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The second matter—this was the one referred to by the hon. Member for Walsall, North—was the SSRB recommendation that the National Audit Office should have the power to audit a selection of Members all the time. In other words, there should be spot checks; any of us would be aware that we might be audited at any time. I support that, and so do my colleagues. I hope that the House authorities can bring back that recommendation for agreement in this House, so that it
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takes effect from 1 April. Such a move would allow spot checks every year on a random cross-section of colleagues in the House.

Thirdly, we asked the authorities to consider recognising partners who are sole beneficiaries as having the same rights for pension purposes as spouses and civil partners. In other words, people who are recognised as partners should have recognised status.

Arising from that, I would like to make two points about families. There seems to be a perfectly legitimate case for allowing colleagues who are married or have recognised partners to work with their partners. I speak as someone who is not in that position, so I am not speaking from self-interest. The job that someone does, working with a person to serve their constituents, can often best be done in a similar way to how things operate in a small business, for example.

However, if there is to be continuing acceptance of family members working for colleagues, there is not a strong case for more than one member of the family doing that, or for their being paid more than the going rate for the job, as recommended in the rules we set ourselves—within the parameters referred to by the right hon. Member for North-West Hampshire, such as competence, age and experience. We clearly cannot make current or past arrangements suddenly illegal if people have made a commitment through a contract to a member of their family. Provided that they follow the rules properly, that situation must be allowed to continue. For the future, however, there seems be a case for allowing only one family member to be employed, and at the right rate for the job.

Confidentiality for the people whom we employ concerns many hon. Members. Until the previous Parliament, my friend Nigel Jones—now Lord Jones of Cheltenham—sat on the Liberal Democrat Benches in the House of Commons. He suffered a terrible injury and witnessed the death in his constituency office of a person whom he employed, and who was working at the time on constituency matters. I know of other colleagues and their staff who are currently under threat from members of the public, and who are being supported by the police. Indeed, in the past the Leader of the House has been in that position, as have I.

We must therefore be careful about separating the proper accountability of Members of Parliament for public money and the way in which it is spent—for example, by declaring that we use our £90,000 to pay the wages of two, three or four members of staff—from putting the names of all those people in the public domain and identifying them as working for us. Doing the latter would mean that their addresses and their families could also be in the public domain. Members’ staff are not in the same position as others who are paid from the public purse, because they are especially exposed. I have been in my surgery with people working for me, some paid and some volunteering, who have been put in difficult positions, with angry, aggressive and unstable constituents. Many colleagues from all parties have been in the same position.

I support the Committee’s careful and considered findings and I believe that the recommendations are right. We all have a duty to ensure that we spend every penny of public money properly. I hope that we can
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agree to the audit proposals and the lower maximum expense allowance without receipts soon, and that we will be careful when we determine whom we employ, and consider the implications.

For all such people other than a spouse or registered partner, we should, in 2008, apply full proper employment practice. We should give people of all backgrounds equal opportunities to work for us. If we do not, we shall be reinforcing the traditional white male-dominated society that pertains here, because there are more white men than other colleagues in this place. I hope that modern employment law will work, and that people whom the taxpayer and Members of Parliament employ will be recruited openly. I also hope that they will be employed in a way that employment law will ensure is entirely justified in future.

12.52 pm

Peter Bottomley (Worthing, West) (Con): I believe that the first part of the speech of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) will meet with more cross-party agreement than the latter part.

I want to make three points. First, when I became a Member of Parliament, I tried to follow the advice of always applying the local newspaper test, which is: am I doing something that I would not want to read in my local newspaper? If the answer is yes, I should either admit to it or not do it. That does not mean that one cannot do unpopular or unwise things, but at least they should not be done secretly.

Secondly, I believe that if Ministers’ names and private offices are published in directories and people know who our children are when they are at school or college, we should not be too prissy about including the names of those who work for us on letterheads. If they work with us and engage with the outside world, they should not hide their names. I therefore do not go along with the final remarks of the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey.

Thirdly, the view of some outside that we should not employ members of our families or household is wrong. When I first stood for election in 1974, it was against a Labour Member of Parliament who was over 60 and had moved in with his competent secretary as her spouse. The idea that she would have to find some other Member of Parliament for whom to work because they had got together and lived in the same place is absurd.

The report and the commissioner’s findings were based on the balance of probability. The Committee should have applied that standard eight years ago. I am glad that it has now adopted it and that leaks, which are often distorting and issued for partisan or personal reasons, of conclusions of Committee reports no longer occur.

