1.58 pm

Sir Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): I am delighted that the hon. Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) went before me. My only regret is that he was not gracious enough to me, given that we are almost family. It is not generally known that my nephew, who lives in Clay Cross, is the partner of the hon. Gentleman’s second cousin. If they got married, we would be related by marriage—but we are still working on that.

I would like to welcome the Minister of State, Ministry of Justice, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), to the Dispatch Box. I am sure he would have wished for a better occasion to make his debut, but there we are—we have to take the rough with the smooth. Nevertheless, I congratulate him on his new position.

The right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) has made the most powerful speech so far. The motion before us is quite clear. I intervened on the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). I do not want to rehearse here this afternoon incidents from 40 years ago, but we must have all the relevant papers published. It has been acknowledged that successive Governments—perhaps the motion should have incorporated the term “successive Governments”—have failed to do so. It is also important to recognise, as the right hon. Member for Delyn said, how many advances have been made in the safety of building sites over the last four decades. The trade unions can certainly take credit for that, as can anyone involved in health and safety and, indeed, employers. When the London Olympic stadium was built, not a single life was lost. We should contrast that with what is happening at other major sporting venues around the world. Let us acknowledge the positives here.

I conclude briefly by saying that many lessons have been learned, not least in health and safety. We need all these papers to be released. If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud, if it had not been for the Shrewsbury 24, we would never have had the brilliant comedy actor, Mr Tomlinson, on our screens.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. Before I call the next speaker, I inform the House that I am reducing the time limit further to five minutes. I am doing my best to fit in all those who want to speak. I ask Members to pay attention and to assist colleagues to make their points; it is not necessary to take five minutes, but five minutes is the maximum from now on.

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2.1 pm

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (Lab): First, I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) on securing this debate. I must say from the beginning that I am not a man of violence, but the contribution from the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) certainly stretched my tolerance level. He reminded us exactly what the Tories are about and what they think the workers should be—seen and not heard, shall we say.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Jim Sheridan: No. The hon. Gentleman has had enough time.

I apologise to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, and to the outside world if I sound somewhat repetitive, but I genuinely believe that the more people that say this and listen to it, the more likely we are eventually to get somewhere on the issue of transparency. If we look at the Press Gallery, we see that there is very little interest in this issue from the press—apart from, of course, the regular and reliable Morning Star. For some reason, other newspapers, apart from some in the Trinity Mirror group, are not covering it.

In a week when we have discussed the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Bill, we can see how difficult it is, when it comes to what happened 40 years ago, to get transparency from this coalition Government. It is somewhat ironic that we are still discussing this issue in 2014.

To reflect on the Shrewsbury 24 issue, the conditions that existed in the building industry in the 1970s were a blight on our society. Sites with hundreds of thousands of men were given two rat-infested, filthy toilets. There was nowhere to change, so if workers got soaked in the rain, they would either have to go home and lose their pay, or continue to work—sodden and freezing. The health and safety conditions were appalling. In 1973 alone, there were 231 fatal accidents in construction. When talking about this issue, I am reminded of why these people were victimised—it was because they were raising serious health and safety concerns to ensure that workers were safe in the workplace. That is why the then employers turned against the trade unions—to make sure that health and safety issues were not raised at the appropriate time. The employers’ agenda was not about looking after their workers.

We look on some of the working conditions in some countries with disgust, and we call on UK-based companies working in those other countries to look at their supply chains and improve their human rights records. The Shrewsbury 24 were picketing in conditions that we would be horrified at today, so the calm and dignified protest they led is to be commended. It was a difficult task—something that has not been repeated—trying to organise building workers who often moved to new temporary sites and it was a struggle to organise them on account of that. The Shrewsbury 24 wanted to highlight the issues caused by colleagues “on the lump”, but they did not get violent and did nothing illegal. At this stage, I am reminded of what the Scottish Affairs Select Committee is doing on the issue of blacklisting. Only yesterday I listened to some of the evidence that

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the trade unions gave to that Select Committee. Even today, trade union organisers are refused access to building sites, simply because they want to raise health and safety issues that the employer does not want to listen to. Ordinary trade unions are still struggling to get recognition.

The Shrewsbury 24 hired six coaches and picketed large sites around Shrewsbury, which were chosen because they were not as well organised as some places in the bigger cities. It was peaceful—there were no cautions and no arrests. They had the permission of site owners. Chief Superintendent Meredith even shook the hand of Des Warren and thanked him for the co-operation of the UCATT and the then Transport and General Workers Union.

For that reason, when 24 men were arrested on conspiracy charges months later, they were shocked and confused. Six were sent to jail, and over four decades later, the pickets still deny that they were guilty of any of the charges levelled against them. The sentences had a devastating impact on these men. While in prison, Des Warren was regularly forced to drink “liquid cosh”, which has been blamed for his death from Parkinson’s disease in 2004. These men struggled to get work afterwards.

Let me finish by saying that if there were any sort of national security issue, it would never be viewed as acceptable in this day and age that information for which people are looking should be denied to them.


2.6 pm

Mr Tom Watson (West Bromwich East) (Lab): What lies behind this motion is a belief by many that there has been an abuse of state power and a subversion of the legal process. Successive Governments have said repeatedly that there are just a handful of files relating to the Shrewsbury trials. I would like to focus today on just one single file—PREM 15/2011, with which I hope the Minister can acquaint himself. It is described as “Woodrow Wyatt’s TV programme, ‘Red Under the Bed’”. On 27 August 2012, the National Archives website said that this file was “retained” by the Cabinet Office under section 3(4) of the Public Records Act 1958. Why would such a file be kept back when it relates to a current affairs programme that was broadcast on ITV in November 1973? Following a freedom of information request by the Shrewsbury 24 campaign’s incisive researcher in August 2013, the Cabinet Office finally conceded and released some of the papers.

Why is this file relevant? It is relevant because the film was broadcast on 13 November 1973, the day on which the prosecution completed its case against the pickets. It was featured in the TV listing section of the local evening newspaper, the Shropshire Star, which would have been read by many of the jurors. The film included a highly tendentious commentary by Woodrow Wyatt, interspersed with footage that showed the following: two of the six defendants, John Carpenter and Des Warren; Shrewsbury Crown Court, surrounded by police officers, with a group of demonstrators attending a meeting nearby; images of a march through Shrewsbury in which the defendants could be made out; violence and damage alleged to have been caused by pickets on building sites during the national building strike of 1972; and violence and damage alleged to have been caused by pickets during a recent coal strike and a recent dock strike.

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The next day, the defence applied to the judge for the television company to be held in contempt. The judge viewed the film and dismissed the application, even criticising the defence for raising the point. The file shows that the film, which lasted for one hour, was followed by a studio discussion of 30 minutes. Interestingly, the discussion was not broadcast in every ITV region—Granada, for example—but it was transmitted by ATV, the region covering Shrewsbury. The final words of that discussion were from the then Conservative MP Geoffrey Stewart-Smith. He was asked by the studio chairman, the late Richard Whiteley:

“Can you give me one example in 1973 of blatant communist influence?”

Stewart-Smith replies

“The violence in the building strike was called by a group, The Building Workers Charter, operating in defiance of the union leadership indulging in violence and flying pickets and this is an example of these people operating, opposing free trade unions”.

Can you imagine anything more blatantly prejudicial to a trial than that, Madam Deputy Speaker? Imagine what the reaction would be today. Just think of any current high-profile trial, and what a defence team would say, and how that would be reported in the print media now.

We have to ask ourselves why that film was made, and why it was shown on that particular date. It is my contention that the file reveals the highest level of collusion between the Government, the security services and the producers of the film. The first document in the file is a memo from Mr Thomas Barker of the Information Research Department to a Mr Norman Reddaway. For the benefit of younger Members, I should explain that the IRD was formed after the second world war as a covert anti-communist propaganda unit operating within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, and was closed down in the late 1970s. Mr Barker boasts:

“We had a discreet but considerable hand in this programme....In general, this film, given national networking, can only have done good.”

He praises the studio discussion after the broadcast. The file contains more documents, including a note from the Prime Minister, Ted Heath, supporting the film after being sent a copy of the transcript by the Cabinet Secretary.

Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): Is it possible to view the documentary now, or is it banned?

Mr Watson: It is not possible to view it. However, the file reveals that

“In February”

—that is, in February 1973—

“Mr Wyatt approached us direct for help. We consulted the Department of Employment and the Security Service through Mr Conrad Heron's Group, which has been meeting approximately fortnightly for the past year.”

So many meetings; so much consultation. Where are the documents relating to that? Were those people involved in the discussions that led to the decision to prosecute the pickets? If it had happened today, there would be outrage in the House.

Having seen the transcript of the film, the then Prime Minister replied to the Cabinet Secretary:

“We want as much as possible of this.”

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Mr Jim Cunningham: My hon. Friend may not recall that at that time a number of employers’ organisations, including Aims of Industry, were trying to influence industrial relations.

Mr Watson: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention.

So we have evidence that the Government and the security services were working closely with television production companies, newspapers and secretive organisations that were the forerunners of today’s blacklisters to produce propaganda to discredit trade unionists. The present Government posted a response to the e-petition on the website, claiming that the withholding of the information was due to an “intelligence and security instrument”. Why? This was a strike organised by building workers 40 years ago with the aim of improving their pay and conditions of work.

If Members want to know the thinking of industrialists at the time, they should read Lord McAlpine’s book “The Servant”. He wrote that the servant

“must have his own network of informants and men who will assist him. The servant must always know how to use the network of the State.

Dealing in deceit, as the servant must, great caution must be required. Avoid small deceits: like barnacles on the bottom of a ship, they build in the minds of people whom you may need to convince in a large deceit”.

What greater deceit can Members imagine than depriving those young men of their freedom and liberty?

The Stasi published their files after the Berlin wall came down in 1989. I think that we can publish ours now.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am now reducing the speaking time limit to four minutes. Everyone who wishes to speak will be able to do so if all Members stick to that limit.

2.14 pm

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): The Johannesburg principles were written a long time ago, but let me quote from them now. This is what was said about freedom of information and the state:

“A restriction sought to be justified on the ground of national security is not legitimate unless its genuine purpose and demonstrable effect is to protect a country's existence or its territorial integrity against the use or threat of force, or its capacity to respond to the use or threat of force, whether from an external source, such as a military threat, or an internal source, such as incitement to violent overthrow of the government...In particular, a restriction sought to be justified on the ground of national security is not legitimate if its genuine purpose or demonstrable effect is to protect interests unrelated to national security, including, for example, to protect a government from embarrassment or exposure of wrongdoing, or to conceal information about the functioning of its public institutions, or to entrench a particular ideology, or to suppress industrial unrest.”

That was not written about this country. It was written in Johannesburg about South Africa under apartheid, about North Korea, about China, and about all the rest of them. However, it applies to this Government now.

That Tory from Aldershot has gone now, but when he quoted from his letter, he forgot to mention the capacity in which he wrote it. At the time, he was secretary of the Society for Individual Freedom. He did not tell us what that organisation was about, but I can tell the House

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that it worked with BOSS, the South African Bureau of State Security. A book has been written about it, and this is how it described that Aldershot MP’s organisation:

“it’s almost certainly a British intelligence front organization which is mainly used for disseminating Establishment-type propaganda.”

That was in the late 1960s and early 1970s, but the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth) went on to form a new organisation called “Freedom Under Law”, along with Francis Bennion, to counter anti-apartheid. And what did Francis Bennion do in 1972 to my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath (Mr Hain), who was campaigning against apartheid? He took out a private prosecution against him for criminal conspiracy. This is what has been going on, and this is why people do not want those files to come out.

Who was it who funded the Economic League’s secret committee—a secret committee in a secret organisation? McAlpine. Even I was put on a blacklist. Who put me on it? I believe that it was one Russell Walters, who today works as Tory researcher, and who was chief of staff for that would-be Tory leader, the hon. Member for Windsor (Adam Afriyie). He was working for the Economic League. There was also a bloke called Ned Walsh, a liar, who said throughout these events that he worked for the unions. In fact, during the 1960s and 1970s he was working for the Economic League, infiltrating the unions. That is the conspiracy.

