The Prime Minister was asked—
This morning I had meetings with ministerial colleagues and others. Following my duties in this House, this afternoon I shall have an audience of Her Majesty the Queen. I shall then continue with my duties in this House from the Back Benches, where I will continue to be the Member of Parliament for Maidenhead.
I profoundly disagree with many of the decisions that the Prime Minister has made and many of the things she says, but I recognise that she does have a respect for public service and for the future of our country, so how does she feel about handing over to a man who, among many things, is happy to demonise Muslims, is prepared to chuck our loyal public servants and diplomats under a bus, and promises to sell our country out to Donald Trump and his friends?
I am pleased to hand over to an incoming leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister who I worked with when he was in my Cabinet, and who is committed, as a Conservative who stood on a Conservative manifesto in 2017, to delivering on the vote of the British people in 2016 and to delivering a bright future for this country.
First of all, I thank my hon. Friend for all his work on the Homelessness Reduction Act, which, crucially, we are seeing actually having an impact—that is so important for the people who are benefiting from the work he did. I know that he has been doing a lot of work as part of the all-party parliamentary group on smoking and health. I agree that we need to start viewing health as an asset to protect throughout our lives. That is why we have taken bold action on smoking and childhood obesity. I am proud that we have delivered not only the biggest ever cash boost in the history of the national health service, but a long-term plan that, as he said, will focus on prevention—as well as on cancer care and mental health—trying to ensure that people do not get ill in the first place. Preventing smoking and obesity are key parts of better lives for people in the future.
Today marks the final day in office for the Prime Minister, and I pay tribute to her sense of public duty. Public service should always be recognised. Being an MP, a Minister or indeed a Prime Minister is an honour that brings with it huge responsibility and huge pressures personally and, I am sure the Prime Minister and probably the whole House would agree, on those very closest to us, who are often not able to answer back for the criticisms made against them. I hope she has a marginally more relaxing time on the Back Benches. Perhaps, like the Chancellor, she will even help me oppose the reckless plans of her successor. [Interruption.] If I may continue—[Interruption.] I am glad the Government party is in such good heart today, for tomorrow it won’t be.
In the past three years, child poverty has gone up, pensioner poverty has gone up, in-work poverty has gone up, violent crime has gone up, NHS waiting times have gone up, school class sizes have gone up, homelessness has gone up and food bank use has gone up. Does the Prime Minister have any regrets about any of the things I have just said?
It is very good to see the Conservative party in good heart; it is more than I can say for the Labour party. But let me just say something to the right hon. Gentleman about my record over the past three years and how I measure it. It is in the opportunity for every child who is now in a better school. It is in the comfort for every person who now has a job for the first time in their life. It is in the hope of every disadvantaged young person now able to go to university. It is in the joy of every couple who can now move into their own home. At its heart, politics is not about exchanges across the Dispatch Box. Nor is it about eloquent speeches or media headlines. Politics is about the difference we make every day to the lives of people up and down this country. They are our reason for being here, and we should never forget it.
Yes, politics is about real life and politics is about what people suffer in their ordinary lives. I did not mention that per-pupil school funding has gone down, police numbers are down and GP numbers are falling. In the 2017 Conservative manifesto, the Prime Minister promised that no school would have its budget cut, that she would protect TV licences for the over-75s and that she would halve rough sleeping. Which of those pledges is the Prime Minister most sorry not to have achieved?
I am pleased to hear that the right hon. Gentleman spent some time reading the Conservative party manifesto from 2017—he has not been known for always reading the documents he stands up and talks about. Had he read the manifesto properly, he would know that we made a pledge on rough sleeping: to halve it by 2022 and to stop rough sleeping by 2027. I am pleased to say that in the past year we have seen rough sleeping going down. In particular, rough sleeping is going down in those areas where this Government have been taking action.
I do not quite know where the Prime Minister gets her figures from on rough sleeping. All I know is that I travel around this country, just like other Members of this House, and I talk to people who have had a disaster in their lives and end up rough sleeping. We are the fifth richest country in the world. It is surely wrong that anyone should end up sleeping on the streets of this country. We can and should do something about it.
