All 4 Peter Bottomley contributions to the Holocaust Memorial Bill 2022-23

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Peter Bottomley Excerpts
2nd reading
Wednesday 28th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

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Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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My hon. Friend makes an important point. There has been controversy and there has been opposition to the site of the memorial, but it is only fair to say that the decision to site it in Victoria Tower gardens has followed consultation. There was extensive consultation on this project, starting with Prime Minister David Cameron’s holocaust commission in 2014, which received almost 2,500 responses. Following the announcement in January 2016 that Victoria Tower gardens had been identified as the most fitting site, an international design competition was then held to select a suitable design team.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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I do not put this as a point of argument, but as something that I hope my right hon. Friend is aware of: when the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation put out its specification in September 2015—a copy of which, I think, is available to my right hon. Friend—it said that it wanted various criteria to be taken into account, including a possible location in central London, which on page 10 of the specification is illustrated as west of Regent’s Park, east of Spitalfields and down from the Imperial War Museum. In the four or five months between September 2015 and January 2016, there was no public consultation about the site at all. I do not want my right hon. Friend to feel that he needs to answer that point now, but if he could say before the end of the debate what consultation there was between September 2015 and January 2016, that might be helpful to the House.

Michael Gove Portrait Michael Gove
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The consultation was undertaken after the announcement of the winning design, and from January to September 2017 the public were invited to comment on the shortlisted designs, which were exhibited in Parliament and across the United Kingdom. Of course, as the Father of the House will know, there was a planning inquiry, and during that inquiry extensive material about the memorial and the learning centre was published and shared. Interested parties were given an opportunity to raise concerns and objections, and objectors had the opportunity to make their case to the independent planning inspector at that point.

However, I stress that the decision on the site was not taken by Government Ministers, and—in respect of the understandable concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron)—it was not imposed by the Government themselves. The decision was arrived at by the independent Holocaust Memorial Foundation, with representations from different political traditions, including the right hon. Ed Balls and the right hon. Lord Pickles; the Chief Rabbi; the very distinguished president of the Community Security Trust, Gerald Ronson; and a host of others from civil society. While my hon. Friend is right to say that some people within the Jewish community have expressed concerns, the overwhelming view of the Jewish community and its representative organisations is that this is the right memorial in the right location, and that we must press on.

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Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

“this House, while accepting the value of a national Holocaust memorial, declines to give a Second Reading to the Holocaust Memorial Bill because no adequate reason has been given for seeking to build the memorial and learning centre in a long-established small public park, thereby contradicting the Government’s own policies on environmental and green space protection; because the Government has not implemented its 2015 promise to establish an endowment fund for Holocaust education, which would have spread the benefits of the learning centre around the country; because the proposed site is opposed by many in the Jewish community, including many Holocaust survivors; because there was no public consultation on the choice of site; and because there has been no consideration of alternatives to Victoria Tower Gardens since the criteria declared in September 2015 were set aside.”

I am grateful to the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for how they have introduced the debate on the Bill. Just to clear up one thing that may have been inadvertent, my right hon. Friend responded to my intervention by talking about 2016 to 2017. My precise question was on how it went from the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s specification in September 2015 to 13 January 2016, when some say the first suggestion of using Victoria Tower Gardens was considered by the foundation. The Government publicly announced later that month that that was what they had decided. I repeat my assertion that there has been no public consultation on that site.

I meant to start my remarks by saying that, within months of my birth in July 1944, and besides my father getting rather badly injured in Normandy, later that year, Margot and Anne Frank caught typhus in Bergen-Belsen. They died early in 1945. In April 1945, my father’s cousin—my first cousin once removed—Dr George Woodwark was one of the Westminster medical students who went to Bergen-Belsen to try to save as many lives as they could. They did valiant work in appalling conditions.

When I heard directly from George what it was like, I was as moved as I was when I first read reports of the concentration camps, the death camps and the treatment of Jews. That feeling is only reinforced when I go to the Imperial War Museum’s holocaust galleries. If anyone has not done so, I commend them doing so. One only need go there, or look at the online material on the education side, to be reminded that the purpose is, as set out by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, that we should know what was happening when those who survived are no longer with us. There was no intention in the Holocaust Commission report to the Government and there was no intention with the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation in September 2015 that the memorial had to be up before holocaust survivors had died. That is a later creation and justification, and some regard it as pretty weak.

I think it was 4 November 1952—it was; I looked it up, as I could not remember—when aged eight I first stood outside the Victoria Tower and went into Victoria Tower Gardens after the Queen went to her first state opening of Parliament the year before her coronation. I have lived in this area for 35 years, I have worked here for 47 or 48 years and I was educated here for seven years. Together—some of those years overlap—I think I am probably one of the longest lasting people to have been aware of Victoria Tower Gardens as a quiet place where the local population, those who work here and visitors can enjoy the surroundings.

I have a home here, so people can say I have a vested interest. I have also got a vested interest in having proper education about the holocaust. Since this process started, one of my cousins has established what we knew vaguely, which is that more than 100 of my grandfather’s cousins died during the holocaust. I do not regard myself as Jewish—I regard myself as Christian—but I am proud to be associated with what they went through, which I know is possibly still happening now around the world, whether that is in Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi, Cambodia or Srebrenica. We are not going to stop holocausts by where our memorial is. It is right that we should have one, but the education side matters.

The Holocaust Commission recommended, and the then Prime Minister accepted, that there should be an endowment fund for education. In the years since, that has not happened. We then go to the Government’s commitment that, if the voluntary side can raise £25 million, they will put in £50 million. The Government have now raised that to £75 million. The majority of the money should be spent on education, as set down by the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation. That has not happened.

The principle of this Bill—here I disagree with the Government—is not clause 2 as well as clause 1, but clause 1; it is regularising future payments. The earlier payments, which amount to well over £17 million so far, have been paid under common law. It is right and necessary that there should now be legislative authority for the Government to spend more and that is why I do not oppose clause 1.

If we go to clause 2, we come to the reasons that I tabled my reasoned amendment. I should say to the Front Benchers that I do not propose to push my reasoned amendment to a vote. A reasoned amendment, to be acceptable for the Order Paper, needs in effect to kill the Bill, and I am not trying to kill clause 1. I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron) for supporting the reasoned amendment, as I know do many others.

Page 10 of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation’s proposal for a memorial and learning centre illustrates the acceptable area of central London. It goes from the west of Regent’s Park to Spitalfields in the east and down to Victoria Tower gardens.

I interrupt my flow to say that the inspector, who took over consideration of the planning application by the Secretary of State—this is a planning application by a Secretary of State, albeit one of the previous Secretaries of State—said that he would not be able to consider the Imperial War Museum’s proposals because they were not detailed. I do not think I am giving away any secrets in saying that the Imperial War Museum was told not to provide detailed proposals to the Government’s call for where the site should be and what should be there. The Government are responsible for allowing the inspector to come to that perverse decision that alternatives should not be considered.

The Government, through their foundation—for the foundation is an arm of Government—said, “Where should it be?” Fifty places were put forward and one person—albeit the then chairman of the Conservative party—wrote to a Conservative Minister to say, “Have you thought about Victoria Tower gardens? Perhaps the learning centre could be at Millbank.” The Government later decided that they would put the learning centre and memorial together in this very small royal park, thereby wrecking it.

I say this, through you Madam Deputy Speaker, to the Secretary of State and to the country. If the Government continue with their proposals, they know that there will be a four-year construction programme after permission eventually gets through the Houses of Parliament and the Secretary of State’s junior Minister—I will say his colleague Minister, to put it politely—makes a decision, independently of the Secretary of State as the applicant. That will take, say, another nine months in Parliament. We are talking five years from now, so that takes us to at least 2028—people talk about 2027, but that is unrealistic—for a proposal made in September 2015. If it is important that holocaust survivors can be there for the memorial’s opening, we should not be continuing with this process. Indeed, it is not the one that we should have started with.

