proud, and he has done his constituency proud. The House and his party are proud, and his service to this House and his eloquence are known to all. I congratulate him on that.

I will begin by addressing some of the points that have been made during the course of this debate, and perhaps putting to rest some of the suggestions that have been posited. One is that this Bill is in some way being steamrollered, which I suggest cannot be anything other than a flight of fancy. In fact, this measure has taken many years—close to a decade from its earliest formations. It has not quite reached the Dickensian Jarndyce v. Jarndyce level of bureaucracy and contemplation, but I do not think it is accurate to claim that it has in any way been steamrollered.

I also do not think it is in any way appropriate to say that security concerns—legitimate though they may be—are a good reason to countenance removing this important centre to another location. We must stand up against the thugs, the violence and the vandals. We in this House are a thin green line, and hopefully not that thin; hopefully, we represent the vast majority of people who defy those who would vandalise Holocaust memorials, and who hold in contempt those who would disgrace themselves and the freedoms, democracy and ancient history of this country by vandalising the memorial to the dead. Not only is that a wickedness and a blasphemy to those who have fallen, it is a type of fascism that is a disgrace to those who perform it, and we must stand up against it. We must say, “I’m not going to refuse to build a location of historic importance on a particular site because some criminals may choose to graffiti it. We defy you, and we stand up against you. We do not buckle to those security concerns.”

We need a prominent memorial marking the Holocaust because, sadly, recent events have shown that we could see it happening again. It is not fanciful to say that such a thing could happen again. There are voices in this House who have heckled Members, including myself when I have spoken out against antisemitism, and there are voices outside who care about every nuance of other people’s rights—about microaggressions—but do not care about Jewish women and girls being brutally raped and savagely tortured while hostages in the pogrom of 7 October.

We have seen a refusal by respected authorities around the world to accept that Hamas are a terrorist organisation and that what they did on 7 October is unparalleled since the actual Holocaust of 1939 to 1945. In defying that truth, they show the world that it is not impossible that such an atrocity, or something like it, could occur again. That is why we need a memorial.

To those who ask, “Why does it have to be here?”, I say that it has to be here because this is the seat of our democracy. This is where our democracy’s fulcrum rests. This is the burning location of that democracy, where the fires of passionate argument have burnt almost since time immemorial, and Victoria Tower Gardens is part of this historic site. Of course one must be conscious of local residents, but one must also remember that this is to be a national memorial; it is of national importance. Protesters come here every week, in relation to myriad topics, because they know that this is where the action is; this is where democracy lies; this is where people meet to make decisions about the future. For that same reason, the memorial should be in a location that is centred where people will not forget it.

As the great figures of the recent past—Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, Mohandas Gandhi and other towering figures of post-war history—have made clear, it is not those who sow division and fan the flames of conflict who bring light and hope to the world. Those who use their oratory to promote division and hatred on the streets or elsewhere are here today and gone tomorrow; they do not matter. They are like wasps at a picnic whose buzz spreads momentary fear, and perhaps whose sting is sharp but short-lived. Wasps produce an alarming noise, but their presence is fleeting and their sting is temporary. We must not let those people deafen us to the realities—the cold, hard realities—of why such a memorial in this location is necessary.

Feeling the need to cover up a memorial, or wishing to cover it up, is not a good reason to place it elsewhere. The spreading of hate, the poison of sectarian hatred, the language of conflict and the vitriol of division may easily arouse the weak-minded, the ignorant and the mob—they always have done and always will do. There are the Twitter warriors, the anonymous, the fascist apologists. But the forces of light have always been stronger than the forces of darkness.

The Chief Rabbi, the president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Holocaust Educational Trust, whose very job it is to educate the younger generations about the Holocaust, all support this project. That, I think, is telling.

Photo of Michael Ellis Michael Ellis Conservative, Northampton North

Forgive me.

The Jewish people in this country are a very small minority. There are many constituencies where there will be no Jews at all—literally none—and many others where there will perhaps be only a dozen or two. Jews represent only 0.3% of the population of this country, at around 250,000 people in a population of 70 million. In a world of 7 billion people, there are only 17 million Jews—a small but strong.

Jews love life and they seek peace. They are not an homogenous group; they do not all speak as one. One need only look at Israeli democratic politics for five minutes to see the divisions within Israeli society. They are not all going to agree about everything, just as all black people do not, or all redheaded people. They are not an homogenous group, but they love this country, they are respectful to it and grateful for it, and many seek to serve it, as I have tried to do, and I hope that long continues.

I say to those Jewish people who may be listening, “Look not to the noisy wasps to which I have alluded, but instead to a Prime Minister whose moral stance has been clear.” The Prime Minister is a great hero to the British Jewish community, and not because there are many votes in it—there are not, for the reasons I have just given—but because it is morally the right thing to do. The same is true of our royal family. For example, the Prince of Wales recently visited a synagogue and spoke with an elderly Holocaust survivor, which is testament to the support of the monarchy, and I dare say would have made the late Queen proud.

