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

I always like to be the bearer of good news from the Dispatch Box.

We are going to be updating the risk register, as everybody has talked about. I cannot give an exact date, but I can say that we are working on these issues with energy. I am delighted to be working now in this area, and obviously very keen to make progress. I do not think that I can say anything today about the very important issue of powers. Because I was on the Back Benches during all the Covid measures, I very much understand the points that have been made. We have got a Covid inquiry that is taking place, and there has to be some sort of interaction between the Covid inquiry and what we do for the future.

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Arbuthnot for his positive comments on the resilience framework. I am pleased that he recognises elements of his committee’s recommendations within it—in fact, nearly all the recommendations were accepted in whole or in part. My noble friend rightly raised transparency and challenge. We set out our commitment to both in the framework and are already working to embed the principles across my departments, and across others. As an example, the national risk register, when it is published in the coming months, will include more detailed risk information and guidance than previous iterations, and it follows the new classified version of the national security risk assessment.

Noble Lords will be pleased to know that the development of the latter involved a great deal of external challenge this time, and the NSRA is more robust as a result. My colleague the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be chairing the next UK resilience forum in February—just one way in which we are incorporating more independent challenge and expertise from outside government. I hope that further work on resilience this year will demonstrate more progress, and we will update Parliament through our inaugural annual statement on resilience.

The noble Lord also raised the committee’s recommendation, as others did, for an office for preparedness and resilience, and the accountability issue was emphasised by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who sadly had to slip away. It is a key factor in the framework and, while we have not chosen to establish a new body, we are taking steps to address the spirit of the committee’s recommendations. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, on the need for culture change—a point that she rightly often makes—and that is already happening.

The strength and function at the centre of government build on the approach that we have got under way on things like procurement and infrastructure, and I am sure that it will lead to much better coherence and accountability in the resilience system. We are also strengthening the lead government department model of risk ownership and are establishing a sub-committee of the National Security Council to enable Ministers to focus on national resilience, because ministerial involvement is important in getting things effectively progressed. I need hardly say that the Government also agree with the report’s emphasis on training, conducting exercises and performing dummy runs as a fundamental part of our collective resilience.

We are not just going to carry on as before, as the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, rather mischievously said, and I look forward to giving evidence to his Built Environment Committee on infrastructure next week and to discussing the improved way we now monitor the progress of hundreds of infrastructure projects.

I am sorry that it has been over a year since the committee’s report was published, but the Government, as I have already outlined, have taken a number of steps to address the points that were raised. It is worth reiterating three key themes. On finalising a new classified national security risk assessment, the changes were informed by recommendations from the committee, but also by an external review from the Royal Academy of Engineering in September 2021. The intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Mair, showed the importance of bringing in the engineers.