April 29, 2009
Nick Hurd supports calls for recognition of the extraordinary stories and outstanding bravery of British heroes of the holocaust through some form of national memorial.
Mr. Nick Hurd (Ruislip-Northwood) (Con): I start by not only congratulating the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway (Mr. Brown) but thanking him. That is because before this debate I did not know anything about the British heroes of the holocaust and I am embarrassed by that fact. If the Hebrew saying that was quoted by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) is right and he who saves one life, saves the world entire, where does that place Frank Foley, who is reported to have saved 10,000 lives?
These are extraordinary stories about really extraordinary people; these people are, if you like, giants of our time. I rather share the sentiment that was expressed by my hon. Friend: as I sit back after reading these stories, I feel very proud to be British. Therefore, I would like to thank the hon. Member for Dumfries and Galloway, quite genuinely, for his contribution.
I also congratulate the Holocaust Educational Trust. It does amazing work in my constituency each year, working with the two synagogues in Northwood and with local schools to bring together local children, often as many as 2,500 on a single day, to do something very important. That is not just about throwing a steady light on one of the darkest chapters in our history, although it has never been more important to keep doing that as the survivors of those events get older and die out. In addition, what always impresses me about that day is the ability of the Holocaust Educational Trust to connect that history with the world around those young people today. I find that enormously impressive. The trust also commu nicates a sense of opportunity for everyone—each individual—to make a difference. I do not think that there has ever been a more important time to inspire people with that thought, as we worry about civic engagement and the degree to which people are prepared to get involved these days. So I genuinely support the work of the Holocaust Educational Trust in that field.
That inspiring message—the opportunity to make a difference—underpins the importance of the stories that we have heard today, which are genuinely inspirational. Each contributor to the debate today has spoken powerfully about things that have touched them individually. Again, I rather share the sentiment expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East. The story that I liked most was about the group of 10 prisoners of war, Tommy Noble and his mates, who spent 10 weeks supporting that young girl. That is because acts of individual heroism are enormously impressive, but when there is a group of people prepared to take the same unflinching and enormous risk for that length of time, that is enormously impressive, too.
I am probably not the only Member who, while reading these stories, was asking himself or herself, “How would I have reacted in this situation?” The answer is that we do not know, because very few of us have been tested to that limit.
Therefore, this has been a journey that leads me to feel strongly that it has been wrong to leave recognition of British heroes of the holocaust until now to the Israeli authorities, including the Israeli Holocaust Memorial Authority, and that it is right now to recognise them through a national memorial of some form. I am delighted to place on record my party’s support for the principle of a memorial.
Obviously, the nature of such a memorial needs to be thought through carefully. I think that most Members, particularly the right hon. Member for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Des Browne), the former Secretary of State for Defence, will know that there are sensitivities in relation to using the existing traditional honours system to honour the dead, or to using the existing system of military awards to recognise acts of courage that took place so long ago.
Therefore, a memorial is something that needs to be thought through carefully, I hope on a cross-party basis. However, if the Government are thinking of some form of individual award that sits outside the traditional award system, that is clearly an attractive idea as far as we are concerned and it would be of enormous value to the families of the individuals involved.
I want to close by expressing a personal view. It is not the view of my party; in fact, I do not know whether it is the view of my party, but I am inspired to place it on record as a personal view. I would be disappointed if such an initiative, such an individual award, were introduced and that was the end of it, however valuable that initiative was to the families concerned. That is because I would hope that we could be inspired to do more.
I am attracted to the idea of considering what the Government can do to facilitate a more physical memorial for all heroes, something that is tangible, that people can walk or drive past and that will trigger something in them, reminding them of what my hon. Friend the Member for Rugby and Kenilworth (Jeremy Wright) put very well, which is the power of ordinary people to rise up and do remarkable things whatever the scale of the threat facing them.
I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say. He knows that my party supports the principle of a memorial and we would very much like to be involved in working out the detail. I just urge him not to be short of ambition.