We need this memorial. Jews are not cowering with trembling knees, although maybe that happened in previous generations. They stand in the face of adversity, knowing that in this country there are many more of the Christian faith, the Hindu faith, the Sikh faith, the Buddhist faith and the Muslim faith who will stand with us and protect us, and who will stop those who seek to harm and intimidate the Jewish community. We need a memorial to remind people of that. It needs to be in this location because of its paramount and historic importance, and to remind people why, indeed, the state of Israel has to exist.

To those who have an unnatural and unforgiving animus towards the Jews and who disguise it as hatred towards Israel and in other ways, I say that they are just twigs cracking in an empty forest, or birds chirping on a desert island, because their voices will be weak and ineffectual if those of us in this House speak as one. Those tiny voices and cracking noises in the wilderness will be drowned out in a crowd of millions. This memorial is needed and must continue.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I rise to speak in support of this Bill and against the amendments, however nobly argued and well intentioned they are. I share the view of my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis and my hon. Friend Bob Blackman that this has been a long time in the making and further prevarication will simply mean that the objective of establishing a memorial gets pushed out further and further, which is not a good reflection on this Government’s determination to see it come about.

I speak as a commissioner of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, and I was very pleased that we had the opportunity to have a debate in Government time during War Graves Week last week. As was made clear by Members right across the House through every contribution, the commission does a magnificent job of maintaining memorials to the fallen in many countries around the world. Many of those are very substantial structures that were built in the immediate aftermath of the first world war primarily, with some following the second world war. I think I am right in saying that the time it took to construct each of those memorials is less than the time it has taken us to get this memorial legislation through the House. That is shocking, frankly, and we need to put it right.

I have visited many of the Commonwealth war grave memorials and, like other Members, I have also visited some of the Holocaust memorials, notably in Berlin. So I am aware of the pressure of visitor numbers for people who live in major cities where the Holocaust is commemorated or where there are memorials to the fallen. Those places become significant tourist attractions for visitors who wish to pay their respects and to recognise the suffering and the sacrifices that have been made. I therefore understand the pressure that this proposal will place at the heart of our city, adjacent to Parliament. But it is right that any memorial should be in a prominent location that is easy to access and at the heart of the nation, so that it can have the kind of impact we wish to see.

If you will allow me, Mr Evans, I will stray just a little off the immediate point of the amendments to read briefly from an article that I wrote nine and a half years ago, in January 2015, in the week after the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, with cross-party support, accepted the recommendations of the Holocaust Commission to build a national memorial with a world-class learning centre and an endowment fund to secure Holocaust education forever.

What I wrote then remains valid today, and it is the reason I am taking this stance. Each year, many Members of this House across all parties sign the Holocaust Educational Trust’s book of commitment to mark international Holocaust Memorial Day. The book honours those who died during the Holocaust, as well as those extraordinary survivors, of whom there are very few left today, who have devoted their lives since their experiences through the Holocaust to educate younger generations about what they endured.

This year, Holocaust Memorial Day took place on the 79th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. In that article, I wrote:

“As the deadliest concentration camp under the Third Reich, the name Auschwitz is synonymous with the Holocaust. One in six Jews who died were killed at the camp, approximately one million people. But even for those who survived, the scars of their incarceration, both physical and mental, would remain for the rest of their lives. Few who did survive are still with us, but their stories are as important now as ever.

A few years ago I visited Auschwitz with students from Bridgnorth, and it is an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life. The site is a haunting remnant of a regime’s attempt to wipe an entire people from the face of the earth. The sheer number of those who lost their lives in concentration camps across Europe is almost incomprehensible. But the large piles of personal effects, like spectacles or shoes, taken from those walking to their deaths really brought home to me just how many were killed. The collection of children’s toys was particularly heartrending.

That man is capable of such inhumanity, based on an adherence to a doctrine of hate, is a chilling thought. But to shy away from retelling one of the darkest periods of human history would be an injustice to those who lost their lives. Instead, it is essential we continue to educate the next generation so they are aware of what happened under the Nazi regime, and develop a more tolerant society free from racism, prejudice and bigotry.”

The need for such a memorial in the UK is no less now, as we see increased reports of antisemitism, for reasons that we can all understand.

Photo of Philip Dunne Philip Dunne Chair, Environmental Audit Committee, Chair, Environmental Audit Committee

I am afraid I will not give way, because I have already extended the patience of the Chairman.

I will conclude by saying that we have to stop prevaricating and get on with construction. I support the Bill and will not support the amendments to it.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

I know that everybody is glued to their mobile phones about the announcement of the general election, but this debate is important, because we are commemorating the greatest crime in history. I thought my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis spoke movingly about antisemitism, and I start my speech by saying that I agree with every single thing he said. He said it so well. It was a brilliant speech.

