Tony Blair’s Last Prime Minister’s Questions, 27th June 2007 – main points
Comment at end
TONY BLAIR’S FINAL PRIME MINISTER’S QUESTIONS, 27th JUNE, 2007
If you live to be 100 you are highly unlikely to witness such an emotion-laden event as this in the House of Commons. Both sides of the House, “friend or foe”, recognised the complexities and enormity of what was happening as the consummate communicator left this House of Oratory & political exchange. And all sides stood and applauded his last PMQs at length, (cut short on the video by television time limits). Applause of ANY length in this battle-hardened place is unprecedented. But then Mr Blair was a catalyst for change in more ways than one.
The main points from Tony Blair’s final prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 27 June, 2007:
Tony Blair began by paying tribute to Major Paul Harding, Corporal John Rigby killed in Iraq and Drummer Thomas Wright who died in Afghanistan. He called it the “saddest of duties” and said of the armed forces generally they were the “bravest and the best”.
“I am truly sorry about the dangers they face today in Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said, but added they were not fighting in vain but for the security of Britain and other countries.
Asked why there was still “a need to save the NHS”, after ten years of a Labour government, he replied people used to die on waiting lists before 1997 which were now at “record lows”.
Tory leader David Cameron joined the tributes to the troops killed in Iraq.
He went on to ask that local authorities under the greatest pressure from flooding across parts of Britain got all the support that was required.
Mr Blair said money for coastal defence protection had been increased to £600m a year and were doing “an immense amount” for the future but would have to invest a lot more in the years to come.
He said “we will do everything we can” to try to improve the situation.
Mr Cameron asked that military resources be deployed if necessary.
Mr Blair said the situation would be kept under review but said the emergency services had responded in an “exemplary manner”.
Mr Cameron asked what Mr Blair’s first priority would be in his expected new role as a Middle East peace envoy.
Mr Blair said a “two state solution” was the only solution and said it was possible “but would require a huge intensity of focus and work”.
Mr Cameron asked about the fate of BBC journalist Alan Johnston, who is still being held in Gaza.
Mr Blair said he “deeply regretted” the fact he was still imprisoned and the government was doing all it could to support his release.
“It is completely without any justification at all to take him as a target for any action of whatever nature,” he said.
Mr Cameron congratulated Mr Blair on his 10 years as PM, and paid tribute to his achievements on Northern Ireland, and aid to the developing world.
He wished him and his family well and “every success” for the future.
Mr Blair thanked him and said he had always found Mr Cameron “courteous and correct” and wished him and his family all the best.
Sir Menzies Campbell joined the tributes to troops killed in Iraq.
He asked whether proper provision was made for troops who suffered physical or psychological injuries in active service.
Mr Blair said staff employed to look after injured soldiers were “very committed” and doing a “wonderful job”. He said the highest level of care should be provided, even after they were released from hospital.
Sir Menzies paid tribute to Mr Blair for being “courteous” – Mr Blair in return praised the Lib Dem leader’s “generosity of spirit and courtesy”.
Mr Blair was asked by Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn about troop withdrawal from Iraq. Mr Corbyn said overwhelming British public opinion favoured an end to “the occupation” and asked for a timetable for withdrawal.
Mr Blair said that those fighting British troops in Iraq – including Iranian backed fighters and al-Qaeda militants would not be beaten by “giving in to them” but by “standing up to them”.
Tory MP Ann Winterton asked that troops be “properly equipped” to fight a counter-insurgency war.
Mr Blair said he did not accept they were not properly equipped but said troops would be given “every form of equipment that they need”.
Labour MP Ann Clwyd asked about the sentencing of “Chemical Ali” in Iraq.
Mr Blair said the hundreds of thousands of people who died under former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein should not be forgotten.
Labour MP Richard Burden thanked Mr Blair and Chancellor Gordon Brown for standing by his Birmingham Northfield constituency following the collapse of Rover.
He also asked that “hardliners” be reached out to in order to achieve peace in the Middle East. Mr Blair said his experience in Northern Ireland showed how important it was to bring people together – including those who had been hostile to each other.
Mr Blair also expressed sympathy with Longbridge workers, saying he himself had received his P45 the day before.
Lib Dem MP Richard Younger-Ross asked what advice Mr Blair would give about the relationship between church and state to his successor Gordon Brown.
Mr Blair looked puzzled and prompted much laughter with his reply: “I think I’m really not bothered about that one.”
Asked what he would do to save the planet if he came back in the future – a reference to Terminator star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s – now governor of California – visit to Downing Street, Mr Blair said climate change was the most important priority.
Tory MP Sir Nicholas Winterton asked about the “expensive bureaucracy of the European Union” and asked Mr Blair to honour his manifesto commitment for a referendum on the EU treaty signed last week.
Mr Blair said he “liked” the honourable gentleman but said he believed the “guttural roar” that greeted his statement from the Tory benches should worry David Cameron.
He added that they would probably never agree on Europe, adding: “Au revoir, auf wiedersehen and arrivederci”.
Former Home Secretary David Blunkett congratulated Mr Blair on making good on his promise to be “tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime”.
Labour MP Angela Smith asked what message Mr Blair had for the people of Sheffield.
Mr Blair replied: “Well certainly: ‘Vote labour’,” but also listed educational investment in the area.
The last question fell to DUP leader Ian Paisley, who said he “fully understood the exasperation he felt many a day when I visited his domain.” He said he had treated him “with the greatest of courtesy” despite many disagreements.
He said the people of Northern Ireland had felt the same anger, frustration and sadness, but they had made progress. He said he hoped that what happened in Northern Ireland would “be repeated” in his next “colossal task” – a reference to his expected Middle East role.
Mr Blair replied that actually he had found the Rev Paisley a good person to work with, who had always been “completely straight” with him.
Father of the house Alan Williams was called to speak at the end of the session. He said he believed Mr Blair had been the most “politically effective” Labour PM ever and thanked him for leading the party out of the “wilderness years” on the Opposition benches.
Mr Blair finished by saying he had never pretended “to be a great House of Commons man” but wanted to say from the “first and last I never stopped fearing it”.
He said he felt “tingling apprehension” before starting PMQs on Wednesday and every week.
He said people “stood tall” in politics and said if, on occasion, the Comm+ons was a place of “low skulduggery” it was also the place of the “pursuit of noble causes”.
He added that he wished everyone “friend or foe” well, and got a standing ovation; an unprecedented scene, Tory leader David Cameron urged his Conservatives to join.
Speaker Michael Martin had to put an end to the applause, saying: “We’ve got a Ten Minute Rule Bill”. He could be heard saying: “Well done David” as Mr Cameron left the Commons.