Rishi Sunak to bring forward a bill to build Westminster Holocaust Memorial

Due to legislation dating back to 1900, an Act of Parliament is required to build the memorial in Victoria Tower Gardens


Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced today that he will bring forward legislation to build the Westminster Holocaust Memorial next to Parliament. 

Speaking at Prime Ministers Questions ahead of Holocaust Memorial Day, Mr Sunak reaffirmed his commitment to building the national memorial – a commitment he made during the Consersative leadership contest last summer. 

He said: “As we prepare to mark Holocaust Memorial Day, I’m sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to the extraordinary courage of Britain’s Holocaust survivors, including 94-year-old Arek Hersh who is with us here today. 

“This government will legislate to build the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre next to Parliament so that testimonies of survivors like Arek will be heard at the heart of our democracy by every generation to come.” 

Planning permission for the museum and memorial has been rejected a number of times by both Westminster council and through the courts due to a law dating back to 1900 banning construction in Victoria Tower Gardens meaning primary legislation is required to overturn it. 

The idea of having a national Holocaust Memorial and learning centre in Victoria Gardens, next to the Houses of Parliament, was first proposed by a commission set up by Prime Minister David Cameron in 2015, but it has seen various setbacks since then. 

After a consultation exercise in 2019, the initial design was revised following criticism from local residents and a number of organisations about the location and the design, but even so, Westminster City Council’s planning committee unanimously voted to reject the plans in February 2020. 

After the government conducted a public inquiry into the plans, the government announced in July 2021 that the memorial would, in fact, go ahead. 

However, a number of organisations, including the London Historic Parks And Gardens Trust, appealed the decision to the High Court who, in April last year, overturned planning permission as the plans did not comply with a 1900 statute mandating that Victoria Tower Gardens be used solely as “a garden open to the public”.

An appeal against that decision was rejected in July 2022. 

Both Rishi Sunak and the short-lived prime minister Liz Truss pledged to bring forward a Bill to overturn that legislation to ensure that the memorial and learning centre are built, with Mr Sunak telling the JC: "I have committed to making the Holocaust Memorial and Learning Centre free to visit in perpetuity and I would like to see this built as soon as possible in Victoria Gardens as a powerful signal of the importance we attach to remembering the Holocaust and the lessons it teaches us all." 

However, the idea of a national memorial has not been free of controversy, with a number of prominent members of the community rejecting the idea.

Reacting to the prime minister's announcement today, Baroness Deech told the JC: "It seems the PM is not well informed. The Westminster memorial plan does not include survivors’ testimony-that has been extensively done elsewhere. The memorial design is historically inaccurate, the planned contents low quality compared to others, the Shoah will be mentioned along with many other genocides as if they were all the same, and the message it is to send is that all’s well if British values are recognised. It fails to link the Holocaust with the rise in antisemitism today.

"Never again has to mean support for the seven million Jews in Israel who are under attack from their neighbours and from anti-Zionists world over," she added.

Proponents of the memorial, including Holocaust survivors and community organisations like the Board of Deputies, argue that having a memorial next to Parliament is key to understanding the Holocaust and ensuring that future generations understand the successes and failures of Britain during the genocide.

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