This Bill is tremendously important, but I want to speak in support of my hon. Friend Nickie Aiken and her amendment 2. Time is short so I cannot expand on the crimes of the Holocaust, but I want to talk about the detail of what we are debating. Amendment 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster, sums up what I have long been campaigning for. I declare an interest, as a worker here for 41 years. I live about a mile away, as we all do—we all live locally and work here, so we all take an interest.

I have been arguing, as I said in an intervention on my hon. Friend the Father of the House, that we could have sorted this out eight years ago by having a fantastic memorial in the gardens of a similar size to the slavery memorial—also an incredibly important issue. I have never been in favour of the underground learning centre. Because this is such a vital issue and we have a duty to the Jewish community, the local community and everyone else, we must proceed by consensus. We should not cause divisions on this. I make one last plea to the Government to proceed by consensus, as my hon. Friend the Father of the House and my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster are trying to do.

The Jewish community is not homogeneous, but it is concerned. In a 2018 letter to The Times signed by eight Jewish peers, they expressed deep reservations about the project as it is currently proposed, and they knew what they were talking about. I know that Lord Cameron, as Prime Minister, was working with the best of intentions, and I understand the whole argument about the proximity to the Palace and recognising the importance of what we are talking about, but the decision was made without any proper consultation or investigation. Any further consideration shows numerous flaws in this particular site.

We need to get into the detail. The design calls for a significant underground portion, even though it is located next to a river. In June 2016, 50 local properties flooded from underneath after a heavy downpour. It is built on Thorney Island, the original settlement of London, surrounded by ancient marshland in which the water table can rise alarmingly after sudden rainfall. Victoria Tower Gardens is maintained by the Royal Parks, which has never supported the memorial in that location. Its chairman Lord Grossman, himself Jewish, said that there are

“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.”

This is such a built-up area and such a well-loved park, specifically made for the people of London as a tiny oasis of green.

There is a fear, which the Minister tried to deal with, that this could be used as a precedent. The park was protected specifically by an Act of Parliament in 1900, and those statutory protections are being undermined. This small garden—one of the smallest parks in London in one of the most built-up areas—can only really accommodate a smaller memorial without damaging its characteristics. I do not think that anyone has made the point so far that the design introduces an 18-metre ramp. A wide moat would split the park, and much of the existing broad swathes of grass will be replaced by paving.

We want as many people as possible, especially schoolchildren and young people, to visit the national Holocaust memorial. Existing pressures on Millbank will only be compounded by traffic seeking to access it. There are no plans to deal with the expected coach traffic and halting—I am sorry to go into such detail, but it is central to what we are talking about. No parking spaces or drop-off zones are proposed. The local area’s Thorney Island Society has objected. Many other people have made fantastic arguments, which have been dismissed, not dealt with and not answered. For most local residents, this useful park and open space would cease to function as such. Many ordinary uses of this neighbourhood park, especially those related to dogs, would be inappropriate if a Holocaust memorial were the focal point.

The restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster —I am on the board with you, Mr Chairman—is an ongoing project that we are still debating. Victoria Tower Gardens could play an essential role in works related to the Palace. Undoubtedly, some part of the park will have to be taken for that. We need more flexibility. The costs have risen exponentially. Taking up a large space for the Holocaust memorial will limit the range of action for renovating the Palace. We are now talking, on the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board, about having a new visitor entrance from the park. Again, that is not being considered.

The most impactful Holocaust memorials in the world, such as those in Washington, Berlin and Israel, all of which are visited, are enormous. They take up a space far bigger than this Chamber, on many levels. As my hon. Friend Andrew Percy made clear, we have to tell the story bit by bit. You move from room to room, and you understand how hate built up. We need to have a proper museum, a proper Holocaust memorial, similar to those in Berlin and Washington where the whole story can be told. I do not think that this small underground learning centre will in any way address that point.

I will end on this point, because I know that time is very precious. In his closing remarks, my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House, really summed it up. This proposal is too big for this small park, but it is too small for the gravity of the issues we are addressing.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee 6:15, 22 May 2024

Order. As I said, the conclusion of the debate is at six minutes past seven. There is clearly a bit more time, so perhaps time to take interventions and so on.

Photo of Kirsten Oswald Kirsten Oswald Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Women), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Equalities)

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate on behalf of the SNP. It is perhaps slightly unexpected for some that I am standing here, but anyone who is aware of the areas of interest that I pursue here will be less surprised. I will go through some of the amendments and new clauses, and share some things that I think are worth pulling out. The comments made so far have been profoundly helpful in teasing out some of the details.

Sir Peter Bottomley spoke very well about the importance of education. That is the key point of amendment 6 and something I have spoken about often in this place: the necessity of a focus on education and making sure that the testimony of survivors is captured in a way that will ensure it is available to generations who come after us. Through initiatives like Vision Schools Scotland, or working with organisations like the Anne Frank Trust or the Holocaust Educational Trust, we can see the impact of education. The necessity of marrying up education with the memorial is a profoundly helpful idea. We will not be able to take the lessons of the past, which we talk about so easily, if we do not make concrete efforts to make it a reality when we say that we never want to see it again.

