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Diane Abbott uses landmark PMQs to tell Tory MPs to treat women ‘less cruelly’

The shadow home secretary’s appearance at the despatch box meant she became the first black person to lead their party at PMQ.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)
Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott speaks during Prime Minister’s Questions in the House of Commons (House of Commons/PA)

By Richard Wheeler and George Ryan, PA Political Staff

Tory MPs need to learn how to treat women “less cruelly”, Diane Abbott has claimed during a landmark Prime Minister’s Questions.

The shadow home secretary raised abuse aimed at MPs, abortion rights in Northern Ireland, the so-called “rape clause” connected to tax credits and the plight of workers at Thomas Cook before accusing the Government of “letting women down”.

Her appearance at the despatch box meant she became the first black person to lead their party at PMQs.

She faced Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab at the session, with the pair deputising for their leaders as Prime Minister Boris Johnson was delivering his keynote speech at the Conservative Party conference in Manchester.

Their exchanges included lighthearted moments too as Mr Raab initially got to his feet too early after believing Ms Abbott had finished her first question.

Ms Abbott later tried to ask a seventh question – one beyond the allotted six – before being stopped by Speaker John Bercow.

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington began by asking Mr Raab to apologise for remarks made by the PM last week after he said “humbug” in response to concerns raised by Labour’s Paula Sherriff (Dewsbury) about threats received by MPs.

Ms Abbott added Ms Sherriff has received “four further death threats” since her exchange with the PM, noting some again quoted Mr Johnson’s words.

Mr Raab did not apologise on behalf of the PM but called for a “zero-tolerance” approach to any abuse or threats against MPs.

Ms Abbott also highlighted billboards put up in Walthamstow, east London, targeting Labour MP Stella Creasy for her support of decriminalising abortion in Northern Ireland.

Ms Abbott later said: “Whether it’s women members in this House, women claiming benefits, women’s reproductive rights in Northern Ireland, and the failure to support women workers at Thomas Cook, isn’t this a Government letting women down?”

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Members of Parliament listen to Dominic Raab speaking during Prime Minister’s Questions (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Raab, in his reply, said: “On this side of the House we’re proud to be on our second female prime minister.”

Former PM Theresa May, sat on the third row of the Tory benches, appeared to give a wry smile when she was mentioned while Labour MPs heckled Mr Raab.

The Foreign Secretary went on to pay tribute to Mrs May for her work on dealing with human trafficking and violence against women.

A shout of “you stabbed her in the back” could be heard from one opposition MP.

In her concluding remarks, Ms Abbott said: “The Foreign Secretary hasn’t mentioned the fact there are over 600,000 more women and girls in poverty now than in 2010.

“And I can just say gently to him that I was a member of this House when Tory MPs defenestrated the then female prime minister Mrs Thatcher, and I’ve been a member of this House when Tory MPs worked their will to the immediate female prime minister.

“It seems to me that Tory Members of Parliament may on occasion make women their leaders but they need to learn how to treat them less cruelly.”

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Diane Abbott became the first black person to lead their party at PMQs (House of Commons/PA)

Mr Raab replied: “Can I just gently say to the shadow home secretary that in relation to Margaret Thatcher, if she wants to talk about treating them better, she might have a word with the shadow chancellor who talked about going back in time to assassinate her. That’s not appropriate language on her side.”

He defended the Government’s record on female employment, women in business and a lower gender pay gap.

As Ms Abbott rose to ask a seventh question, Mr Bercow said: “Order! Order! No. Order! Order! Order! I believe I’m right in saying the shadow home secretary has had her six questions.”

Earlier in their exchanges, Ms Abbott urged Mr Raab to support ending the “rape clause” – which is linked to UK Government benefit reforms introduced in April 2017.

It means families receiving child tax credits and the childcare element of Universal Credit could only claim them for their first two children, with one of the exemptions requiring claimants to prove a child was conceived through rape or during an abusive relationship to qualify for the benefit.

Mr Raab said the Government has looked at the issue and “continues to look at it”, adding: “I think on the subject of using inflammatory language, it’s incumbent on all sides to be very careful about it.”

He then claimed Labour wants to “engage in an open spending spree on handouts”, something Ms Abbott rejected and labelled Mr Raab’s attitude as “dismissive” to people requiring help.

PA

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