The speech made by Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, in the House of Commons on 7 November 2023.
This is the first King’s Speech in 70 years, and the first of His Majesty’s reign, which is already defined by the same wisdom, grace and compassion that marked a long record of service. May I take this opportunity on behalf of the whole House to express our admiration and gratitude to His Majesty the King?
Before we get into the traditional debate, let me first address the situation in Israel and Gaza. All of us in the House care deeply about the suffering of innocent people and the scenes we have witnessed. We abhor the way in which Hamas have used innocent Palestinians as human shields. It is right that the United Kingdom is doubling our aid funding for Palestinian civilians. We have been consistent throughout in our calls for a humanitarian pause as soon as possible to get aid in and hostages and foreign nationals out, but a unilateral and unconditional ceasefire would simply allow Hamas to entrench their position and continue their attacks against Israel. Only last week, Hamas reiterated their intentions, stating clearly:
“We will repeat the October 7 attack time and again until Israel is annihilated.”
Faced with such a threat, no country could reasonably be expected not to act.
Last week, I spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu to reiterate the United Kingdom’s backing for Israel’s right to defend itself; it is the first duty of any Government. I also stressed the need to allow more aid into Gaza, to take all possible measures to minimise civilian casualties, and to avoid inflaming tensions in the west bank, where settler violence must stop. I can update the House that now well over 100 British nationals have been able to leave Gaza, thanks to our diplomatic efforts to reopen the Rafah crossing. The Development Minister will make a full statement to the House tomorrow.
Let me also reiterate this: we will not stand for the hatred and antisemitism we have seen on our streets. It sickens me to think that British Jews are looking over their shoulder in this country, and that children are going to school covering up their school badges for fear of attack. This Government will do whatever it takes to keep the Jewish community safe, just as we will do whatever it takes to keep every community safe. We will fight hatred and extremism in all its forms, wherever it is found, today, tomorrow and always. We are the world’s most successful multi-ethnic, multi-faith democracy, and we will protect our democracy from all threats to it.
This King’s Speech is about what this Government are about—taking long-term decisions to build a brighter future for our country. It builds on foundations that were far stronger than they were just a year ago: inflation falling and on track to be halved; an economy now growing faster than France and Germany; national debt on track to fall; more support for the NHS this winter; and we are stopping the boats, with crossings this year down by over a fifth, as we ensure that it is this Government, not criminal gangs, who decide who comes to our country.
Now that we have strengthened the foundations, this King’s Speech turns to the future, taking long-term decisions with a single objective—to change our country for the better: change in our economy with new legislation to improve our energy security, join a huge trade pact with the fastest-growing region in the world and prepare to seize the opportunities of a new technological age; change in our society with new protections for leaseholders and renters, a Bill to safeguard the future of football clubs and fans, and the historic legislation that will finally create the first smoke-free generation; and change to keep our nation secure and our communities safe with tougher sentences for criminals, more powers for the police and security services, and tough new action to clamp down on antisocial behaviour.
What will all this mean for the British people? More jobs, more investment and higher growth; more police on the streets with stronger powers to keep us safe; places people are proud to call home; and a country strong at home, confident abroad and with a better future ahead for all our people. That is the change that this King’s Speech and this Government will deliver.
The Loyal Address was brilliantly proposed by my right hon. Friend the Member for Scarborough and Whitby (Sir Robert Goodwill). I will always be grateful to him, because when I was first selected as the Conservative candidate for Richmond (Yorks), my right hon. Friend took a call from a prominent farmer in my local community who had expressed some consternation about the revelation that I did not eat beef. Quick as a flash, my right hon. Friend replied, “Don’t worry, he’s the perfect candidate—there’ll be more for me and thee!”
As a proud Yorkshireman, my right hon. Friend has a reputation for being very careful with money. Just the other day, he went shopping for a new pair of shoes, and when the shop assistant tried to throw away the old pair, he said, “Hang on a second, I want to keep those laces—there’s still life in them yet!” I have often regarded myself as a trainee Yorkshireman, and it turned that out that, with him, I was also a trainee fiscal Conservative. That is why I asked my right hon. Friend to apply his same zeal for savings to efficiencies that we could make across Whitehall. He came back with a great list: Yorkshire teabags are perfectly fine for another three or four goes, the DEFRA thermostat was set far too high at 17° and seven bins are simply far too many.