I make this proposal to the Secretary of State and the Government: why not have a competition for an alternative memorial by itself? The learning centre can come later; survivors do not need to be waiting for the learning centre. It should be a proper memorial—preferably not the one rejected in Ottawa, which is essentially what we have adopted; although the fins may have changed slightly, it has the same number of fins and the same interpretation—that could be put up in Whitehall, in Parliament Square or on College Green across the road from Parliament. Then, once the education centre at the north end of Victoria Tower gardens is gone, it can be placed there.

We know that space in Victoria Tower gardens will be needed for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster—I doubt that Parliament Square will be used for that—and we know that memorials can be moved, because the Buxton memorial was moved from Parliament Square to Victoria Tower gardens. We could have a competition for a memorial to be created for less than £20 million and to be erected within two years. We could have the opening ceremony with holocaust survivors there, and then later the memorial could be moved to wherever people chose. That would not be a rush, but it would be three years faster than the current proposal.

The Government are stuck on a course that any sensible person could have diverted them from at any stage. I invite the Secretary of State to ask the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation to have a roundtable with him, me, Baroness Deech, holocaust survivors and others who are interested from the local community—including the Thorney Island Society, of which I am a member, and London Parks & Gardens—so that rather than shout at each other in public, we discuss the issues together. Suppose that we set the object of establishing, at reasonable cost, a memorial that would open within two years as an alternative to this process? I am not saying that we should stop the process straightaway; they could run in parallel and then we could have the option between my proposal and what the Government appear to be committed to.

I commend the House of Commons Library’s good briefing on this saga. It is pretty comprehensive, although in my view it does not give quite enough attention to the September 2015 specifications. Let us remember what they were. One was that the local authority would approve the plan. Westminster City Council was not going to do so, and that is why a former Secretary of State took the decision away from the council. There was consultation with local people, who overwhelmingly and rationally argued against putting the memorial in Victoria Tower gardens, and especially having this tank of a learning centre associated with it.

After that, either the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation or the Government—I cannot remember which—got a firm to go and stand outside asking, “Would you like to have a holocaust memorial?” A load people put a tick, as many people in the establishment have to this proposal. It was not argued. My hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken) could probably give more evidence if she chose to. That was bogus and irrational. Then, we come to the planning process, which I do not want to go into.

To those who think the way I do, in whole or in part, I commend not voting against Second Reading, but not voting for it. That will show that the Government have not been able to establish large numbers of people in support of it. We will have a separate debate on the instruction, and I will invite colleagues to vote with me on that. When we come to it, I will argue more about the hybridity.

I am probably the only person in the Chamber who was present when Michael Heseltine conducted the Labour Back Benchers as they sang “The Red Flag”. Something peculiar had happened in the votes on the hybridity of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Bill, which had been classified by the Speaker as hybrid. The then Labour Government put down a motion disregarding that. There was a draw on the first vote, so the Speaker left things the way they were. On the second vote, when the Speaker would have pushed things backwards had there been a draw, the then Government managed to create one more vote in their favour, which led to a degree of uproar. Speaker George Thomas—Viscount Tonypandy—dealt with that quite effectively when it came back to the Chair, then suspended the House and let the apologies come the following day.

That hybridity issue caused embarrassment to the Government. This one does too. When the hybridity was announced, the Government claimed that they were pleased, but they had spent all their time in the weeks before arguing against it being hybrid. It is hybrid because it affects other people’s interests. When it comes to the instruction, I will go into more detail, but now I want to say, in friendship to my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State, that he should try the alternative process in parallel. In private or in public, he should say that if we now want the memorial very close to Westminster, which “we”—I say that in quotation marks—did not in September 2015, and if we want it open before the last holocaust survivors die, that will not happen in the next five years under the present plans. He should think of an alternative, and compare the merits of both.

Nigel Evans Portrait Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Nigel Evans)
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I will now announce the result of today’s deferred Division on the Relationships and Sexuality Education (Northern Ireland) (Amendment) Regulations 2023. The Ayes were 373 and the Noes were 28, so the Ayes have it.

[The Division list is published at the end of today’s debates.]

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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.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett (Hemsworth) (Lab)
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After 27 years in this place, I suppose I should never be surprised about the direction in which debates go, but it is slightly unseemly that we are spending so much time talking about such an emotive matter, down to the location of a particular monument. I understand entirely the views of local people, but this is a national—indeed, international—centre of democracy, which has world importance. Of course local residents matter, but so does the site itself, which has been here for centuries.

I will make a case for the location that the Government propose, but first let me reflect that today’s debate takes place in the shadow of the most vile and appalling event: the unspeakable capacity of human beings to inflict the kinds of activities carried out by the Nazis against the Jews. Part of our debate needs to reflect upon that, as well as looking at local issues.

There is no doubt that a memorial is well overdue, but the Minister may well feel that some of the discussion about location and the nature of the monument is unseemly. I urge the Government to reflect carefully on the debate, and to try to get the discussion about where it is and how it is constructed out of here and into a place where a consensus can be arrived at.

In the explanatory notes to the Bill, the Government say the memorial

“will help people understand the way the lessons of the Holocaust apply more widely, including to other genocides.”

That makes me think of racism, which takes many different forms. For example, the slave trade is a great stain on our nation, and on other nations too. There are families and institutions that benefit from the wealth that originated from that horrible trade to this very day. Why do I mention that? I mention it because Members of the House, who may have stood in the very place where I am standing now, fought against slavery, and it was in this House that the anti-slavery legislation was passed. We built an anti-slavery monument. Where did we build it? We built it next to our Parliament, in the very location now proposed.

As other Members have said, the sculpture of the Burghers of Calais, an amazing monument to the human spirit, is in the same park, as well as a statue that is a tribute to the suffragettes. Where else would we put a memorial to what happened in the holocaust but alongside our Parliament, in the same place as those other sculptures?

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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I am enjoying the hon. Gentleman’s speech. The answer to his question is that the holocaust memorial, preferably without the basement box, could be put where the Buxton family memorial was put, which was in Parliament Square. It does not have to be in Victoria Tower gardens.

Jon Trickett Portrait Jon Trickett
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I thank the Father of the House, who I always listen to with respect. He is widely respected, but on this matter he may be wrong. I occasionally go to the anti-slavery monument and to look at the Burghers of Calais, which is an amazing sculpture. I then sometimes quietly go and sit on one of the benches, watch the river go by and think about the struggles for emancipation over the centuries, so many of which happened in this very building. I am not sure that putting a monument of the kind we are talking about in Parliament Square, surrounded as it is by traffic, is necessarily conducive to the quiet reflection that I and many others experience in the park.

I want to reflect on antisemitism, which was the root of the holocaust, and on my family’s history. I have never spoken about this before, either in public or in private, but it has been on my mind throughout my life and I want to go through some issues, because antisemitism is on the rise. It has long disfigured so many parts of our western European culture, as well as parts of our nation. It is a vile, centuries old, unforgiveable hatred that gave rise to the most appalling crime here in Europe in the last century. As I have said, we all still live in its shadows.

Fascism and the holocaust occurred in Germany, but we must never pretend that antisemitism is solely restricted to that nation. I wish to reflect on the lives of previous generations of my family and on what I have seen. My ancestors escaped antisemitic pogroms not in Germany, but in Tsarist Russia. They came to Britain on their way to the United States. They stopped off in London—the great port of London—first. In Victorian times, Britain welcomed asylum seekers—Jews escaping the tyranny of the time. It is hard to imagine whether that could happen today. Although that is not the point that I wish to make, it is important to reflect on that.

As I said, my family were on their way to America from what is now Poland. They were heading for Liverpool to get the boat across to New York and to freedom, as they saw it. They passed through Leeds. The older generation had by then become aged and infirm, so it was left to my grandmother, the youngest daughter, to stay and care for them—that was the tradition. The rest went on to Liverpool and then to Chicago. I have cousins who finally arrived in the west, in California. It is odd in a way to reflect that those cousins have almost circumnavigated the globe across four generations of my family.