I have often disagreed with the Prime Minister and have many criticisms of her policies, but I welcome the reduction in the stake on fixed odds betting terminals, the adoption of the children’s funeral fund and the scrapping of employment tribunal fees. Which of those policies is the Prime Minister most proud of?
I am proud of all the policies that we have introduced that have been improving people’s lives. I am proud of the fact that through our balanced management of the economy, we now see more people in work in this country than ever before. I am proud of the fact that there are more children in good and outstanding schools. I am proud of the fact that the attainment gap between the disadvantaged and the advantaged has been narrowed under this Government. And I am proud of the fact that we are putting the biggest cash boost in its history into our national health service. We are ensuring that the national health service—the most beloved institution in this country—will be there for people into the future. This is a Conservative Government—my Government—delivering on the things that matter to people in their day-to-day lives.
The Prime Minister may have noticed that none of those things that I mentioned were actually in the Conservative party manifesto in 2017, but every one of them was a Labour pledge in 2017. On Brexit, the Prime Minister’s own red lines ruled out any sensible compromise deal. Only after she had missed her own deadline to leave did the Prime Minister even begin to shift her position, but by then, she no longer had the authority to deliver. Her successor has no mandate at all. Does she have confidence that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) will succeed where she has not?
I worked tirelessly to get a good deal for the UK, and I also worked hard to get that deal through this Parliament. I voted for the deal. What did the right hon. Gentleman do? He voted against a deal. He voted to make no deal more likely, and when there was a prospect of reaching consensus across this House, the right hon. Gentleman walked away from the talks. At every stage, his only interest has been playing party politics, and frankly, he should be ashamed of himself.
We have had three years of bungled negotiations, and we now have the spectacle of a Prime Minister coming into office with no electoral mandate looking for a Brexit deal that has been ruled out by the European Union, or in the case of a no deal, ruled out by the majority in this House and by anyone who understands the dangers to the British economy of a no deal. The next Prime Minister thought the Isle of Man was in the European Union and that the European Union made rules about kippers that, in fact, were made by the Government that he was part of. He also said that the UK could secure tariff-free trade through article 24 of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, despite the International Trade Secretary, the Attorney General and the Governor of the Bank of England all confirming that that is not possible.
At the start of 2018, the—[Interruption.] It’s coming, don’t worry. At the start of 2018, the Prime Minister herself set up a new unit to counter fake news, charged with “combating disinformation”. How successful does she think that has been?
Maybe the Prime Minister can have a word with her successor on the way out, but let me conclude—[Interruption.] For today. Let me conclude by welcoming some of the Prime Minister’s notable U-turns over the last couple of years. The cruel dementia tax was scrapped. Plans to bring back grammar schools were ditched. The threat to the pensions triple lock was abandoned. The withdrawal of the winter fuel payments was dumped. The pledge to bring back foxhunting was dropped, and the Government binned their plan to end universal free school meals for five to seven-year-olds. The Prime Minister has dumped her own manifesto. Given that her successor has no mandate from the people—no mandate on which to move into office—does she not agree that the best thing that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip could do later on today when he takes office is to call a general election and let the people decide their future?
My first answer to the right hon. Gentleman is no. If he wants to talk about people ducking manifesto commitments and commitments made during general election campaigns, might I remind him that the Labour party and he said that they would abolish student debt? After the election, he rowed back on that promise. What else did he say during the general election campaign? He said he was committed to Trident. What did he say afterwards? He said, no, he was not committed to Trident at all. He has broken promise after promise to the people of this country.
