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4.22 pm

Dr Phillip Lee (Bracknell) (Con): Seventy-four years ago yesterday, a group of men—and they were, sadly, all men—met at Wannsee, a nice lake and idyllic location in Berlin, and decided systematically to murder 11 million-plus Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals and the like. As a result of discovering that fact when I was young, I developed a rather morbid fascination with the holocaust. I could not quite understand why a sophisticated country that had given birth to famous chemists, philosophers, historians and composers could find itself hosting a conference at which such dreadful deeds were planned.

The sheer industrial scale of what happened is seen in the places of Chelmno, Sobibor, Treblinka and Auschwitz. Another particularly dreadful episode happened at Babi Yar in Ukraine, where over 33,000 men, women and children were shot over the course of two days, just 29 years before I was born. I had this fascination, and I could not understand the word “holocaust”, meaning “holo” or whole and “caustos” or burned. I could not understand how intelligent, sophisticated, educated people could design purpose-built gas chambers and commit such a crime.

When I was practising as a doctor in Aylesbury, I had two patients who had survived Auschwitz. I clearly remember the lady with the tattoo on her arm, and I particularly remember the man who came in suffering from serious depression. Ten hours after I admitted him, he committed suicide, rather shockingly, on the ward. I think that that personal experience was what drove me to visit Yad Vashem for the first time in 1998; subsequently, like many other Members, I visited Auschwitz with the Holocaust Educational Trust. It drove me to try to understand, as best I could.

I agree with those who have said today that it is important to remember other genocides. I am thinking of, for instance, the genocide of 1915 in Armenia, of what was done by the Khmer Rouge between 1975 and 1979, when almost 25% of the population died; and of the more recent genocide in Rwanda, when the killing rate actually topped that of the Nazis: some 600,000 people were killed within six to eight weeks of the start.

Of course it is important to reflect and remember, but I think the most important thing that we should do is try to understand. I have long thought that killing the people who were convicted at Nuremberg was a mistake. I think that we should have kept those people alive, and tried to understand what on earth drove them to behave in such a way. And what of justice? Of course it is important to bring people to justice, but fewer than 10% of people were ever charged with any crime in connection with the holocaust. The numbers are not much better when it comes to the Khmer Rouge, and certainly not when it comes to the Armenian genocide of 1915.

We need to understand how people could do those things by day, and then be normal by night. There are famous photographs of Hungarian Jews arriving in June and July 1944, when 12,000 a day were being gassed, and there is the Höcker album showing SS men and women partying in the evenings and afternoons in the intervals between gassing thousands of people. How can that have been?

It is very easy to stand here and make speeches. It is very easy to say that we should not be bystanders, but should act. It is very easy to say that we should not do

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this and we should not do that. Forgive me, but we have stood idly by in the case of Rwanda, idly by in the case of Darfur, idly by in the case of Syria, and in the case of the Yazidis in particular. We are not doing much better than our predecessors. Indeed, I suspect that we do not have the determination and courage of some of our predecessors, who actually went to war to defeat evil. I think it is about time that this country rediscovered that determination, that courage, and that strong belief in the values of freedom and the equality of people, irrespective of their faith, gender or sexuality. It is about time that Britain, France and, yes, Germany—and America—rediscovered that courage, because otherwise such genocides will continue to happen in the future, and I very much hope that they will not.

4.27 pm

Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con): So much has already been said during this extremely powerful and thoughtful debate, but let me add two stories from my own life and my constituency.

I recently took my parents-in-law, who were visiting us for the holidays, to a museum in my constituency of which some Members may be aware. Remarkably, the National Holocaust Centre, a few miles north of Newark, is the only museum dedicated to the holocaust in this country, although I hope that that will change in the near future.

My parents-in-law are the children of holocaust survivors. My wife’s grandfather and grandmother were Jews who lived in a village near the city of Pinsk. The Nazis came to their village. At the time, Pinsk was 90% Jewish; today it is 0.05% Jewish. The Nazis rounded up the able-bodied young men and took them to labour camps. The young men were told that if they tried to escape, their families back in the village would be killed. As we can imagine, however, word came to the camp pretty quickly that everyone in the village had been shot. Most had actually been burnt to death, and their bodies had been dumped in an open grave outside the village.

Furnished with that reality, my grandfather-in-law narrowly succeeded in escaping from the camp, and spent the remainder of the war fighting as a partisan in the forests of what is now Belarus. At the end of the war he returned to the smouldering ruins of his former village, amid the wreckage of his former life, and discovered that every single member of his family had been killed. Remarkably, the following day he met my wife’s grandmother, who was herself a holocaust survivor with a similar story, and every single one of whose family had also been killed, most of them at Auschwitz. They fell in love, and the rest, of course, is history. My mother-in-law, my wife and my three daughters are the result. So it is a great privilege for me to represent that museum.

Let me tell the House briefly about the two founders of the museum. Their story is not as well known as perhaps it should be, and it is worth retelling today. Twenty years ago, two brothers from Nottinghamshire, who are not Jewish and have no family connection with the holocaust, visited Israel to study and were captivated—if that is the right word—by Yad Vashem, which was being constructed at the time. On returning to their parents’ farmhouse in a remote area north of Newark, they persuaded their parents, who were extremely socially aware individuals themselves, to convert their farm into

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a holocaust education centre and over the next 20 years they have done exactly that. They have realised a remarkable vision and James and Stephen Smith—those two constituents of mine—are now among the most extraordinary individuals leading in holocaust education and genocide prevention around the world. They have founded the Aegis Foundation that works to prevent genocides and runs the genocide museum in Kigali in Rwanda, which is partly funded by DFID. They also run Steven Spielberg’s Shoah Foundation, which is now attempting to create 3D visualisations of remaining holocaust survivors so future generations can hear, to some extent first-hand, the stories when survivors have long departed.