Katy Clark: I am intervening on my hon. Friend because I think that my hon. Friend may need some more time. Does he think that this quotation from Construction News, published on 17 December 1970—a very long time ago—gives some indication of the power and influence of the construction industry? The paper said of a private Christmas dinner organised by McAlpine in 1977:

“Anyone who can hold a private party and make it virtually impossible to get a Cabinet quorum cannot be without influence of friends.”

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. The hon. Gentleman may need more time, but it will come out of the hon. Lady’s time, because the winding-up speeches must start at 2.40 pm.

John Mann: The fact is that McAlpine was based in that part of the world, and it is no coincidence that this was picked on.

We know what these people do. They did the same during the miners’ strike. What they do is randomly pick out people and claim conspiracy, which is exactly what they tried to do to my right hon. Friend the Member for Neath and others in the anti-apartheid movement. That is the mindset of some of these people. They believe that they have some sort of supreme knowledge, and then they claim to defend freedom.

These people are not the friends of freedom; these people are the enemies of freedom. That is why those Johannesburg principles were written, and that is why they apply not just to South Africa under apartheid, not just to North Korea and the lunatic running it, not just to China and the repression of working people there, but to this country and to western democracies.

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Freedom is about the right to go about your business. It is about the right to engage in protest, including industrial protest. It is about the right to hold your Government to account, and to ensure that if there are documents out there, they are brought to light. Such documents are already slowly emerging. We have seen the documents about Hillsborough, and in future we will see documents about Orgreave and the miners’ strike, and many, many more. There is an information revolution going on in this country, because people are fed up with the secrecy of the state and those misfits around it who set up organisations claiming conspiracies when there is no conspiracy because it suits their political ends—and some of them clearly even participate in events like this but are still elected to this Parliament.

If this is a coalition Government, this Liberal Minister needs to demonstrate that he is part of the coalition. The Liberals have always told us they stand for individual freedoms. Well, prove it; release these documents. These people who have had to fight against this for years deserve it, but there is a bigger cause, too: the rest of us. This is about defining freedom in this country. That is what this debate is about, and why this Liberal Minister has to act.

2.20 pm

Ian Lavery (Wansbeck) (Lab): The lack of Members on the Government Benches shows exactly how much interest there is in this topic from this coalition Government of Tories and Liberals.

This Shrewsbury 24 debacle represents a catastrophic and deliberate miscarriage of justice by the state against working individuals. I say again for the record that this was deliberate. This attack on the Shrewsbury 24 was a deliberate, calculated miscarriage of justice. It is a catalogue of deceit, deception, secrecy and discrimination worthy of the best of the best North Korean governmental political plots. It truly is a must-read true-life story of thriller proportions. The covert, politically inspired interference of faceless decision-makers, be they politicians, civil servants, police or the judiciary, made life hell for ordinary hard-working people whose only crime was to dare to take industrial action against the mega cash-rich building companies of that time.

These people—the Shrewsbury pickets—were fighting for £30 for 30 hours and better health and safety on the building sites, where, as has been mentioned on more than one occasion, 571 people in the construction industry were killed in three years. Is that not fair? Is that not what we should be seeking in a modern-day society—health and safety, preventing people from being abused and killed when they take their sandwiches to work and want to return to see their families at night? Is that a crime? Should they have been punished—should they been imprisoned, as the six Shrewsbury pickets were? The answer to that is of course not.

I have tremendous experience of picketing, and I am proud of having been a picket during many disputes. I witnessed what happened on the picket lines during the miners strike. It was absolutely disgraceful. What we have seen in the last two or three weeks is again a Government refusing to allow papers—confidential and secret papers—relating to that dispute to be released. What we have seen is absolutely ludicrous. There has not been the outrage there should be, but we have seen that senior Cabinet Ministers in a previous Government

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and a Prime Minister—Thatcher—stood at the Dispatch Box and deliberately misled the Commons, and deliberately misled the Government. Where is the public outcry from the press? There is not one, because they are not interested in ordinary people.

A lot can be said about this but I would like to finish on this point. We cannot even begin to understand how these men and their families felt when they were hammered by the state—by the Government. They were offered lesser charges and they would have been freed. They stood by their principles so that people in the future would benefit, and they went to prison. We cannot begin to think what it was like for these people, who could have been free—“£50 fine and you can go home tonight and be home by 3 o’clock.” That was the agreement, but they stood by their principles. We cannot begin to imagine how they suffered in their time in prison.

Let me say a word on Des Warren, who was treated very badly in his time in prison. The liquid cosh killed him and as a result we are where we are today.

2.24 pm

Jim Fitzpatrick (Poplar and Limehouse) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Wansbeck (Ian Lavery), and I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and our other hon. Friends on securing this debate.

It is important to say, as all Members have said so far, that this is not about defending violence or picket line violence. It is about justice. This is about making the case to publish documents so that the truth can come out. I believe that case has been made overwhelmingly by Opposition colleagues who have spoken and it has even been agreed by Conservative colleagues. The only reason not to publish is that it would prove the political interference and perhaps the source of some of the evidence that was offered against the individuals.

It is important to remember that these were different times, different issues, different perspectives. The establishment was paranoid. It was not just the Tory establishment. Harold Wilson saw political manipulation in the NUS strike in the ’60s. That is when the NUS was the National Union of Seamen, not the National Union of Students. This is not just a Tory crisis, therefore. My hon. Friend the Member for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) said this period saw the height of trade union membership and power, with working people trying to come to terms with the UK’s industrial decline and trying to hold on to what they had in the face of the establishment coming at them.

Times were difficult and the establishment felt threatened. The Shrewsbury 24 came in the wake of the Pentonville Five and the collapse of the industrial relations court. My hon. Friend mentioned Vic Turner. He was one of my councillors. He was mayor of Newham. When I knew him he was a very gentle and decent man, and he was one of the five who were locked up. Incidentally, for the information of the hon. Member for Na h-Eileanan an Iar (Mr MacNeil), I will say that when I was the secretary of the Scottish nationalist trade union association I issued a statement supporting the release of the Pentonville Five and was contacted by Edinburgh and told to withdraw the press release or be expelled from the SNP. That was the end of my romance with the Scottish National party.

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In construction, the lack of a structured, organised business caused industrial carnage as many colleagues have mentioned, with nearly 600 dead on building sites in three years. The lump set worker against worker and kept the industry in the dark ages. They were dark times, indeed, not only for the country but for individuals thrust into the front-line—the Five, the 24 and others. The ’70s was a decade of massive industrial unrest; I am old enough to have been on strike in the ’70s with the fire service—against a Labour Government. It is surely time for the Government to come clean. The Government should publish the papers—I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister has to say—so that these decent men and their families, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) has outlined, can understand what happened and why it happened and hopefully be able to put behind them what I believe will be shown to be another shameful part of our history.

2.27 pm

Andy McDonald (Middlesbrough) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) for securing this debate. I also want to thank the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth)—I am delighted he is back in the Chamber—for his stout defence of exploitative and abusive employment practices and his argument for sustaining one of the most grievous miscarriages of justice in living memory, because it reminds me of exactly why I came into politics.

This is an immensely significant case and one that has already shone a light into some of the darkest recesses of the British establishment. What is abundantly clear is that this case will continue to be a running sore until such times as all Government and Cabinet and other documents over the relevant period from the early ’70s to date in connection with this matter are released. The sooner the nettle is grasped the better.

The Government’s determination to keep documents secret and to keep information from the appellants casts a very dark and long shadow over our democracy and serves only to heighten concerns that there has indeed been a conspiracy—not a conspiracy to cause affray at a building site, but one politically to engineer criminal charges and to interfere with the criminal justice system. It can hardly be more serious.

This campaign will ultimately succeed, and when the full truth emerges it will not be a good day for this country. The longer it goes on, the worse it will get. It is a travesty that men have already gone to their graves without this matter having been resolved. The campaigners’ case is simple: they were wholly innocent of the charges made against them. The dispute had come to an end, and no complaint had been made about their conduct at the time. The subsequent investigations many months later, the prosecution and then the sentences imposed upon them were draconian, wholly inappropriate and, worst of all, politically motivated. I want to spend some time talking about the sacrifices that the men made, but time does not permit me to do so.

At this remove, the demands of the workers seem so modest and reasonable, but in the dark days of 1972 they were seen as other things altogether. However, their cause was just and right. They vehemently opposed and exposed the abuses and exploitative and blackmailing practices endemic in the construction industry, which provided workers with absolutely no security of

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employment. They were working on the lump for appalling pay and, as has been said, fatalities were a regular occurrence. Robert Carr wrote a letter at the time. He said:

“I intend once again to draw the attention of Chief Constables to the provision of the law and discuss with them what further action they might take to defeat such violence and intimidation in industrial disputes.”

So much for the operational independence of the police. The Attorney-General wrote to him at the time and said:

“A number of instances … have been submitted to me recently in which the intimidation consisted of threatening words and in which there was no evidence against any particular person of violence or damage to property.”

He recommended that proceedings should not be instituted. We have clear, unambiguous advice from the country’s leading law officer that proceedings should not be instituted, yet despite that, charges were laid and prosecutions taken. He was also of the view that a jury trial would lead to an acquittal, so Treasury Counsel advised that the principle of jury trial should be abandoned.

It is scandalous that successive Governments have refused to release all the papers about this matter. We are led to believe that it would compromise national security. It is much more likely that individuals and previous Governments will be ashamed and embarrassed by their dreadful cover-up, and the time has come for the Government to do the right thing. These men and their families have waited far too long for the truth to come out and they should wait no longer. As Ricky Tomlinson himself might say, “Guilty? My goodness me, nothing could be further from the truth.”

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): Order. I am taking the time limit down to three minutes to get three more speakers in before the wind-ups start.


2.31 pm

Chris Williamson (Derby North) (Lab): I congratulate my hon. Friend and comrade the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) on securing this vital debate. I regret that he is not in his place at the moment. I was reminded of Aneurin Bevan’s description of the Tory party when I listened to the shameful contribution from the hon. Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth). The way in which this dispute was handled by the Government of the day and subsequent Governments represents a disgraceful and shameful chapter in the long history of hostility towards working people on the part of the Conservative party.

My dad was involved in that building workers strike, and he could well have been one of the victims of the Tory party who were sent to prison for their principles. The following year I started as an apprentice bricklayer in the building trade. Hon. Friends have already pointed to the 571 fatalities between 1970 and 1973 and the 224,000 industrial injuries that took place in the construction trade. I was one of those statistics, because health and safety on the building sites that I worked on in 1973 were disgraceful. That was what the strike was all about. It was about decent pay—£30 a week. It is not

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much to ask for, for crying out loud. It was about health and safety on building sites to protect young apprentices such as me. I could have been killed because there was no handrail on the scaffolding.

The strike was also about the lump—the disgraceful lump that was endemic in the building trade at that time. We had a vindictive Tory Government. I will not repeat the comments that have been eloquently made by my hon. Friends about the disgraceful treatment of those pickets, but they were charged with intimidation. I have never heard anything so ridiculous in my life. The people who were responsible for intimidation were the vindictive Tory Government, who sent ordinary working people to prison for standing up for their rights, for their comrades, for decent working conditions.

So of course the papers should be released. That is the very minimum that should happen. The convictions that were imposed on those brave trade unionists—one of whom, Ricky Tomlinson, I am proud to say, is in the public gallery now, although I know I should not mention it—should be overturned. I hope that we hear the Minister support that when he gets to his feet.


2.34 pm

Katy Clark (North Ayrshire and Arran) (Lab): This is a highly politicised debate. It touches on the desirability and necessity of workers organising themselves in the workplace to ensure that they are treated well and have decent health and safety and terms and conditions. It has been clear from the speeches that there are different views about that on either side of the House.

Colleagues have been correct to try to explain the context of the industrial dispute. My family were some of those involved in the dispute. My grandfather, Barney Davies, who is still alive, and Larry McKay, my uncle, were members of the Transport and General Workers Union and worked in the construction industry all their lives. They were clear with me why they thought it was important to have strong trade unions in the construction industry, in particular for health and safety. Indeed, they supported the closed shop, because they felt it was the only way that progress would be made in the construction industry.