As this is the last time that the right hon. Gentleman and I will have this exchange across these Dispatch Boxes—[Hon. Member: “Are you going to answer the question?”] I was going to say that it is a strength of our British democracy that the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have these exchanges across the Dispatch Boxes every week, two swords’ lengths apart, and that no quarter is sought and none is given. That is as it should be in our adversarial parliamentary democracy. But he and I are very different people and very different politicians and we approach the issues the country faces in different ways. I have spent all but one of my years in the House on the Front Bench trying to implement the policies I believe in, while he has spent most of his time on the Back Benches campaigning for what he believes in, often against his own party, but what we have in common is a commitment to our constituencies. I saw that after the terrorist attack in Finsbury Park mosque in his constituency. Perhaps then I could finish by saying this: as a party leader who has accepted when her time is up, might I suggest that perhaps the time is now for him to do the same? [Hon. Members: “More!”]
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks and for highlighting the work the Government have done in Wales. I would add that over 95,000 people in Wales had a pay rise this year as a result of the national living wage and that employment in Wales has risen by 167,000 since 2010. Conservatives have indeed been delivering for Wales. I know the concern about the franchise for overseas voters and I am sure that my successor will wish to look at that.
I discovered a new part of my hon. Friend’s past recently. I believe he was once the bodyguard to the legendary Hollywood actress Lauren Bacall. [Interruption.] I think his red face tells us all.
Prime Minister, it is fair to say that we have had our differences—it has not often been a meeting of minds— but, with her standing down today, the time for holding her to account has passed. The burdens of office are considerable, the loneliness of leadership can be stark. At times we have clashed on points of political difference, but equally we have stood together when it has been right to do so—over Salisbury and other threats to the UK’s national security. She rightly made sure that Opposition leaders were informed at key moments in national security. In particular, her chief of staff, Gavin Barwell, always sought to make sure that I was kept informed of important developments. Prime Minister, I wish you and Philip all the best for the future.
As the Prime Minister departs, is she confident that the office of Prime Minister can be upheld by her flagrant successor?
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his remarks. He is absolutely right: he and I have a difference of opinion on some key issues, but I have been grateful for the position that the SNP has taken on key issues of national security, when it has stood alongside the Government as we have faced the actions of our enemy. I understand the right hon. Gentleman’s point about keeping Opposition leaders in touch with things that have happened. I would also like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to Gavin Barwell, who was a first-class Member of this House, a first-class Minister, and has been an absolutely first-class chief of staff.
In answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s question: yes, I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) on winning the Conservative leadership election. He will take over as Prime Minister and I look forward to a first-class Conservative Government under his leadership, delivering for the whole of the United Kingdom.
The Prime Minister-elect has no mandate in Scotland. He has no mandate from the people. The Government he is busy forming have no mandate in Scotland. Scotland deserves better. A snap YouGov poll shows that 60% of people in Scotland are dismayed and disappointed by the new Prime Minister.
Those of us on the SNP Benches have tabled an early-day motion, with friends from parties across this House, rejecting the idea of this House being shut down before November. Following Parliament’s overwhelming message in last week’s vote, may I invite the Prime Minister, in one of her first actions as a Back-Bench MP, to sign our early-day motion and join efforts to stop the suspension of Parliament under any circumstances?
As I said in answer to the right hon. Gentleman’s first question, I accept that he and I have differences on a number of issues. We both have a passion for delivering for the people of Scotland. I want to do that with Scotland as part of the United Kingdom; he wants to take Scotland out of the United Kingdom. We have a mandate from the people to form a Government of this country. That is how we run things in the parliamentary democracy that we have in this country. We also have a mandate from the people to deliver on the result of the 2016 referendum. If the right hon. Gentleman is so interested in delivering on mandates from the British people, he should have voted on the deal to take us out of the EU.
I recognise the importance of increasing cycling and walking. It is important for people’s health and the local environment. Schemes such as the Derwent valley cycle way provide significant benefit to the local economy as well as to health and the environment. We have doubled our spending on cycling and walking in England, and our local cycling and walking infrastructure plan enables local authorities to take a strategic approach to planning improvements and to integrate them into wider plans for transport and economic development. I am sure the issue will continue to be supported by Conservatives in government.
