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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 pm on 12 January 2023.

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Photo of Baroness Neville-Rolfe Baroness Neville-Rolfe Minister of State (Cabinet Office) 5:45, 12 January 2023

Let me start by thanking my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot of Edrom for proposing this debate, and I give my thanks to all noble Lords for their excellent contributions. I have, as ever, appreciated the quality of debate today on a matter of great significance, which will impact our children and grandchildren.

The report of the committee, Preparing for Extreme Risks, fathered—or perhaps grandfathered—by the noble Lord, Lord Rees, is of the highest quality, as we have come to expect of the House of Lords. It has the sure touch and elegant thinking of my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot, and, as he said, of the high-quality contributions he received from Members, staff and those Lords and others who gave evidence. As the noble Lord, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, said, the report was eye-opening. It was eye-opening to me as a new Minister, and incredibly useful, timely, and influential—three very big things.

The risks are many and varied. We have had mention of unpredictable solar flares, malicious deployment of technology, the supply of silicon chips, risk to biological security, the collapse of central infrastructure. It is a long list, and we are not even starting. My own list includes international risks: Russia and Ukraine, but also China, Taiwan and Iran. I worry about the failures at home, as others do—for example, the electricity system—and, which is highly unlikely but worrying and I think not mentioned, the failure of the Gulf Stream, which makes our British nation and climate what it is. If that was to fail, that would be exceptionally serious.

Because of the panoply of extreme risks and their serious nature, we are all agreed on the importance of improving UK resilience. This has to address our plans and assessments looking forward and ensure an effective and flexible response to disasters as they occur. Of course, it is not possible to plan for everything.

I had a lot of questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington. We are working on these issues. Those include the training, about which she and I would both be very enthusiastic. We have appointed a head of resilience, and we published a review of the Civil Contingencies Act on 1 April 2022, which was taken into account in the resilience framework.