All 3 Nickie Aiken contributions to the Holocaust Memorial Bill 2022-23

Read Bill Ministerial Extracts

Wed 28th Jun 2023
Wed 28th Jun 2023
Holocaust Memorial Bill: Committal
Commons Chamber

Committal (to a Select Committee)Committal to a Select Committee
Wed 22nd May 2024
Holocaust Memorial Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee of the whole House

Holocaust Memorial Bill

Nickie Aiken Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 28th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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The first holocaust survivor whom I met, as an 18-year-old working in a kibbutz in Israel, was Lena. She spoke as much English as I spoke Yiddish, but we got through it together. She was an amazing woman to work with and for. I will always be grateful for the support and friendship that she gave me, an 18-year-old away from home for the first time. For me, that was a lesson in human spirit and human survival.

We are fortunate in this country to have many holocaust survivors who are still willing to share their stories. Sadly, however, this living testimony will not be with us forever, and their stories show us why the memorial is so important. Critically, today’s debate is not about whether we should have a memorial—that, I think, is something on which we all agree—but about whether the right location is Victoria Tower Gardens, and, therefore, whether the Bill is necessary.

As we have heard, the Bill would amend the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900, which preserves the park for the public, and repeal the prohibition on building in the park. That would permit the building of the holocaust memorial and learning centre. The centre is not just a simple monument; it would require excavations going down two storeys to fulfil a design that has come under heavy criticism on account of its scale and suitability for the area. Naturally, that has caused concern for many of my residents in the surrounding area and so, as the local MP for the proposed site, I stand in support of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign.

The campaign is a group of local people who care deeply about this area. They have worked with a variety of groups, such as Historic England, the Thorney Island Society, the Buxton family, London Historic Parks and Gardens Trust and, most importantly, holocaust survivors, to make sure that we get the project right. After consulting those interest groups, the campaign has raised several concerns about the project, which come back to one major issue: location.

Location is a key consideration for every development, and it is no different in Westminster. There is a shortage of community parks in the City of Westminster, so the loss of even the smallest open space can have a big impact on the community. In central London, such losses are felt even more keenly.

Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine
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I appreciate the concerns of the local community about their amenities, but in the suggested location, the holocaust memorial would offer more than just education and a reminder to the public. Does the hon. Lady agree that it would also offer a reminder to those of us in this place for generations to come about the danger of allowing a repeat and allowing racism—antisemitism—to grow? That is why the location, although I accept it is not ideal for everyone, is important.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I agree that we must remember the holocaust—all holocausts, across the 20th and 21st centuries; sadly, they continue today—but this is about the location. As the local MP, and having been leader of Westminster City Council during the planning process—believe me, I saw it all, from start to finish—I know that the local people have no problem with the memorial; it is about the location. As I said, the concern is about the shortage of community parks in the City of Westminster. The park’s loss will be felt.

It is important to outline what an important neighbourhood park Victoria Tower Gardens is for thousands of local people, and not just those in expensive houses and neighbourhoods. Let us not forget that yards from this place and Victoria Tower Gardens, thousands of people live in housing association and council homes. They do not have the benefit of gardens. Every single green space is precious for them. I have spoken to people living on those estates and they fear that losing their local park will mean their children cannot play. Going for a walk or for lunch, or doing a media interview, is one thing, but losing a family park is another thing completely. There were more than 1,000 objections to the original planning application for the memorial, mostly on the grounds of loss of green space. I remember that time, and those were genuine concerns from local people.

The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign also noted the site’s important legal functions and its role in protecting the Palace of Westminster world heritage site. That is an important point. We must remember that Victoria Tower Gardens is a grade II listed public park. For this reason, the design of the monument and learning centre matters greatly. Historic England, the Government’s adviser on historic environment, has raised significant concerns about overwhelming the existing monuments. The gardens have notable existing memorials to oppression and emancipation: Rodin’s “Burghers of Calais,” the statue of the suffragette Emmeline Pankhurst and the Buxton memorial to the abolition of slavery.

