Scientific advice and evidence in emergencies - Science and Technology Committee Contents

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 208-247)

Q208 Chair: Thank you, gentlemen, for joining us. Now, this is going to be a fairly short sharp session because we know that Professor Collins has to be out on time. We will keep things succinct. If you have nothing to add to a question, please don't just contribute because you feel you have to. If you have something contradictory to say, obviously, it is helpful to hear from you. Would you, briefly, gentlemen, just introduce yourselves?

Phil Evans: I am Phil Evans. I am the Director of Government Services at the Met Office. I have overall responsibility for all the services that we provide to Government. That includes climate prediction and advice for a range of weather-based and environmental services and, more relevant to this inquiry, the National Severe Weather Warning Service. So out of our 24/7 operation centre in Exeter we provide the warnings you would expect of severe precipitation, wind storms, snow and the like. In addition to that, we provide warnings that are a little bit perhaps more unexpected. As you heard in a previous inquiry, that is information about the dispersal of ash clouds, information about the dispersal of pollutants. Also, very relevant to this, we have been providing advice to Government Departments about space weather for a number of years.

Professor Collins: I am Professor Brian Collins. I am the Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

Paul Hollinshead: I am Paul Hollinshead. I am the Director of Science and Innovation at DECC and David MacKay's deputy, who is the CSA of DECC.

Phil Lawton: I am Phil Lawton. I work in energy resilience at DECC. I should probably also say that I am on secondment from National Grid.

Q209 Stephen Mosley: We understand that the Government has started assessing the risk of space weather events. What do you think is the reasonable worst case situation?

Professor Collins: As you know, the occurrence of these events is relatively infrequent. At the moment we are working from the worst case event of 150 years ago as to whether or not that is a reasonable worst case or whether it is an unreasonable worst case because it has only happened once in that period, whereas there have been a number of other incidents. As a result of the group that has met once in September of a very wide range of people—there were about 45 people in the room—from industry, academia and Government, a group has gone away to assess the incidents that have occurred between that event, which is the most extreme that we know about, and what has happened in the meanwhile, to do some statistical analysis to see whether we can make a recommendation to the Cabinet Office as to what a reasonable worst case might be. It might end up being where that incident was. I have heard it said just now—it is work in progress. So there is fairly urgent work in progress to report back in order that not only the National Risk Register can be updated next year but all the sectoral resilience plans for all the CNI, central national infrastructure, sector plans can be updated accordingly against that reasonable worst case. So we don't know the answer. We know what the one extreme is but we are working to see where is a sensible position that everyone can work from. I don't know if my colleagues want to add to that.

Paul Hollinshead: No. I agree entirely. That is exactly where we are.

Q210 Stephen Mosley: That was very complete. Thank you. You say that you want to update the plans next year based upon that reasonable worst case. Do you have any plans in place at the moment? Are there any civil contingency plans and how prepared are we for a major disruptive space event?

Professor Collins: You can kick off with that, Phil, because you're closer to the sharp end.

Phil Evans: I think to date the risk of space weather hasn't appeared on the National Risk Register; so in some sense it hasn't been treated in a cross-Government way. As we have heard from previous evidence, various affected sectors have been working on this for quite some time and have their own contingency plans and mitigation strategies in place.

Paul Hollinshead: Adding to that, in terms of the small events, obviously, National Grid have modelled 1989 and are aware of what to in that case. They are quite confident that any effects will be minor. The Civil Contingencies Secretariat also have plans that are linked to the disruption of UK energy supplies, which could be rolled out whether it was because there was a failure of the Grid for some other reason or due to solar storms. So there is some planning in place. I think the key thing here this morning is work in progress to understand what the reasonable worst case scenario might look like and then to understand the impact of that on the Grid as configured today and not as configured previously.

Q211 Stephen Mosley: Have the Government been engaging with the scientific community at the moment in preparing for an event, and have you identified people who might be willing to be members of a SAGE or something equivalent?

Professor Collins: Yes, most emphatically. As I said, there was a big meeting in the middle of September. I co-chaired it with the Civil Contingencies Secretariat. As a result of that, a sub-group of academic scientists are going away to form themselves up to make sure that not only the core skills that are identified for that meeting but any other additional skills, knowledge and expertise is made available. That's work in progress right now, again to report back—but before the end of the year—on that being a standby SAGE group to be called on instantly were we to be alerted to the fact that we needed such an expert group.

