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Mr. Philip Hollobone (Kettering) (Con):
Will Her Majesty's Government support the Sustainable Communities Act 2007 (Amendment) Bill, which is scheduled for future business? While ensuring proper
scrutiny, will the Leader of the House try to encourage its prompt and efficient passage through both Houses before Dissolution?
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): The Leader of the House is aware that Croydon's branch of the Young Christian Workers came to see me in the House this week. It is made up mainly of eloquent young women, although there are some young men in it, too, and they were here to talk about the continuing "Get Fair" campaign. Would it be appropriate, before the general election, to have a debate in the House about the important issue of poverty reduction among young people? It has been at the centre of the Government's programme of work throughout many Departments, but much more needs to be done, which is why the YCW's "Get Fair" campaign is so important.
Ms Harman: I thank the hon. Gentleman for raising that issue, because it gives me the opportunity to join him in commending the work of Croydon's Young Christian Workers. Their concerns and his are shared by other young people throughout the country, and during the current economic difficulties the Government have remained committed to tackling poverty and disadvantage. The pre-Budget report committed further support to vulnerable families and set out the key principles that will guide our strategy to eradicate child poverty; and we have of course legislated to frame and enshrine those targets in law.
Greg Mulholland (Leeds, North-West) (LD): How does the Leader of the House compare the conduct and behaviour of Elizabeth Wilmshurst, who resigned knowing that she was right, with that of senior Ministers, who took us into an illegal war knowing that they were wrong? Can we have a debate in the House about what happens after the Iraq inquiry? If it emerges-as it seems it will-that the Government took us into an illegal war and breached international law, that will not be the end of the matter. Can we therefore have a debate to discuss what action will be taken if that is what emerges?
Ms Harman: We do not accept that the use of force in Iraq was unlawful, and the issue was before the House when it voted to support the use of force. The Attorney-General at the time, Lord Goldsmith, gave evidence to the Chilcot inquiry yesterday, setting out the processes whereby he, as Attorney-General, was the authoritative adviser to the Government on that issue. What happens after the inquiry has reported is a matter best considered when we have had an opportunity to see its substantive report.
Mr. Speaker: I am grateful for the co-operation of the House, thereby enabling all colleagues to be accommodated within the session in a reasonably timely fashion. We are going to proceed to the topical debate-
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): On a point of order, Mr. Speaker. I seek your guidance and help as to how hon. Members can access official Government reports. I refer to the report entitled, "An Anatomy of Economic Inequality in the UK", which the Government Equalities Office produced. Copies were made available to the media on Tuesday, but the report is still not available in the Vote Office, and the suspicion is that, because the report includes very bad news for the Government, it was released in a crowded news week with stories about Afghanistan and Northern Ireland. It is a damning report on the Government's incompetence on poverty in the UK over the past 12 years or so, but hon. Members still cannot obtain a copy of it in the Vote Office.
Mr. Speaker: I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. I understand his frustration, which is almost certainly shared by other right hon. and hon. Members, that the report is not currently available in the Vote Office-though my understanding is that the Vote Office has received copies of the Government's response to the report. I accept that that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs; I gather that the Vote Office is working at this moment to put matters right; and the hon. Gentleman of course has done us all a service by placing his concerns on the record.
That this House has considered the matter of Holocaust Memorial Day.
I am grateful to my right hon. and learned Friend the Leader of the House for selecting this subject for debate. Holocaust memorial day is a commemoration that enjoys support from all parts of the House. It is right that hon. Members make time to discuss these issues, which have such enduring significance, and it is right that we stand together as one to send a clear message to those who minimise, dispute or even deny the relevance of these issues today. As someone who has visited the Majdanek death camp, I feel repulsed by some of those individuals.
I am confident that hon. Members will join me in ensuring that the message from the House today is not just to condemn the atrocities of the past, but to affirm their ability to speak to us now. When speaking of the Holocaust, there is a constant risk. To many of us, the sheer scale of the horror is too much to take in.
Mark Pritchard (The Wrekin) (Con): The Minister mentioned Majdanek, which I had the great honour of visiting with him and other parliamentarians. Will he join me in paying tribute to the Holocaust Educational Trust, which does such great work in informing and educating parliamentarians, as well as schools up and down the land, about the holocaust?
