Preparing for Extreme Risks (RARPC Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:19 pm on 12 January 2023.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour 5:19, 12 January 2023

My Lords, it is an honour to follow the noble Lord, Lord Mair, who is one of the most eminent engineers and experts in this field I have come across. I very much welcome this report and the work that the noble Lord, Lord Arbuthnot, and his team have done. It is very persuasive, in part because of the amount of evidence gathered from so many different people.

My concern is about the Government’s response. I know that we have the resilience framework, but when one reads the response and finds that all but two of the recommendations are accepted, it is easy to say, “That’s fine; let’s sit back and do something else”. But when you look a bit further, you can see that the response is saying, in my words, “Yeah, we’ll talk about it a bit more and not do a great deal”.

One of the most important responses is to the second recommendation, on an office for preparedness and resilience, et cetera. It is interesting, but then the Government qualify it by saying:

“It will be important for any change to strengthen and complement existing and well tested accountability structures and to avoid unintentionally diminishing the accountability of those most responsible for managing risk.”

To me that means, “We are going to carry on as before and just pay a bit of lip service to some new organisation”. That is really worrying.

I declare an interest as living in probably the lowest property in relation to sea level in this country, on the island of Bryher in Scilly. We look at the waves, the high tide and the storms—this week is not a bad example —and wonder, “How long is it going to last?” There are many other examples around this country—not just sea, water or floods, as the noble Lord, Lord Mair, and others have said.

My concern is that it has taken the committee and the Government about two years to get this far, but what will happen next? As many noble Lords have said, the threat is changing very fast and widening. How will we monitor—independently, as the noble Lord said—the progress, or lack of?

I am a member of the Built Environment Select Committee in your Lordships’ House. We took evidence this week from the Infrastructure and Projects Authority, which all noble Lords probably know. I will not tell your Lordships what the chief executive said because it is probably still confidential, but if one looks at its annual report, which came out I think a few months ago, one will see that it now has a process for monitoring all the different projects that it chooses on their cost and progress and whether they are likely to succeed or fail. It publishes a sort of traffic light system. I always worry that it publishes this thing, but who in government takes any notice? The worst one I have discovered from about 150 projects on the list—noble Lords will be glad to hear that I will not read them all out—is one that we are probably all aware of: the emergency services mobile communication programme. This has been on the traffic light list for nine years, and it is still not working. This is emergency services communication, which of course will be fundamental to many of the crises that may happen in future.

I am sure the Minister will not be able to tell us why this has happened or whether that programme will work next week and so on, but it seems to me that something such as this, with the IPA keeping a monitoring role over all the recommendations from the committee and reporting regularly, would be a useful adjunct to whatever happens next. I will be pleased to hear the Minister’s response.