MPs clash over cash for Auschwitz school trips

Labour MPs in Scotland have launched a scathing attack on rival parties over funding for visits to Auschwitz by secondary-school pupils.

The SNP and the Tories joined forces to push through a decision in the Scottish Parliament that schools should decide for themselves how to spend £150,000 given to Scotland by Westminster — and that there was no requirement for the money to be spent on the Auschwitz visits.

In February, the Conservative leader David Cameron raised hackles when he appeared to suggest that government funding of Auschwitz visits for schools was “a gimmick”.

Labour shadow education minister Ken Macintosh, who tabled an amendment to try to ensure the money would be spent on the visits, said: “This is very controversial. I am still at a total loss as to why the SNP and the Tories didn’t support my amendment.

“I think what they have done is incompetent, narrow-minded and short-sighted. I cannot tell you how disappointed and depressed I am by the mentality of people that would come up with this.

“The minister [Maureen Watt] said she wanted to visit Auschwitz but she has now denied Scottish schoolchildren the same opportunity.”

Europe minister Jim Murphy, Labour MP for East Renfrewshire at Westminster, said on his personal website: “It is shameful that the Tories and SNP have voted that Scottish students will be denied the opportunity that students everywhere else in the UK will have.”

Mr Murphy and Mr Macintosh organised Scotland’s first Auschwitz visit, which included a number of pupils, in 2004. In the debate, the Minister for Schools and Skills Maureen Watt said: “Will the member [Mr Macintosh] accept that a visit to Auschwitz and other concentration camps by one or two pupils from a school is not the only way in which pupils can learn about the Holocaust, and that through the curriculum for excellence and various strands of the curriculum, more pupils can learn about the Holocaust’s consequences?

“In their activities weeks, many schools provide trips to Germany that include visits to concentration camps, which also allow more pupils to learn about the Holocaust.”

Conservative Liz Smith said: “Many people think that educating youngsters about Auschwitz is extremely important.

“We have no problem in supporting that principle, but we have a problem with the Labour amendment because we do not believe that it is up to any government to decide to ring-fence the money that is involved and we think that it is up to head teachers to make decisions about best experiences.

“However, educating youngsters about Auschwitz can play an important part in their education.”

Karen Pollock, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, said: “HET has been running the Lessons from Auschwitz Project for sixth-form students and teachers for 10 years and we have included a great number of Scottish students over the years.

“While the original Treasury funding included all UK schools, the announcement of renewed funding earlier this year only caters for English schools.

“We continue our discussions with the Scottish government to ensure that the HET is able to provide participation in the project for school students and teachers across Scotland.”

    Last updated: 6:04pm, May 7 2008