The brothers had two profound driving ideas behind their mission. The first was that when the survivors are gone, we need to be able to tell the story—that although there are many museums all over the country, and even in my own rural constituency, at least one museum should be our conscience. It should be here for future generations, and I hope it will be. Secondly, they believed this museum should remind us of our common humanity by showing that whatever motivated the attacks on the Jews was a virus—a virus that exists in all of us and which exists in the world today. We see that alive and well, as we have heard already—in ISIS, in Boko Haram, and in anti-Semitism in Paris and in this country.

As an individual who grew up in the Church of England and walked though my village in Shropshire to Sunday school classes, it is a deep sadness and a shame to me to take my children to Hebrew classes and have to knock on the door and pass through security and sophisticated alarms so they can join four and five-year-olds learning a bit about their Jewish heritage. That is what we are fighting for today—to remember, to keep the flame alive, and to try at least to ensure that it does not happen again.

4.32 pm

Kirsten Oswald (East Renfrewshire) (SNP): It is an honour to be speaking in this debate today. We have heard many very moving and thoughtful contributions from Members across the House, and it is evident that this is a topic of great concern to all of us. I must add my voice to those commending the outstanding work of the Holocaust Educational Trust.

It is an honour for me to represent East Renfrewshire. My constituency is home to Scotland’s largest Jewish population, as well as to other engaged and active faith groups. Their congregations and leaders add so much to our local communities, promoting positive relations and the importance of working together and learning lessons from the past.

As a number of Members have rightly pointed out, as fewer and fewer holocaust survivors are able to share their story, it is more important than ever that we take steps to make sure that their stories continue to be told, and it is fitting that the theme of this year’s commemoration is “Don’t stand by”. The message this gives could not be clearer or more important. It is about us all: we must not stand by—and we must also be aware, as we have heard from my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and others, that these terrible acts often involved ordinary people.

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I am very proud of the diversity of modern Scotland. It makes us all better to live in a diverse, vibrant country, but we can never take the diversity and tolerance of our society for granted. Scotland’s Jewish community is a vital and important part of our society. Every member of that community has the right to feel safe and we on the SNP Benches join the others here today who have condemned anti-Semitism; it is wholly unacceptable.

We have heard about our duties to refugees from the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) and, as Europe struggles to get a grip on the refugee crisis stemming from Syria, we must not stand by and ignore cries for help from men, women and children fleeing not only the barbaric control of Daesh, but the evil regime of Assad.

In 1999, the then Prime Minister Tony Blair asked Jewish community leaders in Britain whether they felt it would be a good idea to have a Holocaust Memorial Day. They told him that they themselves did not need one, because Jews already had Yom HaShoah, a memorial day on which the whole community remembered all those who had been lost. However, they pointed out that it was important for our whole society to have a Holocaust Memorial Day for the Jewish people and for the other victims of the holocaust, including Roma people, trade unionists, people with disabilities, gay people and Jehovah’s Witnesses—all those who, along with the Jews, were so terribly singled out for the crime of being different, as the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) said. This is important for wider society too, so that we have the opportunity to listen and to learn.

It was a huge honour for me to be invited to march with the Jewish war veterans at the Remembrance day service in Newton Mearns in November and then to join the community at the Newton Mearns synagogue for an excellent, thoughtful service at which their brave and selfless contributions and the losses and sacrifices of so many were remembered.

We must remember not only the horrors of the second world war but the subsequent genocides, including those in Rwanda, Cambodia and Bosnia. This year marks the 21st anniversary of the genocide at Srebrenica, which has been mentioned by the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart). The cemetery there has more than 8,000 obelisks marking Muslim graves. Organisations including Remembering Srebrenica and the Mothers of Srebrenica work to ensure that we remember and help us to try to learn.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): I attended the Srebrenica memorial service last year, and one of the most moving parts of the service was when I went out at the end and saw the thousands of schoolchildren who had gathered in the nave of Westminster Abbey to learn and to witness that remembrance. Does my hon. Friend agree with the other Members who have spoken in this moving debate about the importance of educating future generations, and young children in particular, so that we and they never forget and never stand by?

Kirsten Oswald: I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention. I entirely agree with him.

21 Jan 2016 : Column 1654

I am pleased that in Scotland our Government have made a clear commitment to understanding and protecting faith through education, and to the importance of holocaust education. Our young people must have the opportunity to really understand what happened. We have heard about Scottish students and teachers participating in the Holocaust Educational Trust’s valuable Lessons from Auschwitz project. I have met some of those young people, and their commitment to understanding and sharing the story of the holocaust is very important.

Our First Minster, Nicola Sturgeon, reflecting on our annual Scottish inter-faith week, described Scotland as a country where all people can live together in harmony, follow their religion or belief and achieve their potential. Our diversity is a strength, as the First Minister emphasised when she recently came to speak to the Scottish Jewish community at the Giffnock and Newlands synagogue. She said that with that strength comes the responsibility on us all not to stand by but to speak up against anti-Semitism and discrimination in all its forms.

Holocaust Memorial Day allows schools, colleges, faith groups and communities all over Scotland to consider that, and to remember the 6 million men, women and children who were murdered by the Nazi regime in occupied Europe. Six million people. That is more than the entire population of Denmark. But even when I make comparisons such as these, it is still impossible to comprehend the numbers. As the hon. Member for Ilford North pointed out, however, we really need to try to do so, so that we can understand the terror and magnitude of that genocide, and its repercussions and impact on all of us, on those who survived and on the generations who came after, such as the family of the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick).