Let me focus on the Leeds part of the family. They were hard-working cobblers—boot and shoe makers. They worked in a small place next to the synagogue on North Street, Leeds. There was a great Jewish community there. Although it was a tight-knit working class community, I heard many stories of harassment and racism, including violent attacks. The housing conditions were appalling—three generations living in slum housing, sharing one or, if they were lucky, two bedrooms. My grandparents had three children, one of whom was my mother. They lived in similar conditions. The house that I was brought up in was declared a slum and cleared. They were the generations of people who were building a life here.

My grandmother regularly told me that she lived in fear of the pogroms, from which she, her parents and grandparents had suffered in Russia. She said to me, “Here Jon, I need to tell you something. Whenever anyone unknown knocks on your door, you kid to be daft.” That might not mean much to Members in this place, but what she meant was to pretend to be stupid if somebody in a shirt and tie—a bit like I am dressed today—knocks on the door. In other words, do not comply with the wishes of strangers, especially those who look like they are in authority, because they may well be representatives of a hostile force. That was her experience. She had a lifelong fear of strangers and of authority. Perhaps it was just one of her foibles, I do not know. Equally, though, it might have reflected a part of the wider Jewish experience.

Before the second world war, a stereotypical English gentleman who had attended Winchester College, a public school, launched the British fascist party. He was supported by a section of the establishment as well as by people from all sectors of society. This was Oswald Mosley. He decided to lead his blackshirts through the Jewish quarters in Leeds, where my family lived. It was a naked attempt to mobilise antisemitic sentiments to distract residents from the post-1929 depression and the conditions that prevailed in Leeds at the time.

As a Leeds-born citizen who eventually become leader of that great city’s council, I am proud to tell the House that Mosley was refused permission to march through the Jewish areas. He did, however, rally his supporters on Holbeck Moor, in south Leeds, not far from where I came to live. Thirty thousand Jewish people turned out to resist the fascists. Jewish and gentile, socialists and communists, Liberals and Tories, trade unionists and fair-minded citizens, community groups and others rallied against Mosley. There was a battle and Mosley retired injured.

Members of my family were there. My mother and our family talked about that victory, but we did not fool ourselves that antisemitism had been quelled. Then came the second world war and the ghastly news of the concentration camps, which I imagine even today chills the bones of all of us in this House.

I do not want to exaggerate. Leeds is a tolerant place. Most people would say, “Live and let live”. That is the kind of people they are in West Yorkshire where I come from. When I was at school in the ‘50s and ‘60s, we lived on the edge of a large Jewish community. We got on pretty well, and I do not mean to say that the school was a bad place at all, but there were antisemitic actions, language and bullying in that school. I am not a violent man—my mother taught me to believe in non-violence—but I will not hide the fact that at times there were fights and there was resistance to the antisemites at the margins of the school, all motivated by anti-Jewish racism.

As I entered my teens, my mother began to say to me, “Let’s get out of here.” She wanted me to go to Israel to be on a kibbutz. The kibbutz seemed to offer a different way of living communally, inspired perhaps by some notions of common ownership, mutual endeavour, equality and peace. We decided that I would go to live on a kibbutz, but then the six-day war happened, and in any case we needed me to go out to work and earn a living at 16. Thinking about the six-day war, it is probably worth recording that our family knew that people could disagree with an elected Government and its actions, but that that is not the same as hating a whole nation or even a race. We can clearly see today that there are many Israelis who oppose their Government, and no one would suggest that they are being antisemitic in doing so.

I come now to a distasteful few sentences. When I joined the Labour party in 1969, there were many working-class Jewish socialists in our part of Leeds, and I never witnessed any antisemitism in any of those meetings. However, and I regret to have to record this, when I entered my constituency as the MP, only 12 miles away from Leeds, I was subjected to the most shocking antisemitic comment by a party member. It was vile. Equally, though, I am pleased to record that the individual concerned was confronted by fellow members for his outburst and was told he must never come back to another meeting.

Let me turn to one further final anecdote. I was out canvassing not so long ago in my constituency, which is in the wonderful area of Wakefield, when a man who I knew had a reputation for being a Nazi approached me. He was a man who could not control his emotions, a man with extreme anger, and he told me he was going to fill the streets with “patriots”, as he called them, and that they would eliminate people such as me from the area and from the country. It was a terrifying moment, but the police decided to record it as a hate crime and I am glad to say that he was charged and pled guilty to an antisemitic hate crime in Leeds Crown Court.

I hope that the House will understand that I have spoken in this way in order to condemn with every single fibre in my body all forms of racism and antisemitism. The holocaust is an appalling crime against our common humanity. It is right that we pledge today never to forgive or forget what happened, and never to let down our guard for a moment—because, while antiracism is a powerful force, antisemitism is still there and needs to be resisted.

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Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I agree with him, although he will know of the many voices of dissent both at the time of and in the years leading up to the moment in which we took that stand. As I was going to say, the proximity of the proposed site renders it all the more important to confront openly the ambiguous and varied responses—and there were some—of our country’s Parliament, Government and society to the still unsurpassed crimes that were carried out by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. We have heard about those examples today.

As the debate winds up, I want to take the opportunity, once again, to put on record our thanks to all those who have been involved in advancing this project, and holocaust education more generally, in recent years. The full list is far too extensive to read into the record, but they include the past and present members of the UK Holocaust Memorial Foundation, including the right honourable Ed Balls, the right honourable Lord Eric Pickles and Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis; all those involved in developing the exhibition’s narrative, particularly Yehudit Shendar, who is providing the curatorial lead; all the organisations that have striven to embed holocaust and genocide education and commemoration in our national life, particularly the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Holocaust Educational Trust; and finally, all the holocaust survivors who have campaigned for holocaust education and personally championed the project, including a number who will sadly not now see it come to fruition. In that regard, those of us on the Opposition side of the House think in particular of Sir Ben Helfgott, and convey our thoughts and sincere condolences to his family and friends.

I have felt it necessary to dwell again at some length on the rationale for establishing a national holocaust memorial and learning centre, given the Bill’s ultimate purpose, but as has been mentioned, the principle of doing so is almost entirely uncontested and not an issue that arises directly from the Bill. Instead, the Bill is concerned with making provision for, and in connection with, significant expenditure related to the establishment of the proposed memorial and centre, and removing pre-existing legislative impediments that exist to the siting of it in Victoria Tower gardens, namely sections of the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900, so that progress towards construction can be made.

I want to make it clear once again that the Opposition appreciate fully that the selection of Victoria Tower gardens as the chosen location for the memorial and centre has attracted robust and principled criticism and, in some cases, outright opposition, including from prominent members of the Jewish community and holocaust survivors. Several of those who contributed to the debate today have articulated some of the criticisms and objections that have been made in that regard. The reasoned amendment in the name of the Father of the House sets out a number of them.

As we have heard, concerns about the proposed location include the impact on the construction process; rising build costs; the potential generation of additional traffic in the area; security risks; environmental protections; the loss of public green space and amenity; and the impact on existing monuments and memorials.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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When the National Audit Office carried out its report last year, it thought the cost had gone up to £102 million. Since then, we will probably need to add an extra 15%, because of inflation in construction. The expansion at Yad Vashem, which was referred to by hon. Members, was completed for $100 million, so we will be spending much more for much less. I am not saying this to change the hon. Gentleman’s argument—I am grateful for the way he is summarising the debate, and he is doing it very fairly.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
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I thank the Father of the House. Build cost inflation is a serious issue, not just in relation to this project but across the country. That would be the case wherever the chosen location was if we are to move ahead with the memorial, as we must, but I take his point, which is a good one.

We know the concerns that have been raised about the adequacy of historical consultation. While the planning inquiry that took place in October 2022 enabled all interested parties to express their views and to raise these and other concerns and suggestions, the Opposition believe it is important that those with outstanding criticisms and objections have a chance to express them fully and be heard. The hybrid nature of the Bill and the resulting petitioning window that will be provided as a result of its designation will ensure that they are.