Question put and agreed to.


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Topical debate

Holocaust Memorial Day

12.54 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr. Parmjit Dhanda): I beg to move, That this House has considered the matter of Holocaust memorial day.

I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Warley, West (Mr. Spellar) for suggesting this important and timely debate. His long-standing commitment to countering racism and intolerance is well known to those of us who have known him for many years. I am also grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for allowing the subject to be chosen today.

The Government’s commitment to promoting the aims and objectives of Holocaust memorial day is shared by hon. Members of all parties, and I commend that. Today’s debate is a valuable opportunity to demonstrate our strong and enduring commitment to holocaust remembrance. The lessons of the holocaust continue to be relevant to British society.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): I am sure that the Minister agrees that the events held in the House—I went to two—and those in our constituencies, which are becoming more frequent, are valuable, have growing support and are increasingly effective in communicating the message about learning the lessons of what was done in the past, which we hope, pray and work to ensure will not happen in future.

Mr. Dhanda: I entirely agree, and I will shortly speak about not only national and international events, but the increase in local events, which is largely due to the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. It does an excellent job.

The holocaust is one of the most tragic events in human history. Its lessons are of universal relevance and have implications for us all. People of all faiths, cultures and races were victims of the Nazis. I strongly believe that the holocaust must have a permanent place in our collective memory. It is essential that we continue to hear the voices of survivors not only for now but for the benefit of future generations.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee, East) (SNP): I have had the great privilege of sharing platforms with several holocaust survivors. Sadly, their numbers are dwindling; age is catching up with all of them. The Minister is right to say that their voices must continue to be heard. What might the Government be able to do in future when no one is left who has first-hand experience of the horror of the second world war?

Mr. Dhanda: The hon. Gentleman is right. In the past decade, it was therefore especially important to make the holocaust part of the curriculum at key stage 3. I hope that that work with the Department for Children, Schools and Families will make a difference in the longer term. The lessons that are passed down and the stories that are told at events such as the one in Liverpool at the weekend are also vital.

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Bob Spink (Castle Point) (Con): The Under-Secretary talks about lessons being learned. Does he accept that events in the world show that lessons have not been learned? The raison d’ĂȘtre of Holocaust memorial day is learning lessons about genocide, yet actions are taking place throughout the world, such as in Burma, against ethnic groups. Does he believe that the international community, including this country and the United Nations, should lead the world in tackling the repression and genocide that continue to happen?

Mr. Dhanda: The purpose of Holocaust memorial day is to learn and embed those lessons to make a difference for the future. As the hon. Gentleman says, we should learn the lessons for the future from man’s inhumanity to man.

With that in mind, the UK joined the Swedish and United States Governments in 1998 in establishing the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. In January 2000, 44 Governments from around the world attended the Stockholm international forum on holocaust education, remembrance and research. All those present signed the Stockholm declaration. The principles agreed that day have since been adapted to form the statement of commitment that underpins our own Holocaust memorial day commemoration.

This is probably an appropriate time for me to pay tribute to the work done by our former Prime Minister, Tony Blair, to ensure that Holocaust memorial day happened and to make the long-term commitment to it. He not only helped to bring in the commemoration, but made a commitment to ensure that it would last into the future.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend pay a resounding tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust? It takes young people from our schools on a year-by-year basis to Auschwitz and Birkenau, so that they can see the tyranny of evil that was perpetrated by the Nazi regime. The trust is a tremendous organisation that works assiduously to ensure that the young people in our communities know and do not forget.

Mr. Dhanda: My hon. Friend is entirely right. Many of us in the House will have had the opportunity to visit Auschwitz with children from our local schools. I know that such visits have made a huge difference to the children around the country who have had the opportunity to see at first hand what happened in such places. The work of the trust is incredibly important, which is why we are backing it to the tune of about £1.5 million.

The date for this important commemoration, 27 January, was chosen because it is the anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi extermination camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau. It is a powerful symbol of the horrors of the holocaust. We promote the UK Holocaust memorial day at international and national levels and increasingly, as the hon. Member for North Southwark and Bermondsey (Simon Hughes) said, at local level.