This time last year, I was fortunate enough to be at a holocaust memorial service at the Giffnock reform synagogue, where I heard the son of a holocaust survivor speak movingly about the impact of his father’s experience on him as a person. It was an incredibly moving testimony, and it illustrated very well the broad effects of the holocaust, which extend much further than even the terrible magnitude of the number of victims would suggest.

Yesterday, I visited the Kindertransport statue at Liverpool Street station. There is no doubt that the Kindertransport saved many thousands of young Jewish lives, and those children and their families have added greatly to our society and made huge contributions to our understanding. But it was heart-breaking to learn that at the end of the war, when the British Government committed to taking in another 1,000 unaccompanied children, they could not do so because only 732 orphaned children remained.

The plight of children at that time also exercised the mind of Jane Haining, a farmer’s daughter from Dunscore in rural Dumfriesshire. A devout Christian, she was inspired by a job advert she saw in Queen’s Park church for the post of matron in a Budapest school run by the Church of Scotland’s Mission to the Jews. The school was popular with Jewish parents because of the quality of education that all children, particularly girls, received. As the political situation in Hungary became increasingly precarious, with the Jewish population steadily stripped of its freedoms, the Church of Scotland sent her repeated letters urging her to return home to Scotland for her own safety. Jane refused, and wrote back saying:

“If these children needed me in days of sunshine, how much more do they need me in these days of darkness?”.

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As Hitler’s troops marched into Hungary, Jane Haining is said to have wept as she sewed yellow stars on to her charges’ clothes. This sympathy was known, and very soon she was informed upon, arrested and held in a local prison. She was soon moved to Auschwitz and taken to the labour camps. The treatment being so brutal, she survived for just two months before dying at the age of 47. Many years afterwards, after a 10-year investigation and an initiative by Queen’s Park church, Jane was named as Righteous Among Nations in Jerusalem’s sacred Yad Vashem, recognising her quiet sacrifice for her Jewish children.

Like my hon. Friend the Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson), I want to talk briefly about the late Rev. Ernest Levy, previously the cantor of the Giffnock and Newlands synagogue in my constituency. In 1938, when he was a child, he and his family had to flee to Hungary from their home in Bratislava. When Germany invaded Hungary, they were deported to the concentration camps. Ernest was held in seven concentration camps in all, including Auschwitz. His brothers had to dig their own graves. His sister was gassed to death. Ernest only just survived and he was found lying in the dust in Bergen-Belsen. He ultimately returned to Budapest, before making his home in Scotland, marrying Kathy Freeman, a fellow concentration camp survivor, in 1965.

Rev. Levy worked with the Holocaust Educational Trust to launch his holocaust testimony, “The Single Light”, in the Scottish Parliament. He brought a sardine tin with him. This tin had literally been his guiding light. During a forced march to Belsen, towards the end of the war, he picked up the tin, discarded by a German guard, made it into a wick and lit a flame. He and his fellow inmates gathered round the flame to sing a hymn. In Holyrood, he again lit the wick in the sardine tin, telling assembled MSPs and guests:

“We sang, and it gave us hope. This tin gave us light.”

4.41 pm

Liz McInnes (Heywood and Middleton) (Lab): It is an honour to be able to contribute to this debate. I thank all hon. Members for their contributions today and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for bringing the debate to the House. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) for his eloquent and moving opening speech. Like many Members, he pointed out that the holocaust was perpetrated by ordinary men and women carrying out acts of extraordinary evil.

I thank the right hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles) for highlighting, among many issues, the disgraceful recent attack on Jewish students in King’s College. I thank the hon. Member for Beckenham (Bob Stewart) for bringing his experience and knowledge of conflict to the debate. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Enfield North (Joan Ryan) for emphasising the need to preserve the memories of survivors. I thank the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate (Mr Burrowes) for speaking of the courage of those who did not stand by. I thank the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran (Patricia Gibson) for bringing us her experience as a teacher and highlighting the importance of holocaust education. I thank the hon. Member for Harrow East (Bob Blackman) for his passionate speech and for highlighting the work of Yad Vashem. I thank the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) for, again,

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emphasising that ordinary people are capable, in the wrong circumstances, of diabolical acts, and I thank the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) for giving us his personal experience as a doctor with holocaust survivors. I thank the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) for his very personal speech and his support for the National Holocaust Centre. Finally, I thank the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Kirsten Oswald) for her comments on the importance of learning lessons from the past.

The UK played a leading role in establishing Holocaust Memorial Day as an international day of commemoration in 2000, when 46 Governments signed the Stockholm declaration. Our first Holocaust Memorial Day was held on 27 January 2001. In the weeks leading up to and after Holocaust Memorial Day, thousands of commemorative events are arranged by schools, faith groups and community organisations across the country, remembering all the victims of the holocaust and of subsequent genocides. It is vital that we continue to remember and to learn from the appalling events of the holocaust, as well as ensuring that we continue to challenge anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry. This year’s theme is “Don’t Stand By”. Bystanders are encouraged to speak out against persecution to prevent the horrors of the holocaust and other genocides from ever happening again.

The Holocaust Memorial Day Trust is the charity that promotes and supports Holocaust Memorial Day. The UK Government, through the Home Office, had the responsibility of running the Holocaust Memorial Day from 2001 to 2005. In May 2005, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust was registered as a charity, and the then Home Secretary, David Blunkett, appointed trustees for the first time.