So we are, hopefully, ahead of the game by having the right people already working on what their situation would be, where their knowledge is good enough, where the international knowledge is good enough, because obviously this is a scientific discipline that is examined all over the world, and where there are gaps and what we should do about it.

Phil Evans: I think Mike Hapgood touched on this earlier. Literally in the last few weeks an expert group has been established that brings together the academics involved with this in pure research and those organisations that are involved in delivering advice and services to start to co-ordinate all of these activities and provide better input to CCS on this issue.

Q212 Chair: Although Professor Collins, you said there has not been any cross-Departmental work—I think that is roughly what you said?

Professor Collins: That meeting was the first instance that I had witnessed.

Q213 Chair: The expert group that has been pulled together will cover all of the disciplines that are necessary?

Professor Collins: Correct.

Q214 Stephen Metcalfe: I have to say that I am quite concerned about what I have heard here this morning. We do seem to be coming at this very, very late indeed. Bearing in mind we have had a 150-year history of these events—and we've got events in 1921, 1989 and 2003—why was it not identified as something that should have been on the National Risk Register? Do you feel we are coming at this late? Are we playing catch-up?

Professor Collins: To a degree I guess we are playing catch-up. The National Risk Register itself is a relatively recent invention of Government. To look at national vulnerability is also a relatively new thing to do. Clearly, the elements that go on that National Risk Register have been dominated in the short-term by those things that occur more frequently. Whether or not they have a greater or lesser impact the more frequently they occur, they are more likely to cause attention. So you might have expected the Civil Contingencies Secretariat—and you should obviously ask them—to be going down a list of things that they would be excited by, and those things which happen more often, even though the impact may be a little bit less, are the things that they have given higher priority to.

That said, the scientific community has been working on this subject for many, many decades. We actually have one of the best warning systems in Europe through the British Geological Survey's monitoring of geomagnetic activity, our space activities, our space science activities, and our collaboration with the United States in particular. To say that we haven't been getting ourselves in a position where we understand how to be prepared when Government want us to be prepared would be wrong. We have done that.

What we have not done is, as it were, throw the switch to say, "Now we need to get better prepared." The incidents that have occurred in that period have caused a heightening of anxiety and concern, as does, of course, the peak activity that is coming towards us if the cycles continue in the next few years.

The second thing to note is a growing understanding of the interdependency of all our infrastructure on various assets. I actually have taken the responsibility from Lord Sassoon in the Treasury to study interdependency and resilience in critical national infrastructure. So I am leading an expert group right now. I have just left a planning meeting, which is why I was late coming in—apologies—to set up that programme and run it on the back of the Infrastructure UK programme announced by the Prime Minister last week.

Phil Evans: We have got an understanding of the processes that lead to space weather. We have got an understanding of the systems in isolation that would be affected by that. But just to reinforce that, the issue about the interdependencies in an increasingly interdependent society is something that really needs to be understood. It is perhaps not that surprising that the interdependency issue is one that we have not well explored because, as we have seen, using weather emergencies as an analogy, and there are a lot of common issues, the 2007 floods exposed the fact that we didn't really understand the interdependencies perhaps as well as we should and the risk of critical cascades in infrastructure. So it is perhaps not surprising that in space weather we are starting to explore that.

Paul Hollinshead: I would like to add something. There is no doubt in the past we have looked at lower level events and people have said there have been bigger ones. My understanding is that it was only this year that Charles Hendry was approached by Avi Schnurr to say that we think the realistic worst case is bigger than the ones experienced in 1989. That was June this year. By September there were expert groups being pulled together by the Cabinet Office to look at what a reasonable worst case should be, to ask, "What are you going to use instead of that?", and then to consider its impact.

From that perspective of having a high level view that probably it is time we had a different reasonable worst case, people have pulled things in quite quickly. Looking backwards, you can say, "In the past there have been these bigger events." The National Grid did modelling on the 1989 event and that was peer reviewed. As far as I know at least—though my colleagues know better—I didn't see any sign that somebody challenged it and said that we should be using something worse then. I think it is perhaps wrong to look back and say, "You've not been handling this correctly."

