MPs clash on whether security concerns should impact on building Holocaust Memorial

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MPs clash on whether security concerns should impact on building Holocaust Memorial

Debate over the building of a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre near to parliament carried over until after general election

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

The design by Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects for a UK Holocaust Memorial
The design by Adjaye Associates and Ron Arad Architects for a UK Holocaust Memorial

MPs have clashed over whether security concerns should impact on whether a Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre should be built in a park location close to parliament in Westminster.

Speaking during the latest Holocaust Memorial Bill debate, the MP for Cities of London and Westminster Nickie Aiken claimed “there is a serious issue regarding the security” of the £138million project if it were to go ahead in the proposed Victoria Tower Gardens location.

“We have already seen the current Holocaust memorial that is based in Hyde Park covered up by the authorities to protect it during a recent pro-Palestine march that went through Hyde Park,” said Aiken.

But Andrew Percy, the MP for Brigg and Goole, intervened to suggest:”I will address the security issue in my speech, but I think it is all the wrong way round to make a decision about where to place a memorial to six million murdered people because some protesters and activists might threaten it. That is giving in to bad behaviour.”

Speaking for the government Levelling Up minister Simon Hoare said:” 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.”

Earlier, Peter Bottomley had outlined his objections to the proposed location of the long-promised project, which has been supported by Prime Ministers and leaders of all political parties since 2016.

“When the Government put forward their proposal, the indication was it would cost £25 million from Government and £25 million raised from charitable sources,” argued Bottomley.

“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. ”

He added that since the memorial and learning centre proposal was approved ” 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. ”

Conservative MP John Stevenson also told the Commons he had now changed his mind on the proposal, having voted in favour of it at the second reading.

“However, having had the privilege and responsibility of being part of the Holocaust Memorial Bill Select Committee, I have concluded that there are some serious issues that need to be properly addressed before this specific scheme potentially proceeds—if it does at all,” said Stevenson.

Speaking strongly in support of the Bill was Bob Blackman MP who said:” 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.”

Turning to the issue of security, Blackman added:”The learning centre will obviously have entry security arrangements similar to other public buildings in Westminster. I know that the Government—I look to the Minister to comment on this when he contributes to the debate—are working with security experts, agencies and the Metropolitan police to develop the necessary level of security measures. Victoria Tower Gardens will continue to be freely accessible to all. Therefore, the security threats should not be an argument against this memorial; rather, they are an argument for why the memorial is needed in the first place.”

In a defiant speech MP Percy also added:”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.”

Meanwhile Sir Michael Ellis said:”We need this memorial. Jews are not cowering with trembling knees, although maybe that happened in previous generations. They stand in the face of adversity, knowing that in this country there are many more of the Christian faith, the Hindu faith, the Sikh faith, the Buddhist faith and the Muslim faith who will stand with us and protect us, and who will stop those who seek to harm and intimidate the Jewish community. We need a memorial to remind people of that.

“It needs to be in this location because of its paramount and historic importance, and to remind people why, indeed, the state of Israel has to exist.”

Following the third reading the Commons approved a carryover motion for the Bill, taking it into the next parliament, after the general election on July 4.

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