It is necessary to say clearly that this type of organisation and the 1972 strike were seen as a significant threat to those who owned the construction industry and made huge profits from it. The more we find out about the Shrewsbury 24, the more murky it gets. The motion today is simple: it calls for the release of the documents. It will be interesting to see how the Minister responds to that request. It is difficult to see after 40 years how they can contain anything that seriously threatens national security. If we are not successful now in getting the documents, the issue will not be looked at again until 50 years after the dispute. Some of the people directly involved have already died, one of them probably as a direct result of drug-induced Parkinson’s and the treatment that he received against his wishes in prison. I would ask the Minister to look at this seriously. If he believes in freedom of information and transparency, he should please take action to release the papers.


2.37 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I shall give the last word in this debate to the person who cannot be here, which is Dessie Warren. Dessie went

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into the dock against the advice of his lawyers. They advised him, “Dessie if you go in, you will most probably be sentenced double,” and that is most probably what happened, but he addressed the central question we have asked here today: was there a conspiracy? Let me use Dessie’s words:

“Was there a conspiracy? Ten members of the jury have said there was. There was a conspiracy, but not by the pickets. The conspiracy began with the miners giving the government a good hiding last year. It developed when the government was forced to perform legal gymnastics in getting five dockers out of jail after they had only just been put there. The conspiracy was between the Home Secretary, the employers and the police. It was not done with a nod and a wink. It was conceived after pressure from Tory Members of Parliament who demanded changes in picketing laws.”

He was asked about the law. He said:

“the law is, quite clearly, an instrument of the state, to be used in the interests of a tiny minority against the majority. It is biased; it is class law, and nowhere has that been demonstrated more than in the prosecution case in this trial. The very nature of the charges, the delving into ancient Acts of Parliament, dredging up conspiracy, shows this to be so.”

Then he was asked about intimidation. He said:

“The jury in this trial were asked to look upon the word ‘intimidation’ as having the ordinary everyday meaning. My interpretation is ‘to make timid’, or ‘to dispirit’, and when the pickets came to this town to speak to the building workers it was not with the intention of intimidating them. We came here with the intention of instilling the trade union spirit into them, and not to make them timid, but to give them the courage to fight the intimidation of the employers in this area.”

That is the spirit that has been instilled in us for the past 30 years, all the way through this campaign. It is also the spirit that has been instilled in all those others, including Ricky Tomlinson, Eileen Turnbull and the others who have been campaigning over this period. In that spirit, we will not let go until the truth is revealed, until we have full openness and transparency, until those people’s names are cleared and until it is accepted that this was a class attack. It was a class attack involving the intimidation of a group of workers to ensure that others did not fight in what was, and is, a class struggle to improve wages and conditions and, yes, to assert some sort of power and control over people’s working conditions. I support that struggle; that is what this debate today is all about.

2.40 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): I congratulate the Minister of State, the right hon. Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark (Simon Hughes), on his new position. It has been a long time coming. I hope we can have a constructive working relationship, and I look forward to hearing his views on a number of issues, not least the damaging effects of the Government’s complete dismantling of legal aid. I know he was highly critical of that himself until very recently.

This has been a powerful and emotional, but reasoned, debate that does credit to everyone who has spoken from these Benches and to the House. For 40 years, the treatment of the Shrewsbury 24 has raised questions that successive Governments have not been prepared to answer, and those who were convicted and their families, friends and supporters have campaigned for justice, transparency and fairness. It is right that this issue should be debated fully here and that the House should place demands on the current Government—or, failing that, the next Labour Government—to disclose the

23 Jan 2014 : Column 512

remaining documents relating to the case. I hope that there will be some movement on that from the Minister this afternoon, rather than just a repeat of the recital of the Secretary of State’s view that the Government wish to park the issue until 2022.

I should like to thank my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) and the Backbench Business Committee for securing the debate. I also want to thank those Opposition Members who have spoken today, not least my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson), who spoke on behalf of his constituents, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell), who has tabled an early-day motion on this subject that has so far attracted 62 signatures, mainly of Labour MPs but also of six Members from other parties.

Most of all, I would like to acknowledge the tireless work over those 40 years of the campaigners. They include the late Dessie Warren and Ricky Tomlinson, who has proved such an effective figurehead and given the campaign some of its best soundbites, including

“a threat to social security perhaps, national security never”.

They include Eileen Turnbull, whose six years of painstaking research has already uncovered many troubling facts in the case, Unite the union, which has offered much in the way of practical and moral support, Thompsons solicitors and Len McCluskey, who has taken a close personal interest in achieving justice for the 24. They also include the tens of thousands of trade unionists who have marched, protested, and signed the petition that led to today’s debate.

This shows the trade union movement at its democratic and campaigning best. In that sense, history is repeating itself, because it was the successful national building workers’ strike of 1972 against the appalling health and safety record of the industry and the exploitation of lump labour that led to the arrest and prosecution of the Shrewsbury 24. In an era before the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, 200 building workers were being killed on sites every year.

Sir Gerald Howarth: Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Mr Slaughter: Given the time, I am reluctant to give way.

Summary dismissal and blacklisting were commonplace for anyone who complained about poor pay and working conditions. After years of refusal to act by Government and employers, trade unions across the sector organised the biggest national strike since 1926. They were calling for fair terms and conditions, fair pay and safe and secure working practices. I do not intend to repeat the story of the strike, the arrests, the trials and the subsequent attempts to find justice, which my hon. Friend the Member for Blaydon and others have already described. What I would like to do is explain why this issue from 40 years ago still matters not just to those directly affected, but to all of us in this House and in the country.

The picketing that led to the charges was peaceful and heavily policed, and it passed without incident or comment. The arrests months later, the conduct of the trials, the use of conspiracy charges, the sentences handed down, the involvement of the Government and the close relations between senior figures in the Government

23 Jan 2014 : Column 513

and the building employers all raise suspicions that these were not normal proceedings. The use of section 23 of the Freedom of Information Act to withhold selective documents, the continuing refusal of the present Government to engage with the campaigners, and the postponement of consideration for another 10 years also suggest that there is a desire to sweep this issue under the carpet. Whether that suggestion is right or wrong could be determined by releasing the papers. That would also provide closure for those convicted, of whom all those who are still alive are of pension age.

I would like to ask the Minister these questions. If he is not prepared to agree to the motion today, will he explain more fully why? Will he tell us how many documents are being withheld, what issues they deal with and why—specifically, rather than using civil service catch-all jargon—they are deemed not to be publishable? I get the impression that this is an embarrassment, an irrelevance or an inconvenience to the Secretary of State. To the 24, it is a matter that has dominated their lives and that continues to do so.

This is not an issue only of historical importance; it continues to affect those convicted today. It affects them in practical ways, such as through the travel restrictions we have heard about. It affects them emotionally, and it also affects them because they are men who have an ingrained sense of justice who in many cases have devoted their lives to the service of their communities. It matters to them, and to us on this side of the House. It should also matter to the Minister and to his party, which, whatever its historic antipathy to the trade unions, has often claimed the moral high ground on civil liberties and transparency issues.

Sadly, the Minister is now part of a Government with a terrible record on such matters. Under the coalition we have seen: an expansion of the use of secret courts across the civil justice system; attacks on the Human Rights Act and the European convention; the use of judicial review being severely curtailed; unprecedented cuts in legal aid and advice; and restriction on access to justice for everyone from unfairly dismissed employees to mesothelioma victims. And yesterday, we had the absolute disgrace of the gagging Bill, which threatens to shackle and silence the voluntary sector and the trade union movement under the guise of tackling lobbyists. We have seen blacklisting continue as it did in 1970s. We have also seen a Government more closely aligned with special interests and corporate greed, and less on the side of employees or consumers, than the Heath or even the Thatcher Governments.

In trade union history, the case of the Shrewsbury 24 stands alongside the miners’ strike, the Taff Vale case and Tolpuddle as examples of how the state, and the Conservative party and its allies and funders in the corporate sector, use the law and officers of the law to restrict and subdue organised labour. This is a struggle that has gone on for hundreds of years, and it will continue far into the future.

In his autobiography, Ricky Tomlinson asks:

“Will the day come when it will be a crime in itself to be a member of a trade union?”

Certainly there has not been such a sustained attack on trade union rights by the governing party and its allies in the media for 30 years. If the Minister wishes to deny

23 Jan 2014 : Column 514

that, or if he wishes not to judge the events that led to the conviction of the Shrewsbury 24 but to give others the ability to do so, he should agree to this motion, release the withheld documents and show that his Government have nothing to hide. Ricky Tomlinson also said recently that it felt as though the Tories were waiting for the 24 to die before they would reveal the truth. The Minister might not be responsible for the Tory party, but he is responsible for freedom of information and for upholding transparency in government. He and his colleagues should support the motion today.

2.48 pm

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Simon Hughes): I congratulate sincerely the hon. Member for Blaydon (Mr Anderson) on initiating the debate and the Backbench Business Committee on agreeing to it. This is exactly the sort of issue that we should debate, and I respect entirely the views expressed on a very important matter, which, at its heart, is about the freedom to see documents even though they relate to events 40 years ago.

I am aware that the Government have been noticing this campaign’s growing momentum over the years. This is the first debate on this issue that Parliament has had in either House. Questions have been asked and letters written, but we have never had a debate, so I am very pleased and honoured to reply to it.

I am very conscious of my responsibility, and I am grateful to the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) for his kind words of welcome. I am a Justice Minister, responsible for freedom of information and the National Archives. I believe in justice. In our Department, we want maximum freedom of information, and we want maximum revelation in the National Archives of documents that have been in the public domain. So I am very clear about where we should be going and what the principles are.

I do not see it as my job as being here to defend the Government in the 1970s or any political party. That is not part of my brief.

Mr Ian Davidson (Glasgow South West) (Lab/Co-op): Oh yes it is.

Simon Hughes: No, it is not. I am here to deal with an issue that, if I may just make the obvious and, I hope, only party political point, was not dealt with differently by Labour or Conservative Administrations—a point that has been accepted by colleagues around the House.

Several hon. Members rose

Simon Hughes: I shall be as quick as I can, and if colleagues will accept—

Chris Williamson: Will the Minister give way?

Simon Hughes: No, I want to try to be helpful, and out of respect for the hon. Member for Blaydon, let me, please, unusually for me, be uninterrupted; I want to respond to as much as I can.

May I tell the hon. Member for Liverpool, Walton (Steve Rotheram) and other colleagues that, not just as the Member for Bermondsey and Old Southwark, I completely understand the issue to do with health and

23 Jan 2014 : Column 515

safety and decent wages generally and in the building industry in particular? I have campaigned on this issue. I understand the dreadful health and safety record in the past. Strong trade unions, particularly in the building industry over the past 40 years, were hugely important in ensuring that wages and conditions were better, which, thank God, they are now. I pay tribute to those who were part of that effort.

At the end of this episode, there were convictions for affray, unlawful assembly and conspiracy to intimidate. They are serious offences. They have led to people going to prison. I will return in a second to how the justice issues may be addressed. I know about the intensity of people’s views. I know about the efforts made to get the petition to the current number of signatures. I am clear what people hope I can say.

The Government are, of course, committed to transparency. We are agreed that as much information as possible should be in the public domain. The public would expect that, and the principles of the Freedom of Information Act, enacted by the Labour Government and now fully in force, are ones that we are expected to implement.

Most of the papers that relate to the Shrewsbury 24 are already available in the National Archives for public inspection. Of the records that date back to 1972, over 90% are available. Only 625 documents, I am told, are not yet publicly available—[Hon. Members: “Only.”]—across the Government, in relation to that year. The only material held by the Cabinet Office that is not available and that is the information at the heart of this debate is one report and three paragraphs—one in each of three separate documents—which I shall return to later.

Yasmin Qureshi: Will the Minister give way?

Simon Hughes: No. If I have time a bit later, I will, but I am trying to make sure that all the information is on the record.