There is a good argument, which I accept, that the presence of these monuments makes Victoria Tower Gardens an appropriate site for development. However, the proposed design of the holocaust memorial and learning centre is almost triple their size. The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign believes it will overwhelm the other monuments, perhaps making them fade away. The design was originally intended for a memorial in Ottawa, Canada, and it was imported here without much alteration and without taking into account the very different context.

The Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign also has legitimate concerns that such extreme development will harm the park itself, and this has been clear from the very beginning of the project. The Secretary of State has left the Chamber, so I ask the Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington (Felicity Buchan), to consider looking again at the current design of the memorial and the location of the learning centre as the Bill progresses through Parliament. The design is far too large, and it will dominate this public park.

In response to the original public exhibition run by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, there was a clear concern that the excavation operations will cause significant harm to established trees and invite concern about flooding. During the planning process, I remember the Environment Agency making very clear its objection because of the flood risk to this place. The Environment Agency has since changed its mind, and I do not know why, but it was very clear at the time.

Equally important is that the scale of development will considerably change the feeling of the park. It is not just a statue or small monument; this is a large-scale development that will need two storeys to be excavated for the learning centre. By its very design, it will lead to an increase in the number of visitors, which will distort the functionality of Victoria Tower Gardens as a place of recreation.

Local people remain concerned that Victoria Tower Gardens will cease to be a neighbourhood park and will become a civic space, dominated by the holocaust memorial and learning centre and its associated infrastructure and security installations. In the meantime, the park will become a building site for many, many years, leading to a serious loss of amenity for local people and more congestion and noise pollution. Along with the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster, residents will have the simultaneous repair of Victoria Tower, the replacement of the Parliamentary Education Centre and a memorial construction that will last for years.

Stephen Crabb Portrait Stephen Crabb
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My hon. Friend is making an intelligent speech, and she speaks with authority as the local Member of Parliament. When she talks about the loss of the park, is she talking about the temporary disruption caused by the construction phase? My understanding is that the park will remain. It will still be there in perpetuity for local people, but there will be a modest reduction in its size as a result of the memorial being built. We are not talking about the permanent loss of the park, are we?

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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My right hon. Friend and I will have to agree to disagree, because this will change the nature of the park. At the moment, it is a community neighbourhood park. It has a playground at one end and a massive open space where local people, particularly children, can play, run around and take their dogs for a walk. The size of the current design will mean that the memorial completely changes the atmosphere of the park.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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May I perhaps help my hon. Friend a little? The estimate by the London Historic Parks & Gardens Trust is that up to 30% of the park will be lost, so this is a major construction. In addition to the excellent point she is making, for some of us this comes down to the essential principle about a lack of consultation about the siting. The public were consulted and Westminster City Council said no, and the Government have decided to override it. That troubles us; as I have said before, it is not how we do things in this country. Perhaps that is the central point here.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I was the leader of the council when the planning application was going through, and I remind the House that we were very surprised at the lack of consultation in many parts of the application. As I have said, there were 1,000 objections to the planning application within that process. The Father of the House was right when he outlined the issues between 2015 and 2016.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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It is also worth remembering that when the Government decided to call in the application and take this away from Westminster City Council, they indicated that they had been asked to do that by the council—that was never true.

Let me just make a comment on the intervention by my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb). While the memorial and learning centre’s basement box and bronze fins are being constructed, up to two thirds of the park would be unusable for people. As for the estimate that the Government have put forward, whether directly or through their advisory body, the foundation—that only about 7% or 8% of the park would be taken—no one else believes that.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I thank the Father of the House for his intervention. I reassure him that I am not aware of any local authority that wants to have decisions on planning applications taken away from it at any time, but particularly not where such a major application is going to really affect local people, because of the loss of amenity they are going to feel from the loss of this park. I agree that more consultation should have taken place, as this will change the make-up of this neighbourhood park. I am a Westminster resident, but many Members come here for the working week and go home. They may use Victoria Tower gardens for doing a media interview, going for a walk at lunchtime or meeting friends. However, I can tell them that the park is a vital amenity for many local people, particularly those living in social housing, who do not have the benefit of gardens in their homes. Taking away any amount of space from that public park will be a real shame.

