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I have tabled this amendment for two reasons. First, I hope that all your Lordships agree that we want to protect and enhance this building and want it to emerge from the restoration and renewal project even more magnificent than it is at the moment. One of the greatest buildings in the world, and the greatest symbol of democracy in the world, it is at the heart of the world heritage site which encompasses the Abbey, St Margaret’s and the immediate environs.
The immediate environs include Victoria Tower Gardens. Last week, we were all exalted in a letter from my noble friend Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth to love our parks—indeed, he told us that it was Love Parks Week. I do love our parks and do not imagine that a single one of your Lordships does not love our parks. There is nothing more wonderful than to walk through St James’s Park, Green Park and Hyde Park and up to Kensington Gardens; it is a wonderful country walk in the middle of the greatest city in the world. They are great parks not only because of the way they are laid out, but in size. Adjacent to the Palace of Westminster is a much smaller park, but one that gives great enjoyment to those who use it. It is used on daily basis by residents, office workers, children and others. It was carefully laid out in the last three decades of the 19th century and contains the magnificent statue of the Burghers of Calais, the statue of Mrs Pankhurst and the memorial to Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, one of the great advocates of the cause that led to the abolition of, first, the slave trade and then slavery in 1833. That is something of which this country, and this Parliament in particular, should be extremely proud.
When we embark on this great programme of restoration and renewal, we have to have regard for our environs. Noble Lords will have read the amendment. There is an application for a major building project in Victoria Palace Gardens for a cause which I believe every noble Lord thinks is a great cause: to have another national memorial to commemorate the Holocaust. I tread very carefully because I like to think that no one could ever accuse me of being a Holocaust denier—one of those episodes in recent world history that has done more to deface the name of humanity than perhaps any other. Nor, as the founder chairman for the campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry, would I ever wish to be accused of having any anti-Semitic feelings. I hope that would be said for everyone who expresses a concern about building this particular memorial in this particular place.
I would like to see another national memorial, and it ought to attract people in considerable numbers. It is a memorial that should not be in any way inconvenienced by security measures additional to those which any public building or memorial in London, regrettably, has to rely upon. It should also be of easy access so that when people come on pilgrimage, as I hope and believe they will, to stand gently and quietly to remember or to instruct the young, they will be able to come and go easily and freely. On any account, building a major national memorial immediately adjacent to Parliament on Victoria Palace Gardens would mean that those criteria are not easily fulfilled. That is why I hope that the board we are establishing through the Bill will look most carefully.
Moreover, if we are to have the full decant, it is important that each House of Parliament has a reasonable temporary home that easy to access and close to other parliamentary facilities. I know it has been mentioned that the favourite destination for your Lordships’ House is the QEII Centre. I have always felt that there are many objections to that, not least the difficulty of parking. I also believe that to have to cross the road to go there is not necessarily conducive to the close contact between the two Houses which is an essential part of our constitutional and democratic structure. If the Commons is to have a Chamber built within or near Richmond House—I know that there are significant concerns on that front too, but I will leave that aside for the moment—having something on the same side of the road as a temporary structure for your Lordships and immediately opposite Millbank House and the offices that many of us occupy might be a sensible move. I say “might”, as it is something that the body that we are setting up ought to be able to take carefully into account. However, if a memorial is to be built there, that will be ruled out.
I do not intend to divide the House today. I have said many times before that I believe that our convention—it is not a rule—that we do not vote in Committee is wise, as it gives us a chance to reflect on what the Government say and it gives the Government the chance also to reflect. I believe that we will deal with this as first business when we return in September, so we have several weeks in which to reflect and consider.