Through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we work closely with our European and international partners to promote holocaust education and research.
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My Department, the Department for Communities and Local Government, provides £500,000 of annual core funding for the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. This supports not only the holding of an annual national commemoration, but many of the local community activities. Five hundred local events have been held, and 23,000 people have already lit the virtual candle on the trust’s website. Many hundreds of us, if not more, were in Hope street in Liverpool to light a candle on Sunday as well. The importance of actively engaging young people has already been pointed out, and as I have said, the Government provide £1.5 million of annual funding for the Holocaust Educational Trust to support the participation of two pupils from every school and college in visits to Auschwitz-Birkenau.

I want to touch on last Sunday’s national commemoration in Liverpool, which I had the privilege to attend, and which rightly included the experiences of those who had suffered persecution more recently, in the conflicts in Rwanda, Darfur and the former Yugoslavia. In addition to the national commemoration, the Liverpool organisers also succeeded in running an important series of events during the preceding fortnight. Those activities were hosted by local communities originating from as far afield as Chad, the Czech Republic, Darfur, Kosovo and Rwanda. I am sure that I have the backing of the whole House in commending Liverpool—the European city of culture—and, indeed, all the other cities and towns across the UK for their commitment to actively engaging their local communities and schools in marking this year’s Holocaust memorial day. That is what Holocaust memorial day is, and should be, all about.

In Liverpool, on Sunday, I had the privilege of sitting next to a gentleman whom I had never met before. His name was Martin Stern, and he had an extraordinary story to tell. He was born in the Netherlands in 1938. His father was a Jewish architect, whom his non-Jewish mother had married despite the Nazi Nuremberg laws. During the Nazi occupation of Holland, his father had hidden with the Dutch resistance. His father was captured, however, and sent first to Auschwitz and then to Buchenwald, where he was killed. By this time, Martin was about five years old. He had a younger sister, but after she was born, his mother died from a hospital infection.

Martin Stern was taken in by a young Dutch couple, but they were soon arrested because Martin and his sister had been born of a Jewish parent. As a result, he was sent to the transit camp at Westerbork in the Netherlands and, later, with his one-year-old sister, to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. He and his sister—a five-year-old and a one-year-old—were among the 150 children at the camp. I learned from Martin at the weekend that about 15,000 children entered concentration camps during the second world war. He is one of about 100 who survived that experience.

Martin Stern and his younger sister were protected by a young woman in the concentration camp. She became like a mother to them, although when they were released, she was not allowed to look after them. He was reunited with her in the 1980s, and saw her before she passed away.

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The time that I spent talking to Martin before the commemoration provided me with the beginning of an understanding of what it must have been like to have experienced the horrors of the holocaust. Despite having had that experience, Martin had the resolve to make a new life in this country, and to become an eminent doctor here. His story, and those of others like him, must never be forgotten.

Mr. John Spellar (Warley) (Lab): I thank the Minister for giving way. May I point out to him that my constituency is Warley? The old constituency of Warley, West was merged. He has spoken movingly of the testimony of survivors, but many of them are now passing away. Will he pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, and tell us what the Government can do to ensure that those testimonies are captured and kept so that future generations can understand the horrors of the holocaust?

Mr. Dhanda: My right hon. Friend makes an exceedingly good point. I join him in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, as well as to the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust. They are doing a great deal of work in collecting information and stories. The day itself provided a great opportunity, and those of us who were in Liverpool learned a great deal from some of those personal testimonies. There must be opportunities for young people to visit not only Auschwitz but places such as Srebrenica, as some have as part of these trips, and to see the historical context and the stories associated with it. I hope that such visits will provide lasting memories that can be passed down the generations, because we must never forget the lessons of man’s inhumanity to man.

1.9 pm

Mr. Paul Goodman (Wycombe) (Con): I congratulate the right hon. Member for Warley (Mr. Spellar) on the part that he has played in ensuring that this topical debate could take place today. I should also like to say that the Minister’s opening speech struck exactly the right note. Parts of it—the ending, in particular—were extremely moving.

I have a personal interest in this debate, in a way, in that my family background is Jewish, although it is not the religion that I, in a flawed and faltering way, try to practise. I was not in Liverpool on Sunday, but my colleague, Baroness Warsi, the shadow Minister for Community Cohesion, was, as was my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis), who I see in his place; he was representing the leader of the Conservative party. I have been to Auschwitz-Birkenau and I have read some of the standard works on the holocaust. Although my family did not lose any of its members during the holocaust, I remember my father telling me when I was a child that his father bought a gun in the early part of the war—they were easier to get hold of then than they are now—with the intention of shooting the entire family if the Germans landed. I reflect that if things had been different, I might not be here today, although that consideration is not unique to me, as it applies to other hon. Members.

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