There has already been a decision, taken in principle by the Labour Government and implemented by this Government, to reduce the age at which historical records are made available. The period is coming down now from 30 to 20 years. [Interruption.] No “buts”. In parallel with that, we are reducing the maximum duration of the exemptions from disclosure from 30 to 20 years. That has started this year, and the period will also reduce, so that people in future will not have to wait as long to see records. So those are good changes, but let us be specific about the matters that relate to the request for these papers today.

The current law is, and the consistent practice has been, that under section 34 of the Public Records Act 1958, public bodies are allowed but not required to retain records after they would usually be required to be transferred to the National Archives—so, after the old 30-year period, which is reducing. Retention is allowed where it is necessary for administrative purposes or for “any other special reason”.

Since 1967, when Lord Gardiner was Lord Chancellor in the Labour Government, all Lord Chancellors—five Labour, five Conservative—have been satisfied that where the transfer of security and intelligence records would prejudice national security, they can be retained on the “other special reason” basis. That approval is recorded in an instrument, signed by the Lord Chancellor, which is more commonly referred to as the security instrument.

23 Jan 2014 : Column 516

The current approval that governs security and intelligence records was, as colleagues have said—the right hon. Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) referred to it—given by the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr Clarke) when he was Lord Chancellor on 19 December 2011. That does indeed last until 2021. That is public; it has been on the website. However, these papers are due to be reviewed by the Cabinet Office for their security and sensitivity every 10 years, as all other papers are, and they will fall to be reviewed next year, in 2015. I should like to tell the hon. Member for Blaydon respectfully that I suggest that he and his colleagues, who have a rightful interest in their being revealed, address that office and that deadline, and I will personally take an interest in this issue in the time up to next year, when they fall to be reviewed for their security.

What are the specific documents? One is a Security Service report, and the other three are single paragraphs, each of which has been redacted from letters and memorandums. The first was in a letter from the director general of the Security Service to the Cabinet Secretary dated 10 January 1975, which is public apart from one redacted paragraph. It refers—it is not a secret—to the fact that the assessment was that there was a Communist party activity in relation to the campaign. The second was in a minute dated 13 January 1975 from the Cabinet Office to No. 10, which has been released apart from a single paragraph. The third was in a minute from No. 10 to the Cabinet Office dated 15 January 1975.

Chris Williamson: Is the Communist party a banned organisation then?

Simon Hughes: Of course it is not. I am just saying what the documents revealed have said, and they are in the public domain. The Ministry of Justice has no relevant information retained. I do not know whether any other Departments have retained any. I am not privy to that information, but I am clear that four pieces of information are retained by the Cabinet Office and are open to review next year.

As hon. Members know, under the Freedom of Information Act people can request that information. They then, in particular, have to confront the question as to whether it is covered by the exemption in section 23 of the Act. The application was refused in this case. It went to the Information Commissioner and he decided on 2 July 2008 that the four documents do relate to the intelligence agencies and therefore fall within the scope of the exemption. The exemption is designed to protect

“Information supplied by, or relating to, bodies dealing with security matters”.

The view of the Government has always been—all Governments have said—that to provide details of the national security risks that might posed by the release of information of this sort would be detrimental to the purposes of the exemption set out in the Act. So that is the view of the Cabinet Office, but these things will be reviewed next year. The Lord Chancellor has asked me to say that he has personally looked at these documents and come to the same view. I know that that will be disappointing and frustrating to people, but the position is that those documents cannot therefore be revealed now.

23 Jan 2014 : Column 517

However, one other matter is very important. There is currently a legal challenge to the convictions, and the case went to the Court of Appeal. Miscarriages of justice are not matters for the Government to consider; they are matters for the Criminal Cases Review Commission—ultimately, for the courts. The hon. Member for Blaydon set out the arguments for a miscarriage of justice review, and I understand them. The cases of at least some of the Shrewsbury 24 have been referred to the Criminal Cases Review Commission and it is currently assessing that set of applications. It has the power to require, when it is reasonable, that any information held by any public body in relation to any case under review can be retained for, and produced to, it, irrespective of confidentiality. The Commission therefore has, potentially, the access to information of the highest sensitivity, including material withheld by the Cabinet Office—the Commission has the power to see that. My understanding is that the Commission has asked for this information. It is currently considering the application for a review, with this information before it. If the Commission sends a case to the courts, the courts have the power to see the information, and I would entirely expect them to be able to do so.

There are two routes ahead, and they include the point made by the hon. Member for West Bromwich East (Mr Watson). One is the review that is coming up next year by the Cabinet Office. The second is the miscarriage of justice review, which is currently actively being pursued. I hope that colleagues understand that I am, at the moment, unable to change the position that Governments have adopted over the years, but there are ways in which this matter can be reviewed again. I accept that. That is proper and appropriate, and therefore the efforts of the hon. Member for Blaydon, and those of the petitioners and colleagues, are not in vain.

2.59 pm

Mr Anderson: I welcome the Minister to his post, and I will look very closely at what he had to say. The youngest picket is 65 and the oldest is 87. One of the people who is central to this debate died last week. The reality is that people may need to be brought to book, and if we go on hiding information, those people will be long gone before there is a chance to find out exactly what went on.

The Minister talked about national security. That has been quoted in this House for the past 40 years. It was quoted over Bloody Sunday; shoot-to-kill; the setting up of a secret terror force in Northern Ireland; the fitting up of the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four; the picket at Orgreave; the allegations of rioting at Mansfield during the miners’ strike; and, despicably, the Hillsborough decision.

The people of this country do not have faith in those who control the state, because they have seen how the words “national security” have, for so long, meant national cover-up. They do not want to live in a country where secrets are used to abuse the people, and the people in the Public Gallery today were abused. Des Warren went to his death bed as a direct result of being locked up for something he did not do. My sister nursed him in 1988, 15 years after he had been in jail and subjected to what has been described to me as chemical

23 Jan 2014 : Column 518

castration. My sister worked as a nurse in the Army, and she said that the two weeks she looked after Des Warren was the hardest work she had ever done in her life. All that man did was to try to make life better for the many he represented. He tried to create a safer working environment and to ensure that employers did the right thing and paid income tax and national insurance contributions. For that, he and five other men went to jail and 18 others had their lives destroyed. This is a matter of justice. I heard what the Minister had to say, and it was not good enough.

Question put.

The House divided:

Ayes 120, Noes 3.

Division No. 191]

[

3.1 pm

AYES

Abrahams, Debbie

Alexander, rh Mr Douglas

Alexander, Heidi

Anderson, Mr David

Austin, Ian

Bayley, Hugh

Begg, Dame Anne

Benn, rh Hilary

Blenkinsop, Tom

Blomfield, Paul

Brown, Lyn

Burden, Richard

Burnham, rh Andy

Campbell, Mr Alan

Campbell, Mr Ronnie

Clwyd, rh Ann

Cooper, rh Yvette

Corbyn, Jeremy

Crausby, Mr David

Creasy, Stella

Cruddas, Jon

Cunningham, Alex

Cunningham, Mr Jim

Cunningham, Sir Tony

David, Wayne

Davidson, Mr Ian

Dobson, rh Frank

Docherty, Thomas

Dodds, rh Mr Nigel

Doughty, Stephen

Dugher, Michael

Durkan, Mark

Eagle, Ms Angela

Eagle, Maria

Elliott, Julie

Ellman, Mrs Louise

Engel, Natascha

Esterson, Bill

Flint, rh Caroline

Flynn, Paul

Francis, Dr Hywel

Gapes, Mike

Gardiner, Barry

Goodman, Helen

Green, Kate

Griffith, Nia

Gwynne, Andrew

Hamilton, Mr David

Hanson, rh Mr David

Havard, Mr Dai

Hepburn, Mr Stephen

Hilling, Julie

Hodge, rh Margaret

Hodgson, Mrs Sharon

Hollobone, Mr Philip

Hood, Mr Jim

Jarvis, Dan

Johnson, Diana

Jones, Susan Elan

Kaufman, rh Sir Gerald

Khan, rh Sadiq

Lavery, Ian

Lazarowicz, Mark

Leech, Mr John

Leslie, Chris

Lewell-Buck, Mrs Emma

Love, Mr Andrew

Lucas, Caroline

MacNeil, Mr Angus Brendan

Malhotra, Seema

Mann, John

McCabe, Steve

McCann, Mr Michael

McCarthy, Kerry

McClymont, Gregg

McDonald, Andy

McDonnell, John

McGovern, Alison

McGuire, rh Mrs Anne

Meale, Sir Alan

Mearns, Ian

Miller, Andrew

Morris, Grahame M.

(Easington)

Munn, Meg

Onwurah, Chi

Osborne, Sandra

Owen, Albert

Percy, Andrew

Pound, Stephen

Qureshi, Yasmin

Raynsford, rh Mr Nick

Reed, Mr Jamie

Reeves, Rachel

Rotheram, Steve

Russell, Sir Bob

Shannon, Jim

Sharma, Mr Virendra

Sheerman, Mr Barry

Shuker, Gavin

Skinner, Mr Dennis

Slaughter, Mr Andy

Smith, Angela

Smith, Nick

Smith, Owen

Stunell, rh Sir Andrew

Thomas, Mr Gareth

Thornberry, Emily

Timms, rh Stephen

Trickett, Jon

Turner, Karl

Twigg, Stephen

Umunna, Mr Chuka

Vaz, Valerie

Watson, Mr Tom

Whitehead, Dr Alan

Williamson, Chris

Wilson, Phil

Winterton, rh Ms Rosie

Wood, Mike

Wright, Mr Iain

Tellers for the Ayes:

Katy Clark

and

Jim Sheridan

NOES

Davies, Philip

Nuttall, Mr David

Percy, Andrew

Tellers for the Noes:

Jim Fitzpatrick

and

John Cryer

Question accordingly agreed to.

23 Jan 2014 : Column 519

Resolved,

That this House is seriously concerned at the decision of the Government to refuse to release papers related to the building dispute in 1972 and subsequent prosecutions of the workers known as the Shrewsbury 24 and calls on it to reverse this position as a matter of urgency.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Dawn Primarolo): I ask Members to leave the Chamber quietly and quickly so that we can start the next important Back-Bench debate.

23 Jan 2014 : Column 520

Holocaust Memorial Day

3.13 pm

Alistair Burt (North East Bedfordshire) (Con): I beg to move,

That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day.

I am pleased and honoured to be asked to open the debate to commemorate Holocaust memorial day. This debate has been held in the House since 2008. As colleagues will know, it is timed to be close to Holocaust memorial day, 27 January—the day that is linked to the liberation of the most notorious of the Nazi death camps, Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I welcome the support from my right hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr O’Brien) and my hon. Friends the Members for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd), for Liverpool, Riverside (Mrs Ellman), for Weaver Vale (Graham Evans) and for Hertsmere (Mr Clappison), who represented me at the Backbench Business Committee in order to see this debate put on. I also thank colleagues in all parts of the House who signed the early-day motion associated with the debate and a commemoration of the memorial day.

I thank—on behalf of all of us, I am sure—the Holocaust Educational Trust for its briefings and support, and for its extraordinary work in ensuring that a memory of the holocaust is kept alive by providing resources for education, the opportunity to visit Auschwitz, and the chance to meet remaining survivors.

I am conscious that a number of schools watch and read this debate and encourage their students to do so, and I think that one of my duties in leading it is to explain exactly what the holocaust was, what it all means to us personally and why it remains necessary to remember it. I am conscious of time and that a number of colleagues want to get in, so I will do my best to be as brief as is necessary.

What was the holocaust and why does it matter to me? I was born just 10 years after the end of the second world war and brought up in north Manchester, one of the main centres of the Jewish community outside London. Jewish boys and girls were a key part of our Bury grammar school community and I was aware of them from my earliest days at five years old. As friends, we played and grew up together, and I picked up quite naturally on their different holidays and why Saturdays, not Sundays, were religiously important to them. As I got older and learned more about the war that fate decreed I had avoided, I became aware that my carefree childhood and youth had been bought at a terrible price by an older generation who had fought for my freedom.