The Department for Communities and Local Government has funded the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust’s work since 2007, and, to date, HMDT has overseen massive growth of Holocaust Memorial Day activities. More than 3,600 activities took place across the UK on Holocaust Memorial Day last year. Independent opinion polling in February 2015 showed that 83% of UK adults are aware of Holocaust Memorial Day, and 31% say that they know it well. Some 1.3 million people watched the 2015 UK commemorative event on BBC 2.

Many Members have paid tribute to the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust, which aims to educate young people from every background about the holocaust and the important lessons to be learned for today. The trust works in schools, universities and the community to raise awareness and understanding of the holocaust, providing teacher training, an outreach programme for schools, teaching aids and resource material. It continues to play a leading role in training teachers on how best to teach the holocaust.

I was very proud to sign the Holocaust Educational Trust’s book of commitment, thereby honouring those who were murdered during the holocaust and paying tribute to the extraordinary holocaust survivors who work tirelessly to educate young people.

I wish to say a few words about the connection between the European convention on human rights and the holocaust. The ECHR was the first international instrument designed to bring into effect, through a dedicated court, the rights contained in the 1948 universal declaration of human rights. The convention came into force in 1953 and now applies to all 47 countries of its parent organisation, the Council of Europe.

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The convention aimed to prevent a recurrence of the horrors and atrocities of the second world war. It followed on from the UDHR, which was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948. It is easy to forget that, until then, there was almost no system that enabled criticism of, let alone action against, Governments who mistreated people within their borders if their own law allowed such abuses.

Professor Francesca Klug, commissioner of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, notes that

“however morally repugnant, Nazi Germany’s racial purity policies were all in accordance with the law.”

It is from the universal declaration of human rights that the international system of human rights protections was born.

As the UDHR was being drafted, European leaders drew up the European convention on human rights. During that time, Winston Churchill spoke about the strength derived from our “sense of common values” and of such a convention being

“guarded by freedom and sustained by law”,

which ensured that people owned the Government, and not the Government the people.

When the UK Parliament passed the Human Rights Act in 1998, it made our human rights more accessible for people here in the UK. There is now a duty on all our public bodies—not just central Government, but the police, NHS, social services, housing and education—to respect, protect and fulfil our human rights. The legal protection of human rights for all is a direct and lasting legacy to emerge from the horrors of the holocaust.

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government (Mr Marcus Jones): I am grateful to hon. Members on both sides of the House for their wise, passionate and insightful contributions to the debate. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Stratford-on-Avon (Nadhim Zahawi) and the hon. Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) for securing this important debate.

Last year, the Prime Minister marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau by pledging to build a new national holocaust memorial and learning centre. What was unique about the announcement was that it had cross-party support. That support has continued with the creation of the United Kingdom Holocaust Memorial Foundation, which is turning the recommendations made to the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission into reality.

Today is as much about remembering other genocides as it is about Jewish persecution. This year marks 21 years since the genocide in Srebrenica. It is important to remember the innocent lives lost in the holocaust, in the killing fields of Cambodia, in the churches of Rwanda, in the camps of Bosnia and in the arid desert of Darfur. This year’s Holocaust Memorial Day theme, “Don’t Stand By”, is all the more poignant if we think of all the hatred and prejudice in the world today, some of which has been mentioned in the debate.

Survivors of the holocaust and other genocides would not be here today if it were not for those who did not stand by: people such as Robert Townsend Smallbones, consul-general in Frankfurt, who worked night and day

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to issue Jewish families with visas as he knew that a visa meant the difference between life and death; or Captain Mbaye Diagne, a Senegalese military officer and a United Nations military observer during the 1994 Rwandan genocide who saved many lives during his time in Rwanda through nearly continuous rescue missions, at great peril to himself.

This year’s theme focuses on the contemporary relevance of the holocaust and subsequent genocides. We are asked to consider our individual responsibilities. We are asked not to be bystanders to hate crime and prejudice. In 2009, I joined a number of Conservative colleagues on a visit to Srebrenica, where more than 8,000 Bosnian Muslim men and boys were massacred during the 1990s. It truly brought home to me the scale of this merciless atrocity, which took place on our continent just a few years ago. While in Srebrenica, we undertook a number of projects, one of which was installing a computer suite at a local school. I mention that project because I think that schools are vital in the context of this debate as education has the power to bring communities together.

Holocaust education matters. It brings to life the names, the memories and the identities of those who suffered, but none of that would be possible without the dedication of survivors and their families, who visit schools and communities up and down the country urging us to take a stand against hatred and prejudice. A number of survivors were honoured in the new years’ honours list and I want to take this opportunity to mention them each in turn. Zigi Shipper works tirelessly in schools and universities up and down the country. He is so popular and inspiring that students set up a fan page on Facebook. Susan Pollack sees herself as part of a dedicated team ensuring that the lessons from the holocaust and more recent genocides are never forgotten. Ivor Perl gave evidence in the trial of Oskar Gröning, a former SS guard known as the “bookkeeper of Auschwitz”. Lily Ebert ensures that our young people are aware of the dangers of hatred and intolerance and is an inspiration to us all. Jack Kagan played an inspirational role on the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission in 2014. Renee Salt was recognised for her commitment to holocaust education and awareness. Rudi Oppenheimer visits schools up and down the country and spoke at a Holocaust Memorial Day event in my own Department a couple of years ago. Agnes Grunwald-Spier has served as trustee of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and earlier this week published her book entitled “Who Betrayed the Jews? The Realities of Nazi Persecution in the Holocaust.” Freddie Knoller, at 95, still talks to young people about the horrors of the holocaust and encourages them not to stand by. Finally, Chaim Ferster is a survivor of Auschwitz, who uses his experiences to educate others to ensure that we never forget.