Amendment 1, tabled by John Stevenson, makes a reasonable point, which is that it would be sensible to be sure that the costs are properly accounted for and that there is an appropriate level of control. That is a key point. This is, rightly, an ambitious project, so his amendment is an interesting one. His point about potential private donations is interesting in ensuring the ability for the project to move forward in an appropriately ambitious way. I am sure the Minister will share further information on all of that.

On amendments 2, 3 and 5, Nickie Aiken spoke very powerfully about her local community, as well as the Jewish community. How all those things come together is very important. She spoke very passionately and sincerely about her desire for a consultation. I understand why she is so concerned about that. My own personal concern, which weighs on me slightly, is that that would also mean more time would elapse. Her amendments made sense: she is looking to add some clarity to the specifics, such as where restrictions relating to the land might be removed—the Minister was helpful in trying to clarify that—and what the overall footprint would be. That will be allocated and it does matter, regardless of where it is going to happen.

I understand the need for clarity and reassurance for residents and other users of, for instance, Victoria Tower Gardens, and I understand why the hon. Lady wants that level of confidence to be provided for the people who live in this community. I imagine that, given the kind of memorials that are located in that particular park, people in general would want to take comfort from the fact that they could be protected in an appropriate way. Surely, though, it is possible for us to have a memorial and an education centre and to protect those existing memorials. The hon. Member for Worthing West spoke earlier about the state of repair of the Buxton Memorial Fountain. Perhaps there needs to be a bigger conversation about these issues.

As is clear from the Bill’s “Extent, commencement and short title”, it is an England and Wales Bill, which is why some people might not have expected to see me rise to speak. It concerns a planning matter that relates to a different country, from my perspective, so I will not comment on the details of, for instance, the planning and location issues raised by the hon. Member for Carlisle. What I will say is that I am here today only because I think it profoundly important for us to see concrete proposals that can be implemented as soon as possible to deliver a Holocaust memorial and learning centre. We cannot lose sight of that, and it should not be lost among the—admittedly also important—details. The territorial extent provision in clause 3 speaks for itself, so I will not go there.

The hon. Member for Carlisle talked about security. None of us need to look too far to appreciate the need for us to think seriously about the security provisions that will be necessary. The world is increasingly polarised and we need to ensure that everyone is secure, and that will be particularly important in this instance. I am not sure whether new clause 1 is flexible enough to allow for the necessary measures—which will surely change as times change—to be amended without undue delay, but no doubt the hon. Member thought about that when he tabled the new clause. I am sure that other Members share my concern about the spikes in hate crime, including the frightening spike in antisemitism incidents. We know that, regrettably, these spikes have happened in the past as well, and any security arrangements will have to be able to cope with changeable times.

As for new clause 2, tabled by the hon. Member for Cities of London and Westminster, we have been down this road many times, and I wonder whether the measures that she has proposed will cause further delay. Some people may say that it would not be appropriate to rush in, and of course that is true, but I do not think anyone could reasonably accuse this project of having been dealt with in a rush. Let me say, as a Scottish MP who has no jurisdiction in this geographical area, that this is a really important matter, so by all means let there be further consideration, but can we just get on with it?

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

Before I begin my brief remarks about the amendments, let me restate the Opposition’s support for the construction of a national Holocaust memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens.

Given that this simple three-clause Bill does nothing more than remove pre-existing legislative impediments to the siting of such a memorial and centre in that location and make provision for, and in connection with, expenditure related to its establishment, we have not felt the need to table any amendments to it today. We sincerely hope—not least in view of the amount of time that has now passed since the idea was first proposed in 2015—that the Bill completes its remaining stages and receives Royal Assent as speedily as possible, so that the necessary planning application can be considered.

I turn now to the amendments, starting with new clause 2, which stands in the name of Nickie Aiken. We fully appreciate that, although we are united as a House in our commitment to establish a national Holocaust memorial and a world-class learning centre, there are differing and sincerely held views about the appropriateness of Victoria Tower Gardens as the location for them. In some cases, the objection extends only to the siting of the learning centre in that location; in others, it extends to both the centre and the memorial itself.

Let me be clear: we believe that there are valid criticisms to be made about the adequacy of historical consultation. The Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee is right to highlight that a full consultation at the site selection stage would have not only leant more legitimacy to the final site decision, but identified the constraint that clause 2 seeks to remove much earlier, thereby potentially avoiding much of the delay that has occurred as a result of its late identification—a point well made by John Stevenson.

That said, we do not believe it would be appropriate to amend the Bill—which, as the House knows, does not mandate the use of any particular location—with a view to using it as a means of reconsidering the location determined by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation and confirmed by the Government in 2016. Hon. Members from across the House may disagree with the decision, but Victoria Tower Gardens was identified as the preferred location eight years ago. That decision has been the subject of considerable scrutiny through the planning process and, in our view, any attempt to reopen it risks significant further delay to the construction of the memorial. That would be unacceptable.