Mr. Malik: Absolutely; the Holocaust Educational Trust, its chief executive, Karen Pollock, and its chair, Lord Janner, do an amazing job. That is why I am very pleased that between 2006 and 2011 this Government will have invested a total of some £9 million, which has already led to about 4,500 pupils and 1,000 teachers being able to go out there and really experience it.
Mr. Andrew Pelling (Croydon, Central) (Ind): I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, as I know he has limited time. May I add to what was said in the previous intervention? The Holocaust Educational Trust tells us of the sheer industrial scale of the evil of man to man. I went to Auschwitz-Birkenau, where so much evil was perpetrated in such a dreadful fashion. We must always remember that, and that is why it is important that this debate is taking place.
Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman is obviously correct. These are issues that we cannot just talk about in a historical context, because, sadly and tragically, they are as relevant today as they were all those years ago.
As I was saying, when speaking of the holocaust, there is a constant risk. To many of us, the sheer scale of the horror, to which hon. Members have alluded, is too much to take in. We cannot describe the enormity of what we have read about or witnessed on visits to death camps. We cannot begin to relate to the hatred that motivated people to act so barbarically. We cannot understand how people abandoned their own humanity to participate in such horrors. Many others before us
have looked at the holocaust and said, "Never again"; but appallingly the Shoah, even if unparalleled in scale, was not the horror that ended all horrors.
Julie Morgan (Cardiff, North) (Lab): I have great sympathy and support for my hon. Friend's remarks. Is he aware that the all-party group on Gypsy and Traveller law reform will today hold a meeting at which we will mark the estimated 220,000 Gypsies who died in the holocaust? Does he agree how important it is to remember what happened to the Gypsies and to all the other people who died in the holocaust?
Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. At least 200,000 Roma and Sinti people were killed. It is right that we acknowledge the suffering of all those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis: some 11 million in total-a conservative figure-and 6 million of them because they were Jewish.
Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North) (Lab): Nearly 50 years after the second world war, it is estimated that nearly 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda; we should remember that. When the Home Affairs Committee went on a visit to Russia and Ukraine, we paid our respects-I suggested that it should be so and my colleagues readily agreed-at Babi Yar, just outside Kiev, where in September 1941 30,000 men, women and children were murdered simply because they were of Jewish origin, and nothing to do with religion or anything else; and that was before the death camps, of course.
Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend, who takes a keen interest in these issues, is absolutely correct. As I have said on several occasions, and we will all say during this debate, the scale of the horrors is very hard to comprehend and imagine. All the interventions that we have heard so far have come from people who have been touched by having made an effort to go out there and understand the issues more closely.
Dr. Andrew Murrison (Westbury) (Con): I have not been to Auschwitz-Birkenau with the Holocaust Educational Trust, but I have attended the debriefing that young people get following their visits, which is extremely salutary. Does the Minister agree that the real genius of the trust is its ability to trace the development of anti-Semitism in Germany and to impress upon young people that this happened not simply in isolation but, disturbingly and disquietingly, has parallels with the way that we live our lives today? That brings it home to young people that such things could happen again, and, one hopes, helps us to guard against that. That is the real message of the Holocaust Educational Trust.
Mr. Malik: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct. That is the power of the work of the trust. It ensures that people understand the relevance of that historical genocide and holocaust in today's world, and understand how something so evil that it is completely unimaginable could start from something that was perceived in some ways to be relatively benign.
On this continent alone, we have seen thousands killed in Bosnia. As my hon. Friend the Member for Walsall, North (Mr. Winnick) said, we have witnessed 1 million people dying in Rwanda; and hundreds of thousands have died in Darfur. In Cambodia, well over
1 million people died. These figures are surely incomprehensible. Yet it is not the numbers alone that speak of the evil of genocide-it is the mentality of those who committed the acts, systematically dehumanising people on account of their race, their religion or their ethnicity; treating them worse than livestock. The inhumanity is not the victims' but the perpetrators'. A phrase used by the Khmer Rouge brutally sums up this inhumanity: "To spare you is no profit, to destroy you is no loss."
Perhaps the degree of evil allows us some hope. The fact that we feel such discomfort in the face of horror allows us to reassure ourselves that this could never happen in our lifetime. But I hope that hon. Members agree that this hope would be misplaced. We cannot simply say, "Never again." Only if we act on our hope-if we determine that we will learn history's lessons-will we have honoured the memory of those who suffered and perished in the genocides.