I echo the tributes paid today to Karen Pollock, the chief executive officer of the Holocaust Educational Trust who, along with her team, is an inspiration to all of us. I pay tribute to the work of the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and its CEO, Olivia Marks-Woldman who with her team delivered the most successful Holocaust Memorial Day to date last year, with over 3,600 local events. I would like to mention some of the other holocaust remembrance, education and survivor organisations that enrich the work we do, such as the Holocaust Survivors Centre in Hendon, the Anne Frank Trust which uses Anne’s diary to fight hatred and prejudice in schools,

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the Wiener Library, the Association of Jewish Refugees, and the National Holocaust Centre in Newark, Nottinghamshire.

It would be remiss of me not to mention the work of the Prime Minister’s new envoy for post-holocaust issues, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar (Sir Eric Pickles), who made an excellent contribution to the debate. I am glad to hear that he will be focusing on the restitution of property and art, the opening of archives and the role of bystanders as collaborators. My right hon. Friend replaced Sir Andrew Burns and I hope this House will join me in thanking Sir Andrew, the UK’s first post-holocaust issues envoy, for his wisdom and guidance over the past five years.

I do not have time to mention all the contributions, but I shall reply to questions asked in the debate. First, my right hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar referred to the terrible incident at King’s College this week. I concur with his comments. The actions of a few at King’s College were unacceptable and we expect the police and the university authorities to take the incident extremely seriously, fully investigate what happened and hold to account the perpetrators of that awful action. As my right hon. Friend will know, my Department hosts a cross-Government working group on anti-Semitism, which will be taking the issue very seriously in its future work. In response to the hon. Member for Ilford North, I can assure him that we will continue to do all we can to promote, support and fund the teaching of the holocaust.

It is clear from the contributions made today by hon. Members that we can never be complacent, especially when we continue to see the growth of anti-Semitism and anti- Muslim hatred in Europe and on our own shores. I can only echo what Simon Wiesenthal, a holocaust survivor turned Nazi-hunter after the war, said so eloquently:

“For evil to flourish, it only requires good men to do nothing.”

4.58 pm

Wes Streeting: I would like to place on record my thanks to all the right hon. and hon. Members who

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spoke so passionately, eloquently and thoughtfully in this afternoon’s debate. As we draw the debate to a close, I want to leave us with the words of Primo Levi:

“It happened, therefore it can happen again”.

Those words are a lesson for all of us to reflect upon, with reference to our individual actions and taking up the challenge presented by the hon. Member for Bracknell (Dr Lee) in his speech. It is for the House to think about how this country can rediscover the best of its internationalist traditions. That is something for all of us to think on in the days, weeks, months and years ahead.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House has considered Holocaust Memorial Day 2016.

Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): The House has been so well disciplined that I find myself with a spare 30 seconds. It just occurs to me that a pause is very unusual, but perhaps—

Wes Streeting: On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I would just like to place on the record, as a new Member of the House, my apologies for not realising that I really should have spoken until 5 pm precisely, so as not to put you in the awkward position of having to find something to say from the Chair in order to take us through to the Adjournment debate, which I am sure we will hear very shortly. It is on the important matter of transport for vulnerable adults, and will be led by my hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey). Although I am unable to stay for the debate, I for one am looking forward to seeing her rise to her feet imminently.

Madam Deputy Speaker: That was an excellent point of order. The hon. Gentleman has done absolutely nothing wrong. On the contrary, he has made not one but two excellent speeches this afternoon.

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Vulnerable Adults: Transport

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Charlie Elphicke.)

5 pm

Rebecca Long Bailey (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): Before my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North (Wes Streeting) leaves the Chamber, I would like to wish him a very happy birthday and congratulate him on his point of order.

I thank the Minister for attending what I have no doubt will be a lively and informative debate. It might be helpful if I first define what specific kind of transport I am focusing my comments on today. Adults with special educational needs often attend day centres or schools. Until recently, many councils have provided accessible transport to allow the most vulnerable to access these facilities, often by way of a bus or the provision of a driver plus an expert escort on board to ensure safety. That support is a vital service in many communities, providing independence for those with special needs and peace of mind for their parents and carers. It also provides a much-needed break for the unsung heroes of social care who struggle with the commitments of family life and work alongside caring for their loved ones.

Let me set a backdrop for the harrowing tale I am about to tell. In 2014 my local council, Salford City Council, was ordered by the Government to find £25 million of so-called savings in its budget. That was in addition to £97 million in spending cuts that it had already suffered since 2010. As an already efficient and well-respected council, it had already sought to find every possible means of saving money through genuine efficiency gains. It had fought for four years to find ways to save money or reduce spending here and there in order to ensure that all services for the most vulnerable residents across Salford were unaffected. By 2014 the council was way beyond being able to salami-slice budgets and, as a result, was forced to look at making real changes to a wide range of services. Our mayor, councillors and council officers were put in the agonising position of having to prioritise which types of care they provided and to determine who was the most vulnerable, instead of simply protecting all the vulnerable, as it had done before.

Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) (Lab): This year, £16.4 million has been taken out of Tameside council’s budget for adult social services, £11.1 million has been taken out of Oldham council’s budget for adult social services and a deficit of over £20 million has been forecast for Tameside general hospital. Cuts to front-line local services not only cost more in terms of the quality of life for the individuals affected, but cost us all more in the long run. Does my hon. Friend agree that these cuts are really short-sighted and damage not only our local services, but our NHS, which has to pick up the pieces afterwards?

Rebecca Long Bailey: I thank my hon. Friend for those helpful comments. I completely agree. As she will hear, Tameside is not alone in suffering such savage cuts.