The Bill itself will obviously not authorise the construction of the memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens; such authorisation must come via the planning process. It is through the submission of a new planning application to Westminster City Council—it is my understanding that it must be a new permission, given the various policy changes that have happened in the five years since the initial application was submitted—that the appropriateness of the preferred site for the scheme will be tested again, and the arguments for and against any development revisited. In the event that the new application were to be called in by the Secretary of State for a decision, the Planning Inspectorate would have to undertake another public inquiry to consider all representations of support or opposition, as well as the relevant local plan, Government policy and guidance, and any other matters that it judges to be material to the case, in order to make a recommendation.

We do not believe that this Bill should be used to reopen the final site decision and hinder the ability of the promoter to submit a new planning application to Westminster City Council for consideration, which would be the effect of new clause 2. For that reason, we would not support it if it were pressed to a vote. The scrutiny provided for by the planning process will likewise apply to the precise plans that will be submitted to the local authority, and to any specific conditions that might be required, including those touched on by amendments 3 and 5—namely, the footprint of the memorial and learning centre, and their impact on other memorials in the gardens. We therefore do not believe that either amendment is necessary.

The planning process will necessarily have to consider security arrangements. The Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee’s report was right to raise site security as a concern, and there is no question but that security measures need to be re-examined in the light of how the threat picture has changed since the previous planning application was considered five years ago. However, we do not believe that new clause 1, which stands in the name of the hon. Member for Carlisle, is either appropriate or necessary. First, we have concerns about the implications of putting details of sensitive security measures relating to the site in the public domain and specifying them in regulations, as new clause 1 proposes—a concern echoed by the Planning Inspectorate in its April 2021 report. Secondly, we fear that the effect of new clause 1 would be to duplicate processes that have been, and will be, undertaken by the local authority, or by the Planning Inspectorate in the event that the application were to be called in. For these reasons, we will not be able to support new clause 1 if it is pressed to a Division.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 6:30, 22 May 2024

There are two sides to this issue, one of which people will accept that the hon. Gentleman is speaking about sensibly: we do not make all details about security available to the public. The second is whether the necessary security arrangements will inhibit the use of the park by local residents, children and others. The Government continually give an assurance that that will not be interrupted, but everybody believes that it will be. That is why it is important to debate and, if necessary, vote on new clause 1. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree with us that the impact on the use of the park is the thing that matters for the purpose of this Bill.

Photo of Matthew Pennycook Matthew Pennycook Shadow Minister (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the Father of the House for his intervention. I certainly agree that that is one of many considerations that need to be taken into account when determining the application, but many of the contributions to this debate have raised matters that engage planning considerations, and this Bill does not engage planning considerations, even though it will affect the ability to submit a planning application in future. However, those are matters that should be rightly dealt with by the local authority, and by the Planning Inspectorate if the application were to be called in by the Secretary of State.

I turn lastly to those amendments that concern expenditure relating to the memorial and centre as authorised by clause 1 of the Bill. The Select Committee is right to highlight that the true cost of the project has not been established and to emphasise the need to consider the appropriate use of public money when progressing it. Concerns about expenditure have also been highlighted by the National Audit Office, which has made it clear that there is a risk that the contingency is not enough to cover further cost increases. Perhaps most worryingly, the Government’s own Infrastructure and Projects Authority has red-rated this project. In other words, the Government themselves are clear that—I quote here from the definition associated with a red rating—as things stand,

“successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable” and that it may, to quote further from that definition,

“need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed.”

While the Opposition would not support the imposition of expenditure caps as proposed by amendment 1, it is clear to us that the Government need to do more to ensure that the project will deliver value for money and to provide appropriate assurances in that regard, in respect of both capital and recurrent costs. As such, I would welcome a robust assurance from the Minister when he responds that the Government have accurately estimated the cost of the project, will apply proper cost control throughout the construction period and will ensure that running costs are sustainable.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Today in this Chamber, we have been united on the welcome return of my hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay, and the House has been united on security measures on pub licensing for the Euros—probably not the most contentious piece of legislation before the House—and now on this Holocaust Memorial Bill. For all the debate that we have had on the Bill, I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Friends and Members who have contributed to it.

We have been discussing how, we have been discussing where and we have been discussing when, but the House has never been discussing why. For reasons more than tellingly amplified by my hon. Friend Andrew Percy, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis, my hon. Friend Bob Blackman and others, the why is clear and demonstrable. That is a sad fact, but it is. I am grateful to Matthew Pennycook, who speaks for the Opposition, for his support, as I am to Kirsten Oswald. I shall reserve my general thanks for the Third Reading debate.

