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National Resilience

Volume 732: debated on Thursday 11 May 2023

One of my priorities at the Cabinet Office is strengthening our national resilience across Government. Last month we tested successfully the emergency alert system, a vital new tool to help us to communicate quickly with the public during life-threatening situations, and we will soon publish an updated national risk register to support partners with their resilience plans.

The covid pandemic and the war in Ukraine have brought into sharp focus the risks of over-reliance on global supply chains. What steps are the Government taking to secure minimum safe systems for the UK’s food, water, energy and defence sectors?

My hon. Friend is right to highlight this issue. We committed in the integrated review to publish a supply chains and import strategy so that we can strengthen our resilience in critical sectors. We have already developed several sector-specific supply chain resilience strategies and a supply chain resilience framework for the public and private sectors.

Our ability to pay for everything we care about as a nation depends on a strong economy. Nowhere is that more important than in our leading industries, such as semiconductors, quantum computing and artificial intelligence, where we have world-leading advantages. What more do we need to do to make sure that we keep that world-class technology and capability safe here in the UK and can pay for everything we care about?

My hon. Friend is right that economic security is an emerging challenge in the United Kingdom and across the world; that is why it was so prominent in the integrated review refresh. It is a big area of focus for me, which is why the Prime Minister asked me to chair a new national security committee on economic security to step up our efforts. That committee met last week.

Off the back of reports that Russia is content for its ships to sabotage northern European energy infrastructure, it is more concerning than ever that, despite taking up the majority of UK coastal waters, Scotland does not have a single armoured ship permanently based in its waters. Let us be clear: in an independent Scotland, Scotland’s defence force would recognise and fill those gaps in security. However, in the meantime, what is the Minister’s Department doing across Whitehall to invest in the maritime security of Scotland and Scottish territorial waters?

Of course the maritime security of the United Kingdom is the utmost priority for this Government. We ensure that Royal Naval vessels are available to patrol waters at all times. I would gently say to the hon. Lady that that kind of defence strength would simply not be available—[Interruption.]

Order. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael), who has been here much longer than most, should know not to walk in front of a Member when the Minister is giving them an answer.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. I was just going to say that the hon. Member for Motherwell and Wishaw (Marion Fellows) should know that that kind of defence strength would simply not be possible in an independent Scotland.

In response to the National Infrastructure Commission and the Climate Change Committee stating that the Government must take steps to ensure our key infrastructure is resilient to the effects of climate change, what steps is the Minister taking with Cabinet colleagues to fast-track national adaptation planning?

Our efforts in that area are led by relevant Government Departments. Through the Cabinet Office, I chair the Cabinet Committee on net zero and energy security, which is designed specifically to co-ordinate all the different areas of Government to deliver on our national and international commitments.

There are increasing concerns about the pace of growth of artificial intelligence, with its potential to penetrate so many areas of our lives and dehumanise our world. It is difficult to see how bad actors will not exploit AI to do bad things, and it is already influencing the character of conflict. Given that there is a lag between the arrival of new technical developments and subsequent regulations passed by this place, will the Deputy Prime Minister consider creating a new role in the Government, a Minister for artificial intelligence, so that Government and Parliament can stay on the front foot in this fast-moving world?

My right hon. Friend makes an important point. There are two elements: the first is ensuring that we are ahead of the game with artificial intelligence and exploiting its opportunities, and that responsibility sits with the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. There are also, as he says, major resilience challenges, which fall within my remit as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, ensuring that the United Kingdom is prepared for any threats that may emerge in that area. That is something I take seriously, and we are doing a lot of work on it.

Can the Minister further outline what steps are being taken to develop a measure for social vulnerability as an indicator of socioeconomic resilience and of how risks impact on communities and vulnerable groups, to further guide and inform decision making, particularly in relation to Northern Ireland, whose isolation leaves us more vulnerable than our mainland counterparts?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point. This is a whole United Kingdom effort. As an example of that, a couple of weeks ago we held in Belfast a major cyber-security conference, bringing together partners from around the world and built on the strength of cyber-security not just in the United Kingdom but in Northern Ireland specifically. It is just one area where we are stronger working together as a United Kingdom.

The National Infra- structure Commission and the Committee on Climate Change have made it clear that there is a significant resilience gap in Britain’s key infrastructure. As we approach the summer, and water shortages loom once again in the face of intensifying climate change across the country, how many of the action points laid out in the resilience framework that the Government published in December have been achieved?

As the hon. Lady will know, we continue to make considerable progress on all the actions set out in that framework. She is right to highlight the challenges that we face in some resilience areas, particularly in relation to cyber-resilience. That is why I am conducting a programme to step up our cyber-resilience, for example by creating a new agency to ensure that we are across the cyber-resilience of all Government Departments and annually appraise them of it.