Salford City Council had to face the difficult decision to cut the in-house provision of vulnerable adult transport for over 200 families across the city, amounting to a £500,000 cut in transport support for those with special

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needs. That was alongside the £400,000 that the Government’s cuts took from the provision of adult social care support to those with learning difficulties in the same year. I must add that prior to the cuts the transport service was rated excellent as a council service. It was not inefficient and there were no plans to cut it had the funding been available.

Commenting on the Government cuts at the time, our mayor, Ian Stewart, stated that

“this is not about efficiencies any more. These cuts will cause untold damage to the services we provide”.

Even in this desperate funding crisis, the council worked hard to make the best of a terrible financial situation. In partnership with the individuals affected and their carers, appropriate alternative arrangements were made. Transport was not ended for anyone until suitable alternative arrangements had been agreed. The good news is that a number of parents were generally happy with the council’s new arrangements, because they can individualise their journey times. That means that they are not spending significant amounts of time on transport, which previously resulted in some people arriving at the day centre in an agitated mood. The council is very much aware that the change is not universally popular, and it continues to work with any individuals who express concern. The fact remains, however, that it does not hold sufficient funding to provide an in-house passenger transport service as it was provided.

I have spoken at length to some of the families affected. I have heard their tales of despair and their worry about which other services that they rely on might be cut in future. I have listened to the mayor, our councillors and council officers, who have frankly lost faith in the Government’s commitment to provide a welfare system, which should be there to look after the vulnerable. In the wider context, for the 2014-15 financial year, a total of £4 million had to be cut from community health and social care, £2.4 million from public health, £4.7 million from support services, £5.6 million from education, and £4 from environment and community safety. These are not “efficiency savings”—they are cuts to front-line services.

Perhaps in 2010 there were areas where genuine savings could be made with minimal knock-on effects on front-line services, but by the time £97 million has been taken from the budget, there is nothing left to cut but vital front-line services. Even the Prime Minister’s own council leader had to explain this principle to him following the now infamous letter in which he criticised his local council’s cuts to front-line services. By 2016-17, Salford City Council will have to make budget cuts of £188 million in order to balance its budget; £83 million of that sum alone is the amount by which the Government grant has been cut. That is a cut of over 43%, but in real terms the figure is much higher.

This is not just an issue for Salford City Council. Every council has faced vast reductions in funding from central Government, and my local council is not alone in having to cut transport for those with special educational needs. Countless numbers of local authorities have reduced or completely ceased to provide transport for vulnerable adults. It is rather tenuous, therefore, for the Government to argue that all these councils have made the choice to cut such an important service when they could instead have made efficiency savings in their back offices. These councils have no such choice any more.

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When my constituents visited me about this issue, my first reaction was to try to locate funding elsewhere. What about the northern powerhouse, I thought, all that money that is supposedly being unlocked in the north—surely Salford’s vulnerable people deserve a piece of that? When I examined the detail I became even more disillusioned. We have often heard the Chancellor wax lyrical about his so-called devolution revolution, which he argues will enable areas such as Salford to raise and spend revenues locally, but he fails to acknowledge that councils in poorer areas have very limited revenue-raising capacities.

For instance, the policy to allow councils to set and retain their own business rates without the safeguard of a grant scheme has the potential to create severe inequalities among different areas of Britain. Indeed, the director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research has said that while he agrees with the principle, it would be “inconceivable” not to keep a grant scheme. He stated:

“does this have the potential to disadvantage deprived areas and advantaged rich ones?..Absolutely!”

The Institute for Fiscal Studies has expressed concern that such a move would create winners and losers, with poorer areas seeing a fall in revenue. Let us not forget that we are already seeing disparities between local authority cuts. Between 2010 and 2015, Salford saw cuts of £210 per head, while authorities such as Epsom and Ewell saw only a £15 per head decrease. With local government funding being cut in terms of the grant by 56% by the end of this Parliament, it is frankly terrifying for Members like me whose local councils will see even more significant reductions in their spending power.

The same issue arises with regard to the social care precept, which would allow councils to raise council tax by 2% in order to fund social care. The president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services has warned:

“The Council Tax precept will raise least money in areas of greatest need which risks heightening inequality.”

Barbara Keeley (Worsley and Eccles South) (Lab): My hon. Friend and parliamentary neighbour is making a great speech in support of our local council and about the difficulties it faces. On the social care precept, does she agree that a council such as ours, which has lost £15 million from its adult social care budget, will be able to raise, at most, only £1.5 million to £1.6 million? The gap is enormous. We no longer want to hear Ministers saying that they have put extra funding into social care, because, frankly, they have not.

Rebecca Long Bailey: My hon. Friend is right: councils in deprived areas will have the greatest social care needs, yet they will raise less than a third of what more affluent areas raise through this approach. I really fear that any revenue we raise across the city of Salford will barely touch the sides of the funding crisis in social care. Sadly, the Minister may be hoping to say that services such as in-house transport for vulnerable adults could be funded through a future increase in the social care precept, but that is not likely to be an option for Salford City Council. As I have outlined, councils in deprived areas have already been hit the hardest, and they will be hit worst again by the measures in the latest spending review.

The Government have had since 2010 to convince us that their argument for local government austerity is necessary. In that time, they have slashed the budgets

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available to councils for vulnerable adult transport and other essential services, while at the same time handing out tax breaks for millionaires, slashing inheritance tax and, despite their rhetoric, doing very little to crack down on tax avoidance. In fact, only in December we heard that five of the largest banks in the UK paid no corporation tax at all in 2014, despite making billions of pounds in profits.

The Prime Minister gave the game away in an interview on Monday morning, when he said that

“if you are a Conservative, you don’t believe in a big state”.