We hope that the Government will reflect carefully on the specific points that have been raised in the debate today. However, it is the considered view of Labour Members that this Bill needs to progress and that, amended or otherwise, it must receive Royal Assent as soon as is practically possible. There really can be no further delay if we are to have any chance whatsoever of having this vitally important project finally completed while at least some of those who survived the holocaust and made Britain their home are still with us. I think that would be the sincere wish of the whole House.

--- Later in debate ---
Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

I am not going to continue with the reasoned amendment on obvious grounds, which I spoke about earlier. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Holocaust Memorial Bill: Committal

Peter Bottomley Excerpts
Committal (to a Select Committee)
Wednesday 28th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Holocaust Memorial Bill 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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I am grateful to my hon. Friend the Minister for the way in which she has introduced these four topics. We are talking mainly about the instruction motion; I do not think that the others are very exceptionable.

I think I may have served on more hybrid Bill Committees—and certainly for longer—than most people, including that of High Speed 2. I doubt that the situation is quite as my hon. Friend described it. Hybrid Bill procedure exists for a reason: to protect the rights of those who are specifically affected by a Bill and allow them to put their case to a Committee. By making clause 2 the principle of the Bill, as well as clause 1—as I said before, there is no controversy about clause 1—the Government have already spent £17 million or more achieving nothing. They are now proposing to spend an extra £80 million to £100 million achieving not very much. I suggested in a previous debate that the Government should consider how to get a national holocaust memorial up—close to Westminster, if they want—within two years. Of course, the Government would not, as I have explained before, achieve it in four to five years extra, over and above the eight years that have been used up so far.

To go back to the hybridity, it is a matter of record that the Government declared in front of the examiners that this was not a hybrid Bill. They were wrong; it is a hybrid Bill. The reason for a hybrid Bill is so that people have the right to petition. The Government tried to stop that. I think that it is fairly clear to anyone who looks at this that the Government are now seeking to achieve the same result by using this instruction. It is up to the Government to decide whether the instruction, as introduced, is an abuse.

It would be quite easy for the Government to stand up and say what things the petitioners might rightfully put in a petition and be heard on, rather than telling the Committee that they cannot be heard. In addition, because this is a local park for local people, I believe not just that advertisements should be put in newspapers or in the gazette, but that a leaflet should be given to every resident, no matter how small or large their home, from, say, Vauxhall Bridge, Victoria station, along Victoria Street and south of Victoria Street up to the embankment. Those people should be told how the procedure works, how they can petition, what they can petition on and how they can be represented together by a common agent, if they want to be. That is what happened in my experience on HS2.

The instruction, as described by the Minister, would make the whole Bill part of the principle of the Bill. That is not common. In fact, I do not know of it happening before. The whole of the Bill cannot be made the principle, because that then makes it impossible for the petitioners to have their cases heard effectively. So I think we need to accept that the petitioners will be heard on nearly everything that is not an abuse. If someone says, “I do not want any money spent on it,” I can understand not allowing that. That is the principle, but the rest of it, I argue, is not.

Paragraph (3)(a) of motion 6 refers to a petition that relates to

“the question of whether or not there should be a memorial commemorating the victims of the Holocaust or a centre for learning relating to the memorial, whether at Victoria Tower Gardens or elsewhere”.

I ask this explicitly: can either the Secretary of State or the Minister stand up and tell me now that, if someone wants to argue in front of the Committee that it would be better to have the basement box somewhere else and just have the memorial, would that petition potentially be heard by the Committee?

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

I agree with the Secretary of State that it would be a matter for the Committee, but it is a matter for the Committee under the instructions.

By the way, if it helps those who are concerned about votes and trains, I intend to vote for both amendments, but force a Division only on one of them. I am trying to make sure that these issues will be considered in the House during the Bill’s remaining stages and in the House of Lords as well, where I suspect there will be a degree of scrutiny.

This hybrid procedure gives ordinary people a chance to have their voices heard, and it allows the Committee to insert conditions when the Bill comes back to the House. Those conditions, I believe, could include—I am not going to tell the Committee what it has to do, although I volunteer to be a member if anyone wants to put me on it—saying that the Government should, before this Bill comes back for its further stages on the Floor of the House, show the alternatives to the present plans.

I do not think we should rely on the planning inspector, whose conditions were rather odd before, or on the Secretary of State’s colleague making an independent decision on the Secretary of State’s application. I think that may formally be an acceptable procedure, but it is not one that anyone would justify if we were giving a lecture on democracy in another country.

I believe that the Committee should have the capacity or ability to hear petitions that say, “If the Government say that the memorial only takes up 7.5% of the land in Victoria Tower Gardens, that should be written in as a condition in the Bill.” I believe, notwithstanding the acceptability of paragraph (2)(a) about the money, that the Committee should be able to say that the House can consider the Bill on the condition that the total cost is not more than another £80 million, if we go ahead with the box, or preferably £20 million without the box, whether at the north end of Victoria Tower Gardens, or Parliament Square, or Whitehall, or College Green.

There are a whole series of other things I could say—I have a long, detailed speech and I apologise to those who helped me create the arguments—but I think the House will find it convenient if I leave it with this point. This hybrid Bill must be considered properly by the hybrid Committee, which should allow petitions to be heard. Local people will put their points of view forward. If some duplicate each other, hear them together, but do not exclude any point of practice or of principle if we want to get a holocaust memorial in the next two years. We will not with this process. It needs conditions to change it.

We will not even, in my view, get it within the next four or five years at £120 million, unless the Government wake up to the fact that this is sticking in a big box that does not do what the original plans wanted in a place where it is not appropriate. We can do better than that, and I ask the Secretary of State to recognise that that is the point of moving these amendments. I ask the House not to restrict the petitioners. The Government have now accepted that this is a hybrid Bill, so use the procedures properly and be democratic.

John Baron Portrait Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise in support of the Father of the House’s amendments for several reasons. No one is doubting, as I think we have all made clear in this debate, the need for a holocaust memorial. It is absolutely essential, so that we never forget the horror of the genocide and the holocaust, and a memorial would serve that purpose.

My central concern is a twofold absence, the first of which is the absence of a proper consultation as to the memorial’s location. There was a consultation, which went through the normal planning procedure of Westminster City Council, but we will remember perhaps that the Secretary of State called it in. Since then, there seems to have been a process—almost a locomotive in action—that is determined that the following of a proper process is secondary to the decision that has already been made to site the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens. Proper process has been sadly lacking. After all, we are only having this debate because those pushing for the siting of the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens were informed by a High Court judge that they could not ride roughshod over an Act of Parliament that said that Victoria Tower Gardens should be preserved for permanent use as a public park. We should not forget that.

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Father of the House caught my eye first.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

My hon. Friend has reminded me that the Government now say that admission to the memorial will be free in perpetuity. The same words—“in perpetuity”—are used in the London Act that protects the park from this kind of building. Who do we trust?

John Baron Portrait Mr Baron
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I agree with the Father of the House: we are dealing with serious issues of trust here, and the public trusting what we say in this place.

Holocaust Memorial Bill: Business of the House Debate

Full Debate: Read Full Debate

Holocaust Memorial Bill: Business of the House

Peter Bottomley Excerpts
Programme motion
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(3 weeks, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Holocaust Memorial Bill 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Amendment Paper: Committee Amendments as at 22 May 2024 - (22 May 2024)
Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I want the House to know what the Government know, which is that, were there to be many votes, it would squash the time between the remaining stages and Third Reading. That is why I will not take time now; we are using the time that is there. However, I hope that, during the debate, Government can put on the table, first, the specification laid out by the Government and their agency in September 2015, saying what they wanted the memorial to do and to be, and the fact that they wanted the local authorities to support it. Secondly, I hope that the Government put on the table an up-to-date estimate of the capital cost of the memorial and the recurrent costs. As the House will remember, on Second Reading, information was placed in the Library stating that, in the previous 12 months, the cost had gone up from £102 million to £137 million in one year.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the hon. Gentleman. I emphasise that this is not the main debate; I understand why the Father of the House wanted to make that point now, but I remind Members that this is the business of the House motion.

Question put and agreed to.