Q215 Stephen Metcalfe: We talked about the interdependency of the infrastructure. How well prepared is the UK and how would we cope with that failure of interdependent infrastructure caused by space weather, or do we not know that yet?

Professor Collins: We don't know that yet. That is why it is a very urgent and high visibility programme. I've mentioned the lead Minister but a number of Ministers in a number of Departments are extremely concerned that the outcomes of this piece of work are visible and made available, particularly to industry because most of that infrastructure is run by the private sector, not by the Government directly. They are heavily engaged with helping us deliver that understanding of what we've got and, as importantly, what we invest in going forward so that we, as it were, invest out the vulnerabilities of those interdependencies. We will have to have interdependencies but they must not become vulnerabilities. We are going to try and flush them out. I am sorry, but it is going to keep on sounding like work in progress. It is regarded as very urgent work in progress and you will find it is quite visible in the literature right now.

Q216 Stephen Metcalfe: Having started this piece of work now—it's work in progress—how resilient do you think the infrastructure is to space weather? Where do you think the greatest damage could be caused?

Professor Collins: I think the elements that are to do with the exploitation of the signals that are derived from GPS are probably the ones that concern me most. It is actually not so much the location signals, but the timing signals that cause everything to be synchronised and work coherently. Previous evidence said good engineering design would have made sure that back-up systems and resilience were built in. Those sorts of parameters and instances are usually the things that get dropped off the specification of engineering systems when costs are being examined. So I would not be as sanguine as I think our colleague was that, whilst it is good engineering practice, good engineering practice was adhered to in enough situations. For me the area that I would be most concerned about is those things that depend on timing. That is all our telecommunication systems, our banking systems and quite a lot of our navigation systems, not through where we are but timing to collocate things, in particular air traffic control.

I am not saying anything that is safety critical has not properly got resilience in it, because once you put the safety case in it has to go in. When it is not safety critical or security critical then we may find vulnerabilities, were we to have a space weather incident. That is my informed judgment. But, as I say, it is work in progress and we are trying to examine very quickly where we have those critical interdependency vulnerabilities and to understand then what to do about it, what the immediate remedial measures could be.

Q217 Stephen Metcalfe: You touched on communication there. If communication was affected by space weather, how would the Government communicate with business, emergency responders, citizens?

Professor Collins: Of course, we have a number of different telecommunication systems available to us. The ones that are mostly going to be affected are the ones that are based on mobile, which has become ubiquitous. We have a very robust and resilient land-based, wire/fibre optic-based telecommunication system. We might just have to be where we are supposed to be rather than walking around with Blackberries and mobile phones all the time, which is a lifestyle issue that we've become used to in the last 15 years. Our emergency communication systems do have the proper resilience built into them; all the systems that blue-light services and others use are already intrinsically independent of a breakdown in GPS.

Q218 Chair: Are you satisfied that that extends to areas where local government takes the lead—emergency planning centres around COMAH sites, for example?

Professor Collins: That is one of the areas that the Committee which met in September asked people to go away and examine. I don't have enough evidence to say "yes" to you, Mr Chairman.

Chair: I'll go and look at ours.

Professor Collins: But I do have enough evidence to know that we are examining it and as a matter of urgency.

Q219 Stephen Metcalfe: Just picking up on the point the Chairman made about engaging with the private sector on these issues, again, I suspect the answer is going to be that it is a work in progress. How are you finding the private sector? Are they willing to engage in this—

Professor Collins: Enormously.

Q220 Stephen Metcalfe: —or are there sensitivities?

Professor Collins: They are enormously willing. Of course, there are sensitivities, but everyone realises that their markets could be significantly affected by these sorts of incidents. So it is a collective, collegiate view. No one wants any of this to happen to anybody else because they themselves have business interdependencies, never mind technical ones. We are having hugely collaborative talks both nationally and internationally because, of course, a lot of our infrastructure is owned by companies whose bases are outside the UK. It is important that we can do this internationally.

Paul Hollinshead: Our record at the National Grid is that there has been good engagement with industry on the problem.

Q221 Gavin Barwell: I will direct my question to Mr Evans initially at least. When you were introducing yourself you said a little bit about the Met Office's role in this area. A number of the people who have submitted written evidence to us have expressed concern about UK reliance on NASA and on the NOAA in the USA. Do you think we have sufficient national capability in worst case weather prediction?

