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Volume 663: debated on Wednesday 24 July 2019

Q3.   Outgoing American Presidents get to pardon anybody they want. If the Prime Minister could, would she pardon her successor for sabotaging her premiership purely for his own personal ambitions? (912146)

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.

Q4. The Education Committee published its report on Friday stating that the Government should urgently address underfunding in further education by increasing the amount from £4,000 per student to £4,760. Does the Prime Minister agree that raising the rate will benefit the excellent Bolton sixth-form college in my constituency, as well as many other colleges that are also under severe financial pressure, some of which are actually going under? (912147)

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.

Q8.   My constituent is the wife of Captain Dean Sprouting, who was a brave, experienced and decorated soldier with the UK military for 29 years. In January 2018, he was killed while serving in Iraq, and it is believed that he was killed by a forklift driven by US soldiers. Eighteen months later, Captain Sprouting’s family have still not had an answer as to how he came to his death. His death has not been fully investigated, and those driving the truck have not been brought to justice. Can the Prime Minister ensure that there will be a continuing investigation into the cause of his death? (912151)

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.

Q10. Last Friday, I had the honour of witnessing the presentation of the légion d’honneur to Helene Aldwinckle, who is a constituent, for her work at Bletchley Park as a codebreaker in world war two. She played a critical role in defeating the most disgusting fascist ideology. Will the Prime Minister, on her last appearance at the Dispatch Box, join me in saying that all politicians should remember the common goals that united people such as Helene and must never resort to, nor fail to call out, nationalistic rhetoric which paints others as enemies, victimises minorities, or espouses racism, because if they do, they are neither fit to be a President nor a Prime Minister? (912153)

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.

Q11. I obviously disagree with the Prime Minister on many aspects of policy and the work that she has done over the past few years, both as Prime Minister and as Home Secretary, but it would be wrong not to commend her for the phenomenal work she has done to bring forward the issue of modern slavery and to tackle human trafficking, so I congratulate her on that. However, we still face many issues and challenges. Last year, as part of Government policy, we locked up 507 potential victims of modern slavery as immigration offenders. That cannot be right, and surely we need a change of public policy to treat them as victims, not criminals. (912154)

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.

Q12. The Prime Minister has often spoken about the need for an industrial strategy during her time in office, but the St Rollox railway works in Springburn, affectionately known as the Caley, will be closed by its asset-stripping German owner Mutares on Friday, ending 163 years of engineering excellence and the jobs of 200 skilled workers. The Scottish and UK Governments have both failed to intervene to save this strategic site since the closure was announced late last year, while the workforce have been left devastated. Even though the Prime Minister is losing her own job today, it is not too late for her to act now and to instruct the Government to do everything they can to find a way to save these vital jobs and this historic railway works. Will she at least commit to doing that? (912155)

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.

Q13. Professor John Snowden of Royal Hallamshire Hospital has just received a top NHS award for pioneering work on stem cell transplantation for multiple sclerosis sufferers. I declare a personal interest: John Snowden and his excellent team were responsible for my transplant last year for multiple myeloma, a form of blood cancer. Will the right hon. Lady give an assurance, as she steps down as Prime Minister but remains an MP, that she will not support any form of Brexit that prevents John Snowden from continuing to work with his EU colleagues on the board of the European Society for Blood and Marrow Transplantation, which will continue to advance this treatment for patients with myeloma, MS, leukaemia and other conditions? (912156)

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.

Q15. May I start by associating myself completely with the final answer that the Prime Minister gave to the Leader of the Opposition about his need to consider his future? It is absolutely clear to me that the vast majority of Labour MPs agree with her. Hundreds of people have come to my community meetings in the last few weeks. They are worried about antisocial behaviour, car crime, burglaries and violent crime. They want more police on the streets and more criminals locked up, so will the Prime Minister urge her successor to make sure that West Midlands police gets all the support it needs to keep people in Dudley safe? (912158)

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.

Order. Fortunately, because the hon. Gentleman’s voice carries, I was able to hear his question, but I am at least as interested to hear the answer

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.