My right hon. Friend is probably the only Member of this House who is the proud owner of his own graveyard. Apparently, he even does some of the digging himself. No wonder he is such a staunch supporter of the Government’s plan to protect renters: he fully supports the right of his tenants to be left undisturbed over the very long long-term. In his maiden speech, my right hon. Friend proudly boasted that Whitby in his constituency was
“voted No. 1 weekend holiday destination by the readers of Saga Magazine”.—[Official Report, 6 June 2005; Vol. 434, c. 1052.]
I am delighted, as my right hon. Friend retires and lifts his gaze from his own copy of Saga, that he already finds himself in the home of blue skies, blue waters and blue rinses. Whitby is, as he reminded us, where Dracula made landfall—that shadowy, pale, haunting figure aged beyond his years. And that is what two decades in this House can do for you!
As a Government Whip, a Minister in four Departments, and a dedicated constituency MP, my right hon. Friend has had an extraordinary career. Among his many achievements, I would particularly highlight his introduction of the first ever roadside drug tests. Before that we had no way of clamping down on dangerous drug driving, and that landmark policy has saved untold numbers of lives. It is a legacy he should be proud of, and a reminder of the good that politics can do. My right hon. Friend is a great parliamentarian, and I am proud to call him a friend. His speech was in the finest traditions of this House, and his wit, integrity and sound good sense will be much missed on all sides.
Continuing the North Yorkshire theme, the Loyal Address was brilliantly seconded by someone who was also born and bred in God’s own county, my hon. Friend the Member for Stroud (Siobhan Baillie). I am sure the whole House will join me in paying tribute to our fantastic NHS, and send our very best wishes to her daughter Tilly. Some may think of my hon. Friend as a shy, retiring and studious type. After all, as she said today, she often prefers to be in the Library. But we are discovering another side to my hon. Friend; we have heard about her time in the naughty corner, and about the Spice Girl platforms. I can also reveal today that back in the 1990s she won the prestigious, fiercely contested crown of “Yorkshire rock ’n roll dancing queen”.
In a rich and varied career, my hon. Friend was also a highly regarded yoga teacher. So when she read in The Times that the shadow Cabinet were being encouraged to take up yoga in the office, she was waiting for the phone call. It turns out that no Conservative, not even one as supremely talented as my hon. Friend, can teach the Labour party anything when it comes to constantly changing from one contorted position to another.
My hon. Friend also mentioned taking advice and inspiration from a certain parliamentary sketch writer. If she is hoping that one day he might make her the target of his acerbic wit, I would just say this: be careful what you wish for. I have been called many things in my time, but I am not sure that I will ever forget being branded
“the titch in vacuum-packed underpants”.
On a serious note, my hon. Friend has already made a huge impact in her short time in this place, and nowhere more than in her fantastic campaign to improve childcare provision, inspiring my right hon. Friend the Chancellor to announce 30 hours of free childcare a week for under-fours in England in the March Budget. That landmark policy will make an enormous difference to millions of families up and down the country, and my hon. Friend should be incredibly proud of her part in making that happen.
My hon. Friend overcame great odds to reach her place today. Growing up on free school meals, she left home as a teenager and worked her way up as a family lawyer, without attending university, before becoming the first female MP of Stroud in 2019. Sometimes people ask me what being a Conservative is all about, and I can think of no greater example than that. My hon. Friend is a remarkable person, a dedicated MP, and someone with a huge future ahead. Her speech was in the finest traditions of this House.
Let me also thank the Leader of the Opposition for his contribution to this debate, and indeed his first U-turn of it. As a former republican, he used to think that this country should not even have a King’s Speech, but at least that is one U-turn the whole country will welcome. The right hon. and learned Gentleman is prone to changing his position, but in fairness his speech did strike a few consistent notes: higher inflation, more strikes, more immigration and higher borrowing. The Labour party’s plan to unnecessarily borrow £28 billion more every year and give in to inflation-busting pay demands from its union paymasters is dangerous, inflationary, and the British people would pay the price in higher interest rates and higher taxes. In truth, Labour will borrow anything—people’s money or people’s ideas—and it now turns out that his copy-and-paste shadow Chancellor is happy to borrow other people’s work, too, but she is not the only Member on the Opposition Benches to get unstuck by a book. Earlier this year, the Leader of the Opposition had to abandon writing his own book and return the deposit. It was supposed to be his vision for Britain, but his publishers discovered what the British people already know: he simply does not have one. While he stands for the same old ideas, we are focused on the long-term decisions that will provide a better and brighter future for everyone. That is what this King’s Speech will deliver.