Phil Evans: The reality is that there is always a significant amount of international dependence. There certainly is in terms of weather forecasting, for example. We couldn't do what we do without the global exchange of data. As we mentioned in our evidence, we are in the latter stages of signing up a partnership with the NOAA Space Weather Prediction Centre. Actually, part of that is relying on the capability and expertise it has got, but part of that is also starting to develop capability and expertise ourselves and the use of that partnership to improve the mutual level of resilience between both organisations. I would say you can't avoid a certain amount of reliance on other countries because this is a global and international issue.

Q222 Gavin Barwell: Just pressing you a little on that, I completely take the point about importance of international co-ordination. For example, the Royal Astronomical Society said in its evidence to us: "It is timely to establish a more co-ordinated approach to space weather as has been done in other countries, notably the US…but also our European partners such as Belgium, France and Germany." In other words, there is definitely a suggestion there that we are a bit behind the curve in this. Is that something you would accept?

Phil Evans: From what I have seen, it has been a consistent thread through a lot of the evidence that there is clearly a case for better co-ordination and bringing the various strands of this together because, academically in the research domain, it is hugely complicated. You link into that the need to provide operational services and advice. It's quite a complicated domain so there is definitely a need to bring that together and definitely a need to improve the information that we provide to the public sector and the private sector.

Q223 Gavin Barwell: Professor Hapgood, who gave evidence to us in the previous session, argued in his evidence that the UK should have greater participation in the European Space Agency's Space Situational Awareness programme. Is that something that you would support?

Phil Evans: I am not completely familiar with the area so you will have to caveat slightly what I am saying, but I think there is a real need for layers of co-operation and collaboration around this. We are doing that. Things are moving very fast in terms of improving co-operation and collaboration within the UK. I think that needs to extend to within Europe and internationally. All of these things are starting to happen. Some of the issues need a domestic response. Some of the requirements, sensitivities and risks in the UK will probably be UK-specific and some will be generic. So there is a need to tailor some of the science and the services available, whereas some other issues are common internationally.

Q224 Gavin Barwell: To move on to the point that you were keen to focus on, which is bridging the gap between space weather events and actual operational implications for particular agencies in terms of the effects that those outputs may have on their systems, how are you looking to do that, to provide that advice, and who would you see as the main recipients of that advice?

Phil Evans: To explain a little bit where we are at the moment, we provide a certain amount of advice, warning and information particularly to the defence area. That's almost entirely derived from both open and closed sources of information globally, so we already use the NOAA and the Space Weather Centre in defence. The partnership we are about to sign up to with NOAA is key in developing that operational capability. Clearly, this will need to be done in partnership with all the other players because there are a lot of players in academia across the country and also those organisations that provide operational services, like the British Geological Survey. Then we need to start better improving the link between the science, the operational service delivery and the sectors that are impacted by this. Who they are I think will come out more clearly from the sector impact assessments that will be carried out as a consequence of the National Risk Assessment.

Q225 Gavin Barwell: In the situation where we had a severe event, say one of similar severity to the event 150-odd years ago, what systems have you got in place to get that advice to those agencies in an environment where we are hearing communications could be significantly disrupted?

Phil Evans: One of the big drivers of what we do as an organisation is about providing emergency specific advice and warnings. So the facility we have in Exeter is highly resilient, with back-up power supplies, all those sorts of things. It is about as resilient an operational facility as you will find. However, if you are talking about something of the scale of the Carrington event, then, as a previous witness said, all bets are off to some extent. We are starting to look at the impact of space weather events on our infrastructure and our ability to deliver services.

Q226 Gregg McClymont: Can I ask about what advice DECC's Scientific Advisory Committee has given on risks to the electricity distribution network in particular?

