Boris Johnson – 2021 Speech on the Queen’s Address

The speech made by Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 11 May 2021.

In a matter of five months this country has inoculated more than 35 million people—two thirds of the adult population—with the biggest and fastest programme of mass vaccination in British history, which has helped us to take step after decisive step on our road map to freedom. As life comes back to our great towns and cities, like some speeded-up Walt Disney film about the return of spring to the tundra, we can feel the pent-up energy of the UK economy—the suppressed fizz, like a pressurised keg of beer about to be cautiously broached in an indoor setting on Monday.

I know how hard pubs, restaurants and other businesses have worked to get ready and about everything they have been through, and I thank them, as I thank the whole British people. I can tell them that the Government have been using this time to work flat out to ensure that we can not just bounce back but bounce forward, because this Government will not settle for going back to the way things were. The people of this country have shown, by their amazing response to covid, that we can do better than that, and the people of this country deserve better than that.

The purpose of the Queen’s Speech is to take this country forward with superb infrastructure—worth £640 billion, I can tell the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras (Keir Starmer)—and with a new focus on skills, technology and gigabit broadband. By fighting crime and being tough on crime, by investing in our great public services, above all our NHS, and by helping millions of people to realise the dream of home ownership, we intend to unite and level up across the whole of our United Kingdom, because we one nation Conservatives understand—

Christian Matheson (City of Chester) (Lab) rose—

Peter Kyle (Hove) (Lab) rose—

The Prime Minister

In a moment.

We understand this crucial point: we find flair, imagination, enthusiasm and genius distributed evenly throughout this country, while opportunity is not. We mean to change that, because it is not just a moral and social disgrace, but an economic mistake and a criminal waste of talent. Although we cannot for one moment minimise the damage that covid has done—the loss of learning, the NHS backlogs, the court delays and the massive fiscal consequences—we must use this opportunity to achieve a national recovery so that jabs, jabs, jabs becomes jobs, jobs, jobs. That is our plan. We will address the decades-old problems that have held us back, and transform the whole United Kingdom into a stronger, fairer, greener and healthier nation. That is the central aim of the Queen’s Speech.

Felicity Buchan (Kensington) (Con) rose—

The Prime Minister

I give way with pleasure to my colleague.

Felicity Buchan

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the Conservative party believes in opportunity and equality of opportunity, and that the legislative mandate we have set out today seeks to achieve that, particularly through the skills revolution, which will turbo-charge our economic recovery?

The Prime Minister

Yes, indeed. One man who I know believes passionately in opportunity and skills is my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire (Shailesh Vara), who proposed so well the Loyal Address.

Christian Matheson rose—

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab) rose—

The Prime Minister

No, no, no.

My hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire is a kindly man and a lawyer, but unlike some other lawyers in this House he is tough on crime. In fact, he is so tough that when three thugs were so rash as to attack him in Covent Garden, he transformed himself like Hong Kong Phooey and floored all three with moves that have earned him—I can tell the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras—not just a black belt but a Blue Peter badge.

Peter Kyle

Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

The Prime Minister

No.

My hon. Friend has served in many distinguished political roles and can be proud of his campaigns on behalf of sufferers from breast cancer, on behalf of homeowners who surprise nocturnal intruders with cricket bats and, as he said, on behalf of the Cambridgeshire village of Stilton, where the eponymous cheese originated and where, he claimed, local cheesemakers were forbidden from calling the cheese of Stilton “Stilton cheese”—a bizarre prohibition that he blamed on Brussels.

That is understandable, although I have yet to discover whether he was altogether right about that and whether he has actually solved the problem by getting Brexit done. I think you will agree, Mr Speaker, that he spoke with pungency and maturity—he spoke for Stilton—and he made a speech in the best traditions of this House.

He was ably seconded by my hon. Friend the Member for South Ribble (Katherine Fletcher), a palaeontologist, a biologist and—as the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras said—a former safari guide. She knows that in any pride of lions, it is the male who tends to occupy the position of titular, nominal authority, while the most dangerous beast, the prize hunter of the pack, is in fact the lioness. That is a point that I am sure the right hon. and learned Gentleman bears in mind as he contemplates his right hon. Friend the Member for Ashton-under-Lyne (Angela Rayner), the deputy leader, shadow First Secretary of State, shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow Secretary of State for the Future of Work—though the more titles he feeds her, the hungrier, I fear, she is likely to become. Judging by her excellent speech, my hon. Friend has a long and successful career ahead of her as we work together to deliver for South Ribble, and for everywhere else in Lancashire and the whole United Kingdom.

However, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman said, we are all poorer for the absence of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chesham and Amersham. During her long career in the House, Dame Cheryl Gillan introduced what became the Autism Act, which helped many vulnerable people, and served as Secretary of State for Wales. She always stood up for her constituents, including by securing important concessions on HS2 on their behalf. Cheryl was both an effective and an extremely popular Member of this House, and she was my Whip for many years. She was kindly, protective, and supernaturally well informed about my whereabouts. I am sure I speak for the whole House when I say that we will miss her deeply. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

I also know that Cheryl was a one nation believer in the Conservatives as the party of hope, change and opportunity, as my hon. Friend the Member for North West Cambridgeshire has just said. She therefore would have been as thrilled and proud as I am to welcome my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Jill Mortimer) to her place and congratulate her on her victory, and to thank everyone who has placed their trust in this Government, many thousands of them for the first time in their and their family’s history. Across this country, Conservative councillors were elected in areas that my party has seldom had the honour of representing, alongside Conservative mayors, Conservative London Assembly members, Conservative police and crime commissioners—70% of whom are now Conservatives, reflecting the importance we place on fighting crime—and Conservative Members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Senedd.

Labour’s response to these events is best summed up by the outgoing Labour leader of Amber Valley Borough Council, who said these immortal words:

“The voters have let us down. I hope they don’t live to regret it.”

There you go, Mr Speaker: yet again, Labour’s bonkers solution in the face of any electoral setback is to wish they could dissolve the electorate and call for another one, while we get on with our work, taking forward our programme of change and regeneration filled with obligation towards those we serve, who have every right to hold us to account with the wisdom and common sense that the British people have always exemplified. We will get on with safeguarding the health of the nation, pressing on full tilt with our vaccination programme until the job is done and our people are as safe as science can make them. We will accelerate the recovery of our public services from the crisis of the past year, investing in our NHS and introducing vital reforms, making it easier for the different arms of the health and care system to work together to provide the best service by means of the health and care Bill. I can tell the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras and his colleagues that later this year, we will bring forward proposals on adult social care, so that every person receives the dignity and security they deserve in old age.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Prime Minister

I give way to the hon. Lady with pleasure.

Stephanie Peacock (Barnsley East) (Lab)

A cross-party Select Committee report concluded that the Government should not be in the business of profiting from miners’ pensions, but £4.4 billion has been taken out of the mineworkers’ pension scheme. Given that the Prime Minister made a commitment on this issue during the general election, will he deliver on that promise now and implement the recommendations of the cross-party Select Committee report?

The Prime Minister

I am happy to study that report, but it is this party and this Government who stick up for people across all walks of life: they stick up for pensioners and they stick up for the low-paid. It was very interesting to hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman talk about the living wage, but who introduced the living wage? It was the Conservatives. Who raised it by record sums? It was this one-nation Conservative Government.

Several hon. Members rose—

The Prime Minister

No, no.

We will get on with our work. We will build on the expertise and originality of our scientists who have allowed Britain to contribute more to the global struggle against covid than any other comparable country, providing an object lesson in the value of British life sciences. We are determined to harness the concentration of knowledge and excellence in this country to secure Britain’s place as a science superpower, so we will invest nearly £15 billion in research and development this year alone. The Queen’s Speech includes a Bill to create an advanced research and invention agency charged with backing scientific discovery in new ways and ensuring that the breakthroughs of the future happen here in the UK, as they have so repeatedly done in the past. With those breakthroughs will come jobs, opportunities and new enterprises in fields that we can, at present, scarcely imagine. It is our levelling-up mission to spread those jobs across the UK.

Ed Davey (Kingston and Surbiton) (LD)

On behalf of bereaved families across the country, will the Prime Minister tell the House whether, during this Session of Parliament, he will set up the public inquiry into the Government’s handling of covid that he promised me in this House last June?

The Prime Minister

I can certainly say that we will do that within this Session—yes, absolutely. I have made that clear before. It is essential that we have a full, proper public inquiry into the covid pandemic, and I have been clear about that with the House.

Chris Bryant

Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister

No, thank you.

We will establish a new UK infrastructure bank headquartered in Leeds, with £40 billion to invest as part of the greatest renewal of British national infrastructure since the Victorian age. We will ensure that the British people derive maximum benefit from the £300 billion of their money that the Government spend every year on public procurement by creating a wholly new system, consolidating 350 separate regulations into one regime, so that public investment can be even more effective as an instrument for levelling up the country.

We will use the sovereignty that we regain from the European Union to establish at least eight freeports, including in Teesside. Now that we are free of EU state aid rules, the Queen’s Speech proposes a new national subsidy system—

Virginia Crosbie (Ynys Môn) (Con) rose—

Chris Bryant

Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister

I will give way in a minute to my hon. Friend the Member for Ynys Môn (Virginia Crosbie).

The Queen’s Speech proposes a new national subsidy system, allowing the Government of the devolved Administrations to spur the creation of jobs and businesses.

Virginia Crosbie

My right hon. Friend is most gracious. Brexit has created huge opportunities in the form of freeports. Does he agree that freeports in places such as Anglesey will turbocharge the economy and give us thousands of jobs, investment and opportunity across the UK in places where it is desperately needed?