Holocaust Memorial Bill

Peter Bottomley Excerpts
Committee of the whole House
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(3 weeks, 1 day ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Holocaust Memorial Bill 2022-23 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Committee Amendments as at 22 May 2024 - (22 May 2024)
Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley (Worthing West) (Con)
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I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(d) educational purposes and activities related to the memorial and the centre for learning”.

Eleanor Laing Portrait The Chairman of Ways and Means (Dame Eleanor Laing)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With this it will be convenient to consider:

Amendment 1, page 1, line 9, at end insert—

“(1A) Expenditure incurred under this section must not exceed £50 million.”

Clause 1 stand part.

Amendment 2, in clause 2, page 1, line 18, at end insert

“in so far as those paragraphs relate to a Holocaust Memorial.”

This amendment would provide for restrictions, in relation to certain land under the 1900 Act, to be removed only for activities described in paragraphs (a) to (c) of section 1(1), in relation to a Holocaust Memorial.

Amendment 3, page 1, line 18, at end insert

“subject to the total area used for such activities not exceeding 1,429 square metres (including in that total area any entrance pavilion, courtyard, ramp, associated hard standing, service access, access paths and any areas which are inaccessible to the public or inaccessible without tickets).”

This amendment would limit the area of Victoria Tower Gardens for which restrictions are lifted for the purposes of the construction of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre to 1,429m2.

Amendment 5, page 1, line 18, at end insert

“provided that any such activities shall not cause any harm to any other memorial in the land described in section 8(1) of that Act or to the setting of such memorials.”

This amendment would permit works to be carried out on land subject to restrictions under the 1900 Act provided that no harm is caused to other memorials in that area.

Clause 2 stand part.

Clause 3 stand part.

New clause 1—Review of security arrangements

“(1) The Secretary of State must, prior to the commencement of construction of a Holocaust memorial or learning centre—

(a) carry out a review of proposed security arrangements for the proposed Holocaust memorial or learning centre;

(b) lay before Parliament a report on the outcome and findings of the review of the proposed security arrangements;

(c) by regulations, specify the security arrangements which are to be implemented for the proposed Holocaust memorial or learning centre.

(2) Regulations made under subsection (1)(c) are subject to the affirmative procedure.”

New clause 2—Review of sites

“The Secretary of State must, prior to a decision being made in relation to the site of a Holocaust Memorial or Learning Centre—

(a) carry out a review of potential sites for a Holocaust memorial or learning centre, which must include—

(i) consideration of the views of professional property consultants,

(ii) consideration of the way in which each site would meet the objectives of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission Report 2015,

(iii) consideration of the way in which each site would meet the objectives of the Search for a Central London site 2015,

(iv) consideration of estimates of costs for construction for each site, and

(v) a full public consultation on the shortlisted sites;

(b) lay before Parliament a report on the findings of the review.”

This new clause would require the Government to carry out a review of potential sites for a Holocaust Memorial or Learning Centre, and lay a report on its findings, before a decision is made in relation to the final site.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

When someone asked me if there was going to be a general election soon, I thought they must have read the carry-over motion for the Bill and that had misled them into thinking we were about to have an election. Perhaps, by the end of the debate, we will know whether that was right or wrong.

In one of the explanations of the present proposal, to put a box with 23 fins in the middle of Victoria Tower Gardens, a design that was not accepted for Ottawa before it was submitted for London, we were told that people would come out of the experience looking at Parliament—at democracy. In fact, if it happens, they will come out and look at the House of Lords. Although the House of Lords is an important part of our democracy, it is not necessarily democracy itself; it has the remaining hereditary peers, as well as people who are appointed. The House of Lords will have the opportunity to consider the Bill, if it reaches their lordships’ House, and I believe it will pick up the points made in the Select Committee that considered the hybrid Bill in more depth than this House will.

In the specification in September 2015, the Government and their agency made plain they did not want most of the money spent on construction and building; they wanted most of it spent on education. In terms of education about the Holocaust, we are in difficult times. Protests in London mean the existing Holocaust memorial gets covered up for protection and, if the present proposal goes ahead, it will be quite often be closed on security grounds. Other hon. Members will speak to the security considerations that were heard in front of the Select Committee.

When the Government put forward their proposal, the indication was it would cost £25 million from Government and £25 million raised from charitable sources. Since then, my guess is—I hope the Minister will correct me—that £40 million has already been spent without anything being achieved. As the Select Committee set out, the costs go way above the £137 million plus contingencies indicated a year ago. I believe the Government should recognise that they went off on the wrong route when they considered the site options proposed by consultants that were put forward after the consultation starting in September 2015.

When the Government responded to that early in 2016, they did not co-locate the learning centre with the memorial. As Ministers and those advising them know, in the consultation and specification in September 2015, there was no mention of having the memorial close to Parliament at all. Page 10 of the specification document shows a map of what the foundation regards as the acceptable area of central London; it went from the west of Regent’s Park to Spitalfields and down to the Imperial War Museum.

In the eight or nine years since then, the Imperial War Museum has totally reordered and expanded its Holocaust Galleries, the Jewish Museum has closed and the Wiener collection is in some difficulty. If the Government were serious about getting most of the money spent on education, they would have already diverted money to the Wiener collection and the Jewish Museum, and they would have charged up the Holocaust Memorial Trust with money. Last year, the trust had an income of £5,000 and spending of £6,000, which is apparently dedicated on the presumption of getting the Government’s proposal through. If they were serious about education, the Government would not have waited to get some kind of memorial up, and possibly some kind of learning centre associated with it, before they started to get on with the educational work.

When the Holocaust Commission was set up, its purpose was to get education going now. Its work was taken over by the foundation and then pursued by Government Ministers. We have used up eight years because the Government have made mistake after mistake after mistake. The most recent one was to believe that their Bill to overcome the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 was in some way not hybrid; it clearly was hybrid. The next mistake they made, one they made both before and after, was not to say there had never been a comparison between the present proposal and the best alternative. It took me three years to discover that they had not done that. If I am wrong, the Minister can lay that on the table, and I hope that he will do so now. It is the only time in modern times when the Government have brought forward a proposal without showing why it is better than the alternatives. They commissioned consultants who came forward with 26 schemes, three of which would have been put to the Government. But in a moment not of genius or necessarily of madness, but of peculiarity, those who were making the decision chose not to pay any attention at all.

Lia Nici Portrait Lia Nici (Great Grimsby) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I just clarify something that my hon. Friend has just said? He stated that £40 million has already been spent on a scheme that has not moved forward in any way.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

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)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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
- Hansard - -

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.

Edward Leigh Portrait Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We could have had a fantastic, beautiful, moving memorial—roughly the same size as the Buxton memorial, or the memorial to the abolition of slavery or to the campaign for women’s votes—eight years ago, if only the Government had not persisted with the crazy idea of an underground learning centre in a totally unsuitable location.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

My right hon. Friend is right, and most people will agree with him, even if their job is to stand up and say something different.

I will not spend much time on the planning permission, because it is not the subject of the Bill. When the inspector’s report was received by the Government and considered, this was the conclusion under the signature of the planning casework unit:

“This decision was made by the Minister of State for Housing in line with the published handling arrangements for this case…and signed on his behalf. In particular, those handling arrangements state that:

‘Christopher Pincher MP (the Housing and Planning Minister) will be responsible for exercising the functions of the Secretary of State under sections 70 and 77 of the Town and Country Planning Act’”

and so on. Who here believes that a Minister of State would, on merit, turn down an application by their own Secretary of State? I will give way to anybody who wants to make that suggestion. It is just incredible. It would not happen.

I will now change tone a bit. During the Select Committee hearings, the Government counsel suddenly switched from saying who the lead designer and architect for the proposal was. The Government’s press notice announcing the winner contained 13 references to Sir David Adjaye, now Order of Merit, four references to Ron Arad, and no references to Asa Bruno. Proper tribute has been paid to Asa Bruno. It is true that he was the one who put a number of points to the inspector. He is recognised as a leading designer, and his obituary, which I refreshed my mind on just now, showed that he was a startlingly good person. However, when the Government announced the lead designer and architect for the proposal, they named Sir David Adjaye, who could hardly be mentioned by the promoters at the Select Committee for reasons that I will not go into now. They are well known and in the public domain.