That change starts with changing our economy. We have already delivered the largest fall in inflation since the 1980s, a faster recovery from the pandemic than Germany, France and Japan, and tens of billions of pounds of new investment from around the world. We believe that the role of Government is to create the conditions for the private sector to thrive. That is where new growth and new jobs come from. It is why we have given business a £27 billion tax cut on investment, launched 12 freeports around the UK to create jobs and investment, and introduced legislation in this King’s Speech so that we can confirm our membership of the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership, a huge trading pact with the fastest growing region in the world. [Interruption.] I hear from those on the Opposition Benches that it will make no difference. We can only do that because of our new freedoms outside the European Union—freedoms that the Leader of the Opposition wants to abandon, instead locking the United Kingdom into a new European deal that would tie us into EU rules and regulations that we would have no say over and opening our borders to 100,000 additional EU migrants every single year.
As well as failing to secure our borders, the Opposition would also fail to secure our energy supplies. We know that economic growth requires energy security. We have already invested record amounts in renewables such as offshore wind. We backed Sizewell C, the first new nuclear in decades. The King’s Speech introduces new legislation for North sea oil and gas, supporting hundreds of thousands of British jobs. We can compare and contrast that with the Opposition’s energy policy—
Sir Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab)
Will the Prime Minister give way? [Interruption.]
Order. Members have the right to intervene. If the Prime Minister wishes to give way, that is up to the Prime Minister. If he wishes not to do so, that is also fine.
The Prime Minister
We can compare and contrast—
Sir Chris Bryant
Will the Prime Minister give way? [Interruption.]
Order. The Prime Minister is not giving way.
The Prime Minister
We can compare and contrast the proposed new legislation with the Opposition’s energy policy, and there is one word for it: naive. That is not my word, but that of their own union paymasters. I will happily give way.
Sir Chris Bryant
I am very grateful to the Prime Minister. Bearing in mind that a significant proportion of people who sleep rough are Army veterans and people with acquired brain injuries, does the Prime Minister agree with the Home Secretary when she says that homelessness—sleeping rough—is “a lifestyle choice”? If he does not, will he sack her?
The Prime Minister
I am not sure about the link between that and energy security, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that thanks to the efforts of my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View (Johnny Mercer), veterans’ homelessness is at record low levels in this country. Rough sleeping overall is down by around a third since the peak, thanks to the actions of this Government and in particular the landmark Homelessness Reduction Act 2017—passed by this Government—which has helped relieve or prevent more than 640,000 people from becoming homelessness.
Returning to energy security, the Opposition want to ban all new oil and gas licences, risking our becoming even more dependent on Putin’s Russia for our crucial supplies of energy. What is even more absurd about their policy is this: the Leader of the Opposition is not against all oil and gas; he is just against British oil and gas. Unlike the Opposition, who want to pursue net zero with an ideological zeal—going even faster and further no matter what the cost or the disruption—we on the Conservative Benches are cutting the cost of net zero for working people, saving British families £5,000, £10,000 or £15,000, and that is the choice.
Caroline Lucas (Brighton, Pavilion) (Green)
I am grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. I want to ask him when he will start being straight with the British public. He pretends that new oil and gas licences will somehow guarantee our energy security, when he knows that that oil and gas is sold on international markets to the highest bidder. He pretends that it will get people’s bills down, yet his own Secretary of State for Energy has said that it will not. When will he stop governing by gimmick, and when will he start actually rolling out the home insulation programme that will get people’s bills down?
The Prime Minister
The hon. Lady talks about being straight. It is the Conservative party and me who were straight with the British people about the cost of getting to net zero—something that she and the Labour party would do well to follow. Because we have been honest and transparent and have cut those costs, we will save British families £5,000, £10,000 or £15,000—
Caroline Lucas indicated dissent.
Order. The Prime Minister gave way to the hon. Lady. She should at least do him the courtesy of hearing the answer.
The Prime Minister
That is the simple choice: a Government on the side of hard-working people or an Opposition and the hon. Lady on the side of the eco-zealots.
