Speech

Prime Minister's speech to launch Queen's Engineering Prize

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

"We want young people leaving school to see engineering for the exciting, dynamic profession that it is."

Can I say what a huge pleasure and privilege it is to be here today, here at the Science Museum, which in many ways ought to be the Museum of Science and Engineering, and it is that that we are here to celebrate today.  I want to start by thanking Her Majesty the Queen for allowing this magnificent new prize to be awarded in her name.  We don’t do enough to recognise engineering, and that has consequences for our country, as Lord Browne has just brilliantly explained.  And in so many ways, that is absurd, because this is the country that gave birth to the industrial revolution.  

Our engineers changed the world and their brilliant successors today are still doing just that.  Their names ring down in history: Matthew Boulton and James Watt, who brought steam power to the world; Abraham Darby, who first smelted iron with coal, and whose grandson built the first iron bridge anywhere, still standing in Shropshire; Richard Arkwright, who transformed textiles with the first modern factories; Thomas Telford, the great engineer behind the bridges and roads that linked England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland; George Stephenson, the railway engineer, whose Rocket is in this museum.  Many others, obviously, not least Isambard Kingdom Brunel, voted by the public as the second greatest Briton ever, behind only Winston Churchill.  

So, this is a story the country wants to celebrate, and one that we should celebrate, but it’s not just part of our past.  We are still very much at it today, with Arup, based here in London, the firm that the world turns to when engineers are needed for extraordinary structures, from the Sydney Opera House to Beijing’s new railway station, Rolls-Royce, who make the best jet engines on the planet, or the engineers right now working under the streets of this city to build the incredible Crossrail project, which is actually as dramatic as anything done by their Victorian predecessors.  But engineering today means so much more.  Its bounds become wider and wider still.  We have just been - the party leaders - all meeting some young engineers, whose expertise spans environmental engineering, biomedical engineering, sports engineering, chemical engineering, and so many other areas as well.  

The key to this is to answer the question that we have had so many times, which is: what is it you are going to do, o politician, to raise the status of engineering in our country?  This isn’t the whole answer, but it is a really good answer, and we are here because we believe in the inventiveness and the genius of the British people.  We want young people leaving school today to see engineering for the exciting, dynamic profession that it is, because in many ways, engineers are the real revolutionaries, the ones who take society forward, who create the technologies and the structures which carry us into new worlds.  They are the ones who will find the ways to overcome climate change, to answer challenges and create new industries - ones that haven’t even been thought of yet.  That is why we need this prize: to urge people on, to encourage daring, open minds to new possibilities.  

I want to thank the great companies that have endowed this fund.  I want to thank the people who have made it happen - thank the prize foundation that is going to meet and make this work.  They always say in politics that success has many fathers.  Maybe it is unfair to single anyone out, but I think if anyone has the claim at least to be the midwife, it is Oliver Letwin, who worked incredibly hard to bring this about, and I would like to thank him.  It is, I believe, in a great tradition.  400 years ago, the House of Commons set a prize for a famous challenge determining longitude.  A self-taught carpenter from Yorkshire, John Harrison, came up with the answer, allowing ships to navigate and trade across our globe.  So, now with this new prize open to the world, let us in this generation go on to stimulate a new generation of engineering genius.  That is what this is about.  I am really delighted to be here to celebrate it with you, and I am going to hand over to Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, to give his endorsement too.  Thank you very much indeed.