Paul Hollinshead: As far as I know, David MacKay pulled the group together and they made their input to the Cabinet Office meeting on 21 September, I believe. I am afraid the advice, at the risk of sounding repetitive, really is that, first of all, we need to understand what a reasonable worst case scenario is and its kind of effects. The second is that we need to work with National Grid to repeat the kind of modelling that was done using the 1989 event to understand the risks and vulnerabilities of that, so that has affected what is being done. As I understand it, the target is that by quarter 2 of 2011 National Grid will have completed their initial assessment of the vulnerability so that we can feed it into the National Risk Assessment and start thinking about sensible mitigations. The advice has really been pulling together relevant experts to form the questions we need to answer, and then start cracking on with the work, because at this stage, as many colleagues have said, we need to understand it better in order to give an informed view.[1]

Q227 Gregg McClymont: In terms of forming these questions, can I ask who is on the advisory group? Is there a mixture of engineers and scientists?

Paul Hollinshead: From what I understand the members of the SAG in DECC include not only specialists such as the ones you will be interviewing here but industry people from the National Grid. I am not sure if we pulled in any US colleagues or international colleagues. Essentially, what DECC pulls together in its SAG is a team of people with the right knowledge to give advice.

Q228 Gregg McClymont: What is the appropriate mix for that kind of advice?

Paul Hollinshead: I am afraid I don't quite know what the first SAG mix was. The appropriate mix has got to be a mixture of the sort of people you have had here. It is people who understand the solar events on the weather, people who understand the Grid, people in the Civil Contingencies Secretariat who, maybe, understand mitigations and that sort of thing. I am afraid that I have not actually sat on the SAG, so I don't know.

Q229 Gregg McClymont: Do you know if there are other records of the meeting? Are there minutes of the meeting we referred to?

Paul Hollinshead: Yes, there are, I believe.

Q230 Gregg McClymont: Can I ask also about the ownership of the electricity Grid given that it is in private ownership? Does that present any problems? We heard already from Professor Collins that the private sector is extremely enthusiastic about being involved in this planning. I guess it is worth raising the question whether there is any impact on co-ordination.

Paul Hollinshead: David's view, when I discussed this with him, was pretty much that that's not been the case. We've found industry eager to engage. We've not seen a problem there in terms of engagement. In practice, I haven't seen any problems caused by that. People seem willing to engage on this issue, to understand it, and decide what the most appropriate response is.

Q231 Gregg McClymont: Do you think at any point in the future that there could be any conflict of interest? Is it easier because it is all futuristic at the moment?

Paul Hollinshead: I think that is very difficult to say until we see the assessment. Obviously, once you start to look at the size of any particular mitigations and get into action, it might be possible there is more debate on that. Again, everyone wants to address this problem correctly. Ofgem's regulation of the National Grid will seek to improve any co-ordination anyway. At the moment I can't foresee any difficulties.

Q232 Gregg McClymont: So, in the future, we couldn't see a private sector enterprise having an incentive to provide a particularly robust network so that it is able to promote itself on the basis that its network is more robust to a space emergency than any other?

Paul Hollinshead: Maybe. That is an issue for them, quite frankly.

Q233 Chair:Can I just press on some of the issues that face the Grid? In the supply to nuclear power stations, for example, contingencies have been engineered in, dual supplies and so on. What scale of event, going back over the events we have discussed this morning, would it take to put one of those stations at risk, in other words, take out both supplies to the station?

Paul Hollinshead: With apologies, Mr Chairman, the answer is that we don't know until we do the work. I can talk about the Canadian experience where they had nuclear plants that went off the grid for a bit and were brought back online as a result of the 1989 scale of event. Therefore, I would assume that we could cope with that scale of event, but I wouldn't know what would be required to, shall we say, knock those stations out or even what would be required to mitigate knocking it out until the work has been done.

Phil Lawton: Could I just add to that? That contingency is in the design of a nuclear power station. They have their own gas turbine generation that they could start.[2] So the loss of off-site power is just one step towards a problem. It's not an enormous problem in itself.

Q234 Chair: Is this an issue that has ever been raised by the Nuclear Inspectorate?

Phil Lawton: Not that I'm aware of. I know there are nuclear power stations where, essentially, they have two connections to the Grid. You take one out for maintenance at times because you have to, so, clearly, at that point you are relying on one and any one piece of equipment can fail. It is a risk that they are familiar with.

Q235 Alok Sharma: Can I just turn to the UK's research base in space weather? Are you satisfied that we are sufficiently prepared for a space weather emergency in the UK or do you think there are some gaps that need to be filled?

Professor Collins: This is going to sound like a cracked record.