Let us turn to the points that the Government made to the Select Committee after I raised that issue:

“On 24 January, in a debate on the Business of the House (col 439), Sir Peter Bottomley MP referred to the proceedings at the seventh public session of the Holocaust Memorial Bill committee and suggested that counsel for the Promoter may have ‘inadvertently told the committee things that are contradicted by the facts…’ in relation to responsibilities for the design of the Memorial.”

I was then told that what was said was right. I think that that leading counsel, over and over again, was trying to write Sir David Adjaye out because of the embarrassment to Government. If it was Asa Bruno who was responsible for the Ottawa proposal, so be it, but that was not what Government said seven years ago in public.

I am going to go on fighting this, but not so long this evening, because my colleagues have more to say. I say to those watching the proceedings, “Look into the details of what has happened.” I commend to them early-day motions 711, tabled on 1 May, and 775, tabled on 21 May. In particular, the latter “regrets that the promoter” —that is, the Government—

“has failed to understand the justified requests for a detailed comparison of the present unsatisfactory scheme with the alternatives studied by the Government’s consultants; further regrets the continuing lack of updated costings for capital and recurrent costs; disagrees with the suggestion that planning permission and all other necessary consents were obtained in the usual way; regrets there is no known plan to spend more available resources on education rather than on construction; further regrets that known and growing security restrictions are not being adequately addressed; and believes the promoter is not meeting its obligation to achieve an appropriate memorial at a justified cost in a suitable location, associated with opportunities to learn and to understand the Holocaust and to reduce the likelihood of a repeat of the atrocities of the Holocaust.”

I end with words from the Holocaust survivors who gave evidence at the Committee, who said, in summary, that the proposal is too big for the gardens and too small for its purpose.

--- Later in debate ---
John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

I apologise if I am taking words out of my hon. Friend’s speech before he gets to them, but was it not Lord Carlile, the Government’s terrorism adviser, who made the point about security very strongly?

John Stevenson Portrait John Stevenson
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

--- Later in debate ---
Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

--- Later in debate ---
Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman (Harrow East) (Con)
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support the Bill in its entirety and against the amendments, which I think will only delay through prevarication getting the Bill on to the statute books. I declare my interest as co-chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for the Holocaust memorial and learning centre, as well as an ambassador for Yad Vashem in Jerusalem. I think there is universal agreement that there is a need for a Holocaust memorial and that there should be a learning centre as well. It appears to me that the debate today has centred around where this should be located, what conditions should be imposed and the funding for it, which is the subject of the amendments.

We in this country are deeply involved in Holocaust education. It is a requirement on our schools to ensure that young people learn about the horrors of the Holocaust and where the ultimate destiny of antisemitism leads. But the reality is that the survivors of the Holocaust are getting frailer by the day and the Holocaust is fading into distant memory, so it is vital that we capture those survivors’ testimony and ensure they have had the opportunity to speak to as many people as possible before they unfortunately pass on. It is therefore vital that we have a permanent national institution to preserve the collective memory of the Holocaust. We have to understand the history, what went on and why the Holocaust happened. It is very difficult to contextualise the systematic murder of 6 million people because they were Jewish. It is tough to impart that.

Of course, there are memorials and centres around the world, including in Washington, Paris, Cape Town, Melbourne, Sydney, Hong Kong, New York, Boston, Berlin and, of course, Jerusalem. Although we were not occupied by the Nazis, we were part and parcel of defeating them. Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees came to this country to make it their home and, of course, our troops liberated Bergen-Belsen and discovered at first hand the horrors of what had happened to the Jewish population, but that saved countless lives.

There are concerns, of course, about Britain’s role. We should remember that children were almost orphaned by the end of the war and their parents were denied entry to the United Kingdom. Our role is not always to say how wonderful we are, and some of the decisions taken at that time need to be explored. Why, for example, were the train tracks into Auschwitz-Birkenau not bombed? We had the ability to bomb them to prevent many people from being transported. In the Channel Islands, British police officers actually carried out German policies. We have to recognise this and face up to it, and the learning centre will give us that opportunity.

There are obviously concerns about the site’s location. I take a strong view that it needs to be alongside the principal democratic institutions of our time, namely, the Houses of Parliament. It is clear that this will be a nationally significant building, and the monument will serve to remember those people who were murdered during the second world war.

The history is that the then Prime Minister, now the Foreign Secretary, Lord Cameron, had a report from the Holocaust Commission that recommended the construction of a striking and prominent new national memorial to be located in central London. The report recommended that the national memorial should be co-located with a world-class learning centre, so the Bill requires co-location.

There is cross-party support. Lord Pickles and Ed Balls, who chaired the commission, committed the Government to providing a site in Victoria Tower Gardens, next door to the Houses of Parliament. I remind colleagues that the 2019 Conservative manifesto committed us to delivering the construction of the planned UK Holocaust memorial.

Planning permission for the memorial and learning centre was granted in 2021, but the High Court ruled in April 2022 that certain sections of the London County Council (Improvements) Act 1900 were an obstacle to construction and therefore quashed the decision to grant planning consent.

This Bill is specific in dealing with the restrictions to the siting of the memorial and learning centre. Importantly, it does not grant planning permission, which will still have to go through the normal process. We have heard that some colleagues are concerned about the appropriateness of Victoria Tower Gardens. The reality is that there will still be a requirement for the gardens to remain open to the public. The Bill disapplies only the relevant sections of the 1900 Act to ensure that it does not block the building of this memorial and learning centre in the gardens. I would say that no place in Britain is more suitable for a memorial and learning centre than the gardens next door to Parliament, the very institution where decisions on Britain’s response in the lead-up to, during and in the aftermath of the Holocaust were made.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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The point my hon. Friend is making now was not one put forward by the commission, and it was not one put forward by the foundation. Would he agree?

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Father of the House for that intervention. It is clear that the site was chosen by the commission; it recommended this. The reality is that the development of the planning application followed thereafter, and obviously the impact on the gardens has to be considered. It is right that only Parliament can change the law, and it is right that Parliament should consider whether the unique significance of the Holocaust justifies seeking an exception to the protections it put in place more than 100 years ago.

The proposals for the memorial include sensitive landscaping that will improve Victoria Tower Gardens for every user, and more than 90% of the area of the current gardens will remain fully open after the memorial is built. I understand that my colleagues are concerned about this, but local residents and workers will be able to visit and enjoy the gardens just as they do now. The Holocaust Memorial Bill lifts restrictions in relation only to Victoria Tower Gardens—no other piece of land—and in relation only to a Holocaust memorial and learning centre, and no other form of development. The Bill does not seek to override the planning process, so all the arguments about the use of the park can be properly considered against the benefits of the memorial.

Landscape improvements to Victoria Tower Gardens will ensure that this important and well-used green space, as has been mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken), is made more attractive and more accessible than ever before. The new development will take about 7.5% of the site. All the mature London plane trees will be protected, and additional planting and improved drainage of the grassed area will increase the overall attractiveness of the gardens. Alongside the riverside embankment wall, new raised boardwalks will be constructed, helping to make the seating more accessible and making it easier for everyone to enjoy views of the Thames. New pathways will link existing memorials and monuments within the gardens, and additional seating will enhance the visitor experience. The playground will be improved. The objective is to ensure that all current uses can continue after the memorial is constructed. All these matters are fully considered as part of the planning process. During his consideration, the planning inspector produced a detailed report with a careful assessment of the impacts on trees, traffic, gardens, playground and all other relevant matters, and then recommended that planning consent be given.

The construction phase of the UK Holocaust memorial and learning centre is expected to last around three years. The project team aims to make phased closures and reopenings of different sections of the park to ensure that as much of the park as possible is available for all users while the work carries on to produce this important memorial.

The learning centre will include a powerful exhibition that will provide context for the memorial and encourage reflection on the relevance of the Holocaust for Britain today.

