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Amendment 2

Part of Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 4:15 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Deech Baroness Deech Crossbench 4:15 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I am pleased to add my name to this amendment. In this most significant work for parliamentarians and indeed for the whole nation, our concerns are not only for this building and our parliamentary work, and not only for the future and the public, but for safety, security, access and the environment now and in future centuries. Quite apart from the changes in methods of working that will be taken into consideration in refurbishing this place, major concerns affect the surrounding areas. We have many more tourists and many more protests—peaceful and otherwise—here and in Parliament Square; there are more visitors, including dignitaries requiring protected access; and, above all, we are painfully aware of the vulnerability and magnetic attraction of this area to terrorists. Protestors could include parties interested in the Middle East, and environmental activists because of the underground excavation, destruction of trees and loss of green space inherent in the Victoria Tower Gardens plan.

This brings me to the concerns I have for those gardens adjacent to Black Rod’s Garden and the parking exit for our cars. Your Lordships will have heard that there is a plan to have a Holocaust memorial and learning centre in those gardens, which has not yet received planning permission. In the meantime, there has been more than one security analysis of the implications of a very large memorial and museum with concomitant visitors. It has been estimated that there will be 1 million visitors per year and 11 coaches delivering and taking away visitors every day.

The amendment in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Cormack and Lord King, and myself is designed to take account of the implications of this. The proposal to build on this site has avoided addressing security considerations in any detail, failing the tests set out in paragraph 95a of the National Planning Policy Framework of 2019. There will be potentially long queues of visitors waiting for security checks—the touted 20-second check will clearly be insufficient—next to children playing in the playground and the usual park visitors. Presumably, they too will have to undergo security checks because they are close by, whether intending to visit the memorial or not.

The principal threat comes from jihadi-inspired terrorists, as evidenced by the atrocities that have occurred in Europe recently, targeted against Jews and Jewish-associated buildings. The proximity of the planned memorial to Parliament, with national and international news media constantly in attendance, will make it a high-value target for those who wish to promote their evil aims with publicity. There have been many other criminal activities levelled against Jewish targets of which many of us are, frankly, fearful, and a great deal of private and public money is already spent on protection. We also have the extreme right-wing groups, white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and protestors of all sorts—bearing in mind that the memorial may also include victims of LGBT persecution, and of the Rwandan, Armenian and other massacres—who will see this location as the focus for their action.

Alongside is Millbank, a busy road with limited parking. It is difficult to see where the coachloads of visitors would be able to disembark. I envisage more anti-terrorist vehicle barriers and pavement restrictions at the southern end of the Parliamentary Estate, as well as presumably more concrete blocks, barriers and bollards to protect against a suicide vehicle crash; it would be easy enough to drive into the park with this intent, rather as happened in the attack here in March 2017. At the very least, the footpath in Millbank will have to be narrowed and security patrols will be required night and day. Graffiti and desecration of memorials are all too common, as we saw with the Bomber Command memorial and even the Cenotaph in London. There will be large queues of people waiting to enter, which provide a soft target for extremists. Objects such as bricks, and worse, could easily be thrown from across the road, or could be dropped into the well area at the entrance to the learning centre, causing disruption.

Building a memorial will require large areas around to be closed for a time, with excavation equipment and building materials, at more or less the same time that these buildings are being prepared for repair. How will the park be managed at night, and cleared, and what will the light pollution be? Our amendment refers mildly to avoiding impediments; other amendments refer to the whole of the Parliamentary Estate and the broadest meaning of access. They all deserve support, but this one is the most urgent, in that the damage to security may occur very soon. We need to protect the Parliamentary Estate and its immediate vicinity. I stand here to assure noble Lords that it is not anti-Semitic to oppose this design, in this location, as has been suggested; far from it. The trouble is that, if the plan is steamrollered through as a political football—if I may mix my metaphors—it will for ever be tainted with opposition. To build a Holocaust memorial we must do so with reverence, affection, respect and acceptance. If it has to be forced through, it is contrary to the very objectives for which it is designed.

The other argument that may well be raised is: “Such a memorial has to be right next door to Parliament to remind us that democracy must and should protect against genocide”. Sadly, democracy has not proved in the past to protect against genocide. One need only instance in our current age Yugoslavia and Myanmar, and of course Germany had a form of democracy in the 1930s. Genocide comes from ethnic and religious hatred and from ideology. That is something that you combat only by educating people, not by putting up a memorial in a small park. For those reasons, I support the amendment and I hope that others will too.