We have put £1 billion extra into the pension system, recognising concerns that were expressed by women about the changes to pensions. The hon. Lady references what I am going to be doing in the future, but I thought I had already made that very clear: I will be continuing in this House as the Member of Parliament for Maidenhead.
West Midlands Combined Authority
I am sure my hon. Friend will want to join me in saying how pleased I am with the economic growth that we have seen in the West Midlands Combined Authority area. Output has increased by 27% over five years; productivity increased at twice the national rate last year; and employment has increased since 2011. The record of the West Midlands Combined Authority shows precisely what a local, visible, innovative leadership can do and how it can be the key to building a strong economy and a fairer society.
With the Prime Minister’s active encouragement the Mayor of the West Midlands was elected in May 2017, and she has supported him and the region ever since. Over £2 billion has been given to the region by the Prime Minister in the form of grants and guarantees for transport and so many other worthwhile projects, so on behalf of the people of the west midlands may I thank her and may I also ask that she continues in Parliament as a strong advocate for local devolution?
I remember the conversation I had with Andy Street when I was encouraging him to stand for the mayoralty of the west midlands, and I am very pleased that he did. He has been delivering for the people of the west midlands ever since his election. I also thank my hon. Friend for highlighting the excellent work that we have done for the west midlands: Government working with that combined authority shows the benefits of the very local devolution that my hon. Friend has referred to. This is a very good example of what that innovative and visionary leadership can do at a local level in improving the lives of people.
My successor will continue to deliver the Conservative policies that have improved the lives of people up and down this country since we were elected into a coalition Government in 2010. There is a long list of improvements that have taken place in people’s lives, and I look forward, on the Back Benches, to giving my full support to the next Prime Minister as he takes us forward, delivering on Brexit and continuing to deliver on those Conservative policies.
May I thank my right hon. Friend for the way in which she has conducted herself as Prime Minister of this she country, for the dignified way in which she has approached the job and her responsibilities? May I ask her to reflect on the fact that when we both first joined the Government in 2010, for every £4 the Government were spending we were borrowing £1, yet as she leaves office today for every £34 the Government spend we are borrowing £1? She has left an economy that is in a much more stable position than when it was inherited. To do that she has had to make some very difficult choices, and choices we may not have wanted to make, but we have got the economy on a sound footing, and I thank her for that.
I thank my right hon. Friend for pointing out that fact about Government borrowing and for highlighting the work we have done for the economy, delivering that balanced approach. I would like to thank my right hon. Friend the Chancellor for the work he has done in delivering that. What does that mean? It means borrowing at its lowest level for 17 years; it means the lowest unemployment since the 1970s, wages growing at their fastest for a decade and debt falling. That is what my Government have delivered: more jobs, healthier finances and an economy fit for the future.
Obviously, I always look at Select Committee reports with care. I commissioned the Augar review of post-18 education funding, and that review has been very clear that more money needs to go into further education and into sixth forms. I want to see that happening. Indeed, I think that, just as my Government have given a priority to the national health service in looking at funding for the future, the next Government should give priority to education so that we can see that money going into further education and sixth forms and ensure that for every young person there is an avenue through education and training that suits them and their talents and gives them the best opportunities for their future.
The Prime Minister has always been a great champion of victims of domestic violence, as Prime Minister and as Home Secretary, and she has directed many millions of pounds into improving those support services during her time in office, but does she agree that there is still much more work to be done on prevention and early intervention, and on tackling the ongoing scepticism that still greets many victims when they report violence?
I thank my hon. Friend for raising an important issue. I also thank her for the work for victims of domestic violence that she did in her legal practice prior to coming into this House. This is a very important issue, and I am proud of the Domestic Abuse Bill that has been introduced in this House. I look forward to the debates on the Bill as it goes through Parliament. My hon. Friend is absolutely right to say that we need to continue to focus on prevention and continue to raise awareness. We must ensure that domestic violence is seen for what it is. These are criminal acts that are being perpetrated and they should not be brushed under the carpet. People should not just say, “Oh, it’s something that happens behind closed doors” or “It’s just a domestic”. We need to take domestic violence very seriously. We need to ensure that we are taking appropriate action in relation to the perpetrators, and that victims are given support and feel confident and are able to come forward at the earliest opportunity to report what has happened to them.
