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Amendment 2

Part of Parliamentary Buildings (Restoration and Renewal) Bill - Committee – in the House of Lords at 4:30 pm on 22nd July 2019.

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Photo of Lord Carlile of Berriew Lord Carlile of Berriew Crossbench 4:30 pm, 22nd July 2019

My Lords, I support the amendment that was moved so clearly and eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. I agree entirely with the other things that have been said so far.

Over a mere 36 years in association with this Palace, I have quite often gone into those gardens for moments of deliberation and relaxation. The reason why I do so is that they contain one of the most wonderful public sculptures in the world, “The Burghers of Calais”. It is a much better location for that casting of the statue than you find, for example, in Calais. It is a sculpture of international moment and very much part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. With the other two memorials that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, referred to, there seems to be quite enough for small gardens of that size, particularly when there is another site for the Holocaust memorial available for sure on the much more capacious site of the Imperial War Museum—I will speak about that in a moment.

I am very committed to the erection of a Holocaust memorial. My sister Renata and I share a father but not a mother. We do not share a mother because her mother died in Auschwitz-Birkenau in 1944. A framed copy of her death certificate hangs on the wall of my sister’s house in the Midlands. It does not tell the entire truth. It says she died of smallpox, when she was almost certainly murdered because she had smallpox. These events are very important to us as a family. We believe Renata’s and my paternal grandparents died in Auschwitz-Birkenau. We do not know exactly how, but it was probably by being taken straight from the train to the gas ovens.

I suspect that many people in your Lordships’ House have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau. I am afraid once was enough for me—I shall not go again. Anybody who has been there will realise how momentous, vile and treacherous those events were and what effect they have on those families, whether they be religious or secular—I am not a religious person at all. This is the history of many people in this country and indeed quite a lot of people in your Lordships’ House and the other place.

I regard this memorial as an absolute necessity, but what does it need? I have been to Holocaust memorials around the world when I have been able to. Yad Vashem is an extraordinary memorial, set in a great space. Last year, I went to the new Holocaust memorial in Warsaw, Poland. Poland has a mixed reputation for its attitude to Jews, even since the Second World War. However, if your Lordships have not been there, I have to tell you that the new memorial in Warsaw is a sensational place. It dominates a big square. You can walk around it and through it; you can go to restaurants in the streets around it. The whole of that area has been created and recreated to accommodate that memorial.

In my view, a memorial to the Holocaust needs room to view, room to breathe, room to reflect and room to police. The site for the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens certainly does not have the room to police. The road between Lambeth Bridge and the Palace of Westminster is often closed to traffic when important events are taking place here, or on the not insignificant number of occasions when there is a suspicion of a raised terrorist threat level. It would be a sitting target for terrorists and would not be difficult to access. It would not be possible to create a ring of steel around it, which can be done on a big site in a careful, considerate and not particularly obvious way.

A memorial such as this should have space—as at Auschwitz, which is on a huge site—for coaches to bring and set down older schoolchildren who are learning about modern history, including the history of the Holocaust. There should be space for them to be corralled in an appropriate way, with time to listen to their teachers. They should be able to see the light of day. I do not understand the desire for an underground memorial. To be able to understand what happened to these people, you need light. The children’s memorial at Yad Vashem, which is a hall of mirrors with candles, is based on seeing light, not being in a subterranean space. I say to your Lordships, with the feeling I hope I have shown, because I believe in this proposition—