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Volume 663: debated on Wednesday 24 July 2019

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.

Q5. I rise to thank my right hon. Friend not only for her loyal service as Prime Minister over the past three years, but for her 33 years of public service, which is a record to be proud of. I also thank her for her personal support in helping me get my private Member’s Bill—now the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—on to the statute book. Does she agree that it is far better to prevent people becoming homeless, to use the taxation system to combat obesity, and to prevent people smoking in the first place? Does she agree that prevention is far better than cure? (912148)

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?

I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman that I fear that our success has not been what we wanted it to be from the amount of fake news and fake information that he uses at that Dispatch Box.

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!”]

Q7. I first met the Prime Minister when she came campaigning with me in Berriew in the difficult and dark days of the late 1990s, and she has been a great friend of Wales ever since. Only recently, her Government approved the end of the M4 tolls and several other great measures for Wales. Will she encourage her successor to introduce a Bill to extend the general election franchise to all British citizens living overseas, where there is a wide Welsh diaspora? (912150)

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.

Q9. The Derwent valley cycle way is an aspirational project running through my constituency. It would create an off-road cycle way between Derby and Baslow, providing an alternative commuting route, encouraging tourism, encouraging cycling among the young, and improving the health of the local population. Does the Prime Minister agree that more funding should be made available to support this and other, similar projects? (912152)

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.

Q2. In Newcastle, the Prime Minister’s departure invokes neither the despair of a Rafa Benitez nor yet the joy of a Mike Ashley, and she may take comfort from that, but as she considers her choices—House of Lords, dignified retirement, working with her successor—may I ask her to work to bring dignity and choice to others? She is a WASPI woman; will she dedicate her prime ministerial retirement to justice for all WASPI women? (912145)

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.