Mrs. Theresa Villiers (Chipping Barnet) (Con): I am sure that the Minister will agree that Holocaust memorial day provides a salutary reminder not only of the gravity of the evil of which humanity is capable but of the fact that so many people stood by and let it happen; that is one of the most disturbing things that I have always drawn from these commemoration days. It is also worth remembering, however, that not everyone did that, and that some people stood up for those who were being persecuted. In that respect, it is particularly important to remember those who supported the Kindertransport, which saved so many Jewish children.
Mr. Malik: The hon. Lady is absolutely correct. Edmund Burke reminds us that, for evil to prevail, all that is required is that good people do nothing. She is also right to highlight the importance of recognising the efforts, in some cases courageous efforts, of those who did so much, often at personal risk to themselves. That is why, in April last year, the Prime Minister announced that we would commemorate those holocaust heroes-something that we are hoping to do very shortly.
As some hon. Members will be aware, I am proud to be a trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust; I am also a patron of the Wiener Library. Yesterday marked the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, which has become a byword for the evils of the holocaust. The theme of that day was "The Legacy of Hope". I attended the national day in London, while tens of thousands of people gathered at hundreds of local events.
Mr. Jim Cunningham (Coventry, South) (Lab): I have been to Auschwitz, which is horrendous for anybody who goes there. I am glad that the Government, through their education policies, are encouraging schoolchildren to go from Britain to visit that place, because going there and seeing the photographs of young women-looking into their eyes, they seem to be pleading-is horrendous and has quite an effect. I urge the Government to encourage a lot more of those visits.
Mr. Malik: My hon. Friend is obviously right. It may sound perverse, but for those of us who have had the privilege to go there, it has been truly life-transforming. That is why the work of the trust is so important.
The inspiration for Holocaust memorial day was the "Secret Archive of Oneg Shabbat". The archive is a compendium of testimonies and histories of various residents from the Jewish ghetto in Warsaw, which were written down and buried in milk churns. The historian who led that process, Emanuel Ringelblum, understood well that the Nazis were not just trying to contain some Jews. They were trying to eliminate the Jews-to extinguish their presence, their existence and their history, and to cut off their hope and remove their voice.
That is why Ringelblum made sure that the histories were buried. Although the Nazis did not find the histories, other people uncovered them some years later. For that reason, the victims are not forgotten. Their voices speak today, and their legacy is one that gives us hope. If we are prepared to listen, it gives us hope that their suffering is our cause for action.
John Mason (Glasgow, East) (SNP): The Minister has mentioned hope a number of times, and I do not want to go against that, but does he share my opinion that this is a long-running issue? In 1290, the Jews were expelled from this country, and we cannot be over-optimistic that that will not recur in the future.
Mr. Malik: If the hon. Gentleman is saying that there is no room for complacency, he is, of course, right. History is supposed to teach us, and it teaches us that such things happen again and again, but it might not teach us well enough that we learn. That is the challenge for us: to learn from history to ensure that we do not repeat the mistakes of the past. We are much better placed today than we have ever been, but there is no room for complacency whatever.
Angela Watkinson (Upminster) (Con): I am most grateful to the Minister; he is being generous in taking so many interventions. One of the most chilling lessons that I learned from visiting Auschwitz-Birkenau was that, to those who conducted the mass killings, these were not wild, emotional and uncontrolled murders, but dispassionate, calculated, organised and justified. Meticulous records of the killings were kept. Does the Minister agree that we must learn that lesson and be aware of that aspect if we are to ensure that such things never happen again?
Survivors, too, give us hope. I know that many in this Chamber will have met survivors of the holocaust, and any hon. Members who have had the privilege of speaking to them will agree that it is a deeply humbling and profoundly moving experience. The histories on the written page may record some of the horror, but they cannot properly capture the triumph of the survivors. I understand that that is an odd word to use in this context, because all the survivors will have endured
unimaginable suffering and the loss of loved ones. But their spirit and dignity in the face of what happened is a triumph, and I pay tribute to them.
A number of survivors spoke yesterday, and others had their testimonies read out by young people. Those present witnessed the force of the survivors' stories. We were then challenged to become part of the legacy of hope. I can do little better than read the invitation from the day's organisers:
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