I also became aware of something else: although a number of the families of my friends had shared that war against tyranny, they had also experienced something so profoundly shocking and beyond comprehension that it could in those days hardly be spoken of. They had experienced it not because of anything they had done, but just because of who they were: Jewish. It was the holocaust.

A good definition of the holocaust is provided in the opening displays of the permanent exhibition at the Imperial War museum in London:

“Under the cover of the Second World War, for the sake of their ‘new order,’ the Nazis sought to destroy all the Jews of Europe. For the first time in history, industrial methods were used

23 Jan 2014 : Column 521

for the mass extermination of a whole people. Six million were murdered, including 1,500,000 children. This event is called the Holocaust.

The Nazis enslaved and murdered millions of others as well. Gypsies, people with physical and mental disabilities, Poles, Soviet prisoners of war, trade unionists, political opponents, prisoners of conscience, homosexuals, and others were killed in vast numbers.”

It started, of course, with politics—the free and democratic election of Hitler and his Nazi party in 1933—and it then continued with the law. In April 1933, the law for the restoration of the professional civil service excluded Jews from professions. In September 1935, the Nuremberg laws banned intermarriage and sexual relations between Jews and Aryans and stripped Jews of their citizenship and all legal rights. Gradually, the civil rights of Jews across Germany were taken away—from being banned from being members of sports clubs in April 1933 to not being allowed to buy milk or eggs in July 1942.

And then the war. Shortly after Germany invaded Poland in September 1939, Nazis began to force Jews under their control to move into ghettos. This short-term measure soon developed into a long-term policy. The first ghetto in Poland was set up in October 1939. The Nazis established more than 1,000 ghettos in Poland and the Soviet Union alone. Living conditions were abysmal. Often several families lived where before there had been one. Jews were not allowed to leave or have any contact with the outside world. Food rations were at starvation level and disease was rife through lack of clean water and sanitation. Hundreds of thousands of people died in the ghettos. In the wake of the Warsaw ghetto revolt in April 1943, the Nazis decided to liquidate the remaining large ghettos. Eventually, those who lived in the ghettos were deported in cattle trucks, without food, sanitation or water, to concentration camps.

Let me quote from a remarkable memoir entitled, “Out of the Depths”, for which I am indebted to Israeli Ambassador Daniel Taub, who gave it to me at Christmas. It is the memoir of a small boy who survived deportation from Piotrków in Poland to the concentration camp of Buchenwald and who grew up to become Israel’s Chief Rabbi: Israel Meir Lau. His father, also a rabbi, is attacked during the process of deportation, and Rabbi Lau writes not only of the incident, but of how it was so important to him—and the Jewish people—in surviving the years to come. He says:

“Today, looking back on the six years of that war, I realize that the worst thing I endured in the Holocaust was not the hunger, the cold, or the beatings; it was the humiliation. It is almost impossible to bear the helplessness of unjustified humiliation. Helplessness becomes linked with that dishonor…

When a young boy sees his father beaten by a Gestapo captain with a maikeh”—

a rubber club—

“kicked with nailed boots, threatened by dogs, falter from the force of the blow, and suffer public shaming, he carries that terrible scene with him for the rest of his life. Yet I also carry the image of Father, with astonishing spiritual strength, bracing himself from falling, refusing to beg for his life, and standing tall once again before the Gestapo captain. For me, that image of his inner spiritual strength completely nullifies the helplessness that accompanied the humiliation.”

The Nazis established hundreds of concentration camps across Europe and six extermination camps located in Poland. The largest of the camps was Auschwitz-Birkenau, established by the Nazis in 1940 at a Polish

23 Jan 2014 : Column 522

army barracks in the suburbs of a small Polish city. Auschwitz-Birkenau was actually three separate camps with three different purposes, but Birkenau—also known as Auschwitz II—was the main death camp, built in 1941 on the site of the village of Brzezinka, 3 km from Auschwitz. The overall number of victims at Auschwitz-Birkenau in the years 1940 to 1945 is estimated to be just over 1 million—between 1.1 million and 1.5 million—people, the majority of whom were Jews and died in the gas chambers.

Those are the facts about the holocaust. I did not know all that when I was young, and I did not at once understand it all. My holocaust education and experience has continued throughout my life and my political career. As a student, I paid my first visit to Israel, and the first of a number of visits to Yad Vashem, which many other hon. Members have visited. That great centre tells the story of the holocaust through painful documentary, but, most poignantly of all, though family pictures and artefacts of the lost—the lost people and their lost homes, villages and towns.

We will all have our own memories of Yad Vashem, and know the points in the building at which we are stopped in our tracks. For many, it is the pile of children’s shoes, but for me it has always been the children’s memorial, where, surrounded by everlasting light, the names of the children of the holocaust are read out, with their age and location. It represents the most painful loss of all—the loss of innocence and of promise.

Yad Vashem, and other excellent memorials, such as that designed by Daniel Libeskind in Berlin and the Washington holocaust centre, I have found profoundly moving. Auschwitz, where many colleagues in the Chamber have been, should be part of people’s life journey to understand their world. I particularly commend the Holocaust Educational Trust’s work in providing such a chance to so many young people. Strangely, it is one visit I have not yet made. I do not know why. Perhaps, with all I now know, I am afraid to confront the emotion of being there, but I know that the time is coming when it will be right for me to go.

One place I have been is Warsaw. I have long been inspired by the extraordinary story of the rising of the Warsaw ghetto—the just over one mile square area that housed some 400,000 men, women and children. After some 250,000 had been deported by 1943, to die at Treblinka, the ghetto rose. The fiercest fighting was between mid-April and 16 May 1943, after which both life and the ghetto were extinguished. Some of the world’s most harrowing images of war and suffering come from the ghetto.

There is little left of the ghetto—the Soviet empire had no wish to commemorate or preserve the area, and built upon it—but I spent a morning tracing a couple of buildings, a handful of cobbles, the tramlines and the renowned wall on Sienna street, just to connect in some physical way with what had happened. Remarkably, there is a synagogue, which was saved because it was used as a stables by the Wehrmacht. There is a memorial at the Umschlagplatz, the station used for people to begin their journey to Treblinka.

The stories of survivors such as Chief Rabbi Lau, so painstakingly preserved, remain vital to the memory of what happened. Reading them is graphic. Meeting survivors is both humbling and inspiring, and I have been fortunate to meet several over the years. I commend the UK’s

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ambassador to Israel, Matthew Gould, and his team for their inspiration in co-ordinating funding from the UK to create a remarkable series of centres called Café Britannia.

Nearly one in every three senior citizens in Israel survived the camps or lived under Nazi occupation. According to a survey that was released earlier this year by the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, 37 Israeli holocaust survivors pass away each day. Of those who remain, many live alone and in poverty, psychologically and physically scarred by the trauma of their experiences. Those survivors often carry a deep need to share their stories, both to ease their personal pain and to educate others. In some cases, they crave the company of their fellow survivors—the only ones who can genuinely relate to their feelings and memories. As time goes by, the window of opportunity for reaching out to those ageing, vulnerable citizens grows smaller.

The UK has been involved in co-ordinating finance from the Jewish community and others in this country to fund a series of centres where survivors can meet socially. More than 1,000 survivors are now enjoying company and activities through the Café Britannia network, which represents 20% of all the social clubs for survivors in Israel. In January 2011, while I was Minister for the middle east, I visited one such centre to find people from Manchester and hear about their extraordinary backgrounds. Thus, history and the contemporary meet.

That leads me to my last point, which is why we still need to remember. The holocaust is unique. There is no parallel—it was a cataclysmic event of such size and quantity that there can be none. Although its facts are unique, the evil heart that created the horror still beats. As Solzhenitsyn said in “The Gulag Archipelago”:

“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either—but right through every human heart—and through all human hearts.”

It is because of that universal appeal that I am pleased that Holocaust memorial day embraces the genocide in Bosnia, Rwanda, Cambodia and Darfur. I do not believe that the unique nature of the holocaust is devalued by recognising the horrors that have occurred since. The generosity of the Jewish community in being inclusive reminds all of us of our common humanity. However, we should still choose our words and descriptions with care so as never to minimise the scale of what the holocaust represents. If that heart of evil has produced what it has since, it can do so again. The greatest enemy of those who wish to cause us harm is memory—the human conviction never to forget, so as to warn others.

The evidence that we need to do so is all around us. Anti-Semitism remains on some university campuses in the United Kingdom and appears to fuel the rise of proto-fascist parties in continental Europe. Other Members might raise Jobbik in Hungary and the potential visit of an individual to the United Kingdom. Jobbik holds 12% of the parliamentary seats in Hungary. It has been reported that in 2012, the party’s foreign affairs spokesman called for a list to be compiled of all Hungarian citizens of Jewish origin as they were a “national threat”.

Frank Dobson (Holborn and St Pancras) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has referred to a Hungarian neo-Nazi who intends to come to my constituency this Sunday to organise an anti-Semitic rally. That is the

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constituency that contains the Jewish museum, where the national launch of the Holocaust memorial day commemoration will take place on Monday. Does he share my view, which I have expressed to the Home Secretary, that she should use the powers that she has to keep this stinking, rotten, neo-Nazi alien out of this country?

Alistair Burt: I share the concern of the right hon. Gentleman and the views of the Jewish community, which have been expressed in exactly the same way. I hope that my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary takes due note of what has been said by so many.

Daniel Kawczynski (Shrewsbury and Atcham) (Con): My right hon. Friend has mentioned all the people who were killed in Auschwitz. As somebody of Polish origin, I know that this issue is very important for all of us. Will he pay tribute to the many people in Poland and throughout Europe who hid Jewish families, at great risk to themselves and their families, because many people were spared the concentration camps by people who realised that what the Nazis were doing was so deplorable?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend makes an extremely valid point. Colleagues will appreciate that when opening a debate it is not possible to cover everything, but the role of the righteous gentile, appropriately recorded at Yad Vashem and other places, is an honourable one. Year after year we hear more stories of people who did extraordinary work, putting themselves at risk, and those in Poland who did that are to be as well thought of as any, bearing in mind the horror of Nazi occupation.

John Mann (Bassetlaw) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend—I see him as a Friend in this—on securing this debate. Does he agree with me about the Jobbik leader and the problems originating from that? I am going shortly to see the Hungarian ambassador about that matter. Does my right hon. Friend agree that inter-parliamentary co-operation in dealing with racism and anti-Semitism is essential in stopping the spread of that kind of vehemently racist party?

Alistair Burt: My hon. Friend’s record on this issue is one of great courage and hard work over many years, and he again makes a good point. Parliamentarians need to work with each other to prevent abuse of parliamentarians and loss of their rights in certain places—the right hon. Member for Cynon Valley (Ann Clwyd) does an invaluable job in the Inter-Parliamentary Union on that—and I and other colleagues would be interested to hear more about how co-operation between parliamentarians, particularly in Europe, can counter that scourge.

I am conscious of time, so let me move to a conclusion. Anti-Semitism also pains the people of France, who saw three Jewish children murdered in Toulouse in May 2012, and where we currently see public demonstrations of support outside synagogues for an entertainer of clear anti-Semitic views, who has allowed a holocaust denier to share his stage. This man is associated with a salute—the quenelle—made notorious in this country through its use by the footballer Nicolas Anelka. It is for Mr Anelka to answer the charges laid against him and I do not intend to make him the subject of our

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debate, but I would contrast his behaviour with that of the English football team who, with the support of the Holocaust Educational Trust, made a journey to Auschwitz during the European Championships of 2012. Captain Steven Gerrard spoke of the impact of that visit on the players, their awareness of their privileged life and their position as role models, and their understanding of that. I think those are the footballers whose views we should note today, and we should watch the film of their time there made by the Football Association and the Holocaust Educational Trust. That is what schools should look at as representing role models in this country.