Let me turn to the amendments. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members to reject any of the amendments that might be pushed to a vote, for reasons the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich ventilated extremely well. Let me set out why I think that is the case. I might just pause here, if I may, to remark that I think—I am not necessarily an expert on these matters—that this is probably the last substantive piece of innovative business that this Parliament—this 58th Parliament of the realm—will be discussing. It is an honour for me to be taking part in it on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, because it allows me to pay fulsome and personal tribute to three right hon. and hon. Friends on my side who will not be seeking re-election to this place.

My right hon. Friend Philip Dunne, who I did not know before I came here in 2015, has been a stalwart friend and colleague, and he will be hugely missed across the House, more than he will probably know because he is too modest to even consider that assessment. Likewise, I did not know my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, but his wit, his humour and his ability to cheer up any situation have warmed many a moment. Again, he will be missed.

I save for last, but by no means least, my hon. and darling Friend Nickie Aiken. We have known each other since we were 18 or 19, and it was the joy of my life to see her join us here at the 2019 election. She spoke today, in possibly her last contribution on the Floor of the House, in the same way that she has spoken from her maiden speech onwards, with knowledge, passion, clarity and certainty on behalf of all her constituents.

My three retiring colleagues have served their communities well. They have run the race to the finish, and I hope that they enjoy the next chapter of their lives to the full, whatever it offers them.

Education is key to this proposal, to make sure that subsequent generations do not repeat the past. As so many Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, have noted, that is why the symbolic juxtaposition of the memorial and learning centre and this place is so important. There is an emotional and romantic intertwining of Parliament, freedom and democracy, and how dimmed those lights were during the period of the Holocaust.

Many have rightly mentioned security, which is a key issue. I suggest to my hon. Friend John Stevenson that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich is right to say that it would not be sensible or prudent to put into the public domain either the security assessment or, indeed, the remedies for what it throws up. It is slightly analogous to having a burglar alarm installed in one’s home and posting the deactivation code on social media, so I will resist that amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and others have spoken to a key issue. The security and peace of mind of those who work in the centre, of those who visit the centre, of those who merely walk past and, crucially, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster and my right hon. Friend Sir Edward Leigh referenced, of those who just use the park as a park is paramount.

The overriding point is that the argument that we cannot have the memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens because of security fundamentally undermines a key tenet that supports the proposition. Given the issues surrounding both the Holocaust and the fairly fluid and dynamic situation in the middle east, security will always be an issue for such an institution. Security would be an issue were it to be located at the Imperial War Museum, in the middle of Hyde Park or on the third floor of Harrods. Security will always be an issue, but I entirely take the point, which I echo from the Dispatch Box.

If security concerns, a fear of the mob and a fear of those who seek to disrupt and intimidate suddenly become the trump card that is used to determine where and how we locate such a facility, the mob will have won and we might as well all pack up and go home now, raising the white flag. That is why I think all of us in this House, and particularly the two Front Benches, although we are absolutely concerned about security, are not prepared to bend the knee to bullies, thugs and anti-democratic mob rule.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

I doubt the Minister intends to be the first to accuse me of waving a white flag on anything. I put it to him that the Government said that the use of the park would not be interfered with by the proposal. Were there to be just a memorial there, that might be true, but the proposals are for a memorial and a learning centre that will try to bring in half a million people a year, when we know now there are greater threats —we have had the parliamentary bookshop barricaded, and, as I say, the memorial in Hyde Park covered over. Can Government say that, with the present plans, the use of the park will not be interfered with? Where is their assessment? Who knows about it, and is it true?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities) 6:45, 22 May 2024

Let me say to my hon. Friend that there is no reason for use of the park to be disrupted. I am afraid that he slightly undermined his argument, because he referred to the memorial at Hyde Park having to be secured. We have had in the past to secure the statue of Sir Winston Churchill, and to safeguard the security of the Cenotaph. There were no learning centres attached to them—they stand merely as memorials. My hon. Friend said that he thought the memorial would not come under attack—for want of a better phrase—or require security measures, and that the risk was only because the learning centre was attached to it. I do not agree.

I do not have a crystal ball, but the whole security strategy will be tried and tested for every single scenario, in the same way as it is in any plan for something with public use; of course it will be, and that is right. It would respond to any scenario thrown up. I would love to be able to give a guarantee that unfettered access will be given to the park 24/7, 365 days a year, but if, in the middle of some heavy protest or something, it is the advice of the police that it be closed in the same way as they might close a road, a shop or a facility, I suggest that it would be folly to ignore that advice.

Photo of Edward Leigh Edward Leigh Conservative, Gainsborough

Where we are sitting is an armed fortress—we cannot go anywhere without seeing policemen with sub-machine guns. This park has always been completely open. There is absolutely no security. Every gate is completely open; there are no security guards and no wardens. On behalf of the local community, I ask the Government to assure the public that this park will remain completely open as it always has done, and that they will be able to wander in and out of this green space.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My right hon. Friend raises a valid point. That is absolutely at the kernel of the plans on which this vision rests. It is, of course, a planning matter, and I am not the Minister responsible for the planning process. It is a planning matter to be looked at. I think I have said all I can say on that.