If we want truly to change our country, we need a stronger society. That is why this King’s Speech introduces a landmark Bill to create the first smoke-free generation. It will prevent deaths, improve people’s lives and free the NHS to support others. It is the most significant public health intervention by any Government for generations—historic change from a historic King’s Speech.
But that is not all that the Government are doing for the NHS. We have invested record sums, created 50 million more primary private care appointments and brought more beds and more ambulances. Through the NHS’s first ever long-term workforce plan, we will recruit more doctors, nurses and dentists than ever before. That is what the NHS needs, not the damaging strike action that Labour refuses to condemn, even though it is adding tens of thousands of people to waiting lists every single day. The Opposition also opposed our plans to provide a minimum safety level during the strikes. Do they and the Leader of the Opposition think that vulnerable patients do not deserve life-saving healthcare, or are they just too weak to stand up to the unions? Either way, the conclusion is clear: you simply cannot trust Labour with the NHS.
Let me turn to the most important part of a stronger society: education. Of all that we have achieved since 2010, this is what I am most proud of. Under the Labour party, only two thirds of schools were rated “good” or “outstanding”; now it is about 90%. They took us down the international league tables; we are now soaring up them. They devalued apprenticeships; we are investing in them. They backed rip-off degrees, and we are ending them. We are also introducing the new advanced British standard, so that everyone will study maths and English to 18, learn a broader range of subjects, with more hours in the classroom, and we will finally break down the barriers between academic and technical education. More teachers, higher standards and more apprenticeships: on the Government side of the House, a stronger society is an opportunity society, and this Conservative Government are delivering.
We can only build that stronger society with stronger communities, and that is what this King’s Speech does. We are reforming the housing market to empower leaseholders and to give renters more security; establishing a new independent football regulator to give fans a greater voice in their clubs; and delivering our promise to level up with record investment in local areas. We are building a million more homes, all the while protecting the green belt—unlike the charter for sprawl that we see from the Labour party.
That brings me to transport. Every single penny that would have been spent on High Speed 2—a repeatedly delayed, expensive project that failed to meet people’s real needs—is now being invested in the north, in the midlands and right across the country, with £36 billion of investment in projects that people really need and actually want. Network North is without question the most ambitious scheme for northern transport that any Government have developed, ever. Yet first the Leader of the Opposition was against it, then he was for it, and now he is not really sure. One thing is for sure: you simply cannot trust a word he says.
None of those important changes will mean anything if people do not feel safe in their communities. The facts are clear: it is this Government that is on the side of law and order. This King’s Speech introduces legislation to better support victims, as well as new measures to combat the scourge of antisocial behaviour, all building on a proud record of tackling crime—20,000 more police officers on the streets, more police on the streets than ever before. [Interruption.] We have heard a lot about 13 years, but since 2010: crime halved; violent crime halved; burglary also halved; antisocial behaviour down by 70%; tougher sentences for rapists and sex offenders, which is something the Labour party voted against; and, for the worst offenders, life finally means life—all while the Leader of the Opposition and those on the Opposition Front Bench campaigned to stop the deportation of dangerous foreign criminals.
We are just days away from Remembrance Sunday, so let me close by paying tribute to our armed forces. At this moment, over 7,000 servicemen and women are deployed overseas. From the frozen waste of the High North to the streets of Kosovo, they are the best of us. We owe to all our veterans a lifelong debt of gratitude. I am proud of our work, led in Cabinet by my right hon. Friend the Member for Plymouth, Moor View, to make this the best country in the world to be a veteran. That is what you get with this Government. We are on the side of Britain’s armed forces. We are investing record amounts in defence, we are an unwavering ally to the Ukrainian people and we are proud to be one of the largest contributors to NATO. But in contrast, Mr Speaker, what do you get with the Opposition? They tried to install—[Interruption.] They never like being reminded about it, but Labour Members tried to install as Prime Minister a man who wanted to abolish the armed forces, withdraw from NATO and back the UK’s enemies over its allies. Labour cannot be trusted with our nation’s security.
This King’s Speech builds on the strong foundation of an economy well on its way to recovery. It rejects big Government and instead backs people and businesses to thrive. It strengthens society, with historic measures to support the nation’s health and education. It secures our streets and borders, with tougher sentences for criminals and powers for police. Above all, this King’s Speech delivers change—change in our economy, change in our society, change in our communities. It takes long-term decisions for a brighter future, and I commend it to the House.