Last January I attended the commemoration of Holocaust memorial day at the London Jewish Cultural Centre in north London, at the request of one of my longest standing and much loved friends from college, Mandy King. I took part in a moving morning of music and verse, with predominantly young people drawn from diverse communities. I was proud to follow at that ceremony a young girl from the Islamic Foundation. What a statement from both Jew and Muslim that they could stand together, because in my recent role I have been more acutely aware than ever of the pain in the Islamic world from so many sources, of the misery inflicted every day through sectarian violence, of that evil which flows through too many human hearts, and the pain of unresolved injustice, which perhaps this year might finally be addressed. All could be put aside in remembering the uniqueness of holocaust, while the generosity of the Jewish community in sharing the pain now has powerful resonance throughout the country.

With many thanks to those who work so hard around the country to remember this weekend and involve so many, let me conclude with Primo Levi’s haunting poem, “Shema”, which echoes the pain of his existence in Auschwitz:

“You who live secure

In your warm houses,

Who return at evening to find

Hot food and friendly faces:

Consider whether this is a man

Who labours in the mud

Who knows no peace

Who fights for a crust of bread

Who dies at a yes or a no.

Consider whether this is a woman,

Without hair or name

With no more strength to remember

Eyes empty and womb cold

As a frog in winter

Consider that this has been:

I commend these words to you

Engrave them on your hearts

When you are in your house, when you walk on your way.

When you go to bed, when you rise.

Repeat them to your children.

Or may your house crumble.

Disease render you powerless.

Your offspring avert their faces from you.”

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3.35 pm

Mr Michael McCann (East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow) (Lab): It is pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who is respected across the House, and his compelling and emotional opening contribution.

The holocaust has always baffled me. If we are going to give away our age, I was born 20 years after those events. I have never understood how human beings in their millions could be so seduced by a message of hate that they could stand by and watch as other human beings were degraded, humiliated and murdered; how people could have stayed at the entrance to the gas chambers in Auschwitz, stripping people of their belongings and their last remnants of dignity, knowing that the fate that lay in store for them was a 20-minute, excruciatingly painful journey to death.

We are in the month of January and the phrase, “Man’s inhumanity to man” was first introduced in a poem by Robert Burns titled, “Man Was Made to Mourn”. As poignant as those words are, I still do not think they convey the horrors that took place over 70 years ago. Probably like everybody else in the House, I have read the books and watched the documentaries. I have watched “Schindler’s List”, “Band of Brothers”, in which the 101st Airborne Division liberated a sub-camp of Dachau concentration camp, and “The World at War”. All those depictions of what took place, however, fail to equal the insight offered to me by a survivor, Harry Bibring.

I had the privilege of meeting Harry in 2012. The Holocaust Educational Trust suggested that I might like to encourage my local authority to have a survivor meet and talk to older pupils from high schools in my area. Harry was born in 1925 and lived in Vienna with his mother and father and his sister, Gertie. His father owned a men’s clothing shop and, for that time and place, his family were relatively well-off. The young Harry remembered having family holidays. He enjoyed swimming and ice-skating, and his mother and father were well-off enough to be able to give him a season ticket membership to an ice-skating rink. He remembered hanging out of a window in Vienna watching the Germans march in, in 1938. He remembered liking the soldiers marching and the bright flags, but little did he know as a child that they were Nazi soldiers and that those bright flags were swastikas.

Harry’s membership of the ice-skating rink was revoked just days later, when a “No Jews Allowed” sign was erected. In November 1938, Harry’s father’s business was destroyed during Kristallnacht. He was arrested soon after. After he was released from prison, the family intended to flee to Shanghai, but his dad was robbed on his way to purchase the tickets. Thinking, as any mother and father would, of the safety of their children, Harry’s parents arranged for him and his sister to flee on a Kindertransport to the United Kingdom.

Harry’s father had arranged for guarantors to pick them up when they arrived in the UK. Harry said:

“I remember going to the Vienna West Bahnhof with my sister and our parents to get on the train at 10pm on the 13th March 1939 with about 600 other kids. The following day the train went slowly through Germany until it reached the Dutch border. Once it crossed over into Holland we were met on the platform by Jewish volunteers from Holland who gave us sweets and toys. We crossed to England on the night ferry from Hook of Holland to Harwich and arrived at Liverpool Street station in the afternoon of the 15th March 1939.”

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Harry was not to know, when he left Vienna, that that was the last time he would ever see his mother and father. They were killed by the Nazis. Harry and his sister Gertie survived. Harry is still with us, and the world is an immeasurably better place with him in it.

Looking back from 2014, I would like to think that I would not have followed the crowd had I been in Germany at that time. I would like to think that I would have behaved like Irena Sendler, a Polish lady—the hon. Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham (Daniel Kawczynski) mentioned such people from Poland—who did so much to protect Jewish people. She was honoured in 1965 by the state of Israel as “Righteous among the nations”. During world war two, Irena served as a plumber working in the Warsaw ghetto. She smuggled Jewish babies out of the ghetto in the bottom of her toolbox. At the back of a truck, she kept a dog she had trained to bark to cover the noise of the infants when Nazi soldiers approached. The Nazis eventually caught her, sentenced her to death and broke both her arms and legs, but she managed to evade execution and survived the war. She kept details of all the children she saved in a glass jar she buried in her back garden, and she tried to locate their parents after the war, but sadly most had perished in the gas chambers. I wonder if I would have been brave enough to do something like that.

Holocaust memorial day allows us to remember those who perished, those who survived and those who were brave beyond our comprehension, and it challenges us to learn from history to prevent such events from happening again. That is our aspiration, but sadly Bosnia, Darfur and Rwanda remind us that history can repeat itself.

Neil Parish (Tiverton and Honiton) (Con): We need to observe Holocaust memorial day, given that across Europe we have national list systems for elections, meaning that a small percentage of a population can elect neo-Nazis. We have to remember that this is happening, and we need to reinforce to people that 6 million of the Jewish community were murdered. We must not forget that Hitler came up partly through democratic institutions, and we must ensure that such a thing never happens again.

Mr McCann: I agree entirely with the hon. Gentleman. I appreciate that others want to speak, so I shall move on without taking any further interventions. However, the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire said that politics was at the heart of the matter, and we must remember that it was the treaty of Versailles that gave Hitler a platform on which to build the hatred that led to the terrible atrocities of the second world war. It was a twisted variety of politics, but politics none the less.

I want to finish on a positive note. I have been very lucky in my life. I have visited both the Holocaust museum in Washington DC and Yad Vashem. These museums are grim, and going through their exhibits can be an emotionally draining experience. At the end of the museum in Washington, the visitor passes down long corridors, either side of which are huge glass containers filled with the spectacles, shoes, luggage and possessions of the Holocaust victims—a haunting end to an experience that you can never forget—but at the very end is a video loop in which a woman explains her personal story of liberation. When she was emaciated, dehydrated and thought she was near the end of her life,

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she was picked up by a soldier. She told the soldier that he could not touch her because she was Jewish, and he replied, fighting back the tears, “I’m Jewish too.” The gentleman was a GI. After the war, they married and they settled in the United States of America—a triumph of the human spirit over evil and another reason we should all observe Holocaust memorial day.

Several hon. Members rose

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): Order. As the House will be aware, several Members wish to speak and there is limited time, so I am imposing a seven-minute time limit on Back-Bench speeches.

3.43 pm

Mr Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury) (Con): It is a privilege to follow the outstanding opening speech by my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) and the genuinely moving speech by the hon. Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann).

It will come as no surprise, with the name O’Brien, that I am not Jewish, but it is critical to remember that we are all survivors and collectively have a duty to work together to avert an atrocity such as the Holocaust ever happening again. As has been said, ultimately the causes were as political as anything else, and so, being engaged in politics, we have that duty.

As someone born in Africa, I do not deny the unsettling parallels with what has happened in places such as Rwanda—it is 20 years since those events—and although we were rightly warned to be extremely careful not to confuse the word “genocide” with “holocaust”, given the gravity of the holocaust, which we have to respect, none the less there were many lessons that humanity could and should have learned that could have helped us to avert the genocides on the continent of my birth. In that sense, we are all participants and all survivors.

Above all, I want to pay tribute in my brief contribution to the Holocaust Educational Trust. I have been a beneficiary over the last 12 months, and I visited Auschwitz-Birkenau with the trust in what is a Government-funded programme. We are accountable in respect of how worth while the experience is—and of that, I am in no doubt. Although I have been to Israel, including to Yad Vashem, with the Conservative Friends of Israel, nothing quite prepares one for the first visit to witness what took place at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

It was a privilege to make this visit accompanied by a group of sixth formers from my constituency, which made the experience all the more powerful. As someone in their 50s, I was travelling for the first time to this place with young people; the cross-generational learning and deep emotional experience that was shared between us helped us to understand what it means to witness what amounts to an appalling assault on the eyes, the mind and the heart. We all took away different things from the day. Some things shocked us, and then there were odd things, such as the very normality of life around Auschwitz that carries on today, and the extraordinary bewilderment at how a herd of human beings could have persuaded themselves not to stop this happening at the time. It was difficult to manage the sense of disbelief, horror and outrage as we went through this vicarious experience. When we returned on the

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plane, there was a not a shocked silence—more a sense of relief from a discussion of shared experiences. We gained a nearer—never a perfect, but a nearer—understanding of what had taken place there.

For those who have the privilege of living in the UK, one particularly telling item was a map on the walls of Auschwitz, showing the railway lines along which all the people had been transported from around Europe. Huge distances—from Norway or Hungary, for example—were involved, but there was no line through the UK. We were not invaded by the Nazis, and were not subject to these appalling transportations, so all the more for us learn from the experience. We all carried with us the shocking images and the sense of outrage, and we recalled the point on the tracks where the trucks were parted, the dolls’ clothing, the names on the suitcases, the sheer industrial scale of Birkenau, and the candle lighting ceremony at the end. These experiences created a deep impression and will be for ever remembered. I would like to pay particular personal tribute to the wise leadership and spiritual input of Rabbi Marcus, who is deeply involved in the visits.

One of the benefits of these trips is the ability to broadcast a longer message through local newspapers, for example, and students can be encouraged to be part of communicating the message and sharing it with their peers. It was a harrowing and tough day for all of us and the horror of what saw and the reactions and emotions we experienced will stay with us for the rest of our lives. One cannot overstate the importance of visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau or of recognising the full extent of the ghastly industrialised nature of the holocaust. These events might have taken place 70 years ago, but as our society bears witness, we need to continue to teach the lessons of the holocaust to the younger generation in order to fight bigotry and hatred today. After witnessing what happened, it is impossible to understand how there could be holocaust denial.

We do see some anti-Semitic behaviour in our midst today—on the football terraces, for example. There have been some recent arrests. I take note of what my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire said about focusing on positive things, but let us be absolutely clear that there should be no no-go areas for this type of behaviour. We must not allow the excuse of “What happens on the terraces stays on the terraces”. In this instance, with anti-Semitic behaviour, holocaust denial or teasing chants, the police must enforce the laws of the land. If we allow a chink in this armour, we start to excuse something that is historically inexcusable. We have the witnesses of young minds on the football terraces; they must not be given the chance to think anything other than that the holocaust was one of the most horrific experiences in history. A visit to Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust is the ultimate antidote to any such tendencies. I commend the trust’s work and the public support that it receives, and I would encourage not just the continuation but the broadening of its programme.

3.50 pm

Mrs Louise Ellman (Liverpool, Riverside) (Lab/Co-op): I am privileged to be able to follow such genuine and effective contributions. I congratulate in particular the

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right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on the very moving and sincere way in which he opened this extremely important debate.

The first Holocaust memorial day was held here in the United Kingdom in 2001, as a result of a cross-party decision by Parliament following a private Member’s Bill presented by Andrew Dismore. At that time, there were doubters who were not sure that it was appropriate to have a Holocaust memorial day focusing on the holocaust itself. Now that date is firmly in the national calendar, and I think that very few people would question the correctness of our decision.

It is absolutely essential for new generations to receive education about the brutality, the depravity, and the racial hatred involved in the organisation of the calculated mass murder of 6 million people. That lesson needs to be learnt so that people not only know about the unique horror of the holocaust, but understand where hatred and bigotry can lead, because that affects all of our society and all the people in it. The Holocaust Educational Trust’s “lessons from Auschwitz” programme enables generations of young people and their teachers to visit Auschwitz, as part of a wider educational programme to provide a greater understanding of the holocaust and its impact for everyone.