The hon. Gentleman has raised an issue of great concern, and I am sure it will be of concern to Members across the House and of course to the family of his constituent. I will ensure that the Ministry of Defence provides a response to him on this issue.
I thank my right hon. Friend for her work in supporting and overseeing the global health programme that the United Kingdom delivers overseas, particularly in regard to vaccination and most notably the polio eradication vaccination, for which she has been internationally recognised. The programme has saved and safeguarded millions of children’s lives across the world. Does she agree that the need to combat misinformation about vaccination is now as important as it ever has been? Will she, in her memo to her successor, note the importance of this programme and the continuing need for a self-standing Department for International Development?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his reference to the work on polio, which enables me to commend the work of my constituent, Judith Diment, with Rotary International in its work against polio. It is important that we combat the disinformation about vaccinations and ensure that people are willing to have those vaccinations, which will change their lives and ensure that they can lead healthy lives, rather than succumbing to diseases and conditions that can have an impact on their lives. I can also say to him that I am proud of the fact that we have a Department for International Development, and proud of the fact that we have legislated for 0.7% of gross national income to be spent on development aid overseas. That is an important element of global Britain and an important element of our standing in the world.
As I have said on several occasions, it behoves all of us as politicians—indeed, everyone in public life—to be careful about the language we use and to ensure that we give a clear a message that there is no place in our society for racism or hate crime. We should all act to ensure that we deliver on those sentiments. I thank Helene for her work at Bletchley Park and thank all those who worked there. Unsung for some considerable time, they played a crucial part in our ability to defeat fascism in the second world war. We should be very proud of their work, and I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving the House the opportunity to celebrate it.
I begin by commending the Prime Minister for her stamina and courage in her term of office—whatever our views on Brexit and other issues—and also commend the support that she has received from her husband Philip. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] For many of us, our husbands, wives and partners are the unsung heroes. May I now ask her a specific question? She is going to the palace this afternoon, and we assume that she is going to recommend that the right hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson) succeed her as Prime Minister, but will she tell the House one piece of real, hard advice that she would like to give him on being Prime Minister?
Can I—[Interruption.] A number of my right hon. and hon. Friends are suggesting from a sedentary position that my advice should be to read my right hon. Friend’s summer reading list. However, he has also given me an opportunity to do something that I suspect many on my side may not thank me for, but I am taking a lead from you, Mister Speaker, in saying that I am pleased to be able to see my husband in the Gallery today.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his remarks and also for his work on modern slavery, because he and I have spoken about it on a number of occasions over the years, and he has also been a great champion. We passed the Modern Slavery Act 2015, which took action in relation to individuals who could find themselves on the receiving end of criminal charges effectively because they had been forced to act in a certain way because of modern slavery. We have been looking at how we deal with victims and the referral mechanism, It is important that we have had an independent review of the 2015 Act, which proposed a number of recommendations for improving how victims are treated, and we will be taking most of those recommendations on board.
Further to the mention of modern-day slavery by the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), it is right to record that my right hon. Friend has long and distinguished service in this House, both in government and in opposition, and her commitment to public service has been outstanding. Her vision and her determination to bring forward legislation against modern-day slavery led the world, and I hope she will continue her fight against slavery with us from the Back Benches so that we stamp out this evil scourge together.
I look forward to joining my right hon. Friend on the Back Benches and continuing to campaign on this issue. I also pay tribute to her for the work that she has done on this issue. She is right: it is an absolute scourge. We must continue to fight it, and we must continue to raise awareness of it, because there are too many people today in this country—not trafficked into this country, but British citizens—who find themselves taken into effective slavery. We must raise awareness of this, and we must constantly work to combat it and to end it.