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Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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I do not want to be nit-picking, but the southern part of the park is a children’s playground. Although some people say it will not be reduced in size, others think it will be reduced in size by 30%. The 7.5% figure is challenged by very many people, but it is probably not the time to go into ground plans.

Bob Blackman Portrait Bob Blackman
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.

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This week I sat down with students from the Union of Jewish Students, who told me of the genuinely horrific experiences Jewish students are having on campuses in this country at this time, which have manifested in Jews being afraid to wear anything that marks them out as Jewish. I am proud to be a Reform Jew and I wear my kippah in synagogue, but since 7 October I have deliberately worn it on public transit in this country, to show my pride and my lack of fear. Of course, I am a 6 feet 2 inches big overweight bloke, so I perhaps have more confidence in doing that, but I have been proud to do that at a time when very many people in the community are not.
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
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

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.]

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Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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There are two sides to this issue, one of which people will accept that the hon. Gentleman is speaking about sensibly: we do not make all details about security available to the public. The second is whether the necessary security arrangements will inhibit the use of the park by local residents, children and others. The Government continually give an assurance that that will not be interrupted, but everybody believes that it will be. That is why it is important to debate and, if necessary, vote on new clause 1. I hope the hon. Gentleman will agree with us that the impact on the use of the park is the thing that matters for the purpose of this Bill.

Matthew Pennycook Portrait Matthew Pennycook
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Father of the House for his intervention. I certainly agree that that is one of many considerations that need to be taken into account when determining the application, but many of the contributions to this debate have raised matters that engage planning considerations, and this Bill does not engage planning considerations, even though it will affect the ability to submit a planning application in future. However, those are matters that should be rightly dealt with by the local authority, and by the Planning Inspectorate if the application were to be called in by the Secretary of State.

I turn lastly to those amendments that concern expenditure relating to the memorial and centre as authorised by clause 1 of the Bill. The Select Committee is right to highlight that the true cost of the project has not been established and to emphasise the need to consider the appropriate use of public money when progressing it. Concerns about expenditure have also been highlighted by the National Audit Office, which has made it clear that there is a risk that the contingency is not enough to cover further cost increases. Perhaps most worryingly, the Government’s own Infrastructure and Projects Authority has red-rated this project. In other words, the Government themselves are clear that—I quote here from the definition associated with a red rating—as things stand,

“successful delivery of the project appears to be unachievable”

and that it may, to quote further from that definition,

“need re-scoping and/or its overall viability reassessed.”

While the Opposition would not support the imposition of expenditure caps as proposed by amendment 1, it is clear to us that the Government need to do more to ensure that the project will deliver value for money and to provide appropriate assurances in that regard, in respect of both capital and recurrent costs. As such, I would welcome a robust assurance from the Minister when he responds that the Government have accurately estimated the cost of the project, will apply proper cost control throughout the construction period and will ensure that running costs are sustainable.

Simon Hoare Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (Simon Hoare)
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Today in this Chamber, we have been united on the welcome return of my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Craig Mackinlay), and the House has been united on security measures on pub licensing for the Euros—probably not the most contentious piece of legislation before the House—and now on this Holocaust Memorial Bill. For all the debate that we have had on the Bill, I am grateful to all right hon. and hon. Friends and Members who have contributed to it.

We have been discussing how, we have been discussing where and we have been discussing when, but the House has never been discussing why. For reasons more than tellingly amplified by my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole (Andrew Percy), my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis), my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) and others, the why is clear and demonstrable. That is a sad fact, but it is. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook), who speaks for the Opposition, for his support, as I am to the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald). I shall reserve my general thanks for the Third Reading debate.

Let me turn to the amendments. I urge my right hon. and hon. Friends and Opposition Members to reject any of the amendments that might be pushed to a vote, for reasons the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich ventilated extremely well. Let me set out why I think that is the case. I might just pause here, if I may, to remark that I think—I am not necessarily an expert on these matters—that this is probably the last substantive piece of innovative business that this Parliament—this 58th Parliament of the realm—will be discussing. It is an honour for me to be taking part in it on behalf of His Majesty’s Government, because it allows me to pay fulsome and personal tribute to three right hon. and hon. Friends on my side who will not be seeking re-election to this place.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Philip Dunne), who I did not know before I came here in 2015, has been a stalwart friend and colleague, and he will be hugely missed across the House, more than he will probably know because he is too modest to even consider that assessment. Likewise, I did not know my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, but his wit, his humour and his ability to cheer up any situation have warmed many a moment. Again, he will be missed.

I save for last, but by no means least, my hon. and darling Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). We have known each other since we were 18 or 19, and it was the joy of my life to see her join us here at the 2019 election. She spoke today, in possibly her last contribution on the Floor of the House, in the same way that she has spoken from her maiden speech onwards, with knowledge, passion, clarity and certainty on behalf of all her constituents.

My three retiring colleagues have served their communities well. They have run the race to the finish, and I hope that they enjoy the next chapter of their lives to the full, whatever it offers them.

Education is key to this proposal, to make sure that subsequent generations do not repeat the past. As so many Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Brigg and Goole, have noted, that is why the symbolic juxtaposition of the memorial and learning centre and this place is so important. There is an emotional and romantic intertwining of Parliament, freedom and democracy, and how dimmed those lights were during the period of the Holocaust.

Many have rightly mentioned security, which is a key issue. I suggest to my hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle (John Stevenson) that the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich is right to say that it would not be sensible or prudent to put into the public domain either the security assessment or, indeed, the remedies for what it throws up. It is slightly analogous to having a burglar alarm installed in one’s home and posting the deactivation code on social media, so I will resist that amendment.

My hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle and others have spoken to a key issue. The security and peace of mind of those who work in the centre, of those who visit the centre, of those who merely walk past and, crucially, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster and my right hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) referenced, of those who just use the park as a park is paramount.

The overriding point is that the argument that we cannot have the memorial and learning centre in Victoria Tower Gardens because of security fundamentally undermines a key tenet that supports the proposition. Given the issues surrounding both the Holocaust and the fairly fluid and dynamic situation in the middle east, security will always be an issue for such an institution. Security would be an issue were it to be located at the Imperial War Museum, in the middle of Hyde Park or on the third floor of Harrods. Security will always be an issue, but I entirely take the point, which I echo from the Dispatch Box.

If security concerns, a fear of the mob and a fear of those who seek to disrupt and intimidate suddenly become the trump card that is used to determine where and how we locate such a facility, the mob will have won and we might as well all pack up and go home now, raising the white flag. That is why I think all of us in this House, and particularly the two Front Benches, although we are absolutely concerned about security, are not prepared to bend the knee to bullies, thugs and anti-democratic mob rule.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I doubt the Minister intends to be the first to accuse me of waving a white flag on anything. I put it to him that the Government said that the use of the park would not be interfered with by the proposal. Were there to be just a memorial there, that might be true, but the proposals are for a memorial and a learning centre that will try to bring in half a million people a year, when we know now there are greater threats —we have had the parliamentary bookshop barricaded, and, as I say, the memorial in Hyde Park covered over. Can Government say that, with the present plans, the use of the park will not be interfered with? Where is their assessment? Who knows about it, and is it true?

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Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend raises a valid point. That is absolutely at the kernel of the plans on which this vision rests. It is, of course, a planning matter, and I am not the Minister responsible for the planning process. It is a planning matter to be looked at. I think I have said all I can say on that.

I would like to correct one or two things. There was a review of alternative sites, and the comparisons were published. The Imperial War Museum was included in that analysis process. The square footage of the development represents just 7.58% of the overall surface area of the park; the park is 18,848 square metres, while the development is 1,492 square metres, which includes the memorial. Issues relating to air quality, traffic management, changes in policy and water table, among others, are in the purview of the Minister for Housing, Planning and Building Safety, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley).