This week I attended the trust’s annual Merlyn Rees memorial lecture, which was given by Thomas Harding. He spoke of the search for Rudolf Höss, the Kommandant of Auschwitz. That served as a reminder of the need to bring war criminals to account, and also as a reminder of the nature of evil. Rudolf Höss led an apparently normal family life, with a loving wife and loving children, in the midst of the horrors and the butchery of Auschwitz. Perhaps we should reflect on the nature of evil, and on what people can do.

Also this week, the Football Association decided to charge Anelka following his celebration of having scored a goal by making an “inverted Nazi symbol” salute, the “quenelle” . What I found even more disturbing than what Anelka did was his defence, which was that he had acted in support of his friend Dieudonné M’bala M’bala, who is a French performer, a holocaust denier, an anti-Semite, and someone whose offences include inviting the holocaust denier Robert Faurisson on stage as part of his performances. The people who support this performer claim that they do so because they are anti-establishment, and that they are not anti-Semitic, but it does not take very much imagination to appreciate what that defence actually means. It gives us food for thought, because it is deeply and gravely disturbing.

Sadly, anti-Semitism has not gone away, even following the horrors of the holocaust. A very recent European survey made disturbing findings in that regard. There is also anti-Semitic discourse: not explicit anti-Semitism, but reference in writing, speech and films to images and words which invoke feelings of anti-Semitism. The Community Security Trust has listed incidents of anti-Semitic discourse in its recent report and they are extremely disturbing. They are disturbing because they are wide-ranging and cut right across the political spectrum. They range from the bizarre, such as the reference in Press TV, speaking for Iran, which claimed that the Olympics were a Zionist plot and blamed Jews in Hollywood and the so-called Jewish-controlled media as ultimately responsible for the United States school shootings and massacres of children, to those I find more disturbing,

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such as the Occupy Wall street cartoon from Tampa in the USA which was displayed on Facebook and which showed a big-nosed bearded Jew using the UN logo as a steering wheel in a car with President Obama as the gearstick.

I am also concerned by statements such as that made by former diplomat Peter Jenkins in a debate at Warwick university, where he stated that Christian morality was somehow superior to Jewish morality. He said:

“The idea that a just war requires the use of force to be proportionate seems to be a Christian notion and not a Jewish notion.”

I find that kind of insinuation that morally Judaism is inferior to, in his case, Christianity not just plain wrong but deeply disturbing. That kind of insinuation, which I hear too often, should be recognised. Reference has already been made during this debate to the planned visit to London this weekend of Gábor Vona, leader of the anti-Semitic Hungarian Jobbik party, and his plan to be here on Holocaust memorial day.

Now that we have Holocaust memorial day firmly in the national calendar, I think we understand the need to educate people about the enormity of the evils of the holocaust. That is so that people understand what happened in those terrible years and that terrible time. It is also a lesson for today and about where evil, bigotry and prejudice can lead. It is something that all in our society need to learn.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I call Lee Scott.

3.57 pm

Mr Lee Scott (Ilford North) (Con): I start by congratulating my right hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) not only on securing this debate, but on the moving and compassionate way in which he spoke. You are truly a good man, sir.

Quite rightly, Madam Deputy Speaker, you called me by the name I have had since my birth: Lee Scott. However, if it had not been indirectly for the holocaust you would have called me by the name of Lee Shulberg, because that is our family name. My late father changed our name, because being caught while fighting in the second world war with a Jewish surname was the difference between going to a prisoner of war camp and a concentration camp. We kept the name after the second world war, but on a personal level I felt that I would like to get the name Shulberg into Hansard in the House of Commons.

Anti-Semitism has not gone away. At the last general election, as many friends on both sides of the House will know, I was approached by some people while out campaigning and called a “dirty Jew” and was told they wished to kill me. On a fairly regular basis I still get anti-Semitic e-mails. Has anyone learned anything from history? I sometimes fear not when we look at genocides across the world that are still happening. Even today, as we sit in this House, there are people in camps in various countries who are being killed.

I want to pay tribute particularly to Karen Pollock and the Holocaust Educational Trust. I have been to Auschwitz with them and I have also visited Theresienstadt and Babi Yar, a ravine where Jews were rounded up, shoved in and shot. I have seen first hand the piles of the children’s shoes, and I am not ashamed to say that

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I cried at Auschwitz. I do not often cry, but at Auschwitz I cried when I saw what man’s inhumanity toward man can lead to.

I have worked closely with my good friend my hon. Friend the Member for Finchley and Golders Green (Mike Freer) on various projects that have involved holocaust survivors. I went into schools to talk about what happened and I try to make some semblance of sense of what happened and to explain it to people. But it is impossible to make any sense of it. I pay tribute to everyone from all political parties who were involved in getting Holocaust memorial day into our calendar. On Holocaust memorial day on Monday, I will be in the London borough of Redbridge, my local council. I pay tribute to Councillors Alan Weinberg and Leon Schaller, who paid for and dedicated a memorial to the holocaust, which is in our main park, where we will hold a ceremony of remembrance. I have looked around the Chamber today and seen people with tears in their eyes, and at that ceremony there will be tears in all of our eyes because people, not only Jews but Gypsies, homosexuals, anybody that the vile Nazi regime wanted to get rid of, were exterminated.

Last night I happened to be flicking through the TV programmes quite late and saw a drama about the Nuremberg trials. One saw the evidence of what was done. I again could not comprehend, even though I know it, even though I have seen it, what we saw and what we heard. The work that the Holocaust Educational Trust does, the work that many people do to teach the next generation—because let us face it, there will not be many survivors left as years go by—recognises that if we dare forget what has happened in the past even for one second, it is not impossible that history will repeat itself.

Bob Stewart (Beckenham) (Con): Of course history repeats itself. I have seen genocide. I have buried 104 women and children in a mass grave. I have picked up the head of a child thinking it was a ball and dropped it with horror. I was so upset with myself when I discovered it was a child. I have seen this. Of course history repeats itself. The purpose of Holocaust memorial day is to remind us that it continues in another form, and that is the purpose of this debate and of our remembering—to try to stop it happening again. My goodness, we are human beings and it will happen, but we must make every endeavour to stop it.

Mr Scott: I thank my hon. and gallant Friend for his intervention. Yes, as I have said, things are going on as we sit here today, but I still say we can remember and we can do our utmost to make sure such things do not happen anywhere again.

I know that many hon. Members wish to speak, so I will not detain the House too much longer. My final statement is that I am proud to be a Member of this House. I am immensely proud and grateful to Great Britain for taking in my grandparents, because without any question I would not be alive today if it had not. And I am proud to be Jewish.


4.3 pm

Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): I congratulate the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) on securing this debate. It is a privilege to follow the speech that we have just heard.

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In 1939, a 10-year-old Jewish boy from an industrial town in what was then Czechoslovakia was put on a train by his mum and two teenage sisters and eventually made his way to Britain as a refugee. It was to be the last time that he would see them. They were rounded up, sent first to a ghetto, then to Theresienstadt, and eventually to Treblinka, where they were murdered on 5 October 1942. That boy is my dad and that explains why for me this issue is so important.

Like other Members who have spoken today, I have visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does such important work. I want to say a few words about the survivors with whom they work, including people such as Ziggy Shipper, who at the age of 84 visits schools every week to teach children where hatred and prejudice can lead, and Eva Clarke, who was born in Mauthausen concentration camp, but survived and came to the UK after the war. I met an amazing woman through the Association of Jewish Refugees, Mindu Hornick, who lives in Birmingham now. She was imprisoned in a concentration camp and then sent to work as slave labour in an armaments factory. I said to her, “Mindu, these shells that you made, how many of them worked?” She looked at me, smiled and said, “None.” Is that not incredible? Here was a woman, in fear of her life in a concentration camp, thinking about how she could prevent other people from being killed.

Ben Helfgott weighed less than 6 stone when he was rescued from Theresienstadt, but he went on to represent Britain as an Olympic weightlifter. The only other member of his family to survive was Mala Tribich, who was forced to work as a slave labourer. She was sent to Ravensbrück and ended up in Bergen-Belsen. Tomorrow, she will be speaking to hundreds of people at Dudley’s annual holocaust commemoration, which I organise. Those are all incredible people. They spend their time teaching students and young people about the evils of racism, and it is humbling to see the sense of duty and commitment that drives them and other survivors to use their experience of that terrible period to create a better world for the rest of us.

I have seen young people visiting Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust, and I have seen their lives being changed by witnessing the appalling evidence of the industrial-scale slaughter that took place at Birkenau. I have seen them return to Dudley to campaign against racism and build a stronger and more united community. No one can fail to be affected by what they see in those places: the mountains of human hair and glasses; the pots and pans and personal possessions that show that people thought they were going to live elsewhere, not to be murdered.

Last summer, my dad and I travelled to the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. In Ostrava, we found the flat where he grew up. He stood on the pavement, pointed at the first floor window and told me that that had been his bedroom. He described how he had been woken up in the middle of the night on 18 March 1939. He had looked out to see what the noise in the street was. It was German soldiers marching into the town square. We found the site of the Jewish school and the synagogue he had attended. Ostrava had had several synagogues, Jewish schools, sports clubs, shops and businesses to serve the 10,000 Jews who lived there. Incredibly, the single room that serves as the city’s

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synagogue today has seats for just 30 people. For me, that evidence of entire families and whole communities having been wiped out is even more moving than the evidence of industrial-scale slaughter on display at the concentration camps.

In Poland, we travelled to a small town called Nowy Targ, where we found the family shop of my dad’s uncle, Emmanuel Singer. A few streets away, we walked through the Jewish cemetery, which contains the mass grave of 500 Jews who were butchered in a single day. We saw the wall behind what is now a youth club where one of my dad’s cousins had been shot after being dragged from his fiancée’s family’s attic. We heard how Emmanuel Singer had fled to Krakow with forged Aryan papers and hidden there before being betrayed, arrested and tortured for his money. He was then dragged to his death along a country road, chained behind a horse and cart. Three thousand Jews lived in Nowy Targ before the war. I asked the local historian who was showing us round, “How many survived and came back? How many live here now?” She looked at me as though I was mad, and replied, “None, of course.”

Seeing that for myself and hearing the detailed, human stories really brought home to me the horrific scale of the tragedy. It is impossible to compare anything to this, history’s greatest crime, but it is certainly possible to learn lessons. There is a quote from the Spanish philosopher, George Santayana, at the memorial at Auschwitz. It says:

“The one who does not remember history is bound to live through it again.”

The fact that there are no tracks leading from Britain to Auschwitz tells us something very special about our country. When other countries were rounding up their Jews and herding them on to the trains to the concentration camps, Britain provided a safe haven for tens of thousands of refugee children such as my dad. It is a fantastic thing about our country that the son of a Jewish refugee can become a Member of Parliament and serve as a Government Minister.

Let us think of Britain in the 1930s. The rest of Europe was succumbing to fascism, but here in Britain, Mosley was rejected. In 1941, France was invaded, Europe was overrun and America was not yet in the war. Just one country was fighting not just for Britain’s freedom but for the world’s liberty. Britain did not just win the war; we won the right for people around the world to live in freedom. For me, that period defines our country. It is what makes Britain the greatest country in the world, with a special claim to the values of democracy, freedom, fairness and tolerance. Because of who we are as a people and what we are as a country, the British people came together and stood up to the Nazis and fought fascism. We are a country that does not walk away or turn a blind eye. On each occasion when people have been gassed and chemical weapons have been used against people, we have known whose side we were on and we have always in the past stood up for the oppressed.

4.10 pm

Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): Like my colleagues, I thank the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt) for securing the debate, and it was a privilege for me and my hon. Friends to assist him in that. I thank the Backbench Business Committee. Such debates have taken place since 2008. I have been involved in them all since being elected in 2010.