I would like to correct one or two things. There was a review of alternative sites, and the comparisons were published. The Imperial War Museum was included in that analysis process. The square footage of the development represents just 7.58% of the overall surface area of the park; the park is 18,848 square metres, while the development is 1,492 square metres, which includes the memorial. Issues relating to air quality, traffic management, changes in policy and water table, among others, are in the purview of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, my hon. Friend Lee Rowley.

It is worthwhile quoting, if I may, an extract from the inspector’s report. As we know from cases in our own constituencies, the inspectorate is independent of Government. The inspector said that

“the development of the UKHMLC proposals since the publication of the HMC’s report” has been

“very thorough. This has involved site selection, a public architectural competition, and after initial selection, a very detailed preparation of the proposals and their presentation,” with formal public consideration by Westminster City Council and

“ultimately the more detailed evidence presented before the Inquiry.”

I concur with my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Michael Ellis that to describe the process as flimsy, or say that Government and others seek to railroad a proposal through within five or 10 minutes of the idea being in somebody’s mind, stretches the definition—

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Will my hon. Friend allow to make this important point, knowing the seriousness with which he takes the Buxton memorial? I do not want to stray too far into the planning issues, but he will know that the Buxton memorial is listed. As a result of being a listed structure, it is a material planning consideration when any new proposal to set something alongside it is taken into consideration. The design and the layout are entirely set out to ensure that the memorial is subservient to the Buxton memorial, given both its heritage and listed status.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

I do not dispute what the Minister has just said, but previously he quoted the planning inspector. The inspector did not see the comparison between the top three sites recommended by the consultants or the light-bulb moment when someone involved wrote to a member of the Government saying, “Have you thought about Victoria Tower Gardens for the memorial?”, not for the learning centre as well. The inspector did not see that, I have not seen it and the Minister has not seen it—it did not happen.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

The planning inspector did the work that statute places upon them, to allow them to make a clear recommendation back to Government on how this application should be determined. The inspector saw all documentation that was germane to that appeal process and, of course, could have called for additional documentation if they so wished. I say gently and respectfully to my hon. Friend the Father of the House that I appreciate he does not like the outcome of the process and that he never will, but trying to cast a whole variety of assertions about how we arrived at the outcome, using questions about procedure and process, is not particularly helpful on an issue that clearly commands the support of the majority of the House. My advice to the House would be to tilt at windmills where they exist, of course, but where they do not exist, do not seek to create them.

I reiterate what I said in response to the invention by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster. Setting aside the relevant section of the 1900 Act is necessary to bring forward, in land use and planning terms, the proposal that will eventually be before us. It does not—let me say that again, it does not—establish a precedent for any public body or Government Department, nor does it create a precedent that can be relied upon in law, at judicial review or elsewhere, for private sector developers or joint venture partners with the public sector to base their argument on the proposal. They will not be able to say, “Ah well, this portion of Victoria Tower Gardens was allowed for this purpose, therefore the Government have opened up a Pandora’s box.” To mix my analogies, this does not create a Trojan horse either. It is not a Trojan horse bearing a Pandora’s box. Any application would need to be judged on its merits. I want to make that abundantly clear, because I know that it is an important point for my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster.

Many questions have been raised around costs, which are not necessarily an issue for this Bill per se. I will not test the patience of the House by saying that the public sector is tried and tested and reliable, with its letters of contract and contract managers, but everything seems to overrun. I say politely to the House that, of course, costs have gone up over the past nine years, since this idea was first mooted. And, of course, costs will go up still further the longer that we delay.

May I make two philosophical points, Sir Roger? First, whoever is monitoring the delivery and the budget management on this will, with due and proper cognisance to the public finances, be as resolute as they can be to ensure that proper contractual obligations are followed and that budgets are met and not exceeded. One would expect to see a contingency on something such as this, and, indeed, those costs will ebb and flow as the cost of materials rise and fall, and the cost of labour changes and the like.

Photo of John Stevenson John Stevenson Conservative, Carlisle

Does the Minister not share my concerns about costs? It was £50 million in 2015. It is now estimated at £138 million. He has already said that the cost is likely to go up even further. Are we really writing a blank cheque for this scheme?

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

My hon. Friend is right, and I will thank him properly on Third Reading, but may I just put on record at Committee stage my thanks to him for the work that he did chairing the Select Committee that looked into all of this? It did a thorough piece of work and I am hugely grateful to him and to colleagues who gave up so much of their time.

Yes, costs have gone up. I say this as somebody who has spent some considerable time looking at development costs in the private sector. Sometimes we can look at things in the public sector and say, “How on earth have they arrived at this particular figure?” But the National Audit Office, the Public Accounts Committee and others will keep a very clear view on that, and they are right to do so.