I fear that that is what these cuts are all about: rolling back the state and going back to a time when the vulnerable relied on the philanthropic donations of wealthy people with a conscience.

The cuts that have been inflicted on my city are clearly a political choice, not an economic necessity. My and my hon. Friend’s city is living in fear, with the sword of Damocles hanging over our heads, waiting for the next savage cut to drop.

I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments and I hope he will be able to reassure me that my fears are unfounded. I also hope that as a result of this debate he will ensure that there is a much-needed boost to local government funding, in order to provide essential services such as the one I have outlined. I hope he amazes me with what he is about to say.

5.12 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Life Sciences (George Freeman): I congratulate the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) on securing this debate and thank her for allowing me, on behalf of the Government, to put the record straight on some important issues relating to funding for care generally and for this group of vulnerable patients in particular. I will start by setting the scene of how our reforms have changed the way in which funding is provided, and I will then address some of the detailed local issues in Salford.

The way we look after some of our most vulnerable people is a benchmark of how civilised we are as a society. For that reason, the Government have tried, in a very difficult funding round, to make sure that funding for the most vulnerable is protected and ring-fenced. We understand that everybody in the country is tightening their belts to pay off the debts that previous generations and Governments have left us, but we have tried to be as careful as possible and to make sure that we protect the most vulnerable in our society who have no choice and are completely reliant on public services. That is why, through the Care Act 2014, we now have a reformed care system that is already leaving local authorities in a better position to meet the care needs of their people as they see best and to target resources at those who most need them.

Councils now have greater flexibility to arrange care, as well as to give greater choice and control to individuals. We have given councils freedom on how to use the money they receive and allowed them to work with their residents to decide how best to arrange their spending, based on local priorities and need. I am not pretending for a minute that local government has not faced real pressures on its finances over the past five years. However, when local authorities account for a quarter of the Government’s entire public spending budget, it is only

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right that local government must find its share of the savings that we all need to make to reduce the deficit we inherited from the Labour Government in 2010. It is a tribute to local government across the country, including Labour councils, that the vast majority of them have managed to deliver more with less. It was good to hear the hon. Lady acknowledge that there was fat in the system in 2010, and that councils could do a lot to deliver more for less. Many councils have indeed done so.

Angela Rayner: I want to reiterate that I welcome the fact that Tameside is a pilot area for the Government’s proposed integrated care model. I mentioned the figures earlier, including the forecast £20 million deficit in Tameside general hospital’s budget. Does the Minister not think that that will completely undermine the fantastic and innovative work such areas are trying to do to ensure that people who need care can get it in the right place and at the right time? These savage cuts undermine all the proposals for an integrated care model.

George Freeman: If the hon. Lady had asked her question in slightly more moderate terms, I might have been able to agree, but when she talks about “savage cuts” “completely undermining” any progress on integration, I cannot agree with her. That extreme language does not tally with the rather better numbers—I am not pretending that there are not challenges, because there are—but I will come to them in a minute.

Barbara Keeley: Will the Minister give way?

George Freeman: I will give way briefly, but I want to answer the questions that have already been asked.

Barbara Keeley: Like my hon. Friend and constituency neighbour the Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey), I want to talk about Salford. It was one of the last authorities in the country that managed to hold on to moderate eligibility for social care, but the cuts that my hon. Friend spoke about mean that we have had to move from moderate to substantial. There is not the funding in the system that the Minister is outlining.

George Freeman: I will come on to the numbers for Salford. I rang Salford this morning to get the very latest numbers, and they make quite interesting listening.

Let me just set the scene on the settlement. In the context of the tough public sector finances, we listened to local government and took steps to protect social care services. In the spending review, we reflected that by introducing a 2% social care precept to the council tax for authorities with social care responsibilities. It is ring-fenced: it has to be spent on social care. The precept could mean up to £2 billion of additional funding for social care by 2019-20, which would be enough to support more than 50,000 people in care homes or 200,000 people in their own homes. In addition, we have secured a further £1.5 billion by 2019-20 through extra funding for the better care fund, which brings that funding to a total of £5.3 billion. Those resources are secure, and they are in the hands of local authorities.

Let me turn to transport for disabled people in Salford. Rightly in my view, the provision of social care and the question of how to meet local need are very much matters for the local authority, as I think hon. Members

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would agree. That is at the heart of this issue. I understand that Salford City Council has decided that the transport needs of people who require support to get to local day care and respite care services can best be met, in the patients’ interests, by closing the in-house passenger transport unit and providing suitable alternatives for individuals.

I also understand from the local authority that a significant number of parents and carers have commented on how much better the arrangements are because they can individualise journey times. Instead of having to wait and then sit on the council bus to get to services, going on very long routes, the vast majority of users are getting a much more personal and bespoke service. It means that the users of the service do not spend significant amounts of time on transport, which used to result in some of them arriving at a day centre or home upset, agitated, delayed and frustrated.

The council has worked hard to resolve the concerns that have been expressed by care users and their families. Having spoken to the council this morning, I understand that all have now accepted the new arrangements. Indeed, the director of adult social services at Salford City Council has told me that he considers the change to be

“a success both in terms of outcomes for individuals and in delivering a saving to the council budget.”

Rebecca Long Bailey: The Minister is quite right in what he says. The ability of my local authority to do more with less has been extremely amazing, but the fact remains that the review of special needs transport would not have occurred to this extent had the funding not been taken away. I do not dispute that it is right to review the service and the needs of individuals on an ongoing basis, but it should not have been done in such a forthright and extreme way. That would not have occurred had the funding not been taken away.