I appreciate that this is a hugely complex and emotional issue. However, concerns about the Bill are not a nimby cause whereby the wish is to block all development. Rather, they are rooted in the reality that there is very little support among local people for this memorial being placed in Victoria Tower gardens. That is on the grounds of loss of green space, increased visitor numbers, environmental concerns, traffic and the effect on surrounding monuments. Rightly, there are strong policies in place about building on parks and public green spaces. It is obviously important to remember the horrors of the holocaust—of course it is—and to ensure that the next generation, the one after, the one after that and those that come after should never forget what happened in Europe in the 1930s and 1940s, and subsequent genocides since then. But for many, especially those who live in crowded urban areas such as Westminster, our neighbourhood parks and gardens are vital to the quality of residents’ lives. That is why, for me, this is the right memorial but in the wrong location.

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Felicity Buchan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Felicity Buchan)
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It is a real pleasure to conclude the debate. I sincerely thank Members from across the House for their thoughtful, powerful and often very personal contributions to the debate. I was moved to hear such support for the principles of this Bill from all sides of the House. Together we can put our personal politics to one side and get the holocaust memorial built, while there are still holocaust survivors alive to see it.

Regrettably, it is a sombre truth that holocaust survivors who found solace in the United Kingdom are passing away, so we cannot let this opportunity pass us by. We must pass this Bill. We must ensure that future generations remember tomorrow. As my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State said, the Bill will enable us to keep that solemn promise. Through it, we are pursuing our manifesto commitment and a moral commitment.

It is encouraging to know that there is broad agreement about the need for a prominent national holocaust memorial and learning centre, even among those few dissenting voices who have expressed concerns about the site in Victoria Tower gardens. What is not in dispute is that its location at the heart of our democracy has an unmatchable historical, emotional and political significance.

I wish to spend a few moments replying to some of the concerns that have been mentioned, first, in the reasoned amendment, and, secondly, in some of the speeches. We are opposing the amendment. Many of these issues were examined in depth at the six-week public inquiry in 2020.

In his overall conclusion, the planning inspector was clear that the significant range of truly civic, educative, social and even moral public benefits that the proposals offer would demonstrably outweigh the identified harms that the proposals have been found to cause. A number of Members, including my hon. Friend and neighbour the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), raised concerns about the park and the environment. I stress that our proposal is to take only 7.5% of the area of the gardens, with the structure of our learning centre placed underground.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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I appreciate what the Minister is saying about the 7.5%. However, does she agree that placing the memorial and the learning centre in Victoria Tower gardens will change the whole atmosphere of the area, which is currently a neighbourhood park to a civic area.

Felicity Buchan Portrait Felicity Buchan
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It is our full intention that all activities that, at the moment, occur in the park can continue to do so, and we are being very sensitive in our design of the memorial and the learning centre. On the 7.5% point, I wish to note that the planning inspector, in his decision, recorded that the figure was agreed by all the main parties to the inquiry. I also want to say that the gardens will be enhanced in many ways with new planting, better drainage and more accessible seating. It is important also to note that the Holocaust Memorial Bill itself cannot and will not do anything to alter environmental and green space protections. The Bill will remove the statutory obstacle to building the memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower gardens, it does not provide any sort of planning permission and other necessary consents. These are contingent on an entirely separate planning permission.

I wish to pick up on a few other points that were raised. On trees, I want to reassure everyone that all the mature London plane trees will be protected, and additional planting will increase the overall attractiveness. We are taking measures to minimise the risk of damage to tree roots. Flooding was also mentioned. A detailed flood-risk assessment prepared as part of the planning application has concluded that Victoria Tower gardens is heavily protected. However, we take the risk of flooding very seriously, The Environment Agency has sought planning conditions relating to the condition of the river wall, which we are happy to comply with.

The Buxton Memorial and the concerns about it being overshadowed were mentioned. I want to stress that the design of the memorial means that the Buxton Memorial will be kept in its current position and, with the addition of new landscaping and seating, its setting will be improved. The memorial will be no higher than the top of the Buxton Memorial and the fins will step down progressively.

Concerns were raised about the interaction with the restoration and renewal programme. I just want to stress that the memorial site is at the southern end of Victoria Tower gardens and need not prevent the use of the gardens as required by the R&R project for site offices.