I recognise the concern that the hon. Gentleman is showing for his constituency, and the worry and concern that there is for those people who are employed in the business that he has referred to. Of course, whenever we see closures of factories and closures of industrial sites, the Government do act to ensure that support is available for those who find themselves losing their jobs, should that be the case.
However, the hon. Gentleman says that I talked of having a modern industrial strategy. We have a modern industrial strategy. It is a modern industrial strategy that is essentially setting the background and the framework that will enable the economy of the United Kingdom to be the economy for the 21st century.
You are in no doubt, Mr Speaker, that I think the Prime Minister is a thoroughly good egg, and it has been an absolute privilege to serve her on the Back Benches.
This Prime Minister’s commitment to mental health has been simply fantastic; it was fantastic when she was the Home Secretary, and it has been fantastic in her time as Prime Minister. We have had the Stevenson/Farmer review of workplace mental health; Sir Simon Wessely’s review into the Mental Health Act 1983; her commitment to reducing the tragedy of suicide, with her putting her office behind that; and the introduction of places of safety for people experiencing a mental health crisis. We have been filling the Prime Minister’s diary up with future commitments as she authors the next chapter of her political life, but can she find space for a few more paragraphs on mental health?
I thank my hon. Friend for his question. I also thank him and my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham (Dame Cheryl Gillan) for the dignified way in which they conducted the Conservative party leadership election. He has been an advocate for the Government doing more on mental health during his time in this House, and he has championed the need for us to do more on mental health. I want to continue to ensure that we do indeed take that forward. We have set the record in putting that record funding into mental health and in having those essential reviews—Stevenson/Farmer and Sir Simon Wessely’s review. We now need to ensure that we implement the proposals and that we take this forward. If we do so, we will make a significant improvement in the lives of those people with mental health problems.
I commend the individual to whom the hon. Gentleman referred for the work that he has been doing. I am not aware of the organisation that the hon. Gentleman referred to, of which the consultant that he mentioned is a member, but I do want a relationship between the United Kingdom and European Union in the future that enables our scientists and academics to continue to work with those in the EU, and around the rest of the world, to do the pioneering work that—as the hon. Gentleman said, speaking from his own experience—is changing people’s lives for the better.
The Prime Minister and I first encountered the
“bumping pitch and…blinding light”
of parliamentary life together in 1997, and since then, over many tests, have endured some defeats and enjoyed many victories. As she reflects on her innings on the Front Bench, will she count among her greatest achievements the falling number of workless households, which has succoured personal responsibility, secured family stability and nurtured communal pride? Will she continue that work and, in doing so, unite the whole House in that mission?
I thank my right hon. Friend for that, and also thank him for all the work that we did together when he was a Home Office Minister. He worked very hard to ensure that what I believe is an extremely important and pioneering piece of legislation, the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, went through this House. I am very happy to welcome the fact that we now have that low number of workless households in this country. We all know that children brought up in a household where there is work are more likely to do better at school, and more likely to succeed further in their life. Reducing the number of workless households is an important aim, and one that I would have hoped could be accepted and championed across this whole House.
First, I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on his appointment as trade envoy to Israel. He has done a lot of work on antisemitism, and should be congratulated on it. We have been ensuring that we put more money into police forces: around £1 billion extra is available to police forces this year, and many police forces around the country are recruiting more officers. On the theme with which the hon. Gentleman started his question, I imagine that to him and to others it is a matter of great sadness that the Leader of the Opposition took the Labour party through voting against extra money for the police, and against extra powers for the police.
Some 31 people were killed in Idlib yesterday, and many tens of thousands of people were displaced—again. I thank the Prime Minister for her personal commitment to Syria, and to international development more widely. I would like her to join me in reassuring the people of Syria that all of us here will continue to remember them.
First, I commend my hon. Friend’s work in setting up Singing for Syrians, which has been raising funds for people in Syria, and the commitment that she has shown to the people of Syria. We remain, and the Conservative Government will remain, committed to working for a political solution in Syria that can provide the stability and security that the people of Syria deserve.