I say this to my hon. Friend: we want to commemorate and memorialise a horrible period in our world history, and ensure that education can be provided so that the mistakes of the past are hopefully not repeated in the future. I do not make this point to be flippant, but what cost can be put on that, given the scale and the seriousness of the task that we have in front of us?

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

My hon. Friend will clearly be aware that when the original proposals were put forward back in 2015-16, the design of the memorial and the education and learning centre had not been considered. Therefore the budget that was set then, before the design work was done, was clearly going to be inadequate for the type of facility that we are talking about. Given that we are in those circumstances, he is right that we will need to take a clear position on keeping to costs and keeping to the contract prices. Equally, there is the provision of private sector investment, to which my hon. Friend will no doubt refer. Does he agree with me that, in all these developments, until such time as spades go in the ground, investors are very unlikely to make contributions until they see something really happening.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

In broad terms, my hon. Friend is absolutely right in the way that he sets out how these things will work. I am grateful to him for making his point in the way that he did.

Reference was made to some astronomical sum of money that has already been spent. I think I heard the figure £40 million. A total of £18 million has already been spent. I did not recognise the £40 million figure when it was uttered by, I think, my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West, so I checked with my officials. Nobody in the Department recognises that figure. He may want to write to me with the details, but it is not a figure that we recognise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster made an important point about the setting and environment. Others spoke of the need to have a quiet time to reflect, having visited the education centre. Different people will be moved and touched by what they see, hear and read in very different ways. There is a wonderful and compellingly attractive synergy to having the education centre and the memorial juxtaposed. My hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole made the point that having the memorial adjacent to Parliament, making that linkage to democracy, is key. Having it in a space where there are trees and plants, and the river close by, so that people can come out of the education facility, see the memorial, and have time to pause, reflect, consider, pray, or just hold hands, hug or whatever people may want to do to express solidarity with each other, is also key.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Conservative, Cities of London and Westminster 7:00, 22 May 2024

The Minister makes an important point about how important it is to be able to have a moment of reflection. As I said, when I visited the Holocaust galleries at the Imperial War Museum, I personally came out of the museum feeling that I needed somewhere to sit and reflect. Surely that is one reason why, as I and others have advocated, the Imperial War Museum is the right place for this memorial.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Let me say this to my hon. Friend: before coming to this place, I heard in my professional life—I have also heard this in my political life, as I am sure many of us have—“Do you know what, I think this is a fantastic idea. Gosh, I think it’s good, and I know an absolutely marvellous site, two and a half miles away from where you want to develop it. It would be so much better there. My goodness me, it would stand out absolutely beautifully, but don’t do it here. Don’t do it in my backyard.” It is my hon. Friend’s backyard, given that this is her constituency.

As I said earlier, there was a comparison of sites, and Victoria Tower Gardens was alighted upon. It is as close as one can get it to the heart of our democratic function. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West said something that I thought was uncharacteristically Tory. I wish my right hon. Friend Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg had been in his place. I think he would have leapt to his feet, as much as anybody of his age can leap to their feet.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

Let me finish this point, and then of course I will. My hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West dismissed in some Cromwellian way—I say this slightly tongue in cheek—the fact that the first bit of our parliamentary democracy that visitors would see is the House of peers, as if it were in some way a second-tier part of our bicameral system.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

We will have no heckling from the SNP, thank you very much. It is where the throne sits. It is where the power of this place emanates from. Parliament and the Crown are interlinked.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons

On a point of order, Sir Roger. There are only two minutes left, and I had hoped to wind up the debate.

Photo of Jacob Rees-Mogg Jacob Rees-Mogg Conservative, North East Somerset

I just wanted to point out that I was listening to my hon. Friend Sir Peter Bottomley carefully, and thought that he made an absolutely brilliant speech.

Photo of Simon Hoare Simon Hoare Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State (Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities)

I would have thanked my right hon. Friend for that intervention, but now I do not think that I will. My apologies—I thought that I had until six minutes past 7 to conclude, when I thought the Father of the House was due to wind up.

In that case, I draw my remarks to a close by urging right hon. and hon. colleagues to oppose the amendments, to move this important proposal through, to provide a suitable memorial and education centre, not to give way to the mob, and to stand up for the very best of what it means to be a British democrat.

Photo of Peter Bottomley Peter Bottomley Father of the House of Commons 7:04, 22 May 2024

If the figure spent already is £18 million and not £40 million, I accept that from the Minister, but I wonder whether it is actually higher than that. If people say that it is only 7.5% of the park gardens that will be used, it is 27% or more of the green space; those who use the 7.5% figure should revise that and ask who is giving them that advice. If people say that those who want to protect the gardens are in some way giving way to vandals, we are not. If people want to put things right, the Government should compare the present proposal with the best alternatives from the consultants and then have a proper consultation on the alternatives before the planning process starts again. I thank the Opposition spokesman, Matthew Pennycook for saying that there should be a new planning application to the local authority; we will all agree with that.

Question put and negatived.

Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).

The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).

Clause 1 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 and 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.