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 must make progress. If I can answer, I will do so—otherwise, I shall speak with or write to the noble Lord.

It is important to remember that data cuts through everything that we do—supporting innovation by helping us be more dynamic and spot risks early. At a local level, data enables us to support mutual aid between different areas to provide additional capacity where it is most needed. Data is also informing our approach to how we can use artificial intelligence to flag up areas of vulnerability or concern. We have strengthened our effort with the joint data and analysis centre in the Cabinet Office, as well as with the impressive National Situation Centre, which is providing real-time insights about what is happening across a plethora of urgent and high-priority topics and bringing data to crisis management.

We have to be realistic. There is much in life and politics for which we can neither plan nor prepare. While prevention is a key principle, it cannot replace careful and effective management of emergencies as they occur. For that reason, the framework also proposes actions to improve response, including in areas such as cyber and preparation for risks, and to ensure that partners throughout the system are able fully to play their part. There is a shift away from simply dealing with the effects of emergencies. It is fair to say—the framework shows this—that there has been a step change in ambition. We have the structures and focus we need to do much better.

I thank my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral for kindly bringing his expertise to this debate and I very much agree with much of what he said about the cold realities and challenges. The Government’s risk-assessment approach must draw on best practice from the private sector and we have made progress on this, as I have said. The framework commits the Government to creating a process for future iterations of the NSRA that invites challenge from industry, as well as from academia, the international risk community and others. Partners from the financial services are important. In the light of what my noble friend said, we will review opportunities to better engage the insurance industry, recognising the critical and practical role that it obviously plays in forecasting extreme risk and dealing with national insurance.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, raised the model of the Climate Change Committee, as did the noble Lord, Lord Thurso. It is the Government’s view that the existing committee system is the most effective means by which departments can be held to account for this responsibility. We will provide an opportunity for an overarching conversation on resilience through our new annual statement. The noble Lord also mentioned the report by the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy on critical infrastructure and climate adaptation. The framework sets out how we will continue to strengthen resilience across both public and private sectors.

The noble Lord, Lord Mair, drew attention to some very interesting examples. I do not think we can commit to setting up a register of critical infrastructure as he suggested, but I will keep that suggestion under review. We are very much focused on investment in ageing infrastructure and all departments are expected to monitor this, so I would like to bring his expertise to the piece in some way.

The noble Viscount, Lord Thurso, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, questioned whether the Government are providing enough money and resources. The lead government department model for individual risks means we have clear accountability for individual risks, with risk owners responsible for ensuring investment in their areas and the Cabinet Office supporting. However, the framework will ensure that resilience is considered as an integral aspect of almost all policy-making. There is devoted funding for some specific areas, such as local resilience forums, and we have achieved systematic change by ensuring that investment in resilience is embedded into decision-making across government. It is always a difficult area, but the commitment, the framework and the new Cabinet committee will make a considerable difference to prioritisation.

The noble Lord, Lord Rees, talked about biological security. Our refreshed strategy will strengthen Euro-Atlantic security. It will stimulate R&D in the life sciences sector and underpin the UK’s international leadership and advantage across the life sciences and applied data science.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised many questions in a wide-ranging speech, mainly about health. I will look at what she said and see if I can add anything to what I have already said about the progress we are making.

The Government have already taken on board many of the recommendations of this report with individual actions, and the resilience framework goes even further. Building resilience is truly a whole-of-society and national endeavour. We are determined to work together to be better prepared for the challenges we face. I thank the committee warmly for its important contribution to this task. I look forward to further discussion in this House on these important issues and to bringing the immense expertise to bear in making our country more resilient and better able to deal with the crises that, sadly, from time to time emerge.