I join others in thanking the Prime Minister for her years of public service as Home Secretary and as the Prime Minister, for the thoroughly decent, dedicated, honourable way she has carried out all her our duties, and for the very courteous and proper way she has dealt with us as a party. Working together, we have ensured that there actually is a Conservative and Unionist Government of the United Kingdom, which will please many in the House. I will also please Labour Members by saying that we have ensured that there is no early general election.
Now that the Prime Minister has more time on her hands with her dear husband, Philip, I urge her to come to Northern Ireland and avail herself of the many walking opportunities there. She will have seen the wonderful Open championship this weekend in Royal Portrush, which was a credit to Northern Ireland and to the United Kingdom. The warm hospitality of the people of Northern Ireland was on show, and it is open to her as well.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for the discussions we have had and the support he has continued to give to the Conservative and Unionist party so that there is a Conservative and Unionist Government in this country. I thank him for the warm invitation to Northern Ireland he has given to me and Philip. I have enjoyed my visits to Northern Ireland. I congratulate all those in Northern Ireland who were involved in putting on the Open championship at Portrush. There was a slight issue with the weather, which may have favoured those who came close to the top of the championship, but it was an excellent championship, and many people will have seen the delights and benefits of Northern Ireland when they attended that event.
As somebody who has not invariably seen eye-to-eye with the Prime Minister, may I thank her for her remarkable public service, for showing that highest of virtues, a sense of duty and, on top of that, for being willing to deal with enormous courtesy with people who must on occasions have been annoying to her? On behalf of many people, I thank the Prime Minister.
I thank my hon. Friend for his remarks. This place is about debate, argument and discussion about the issues that we all believe in so passionately and that matter to us all. Those debates and discussions are best held when they are held with respect and courtesy. I thank my hon. Friend for the courtesy that he has shown to me in our discussions together. I look forward to probably continuing some of those discussions when I join him on the Back Benches.
When I think of girls growing up in East Dunbartonshire, I know it is inspiring for them to see women in positions of power, whether that is as First Minister of Scotland or as Prime Minister of our United Kingdom. What advice does the Prime Minister have for women throughout the country on how to deal with those men who think they could do a better job but are not prepared to do the actual work?
My advice to all women is to be true to yourself, persevere, keep going and be true to the vision that you are working for. I congratulate the hon. Lady on her election as leader of her party. I am pleased that we have a Member representing a Scottish constituency who is a leader of a United Kingdom party. That goes to show that we are one United Kingdom, and MPs from the four nations of our Union sit in this House on the basis of equality. I also congratulate the hon. Lady on becoming the first woman to lead her party. As I stand down, I am pleased to be able to hand the baton on to another female leader of a political party.
As I look around the Chamber, I have to say that we almost have a full set. My party has had two women leaders, the Liberal Democrats now have a woman leader, and the SNP has a woman leader, as does the DUP, Plaid and the Greens. Even—[Interruption.] Wait for it. Even the independent TIGger group, Change UK, or whatever they are calling themselves this week, are now on to their second woman leader. There is only one party in this House letting the side down: the Labour party.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all she has done for women in Parliament and in this country, from co-founding Women2Win to tackling domestic abuse and modern slavery and legislating to make our society more equal. Will she urge her successor to build on her work and make Britain the best place in the world to be a woman?
I am very happy to urge that commitment for the future. I thank my hon. Friend for raising that issue. I am very pleased that under my Government, we have seen the gender pay gap at a record low, female employment at a record high and a record percentage of women on executive boards. With our women’s empowerment road map, we are now looking at how we can empower women in this country from school to retirement. I want women in this country to feel that there are no limits to how far they can go and what they can do with their lives.
We have disagreed on many things over the years, but the Prime Minister knows that I have long respected her resilience, commitment to public duty and seriousness, as well as her work on national security. I assure her that there is much to be done from the Back Benches. She knows that I once said to her that I believed she was not the kind of person who would take this country into a chaotic no-deal scenario, not least because of the advice she had had on the risks to our national security. I am fearful about her successor, so can she reassure me that she really thinks, in her heart, that her successor will take those national security warnings as seriously as she has? If he does not, in October, will she speak out?