George Freeman: I am not sure what the question was. It is interesting that the hon. Lady is saying that the review was the right thing to do and the service has improved, but the rationale for doing it was wrong. I beg to differ. If the rationale that we have to deliver more for less leads good councils, in this case Salford, to find a better way to deliver services that uses less money and provides a better service, that is good. It is exactly what we want councils across the country to do.

For far too long, local government has been hidebound by receiving far too much of its funding from central Government. For me, as a localist, it is anathema that the majority of local government spending comes from central Government. That is why we have begun the process of seriously rebalancing the funding settlement by providing more powers and freedoms locally to raise money that can be spent on locally agreed priorities. The social care precept and the retention of business rates locally are powerful things for which many of us have campaigned for years.

If Salford uses the full social care precept flexibility that we have just provided, it could raise £7.6 million in 2019-20. That will be on top of Salford’s additional income from the better care fund of £10.5 million in 2019-20.

This is not about cuts. It is about a Labour council making prudent decisions that not only improve the way in which services for vulnerable people with disabilities

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are delivered, but do so in the most cost-effective way. The council’s prudence extends to its decision to nearly double its non-ring-fenced reserves from £29.7 million in 2010 to £56.5 million at the end of 2014-15. I will just say that again: the council doubled its reserves to £56.5 million over the course of the coalition Government.

Barbara Keeley: The Minister is being rather complacent in the way that he is responding to this debate. Salford City Council has announced this week that it is having to use its reserves for flood victims, when the Prime Minister will not even apply to the EU solidarity fund for funds. On the point that the Minister makes about social care, the Prime Minister heard this week from the Conservative leader of Essex County Council, who pleaded with him to bring the money forward. The Minister is talking about money for 2019-20. We have to get through the time until then. The money is back-loaded and it is not enough. The situation is risky and uncertain because the money will be provided so late. I should tell him that council leaders are very worried about 2017-18.

George Freeman: I will take the question as being, what do I think about that statement? The hon. Lady is right that the funding ramps up, but she is not right in saying that it does not come on stream until 2020. Indeed, I have looked at the figures for Salford. The money that will go to Salford from the better care fund will be £1.1 million in 2017-18, £6.1 million in 2018-19 and £10.5 million in 2019-20. Similarly, the precept will rise over the course of this Parliament, depending on Salford’s decisions on raising it.

Salford’s reserves have gone from being £29.7 million in 2010 to £56.5 million. Those reserves are public money that is there to be used prudently. In this period when we are all having to make sure that our children do not inherit ever more debts, I do not think the fact that Salford City Council is having to dip into its reserves to ensure that it is able to provide services—which, remember, are costing less but delivering better quality—is the savage crisis that the hon. Lady referred to.

Rebecca Long Bailey: I invite the Minister to visit the city of Salford. He will see the extent of the damage that this Government have done to local authority services. It is not just social care that is experiencing a large funding gap. Salford is experiencing a large-scale regeneration and is coming out of its post-industrial decline, but all that is at risk. He made the fantastic comment that we have increased our reserves, but there is much more that needs to be done in Salford.

George Freeman: I would happily welcome the chance to debate more widely the economic regeneration of Salford, which I hugely welcome. Since the floods have been mentioned, may I extend my sympathy, and that of the Government, to those who have been affected? However, this debate is on transport for vulnerable adults and when I spoke to Salford Council this morning, it told me that all those affected—I believe there are 200 families—are happy with the new service and believe that it is providing a better service for vulnerable adults in Salford.

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The hon. Lady has cleverly used the debate to make wider points about the Government’s approach to care, which is perfectly within her rights. I have tried to deal with them. She says that we are underfunding local government, but in the recent comprehensive spending review, local government made clear to central Government that it foresaw a shortage of £2.9 billion that it was worried would not be met. That is why we gave local government a funding settlement of £3.5 billion, to ensure that the shortage we were warned about was properly met. We went further and gave local government the right to raise up to what will equal £2 billion in 2020 to fund that care gap, and a four-year settlement so that it can plan ahead—one of the other key asks. We have put an extra £1.5 billion into the better care fund, which now totals £5.3 billion for the integration of health and care.

The plea may go up that that is not enough, but money does not grow on trees and we can only fund what we can from our strongly recovering economy. However, I do not believe that that fits the pattern of “savage cuts” described earlier. I merely repeat that if the picture that the hon. Lady painted about transport for vulnerable people in Salford were true, I would be very concerned. However, when I spoke to the Labour-run council, it told me that it believes it is delivering better services at a more efficient cost, and that all those in the families involved have settled and are happy with that. The council’s reserves are up substantially on where the Labour Government left them, to the extent that over the next one or two years, while the extra money that we have put in comes on stream, it will have those reserves that it built up during the coalition Government. I simply do not recognise the picture of savage cuts and austerity that the hon. Lady presents.

Rebecca Long Bailey: I am quite concerned about the Minister’s comments. I spoke to the council this week and received similar comments, including notification that large numbers of the family were happy with the new service—I outlined that in my speech. I also highlighted that the council was aware that some families are not happy with the amended service, and it continues to work with them to try to reach a sensible conclusion on the matter. That is why I have raised this issue in the Chamber today.

George Freeman: I am delighted that we close on a point of unanimity: we agree that Salford Council is doing a good job and has managed well the issue of transport for vulnerable adults. I was merely dealing with the wider points that the hon. Lady sought to make about the Government’s more general approach to care, to which it is my duty to respond. I welcome the work that Salford Council is doing to look after its most vulnerable citizens, and I hugely support it in that. The Government’s vision is to give councils more freedoms and funding to provide for local people in the way that they see fit; in that way, all councils can do what Salford has done and deliver more for less.

Question put and agreed to.

5.28 pm

House adjourned.