There was mention of having the memorial at the Imperial War Museum. I reiterate that the Imperial War Museum is very supportive of our proposals and, indeed, the chair sits on the foundation board. There was also mention of the fact that the learning centre was too small, but it is of a comparable size to that of the exhibition space underground in Berlin. In the reasoned amendment there was mention of the fact that there should be an endowment fund for education, but nothing that we are doing precludes that. There was also mention of the fact that there is opposition from members of the Jewish community. As my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) said, we are never going to get unanimity among any group of people, but we are delighted that we have the support of the Chief Rabbi and of every living Prime Minister, and broad representation from the Jewish community.

Consultation has been mentioned, and the Secretary of State addressed many of those issues, but we have over the years carried out extensive consultation. We looked at around 50 possible sites in central London, and there was a public inquiry as part of the planning process. We conducted a very thorough search of possible alternative suitable sites. All sites were assessed against the same published criteria, which included visibility, accessibility, availability and affordability. Almost all the criteria in the 2015 site selection document can be met at Victoria Tower gardens. I thank Members across the House for their contributions in this important debate and for their support to deliver this long-overdue memorial.

Holocaust Memorial Bill: Committal

Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Committal (to a Select Committee)
Wednesday 28th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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I disagree. If my right hon. Friend reads the amendments, they talk about the Bill removing

“the need for planning permission and all other necessary consents being obtained in the usual way for the construction, use, operation”

and “maintenance” of the memorial. This is all part and parcel of the due process that has been sadly lacking in this whole endeavour for the Government to get their way in siting the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens, come what may. It is very apt to say that a decision has been made at the centre. It has taken far too long, by the way—we can all agree with that; this process started in 2015, and here we are in 2023 still debating it—but the fact is that due process has not been followed. There has been a lack of transparency, to the point where a High Court judge has to say that we need to debate this matter in Parliament before those pushing for the siting of the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens can have their way. We should be worried about that.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, I think we all very much support the establishment of a national holocaust memorial. Nobody dissents from that: it is about the way in which the process has been conducted, with a lack of transparency and a lack of due process. I almost think that there has been some sort of deviousness in getting us to this point.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend join me in paying tribute to all those who are part of the Save Victoria Tower Gardens campaign—all of them local people who are so desperate to ensure that this vital piece of public park remains so? Does he agree that it is so important to hear their voices continually throughout this Bill process?

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
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I agree with my hon. Friend. That is why, coming back to the intervention from my right hon. Friend the Member for Preseli Pembrokeshire (Stephen Crabb), the debate on this particular part of the Bill—the instruction—is very important, and it is why the Father of the House’s amendments are very relevant. The Bill is trying to say, “We are not going to consider any other alternatives. We are not going to listen at all to any further suggestions as to how we can move this forward.” That is wrong, given that the only consultation we have had so far by Westminster City Council has been called in by the Government. That is not how we do things in this country. We do depend on due process. We do depend on transparency. We do depend on the checks and balances that help make this country one of the best places to live and where the rule of law prevails. But here we have an approach that is shoddy, frankly. It lacks transparency, and the process is questionable. The one bit of consultation has been called in, and it is simply not good enough. So when the Father of the House rises to move his amendments, I hope that enough people will support him, and I will certainly be doing so.

Holocaust Memorial Bill

Nickie Aiken Excerpts
Committee of the whole House
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(3 weeks, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
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Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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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.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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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?

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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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.

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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.
Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson
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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.

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John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson
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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.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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First, I thank the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee for its very hard work. That Committee was excellently chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (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 the Member for Worthing West (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.

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Lia Nici Portrait Lia Nici
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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?

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

Richard Bacon Portrait Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con)
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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?

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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”.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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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.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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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.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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My hon. Friend is being generous with her time. It is not—

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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I am not entirely sure what has amused my hon. Friend the Member for South Norfolk (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.

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

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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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?

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

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.

Lia Nici Portrait Lia Nici
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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.

Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

Rachel Maclean Portrait Rachel Maclean (Redditch) (Con)
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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 the Member for Carlisle (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 the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (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.

--- Later in debate ---
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.
Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
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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.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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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 the Member for North East Somerset (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.