The Prime Minister

My hon. Friend is completely right. Anglesey could have no more powerful or effective champion than her not just on the matter of freeports, but on nuclear power as well, which she was probably also going to mention.

Chris Bryant

Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister

No, I will not take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman just yet.

We will use the powers that we have recovered from the EU to strengthen our borders and reform the asylum system, cracking down on the criminal gangs that profit from trafficking in human beings, by ensuring that, for the first time, the fact of whether people have entered the UK legally or illegally will have an impact on their asylum claim. At the same time, we will uphold Britain’s great tradition of providing a haven for those facing persecution and repression, opening our arms to our friends the British nationals in Hong Kong safe in the knowledge that our Government have recaptured overall power to control our borders.

As the compassionate one-nation Conservative Government, we know that crime falls disproportionately on the poorest and the most deprived parts of our country and our communities. That is why the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill in the Queen’s Speech will end the outrageous injustice—the right hon. and learned Member for Holborn and St Pancras voted against this—of serious sexual and violent offenders being automatically released halfway through a standard sentence of between four and seven years. The Bill will support our police with new powers to deal with highly disruptive protests and—

Several hon. Members rose—

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Member for Hove (Peter Kyle) opposes that, he can let me know. Perhaps he would like to tell me.

Peter Kyle

Perhaps the Prime Minister can answer this. In the last three Tory manifestos and every humble Address since 2016, his Government have promised a victims Bill. It is in the Humble Address again, and we are grateful for that. Will he assure us that it will be delivered this year? It has not been published, and there are no details of what will be in it. We hear rumours that it will just put a code of conduct on to statute, but will he promise that he will take the Labour approach of going much further, empowering victims, giving rights to victims that are enforceable by law, and that there will be consequences for those in the criminal justice system who do not uphold them? Will he promise that?

The Prime Minister

We will not only stick up for victims for the first time, which Labour failed to do in all its years in office, just as it failed to do anything at all about social care—Labour Members berate the Government about social care, but they did nothing at all during 13 years in office. We will take the interests of victims to heart, and we will address that matter. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will also support our proposals to increase sentences for serious sexual and violent offenders, which he voted against. I hope that Labour will also support our proposal to double the maximum sentence for assaults on emergency workers.

We will work to improve our neighbourhoods by making them safer, and we will help people to achieve the dream of home ownership—not just with 95% mortgages, but by modernising the planning system, most of which remains unchanged since the 1940s. We will introduce a lifetime skills guarantee, as several of my colleagues have already pointed out, allowing anyone to train and retrain and acquire new expertise whenever they wish.

Christian Matheson rose—

The Prime Minister

If the hon. Gentleman wants to dispute the merits of that proposal, let him do so now.

Christian Matheson

I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. He is lauding the merits of home ownership, but what is the point in it when some homeowners and leaseholders are trapped because the Government refuse to help them with any kind of fire safety measures for things were not their fault in the first place?

The Prime Minister

We have put £5 billion into supporting homeowners who face the problems of cladding in buildings over 18 metres, and we are supporting leaseholders at every level. This is a massive problem, which the Government are undertaking to deal with using all our resources. However, if the hon. Gentleman is now saying that the Labour party is in favour of home ownership, that it is the first time I have heard of it. Labour is resolutely opposed to measures that allow people to own their own homes, and they have been ever since I have been in politics. That is one of the crucial differences between them and us. I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman was going to support our measures to allow people to train and retrain and acquire new skills.

Everything we do will be done as one United Kingdom, combining the genius of England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—joined together by blood and family tradition and history in the most successful political, economic and social union the world has ever known. In all its centuries, the Union has seldom proved its worth more emphatically than during this pandemic, when the United Kingdom—the fifth-biggest economy in the world—had the power to invest over £407 billion to protect jobs and livelihoods and businesses everywhere in these islands, including one in three jobs in Scotland, safeguarded by the combined resources of Her Majesty’s Treasury under my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Now, as we build back better, greener and fairer, we shall benefit as one United Kingdom from the free trade agreements that we have regained the power to sign, opening up new markets across the world. Only last week, I agreed an enhanced trade partnership with the Prime Minister of India, covering a billion pounds of trade and investment and creating more than 6,500 jobs across the UK.

As one United Kingdom, we will be a force for good in the world, leading the campaigns at next month’s G7 summit in Cornwall for global vaccination, education for girls and action on climate change. As one United Kingdom, we will host the UN climate change conference in Glasgow and help to rally ever more countries to follow our example and pledge to achieve net zero by 2050.

As one United Kingdom, we will continue with ever-greater intensity to connect talent with opportunity, mobilising the ingenuity and resourcefulness of the British people to achieve their full potential at last. It is an enormous task, made more difficult by the pandemic and yet more urgent, but it is the right task for this country now. I know the country can achieve it, and this Queen’s Speech provides us with the essential tools to do it. I commend the Queen’s Speech to the House.