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I also thank colleagues for their powerful, resonant and quite modern speeches. I say “modern” because they are here today to represent their constituencies in the year 2014, yet two of my colleagues’ parents were Jewish and survived the holocaust. If they had not survived, my colleagues would not be here. That really does bring things home to me and is the reason I was always determined if I got elected to give my full support to the Holocaust Educational Trust and the Holocaust memorial day on 27 January.

All colleagues have alluded to the obvious reasons for the memorial day. It is about the memory of those millions of people who died simply because of their race, colour or creed. Another reason relates to the modern day. As other Members have mentioned, we cannot forget what happened or let it go because, if we did, we would demean the memory of many people who were slaughtered in this desperate way and make it easier for society, for nations and for people to continue to behave disgracefully.

My hon. Friend the Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) made a strong point about when he was serving in Bosnia and the reality of genocide there. That demonstrates poignantly, powerfully and horribly what life and death really mean in such situations, and it reminds us all of what is happening in the Congo and Syria and of the rise of profound political and religious extremism, which has got worse over the past few years. We all have views about why that has happened, but it is undeniably continuing to get worse. A number of colleagues have mentioned the Jobbik party in Hungary, with 15% of the vote, and another is the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn in Greece, with 12 MPs.

These things do not go away, because humanity is basically interchangeable. Feelings, ignorance, fear and anger are the same today as they were 5,000 years ago. The only difference is that we now dress differently, we have computers and a few other things and we drive very fast in cars, which we could not do 500 years ago, but humanity does not change. However, a positive aspect of humanity is a continuous determination to get better, to improve and to be kind and generous. Alongside all the horror that the Holocaust Educational Trust helps us to understand as parliamentarians, and Holocaust memorial day helps us to remember and commemorate those who died, there is the other side of human nature. That is also part of this remembrance.

I shall give colleagues an example. There is a country at the moment that does not get a busting lot of good media coverage in the Daily Mail and the rest called Bulgaria. Perhaps all hon. Members know—I did not know until a few months ago—that, although Bulgaria is smack in the middle of the Balkans and central Europe and has had a history of virulent anti-Semitism for hundreds of years, the Bulgarian people would not accept what the Nazis wanted, so 50,000 Jews survived in Bulgaria. Is that not fascinating? That is the flip side of this horror of the holocaust; so many good things were done. As another colleague said, we should not forget the individual families in Poland and other parts of Europe who saved Jewish families, at enormous cost to themselves. I was determined to mention the 50,000 Jews saved in Bulgaria in the Chamber today, because whenever I read certain papers at the minute I find that poor old Bulgaria does not get a lot of good coverage. So I pay tribute to that nation, in my small way as a

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Member of Parliament within Westminster, for what its people did. A lot of the Bulgarian Government wanted to go along with the Nazis and pack all 50,000 Jews off, but the Orthodox Church in Bulgaria and the people there just would not have it.

Bob Stewart: What the hon. Gentleman has said rings a bell, and I want to place on the record the fact that in the middle of the war in Bosnia, in 1992-93, the one section of society in Sarajevo that was not threatened was the Jewish section. The Muslims, Croats and Serbs were all up against it. The one people protected, or seemingly protected, was the Jewish community, and guess what that community did? It tried to help other people. I pay tribute to that.

Stephen Lloyd: I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, as he makes such a powerful point.

So where are we at? Human nature is never going to act in a way that means these things will never happen again—we all know that. The reason for this commemorative day and the reason it is so important that the mother of Parliaments keeps having this debate year after year, even though it is 40, 50, 60, 70 years since these tragedies took place, is that it is a small way of holding the mirror up to man’s bestiality. That small attempt, that bit about knowledge and that emphasis on trying to ensure that the memory never disappears goes some way in helping us to challenge bigotry, of whatever type. Wickedness is not specific to any particular character or race; it covers humanity generally. So I am proud and privileged every year when I take part in these debates, even though I am not Jewish and have no personal family connection with the holocaust; I was always determined that if had the privilege to be elected I would be here to do what I can in a small way to support this.

I pay tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does a fantastic job. I also pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), as I know through my involvement with the trust that he was immensely important in getting the resources to ensure that the trust went on. All in all, this is a powerful annual debate, and it is a privilege to be here and to listen to the real, powerful experiences set out by some of my colleagues.

4.18 pm

Mrs Anne McGuire (Stirling) (Lab): May I start with an apology, Madam Deputy Speaker, because I have to be in Scotland this evening so I may not be able to be here for the wind-ups? I apologise to the Front Benchers and to other colleagues for that.

I thank the hon. Member for Eastbourne (Stephen Lloyd) for his generous recognition of the role played by my right hon. Friend the Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown). Sometimes, in the rough and tumble of politics, things can be forgotten, and those of us who were in the House at that time remember the tenacity with which he pushed for the memorial day. He was also a driver of the Stockholm declaration of 2001, and I thank him for that. I also want to thank the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Alistair Burt), who laid out the justification and rationale for today’s debate, and told us of his own journey—such journeys are the theme of this year’s memorial day.

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Like other Members, I have visited Auschwitz-Birkenau and, although I grew up knowing about the holocaust—I was born in the last year of the 1940s and so am slightly nearer the end of the second world war than some of my other colleagues—nothing that I knew or had learned about it prepared me for the experience. The word “industrialisation” has been bandied about, but the whole programme is almost beyond comprehension. There was a trial and error approach. Initially, it was, “Let’s try and shoot the Jews.” Well, that was not fast enough. Then it was, “Let’s look at portable gas chambers”, but that was not efficient enough. Then they looked at how to dispose of the bodies. All that energy and entrepreneurship—if I can put it in such a way—went into an extermination programme, the sole purpose of which was to eradicate the Jewish community from Europe.

Like others who have spoken, I cannot comprehend the evil philosophy that underpinned the holocaust, and I will not understand it for as long as I live. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann) said, it is difficult for us to appreciate what happened in those reasonably civilized cultural communities that produced philosophers and musicians. When it came to it, 6 million Jewish people were murdered, 1.5 million of whom were children. Like the right hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire, I will never forget the first time I went through the children’s memorial at Yad Vashem.

We must also recognise the other groups of people who were murdered by the Nazis. Gypsies, disabled people, trade unionists, homosexuals, Poles, Russians and prisoners of war were all murdered as part of their ethnic cleansing programme.

When we visited Auschwitz and looked at those piles of glasses and children’s shoes—I will never forget the children’s shoes—there was a realisation among most of us that that could just as easily have been us. That is what made it all the more evocative. There was one young woman on the tour who said, “I don’t believe it”. She was not a holocaust denier in a political sense. She just could not comprehend that human beings could do that to each other. The Holocaust Educational Trust should be congratulated on, among all the other things that have been mentioned, encouraging, allowing and supporting young people to face up to the fact that human beings can do awful things to each other. I am sure that the young woman, once her colleagues had spoken to her, came to her understanding of the events. None the less it shocked us that there we were seeing what had happened, and it was just too awesome—in the correct sense of the word—for her to understand.

We must continue to support the Holocaust Educational Trust and other organisations and all the visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau and other centres. I have visited Theresienstadt, or Terezin as it is often called, which is a town that was evacuated and filled up with people who were on their way to Auschwitz.

As the right hon. Member for Eddisbury (Mr O'Brien) said, genocidal murder has not stopped. We can see that in our most recent history. In 1994, 1 million Rwandan people were killed in a matter of 100 days. How is that comprehensible? We must all understand that we, as part of the international community, stood back and watched it happen.

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I am pleased that Scotland’s Holocaust memorial day is being held in Stirling. The speakers will include Arn Chorn-Pond, who escaped from Cambodia after being held by the Khmer Rouge, and Alfred Munzer, who, as a Jewish child during the holocaust, was separated from his family and kept in hiding by Indonesian neighbours in Holland.

I will not be with my colleagues, Provost Mike Robbins and others in Stirling because I will be in Auschwitz on Monday with other politicians from across Europe, from Poland, and from Israel, and with some survivors for a special remembrance on the 60th anniversary. We will be in Poland at a site that is symbolic but, sadly, not unique in the history of the holocaust. When we stand on those railway tracks and remember those who were murdered, we will also know that thanks to the endeavours of many there will be communities, children and young people across the world commemorating that day.

The one point of optimism in all this is that the Nazis never achieved their ambition. They did not exterminate every Jew from Europe. If an optimistic message comes out of Holocaust memorial day it is that: the survivors won.

4.25 pm

Richard Harrington (Watford) (Con): I should disclose that I am trustee and director of the Holocaust Educational Trust. I thank all the contributors to today’s debate for the compliments and thanks they have given to the trust. On behalf of the trust, I thank this Government and their predecessors for the support that they have given to the trust, particularly for the programme that takes children to Auschwitz. That has affected many Members’ constituents and it is good that this is a matter with cross-party support.

It would not be right for me to pick out everybody who has spoken today, on both sides of the House. Every contribution has been outstanding. The hon. Member for Dudley North (Ian Austin) made a point that was particularly interesting and relevant to me when he spoke about how this country stood out against Nazism. My late father, who was brought up in London in the 1930s, remembered very well that on Sunday mornings the blackshirts marched in their hundreds up and down the streets of this country shouting, “The Yids, the Yids, we’ve got to get rid of the Yids.” That is hard for us to believe in our society, despite the mention today of the CST and some unforgiveable anti-Semitic incidents. When I compare that with people watching hundreds of people marching in jackboots in our own country shouting such things about Jewish people, I believe that we have progressed tremendously.

My father, on being conscripted into the Army in this country as a normal 18-year-old boy, was beaten up by the non-Jewish members of his platoon, who said, “You Jews are to blame for this war.” That was a feeling then and the little remnants of that feeling come out in what those people from Hungary say and what people—very few people, but some—say elsewhere, albeit quietly now because of the protection of the law. That feeling is still there.

I feel that today, as the Member of Parliament for Watford, I should particularly talk about holocaust education in one school that is, I believe, a model for schools around the country. It is Watford grammar school for girls, under the inspired leadership of Dame Helen Hyde, the daughter of holocaust survivors. It is a

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very successful school. It is called a grammar school, but it is actually a state comprehensive school with some selection. In many ways, it is ordinary—it could be any school.

The girls begin their holocaust education in year 9, when they are taught about stereotyping, prejudice and discrimination and where they can lead. They are asked to look at their own prejudices again because, as hon. Members have said, it is in the nature of human beings to have some prejudices. They talk about Anne Frank and her experiences in detail, even at a very young age.

In years 10 and 11, the girls do a detailed study of what took place under the Nazis, the outcome for Jewish people and others. They consider the moral and ethical issues that affect people in general. Further on in the school, they can do GCSEs and A-levels in relevant subjects.

Dame Helen runs the largest student holocaust conference every November, attended by 400 students and members of the public. I have had the privilege of opening the conference and up to 16 survivors have spoken. This school in this small part of Hertfordshire is a model. The girls do very well academically, so it does not in any way prejudice their education. Holocaust education is used as a way of teaching them about so much in life that is relevant to people.

Through my involvement with holocaust education and with the HET, I have spoken to girls and boys in a school two or three miles away from here, in east London, where one of the survivors sent by the HET to speak to them gave, as one can imagine, a very moving story of their experiences in the holocaust. A young lady—a Muslim—told me that the speaker, a 90-year-old lady, was the only Jewish person she had ever met in her life. In certain hon. Members’ constituencies two miles to the north and east of here, that probably would not be the experience. It shows the prejudice that can build up about Jewish people because people do not meet anyone of Jewish faith.

If the theme of my short speech is one thing, it is that holocaust education is not just about the most important thing—teaching about the holocaust—but about the lessons that the holocaust can have for everybody’s life in getting rid of the prejudice that is seen in all our lives. To some people—we heard football used as an example—these things might be harmless fun, but they fuel prejudice and ignorance.

I am pleased to be part of this debate that takes place in this House every year. I hope it will focus some people’s minds on the holocaust and remembering the 6 million-plus people who died somewhat tragically. If their deaths meant anything—if there is one thing they could have hoped for—it is that they helped to eradicate this form of prejudice for generations to come.

4.31 pm