Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy (Brigg and Goole) (Con)
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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.

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson
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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.

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Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy
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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.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

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Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
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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.

Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy
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It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (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 the Member for Carlisle (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 the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (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.

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Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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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 the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) said, are very impressive and very moving?

Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy
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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.]

Andrew Percy Portrait Andrew Percy
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East, of course—as someone from East Yorkshire, I say east is always best. My hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (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 the Member for Worthing West (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.

Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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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.