It is worthwhile quoting, if I may, an extract from the inspector’s report. As we know from cases in our own constituencies, the inspectorate is independent of Government. The inspector said that

“the development of the UKHMLC proposals since the publication of the HMC’s report”

has been

“very thorough. This has involved site selection, a public architectural competition, and after initial selection, a very detailed preparation of the proposals and their presentation,”

with formal public consideration by Westminster City Council and

“ultimately the more detailed evidence presented before the Inquiry.”

I concur with my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northampton North (Sir Michael Ellis) that to describe the process as flimsy, or say that Government and others seek to railroad a proposal through within five or 10 minutes of the idea being in somebody’s mind, stretches the definition—

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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On that point, will the Minister give way?

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will my hon. Friend allow to make this important point, knowing the seriousness with which he takes the Buxton memorial? I do not want to stray too far into the planning issues, but he will know that the Buxton memorial is listed. As a result of being a listed structure, it is a material planning consideration when any new proposal to set something alongside it is taken into consideration. The design and the layout are entirely set out to ensure that the memorial is subservient to the Buxton memorial, given both its heritage and listed status.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- Hansard - -

I do not dispute what the Minister has just said, but previously he quoted the planning inspector. The inspector did not see the comparison between the top three sites recommended by the consultants or the light-bulb moment when someone involved wrote to a member of the Government saying, “Have you thought about Victoria Tower Gardens for the memorial?”, not for the learning centre as well. The inspector did not see that, I have not seen it and the Minister has not seen it—it did not happen.

Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The planning inspector did the work that statute places upon them, to allow them to make a clear recommendation back to Government on how this application should be determined. The inspector saw all documentation that was germane to that appeal process and, of course, could have called for additional documentation if they so wished. I say gently and respectfully to my hon. Friend the Father of the House that I appreciate he does not like the outcome of the process and that he never will, but trying to cast a whole variety of assertions about how we arrived at the outcome, using questions about procedure and process, is not particularly helpful on an issue that clearly commands the support of the majority of the House. My advice to the House would be to tilt at windmills where they exist, of course, but where they do not exist, do not seek to create them.

I reiterate what I said in response to the invention by my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster. Setting aside the relevant section of the 1900 Act is necessary to bring forward, in land use and planning terms, the proposal that will eventually be before us. It does not—let me say that again, it does not—establish a precedent for any public body or Government Department, nor does it create a precedent that can be relied upon in law, at judicial review or elsewhere, for private sector developers or joint venture partners with the public sector to base their argument on the proposal. They will not be able to say, “Ah well, this portion of Victoria Tower Gardens was allowed for this purpose, therefore the Government have opened up a Pandora’s box.” To mix my analogies, this does not create a Trojan horse either. It is not a Trojan horse bearing a Pandora’s box. Any application would need to be judged on its merits. I want to make that abundantly clear, because I know that it is an important point for my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster.

Many questions have been raised around costs, which are not necessarily an issue for this Bill per se. I will not test the patience of the House by saying that the public sector is tried and tested and reliable, with its letters of contract and contract managers, but everything seems to overrun. I say politely to the House that, of course, costs have gone up over the past nine years, since this idea was first mooted. And, of course, costs will go up still further the longer that we delay.

May I make two philosophical points, Sir Roger? First, whoever is monitoring the delivery and the budget management on this will, with due and proper cognisance to the public finances, be as resolute as they can be to ensure that proper contractual obligations are followed and that budgets are met and not exceeded. One would expect to see a contingency on something such as this, and, indeed, those costs will ebb and flow as the cost of materials rise and fall, and the cost of labour changes and the like.

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Simon Hoare Portrait Simon Hoare
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I am going to give way to a Tory.

Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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On a point of order, Sir Roger. There are only two minutes left, and I had hoped to wind up the debate.

Jacob Rees-Mogg Portrait Sir Jacob Rees-Mogg
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I just wanted to point out that I was listening to my hon. Friend the Member for Worthing West (Sir Peter Bottomley) carefully, and thought that he made an absolutely brilliant speech.

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Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
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If the figure spent already is £18 million and not £40 million, I accept that from the Minister, but I wonder whether it is actually higher than that. If people say that it is only 7.5% of the park gardens that will be used, it is 27% or more of the green space; those who use the 7.5% figure should revise that and ask who is giving them that advice. If people say that those who want to protect the gardens are in some way giving way to vandals, we are not. If people want to put things right, the Government should compare the present proposal with the best alternatives from the consultants and then have a proper consultation on the alternatives before the planning process starts again. I thank the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) for saying that there should be a new planning application to the local authority; we will all agree with that.

Question put and negatived.

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Peter Bottomley Portrait Sir Peter Bottomley
- View Speech - Hansard - -

I know that the hon. Member for Bath (Wera Hobhouse) will need to get in, so I will try not to say as much as I had intended to.

I suggest that those who read this Third Reading debate, particularly those in another place who may be considering the Bill after the election, look at early-day motion 711, which spells out a number of the issues. I hope they will look with kindness on what has been said by my right hon. Friend the Minister, although there are other interpretations in respect of a number of issues.

Those who think there should be a memorial do not necessarily think the learning centre should be with it, while those who think there should be a learning centre do not think it should be squashed into what I described as a box under a memorial. There are many who think that the memorial could be better than the design that was not chosen in Ottawa, and I think it is a continuing embarrassment to the Government that the name of the person who was mentioned 13 times in the announcement of the winning design, Sir David Adjaye, is one that Ministers cannot say today.

I refer Members to the transcript of the Select Committee hearing on 5 February. Let me quote from paragraph 25:

“Many people will know Sir David Adjaye’s statement that ‘disrupting the pleasure of being in a park is key to the thinking’, but fewer people have heard the first part of that quote which is, ‘We have the opportunity to activate the entire site’”,

or what he had said previously:

“‘There has been a kind of picture painted that this is a public garden...It moves from being just a kind of public park to being much more ceremonial, much more kind of ordered’.”

I could also quote from paragraphs 26 and 27, but I will not do so. However, I will quote from paragraph 58, which states that if the learning centre is built,

“the playground is actually going to be reduced by 370 square metres. That is by 31%, not about 15% as noticed and remarked on by the inspector, or 10% in the figures given by Baroness Scott”

—the Minister in the House of Lords—

“in her 2023 parliamentary answer, or even zero reduction, as stated by David Adjaye, misleadingly”

—I would say “mistakenly”—

“to the inquiry. A 31% loss cannot possibly be said to be an enhancement or a reconfiguration of the playground. That is what Chris Pincher, then briefly Minister of State, said in support of his 2021 planning permission approval for this project.”

I refer Members to a book by Dorian Gerhold, “Victoria Tower Gardens”, which is subtitled “The prehistory, creation and planned destruction of a London park”. What we are talking about here is not particularly the memorial—having a good memorial would be better than having a bad memorial—but Victoria Tower Gardens. We have this legislation because the Government did not care about the 1900 Act.

I say to the Government that better faith would have been acknowledging that the Bill they were putting forward was hybrid, without resisting that fact to the examiners in both Houses. We now pass the Bill on the House of Lords, where I believe that people will look again, with fresh eyes and fair eyes, at how we can commemorate those who died but do the best we can to educate people so that what happened is less likely to happen again.

The idea that a particular memorial will stop it happening would be laughed at by those who are commemorating and mourning the Yazidi genocide 10 years ago, the Rwandan genocide, and one or two others I could name in other parts of the world. We have to do what is right.

Let me end by saying this. My first cousin once removed was one of the Westminster Medical School students who went into Bergen-Belsen and were able to saves the lives of about half the people who were existing there at the time. I have worked with people Holocaust survivors, and I believe that we do best by doing what is right in a good way, which is why I welcome what the hon. Member for Greenwich and Woolwich (Matthew Pennycook) said about the normal planning process. As my right hon. Friend the Minister said and as Christopher Katkowski has said, the normal planning process will happen.

Let us look forward—if the Bill is carried over—to a planning process in which an application is made to the local authority, and the local authority makes the decision. If the authority approves the application, there is no problem; if it does not, the Minister can call it in, but the Minister should not call it in before Westminster City Council has had a chance to see any revised proposals that the Government can now put forward.