First, I have every confidence that my successor will take all the issues that he needs to look at in making these decisions and others across Government as seriously as they need to be taken. I also say to her—I am sorry, but I will say this—that she is absolutely right that I have always said that I believe it is better for this country to leave with a good deal, and I believe we negotiated a good deal. I voted three times in this House for a good deal. I spoke to the right hon. Lady about this issue. If she was so concerned about the security aspect of no deal, she should have voted for the deal.
In every aspect of her public life, the Prime Minister has put her heart and soul into giving people the best chance in life. Without understanding, autistic people and their families, who number 2.8 million in the UK, are all at risk of being isolated and developing mental health problems. In thanking the Prime Minister for all the work she has done in furthering the debate surrounding mental health and removing the stigma, may I ask her whether, after she has left the Front Bench to spend more meaningful time with her husband Philip, she will join the all-party parliamentary group on autism and become a champion and advocate for autistic people throughout the country?
I thank my right hon. Friend for her question and for the groundbreaking work she did on the Autism Act 2009. That legislation helped to raise people’s awareness of the issues experienced by those on the autistic spectrum and greatly increased our understanding of what we need to do to enable people with autism to lead fulfilling lives. There are many issues in which I want to take an interest when I am on the Back Benches and this, along with mental health more widely, is something that I will want to continue to look at. I have committed to taking the autism training that the all-party group has made available for Members of Parliament.
It is always a historic moment when a Prime Minister leaves office, especially when the country faces such difficult times ahead, as we do, but the right hon. Lady’s departure marks another milestone, because although we are on to our 77th Prime Minister now, she is only the second woman ever to have held that office. She made tackling human trafficking and the horrors of domestic violence a priority at the heart of her Government, and in that respect her legacy is secure, because everyone in this House backs that work and we will all be committed to taking it forward.
Even the Prime Minister’s harshest critics must recognise her integrity, her commitment to public service and her dedication to this country. Those are qualities that none of us should ever take for granted, but may I offer her a word of sisterly advice? Sometimes, you just have to be a bit more careful when a man wants to hold your hand. I thank her for her service as our Prime Minister, and I sincerely wish her all the very best for the future.
I thank the right hon. and learned Lady for her question. She joined this House in 1982 when there was a female Prime Minister, but there were very few other women in this House. She has played a very important role—one of which she can be proud—in ensuring that more women come into this House as Labour Members of Parliament. She started something that began to change the face of this House, which has been very important. I came here in 1997 as one of only 13 Conservative women—indeed, one Labour Member of Parliament approached me to encourage me to sign a private Member’s Bill list because he assumed that, as a woman, I must have been a Labour Member of Parliament. I am also proud to have played my part in getting more women MPs in this House. I am sure that among the women in this House today there is a future Prime Minister—perhaps more than one.
Later today, as I said earlier, I will return to the Back Benches. It will be my first time on the Back Benches in 21 years, so it will be quite a change from standing here at the Dispatch Box. I am told that over the past three years I have answered more than 4,500 questions over 140 hours in this House—more than I might have expected. In future, I look forward to asking the questions. We are, as the right hon. and learned Lady says, living through extraordinary political times. This House of Commons is rightly at the centre of those events, and that is because of the vital link between every single Member of this House and the communities—the commons—that we represent. That is the bedrock of our parliamentary democracy and of our liberty, and each one of us, wherever we sit and whatever we stand for, can take pride in that. That duty to serve my constituents will remain my greatest motivation. [Applause.]
I am always deeply obliged to the hon. Gentleman, whom I have known since we jousted at the University of Essex together, but he was not often in order then and I am sceptical as to whether he will be in order now, for the simple reason that points of order come after urgent questions. I think I speak for the House in saying that we look forward with eager anticipation, bated breath and beads of sweat upon our brow to hear with what pearls of wisdom he intends to favour the Chamber.
Meanwhile, we come to the first of our four urgent questions.