Q236 Alok Sharma: Work in progress?

Professor Collins: However, what we are addressing, and I was at a meeting first thing this morning discussing this with the Director General for the Research Base, Professor Adrian Smith, are the criteria for which elements of the research programme need any sort of special attention in the forecast period of which we've just heard the announcements in the Spending Review, in particular with regard to capital equipment, to ensure that the criteria for those types of investments are properly understood. Over the next few weeks we will be putting in place a process by which we examine the significance of various chunks of research and capital spend in research with regard to national need. This, clearly, has to be national resilience in its biggest sense, but this element of it—space weather —clearly has to be part of the assessment criteria for that sort of research activity. To say, am I happy? Not yet, but that's part of the process by which we, at least, attempt to get it into a proportionate position with regard to everything else.

Q237 Alok Sharma: So, Professor Collins, you basically alluded to funding. Is there any Government Department that funds R&D in space weather or not, or should there be a Government Department that is funding this R&D?

Professor Collins: Okay. Space weather, per se, is, I think, seen as the purview of the research councils and the academic community and the facilities that they look after. Any individual Government Department should then do some work on the resilience of its infrastructure where it is pertinent. I know that the Department for Transport is doing a little bit of work, in particular on GPS, which I alluded to earlier. My guess is that MOD is doing quite a lot, not only with the Met Office but in other places. That is happening because you have heard that. I think you will find that the Departments individually are doing work in those areas where they consider that their responsibilities would be affected by space weather.

Q238 Alok Sharma: I presume they are co-ordinated, are they, in some way?

Professor Collins: Yes, absolutely.

Q239 Alok Sharma: In the case of an emergency, do you think the Government would have sufficient funds in place to cover the cost of commissioned research, because I think what we understood is that this was an issue during the volcanic ash emergency with the use of the NERC aircraft?

Professor Collins: The difficulty I have with answering that question is, as has been said, that this is a global phenomenon. So the assets that you need to give yourself warning—most of the really valuable ones—are space-based and have only recently been launched by the Americans. We are very closely in touch with the alerts that come from those systems, in particular the high velocity particles that we heard about earlier. To do that nationally is not something that we could think about affording. Affording the management of the proper relationships with those countries that do have those assets seems to me to be a really useful investment and at a very, very low price compared with the value that comes from it. So we are very keen to maintain those sorts of relationships.

Q240 Chair: Following that comment, what sort of collaboration is going on between DECC and sister organisations elsewhere in the world? Given that a significant amount of the Grid is owned and managed by companies that are global themselves, what degree of international co-operation is there?

Paul Hollinshead: As you have heard, there have been various workshops. Government Departments, including DECC, have had discussions with the US members and have been provided with a perspective of the risk to US-based power infrastructure. So we've got the US perspective on their risk to their power structure. We have been talking to Sweden and also engaged with the EU, looking at this issue of raising awareness and preparing for geo-magnetic storms. Of course, as you heard earlier, there are links not just from DECC but in terms of countries monitoring these effects. In terms of DECC the work has been about talking to other Governments about their networks but also hearing from the space experts about what they think this reasonable worst case will look like and what its potential effects are so that we can insert it into the modelling. But there has definitely been collaboration.

Q241 Graham Stringer: All the evidence this morning has been about problems created by the Sun ejecting materials. Some of the written evidence talked about the problem of cosmic rays generated from exploding stars in other parts of the galaxy or other galaxies. What sort of order of magnitude problem is that compared with the events we have been talking about and what contingency plans have you got?

Professor Collins: There are two parts of the asset base that you have to consider. The solar storms that we have just been hearing about are powerful enough to have an impact on the surface of the Earth. They will also, obviously, impact satellites. If they impact satellites, it will be relatively short-term things that impact individual satellites or constellations. The longer term irradiation from deep space is much more likely to slowly degrade satellite assets, but from my understanding of the science it will have negligible impact on the surface of the Earth. So the gradual degradation of satellites with long, planned lifetimes—tens of years or 30 years—is a thing to worry about, but we've known about that for a long time. So all the satellites that are put up with that sort of lifetime in mind are designed with internal circuitry, structures and shielding such that those sorts of damages just don't happen.

Q242 Stephen Metcalfe: It has, obviously, become clear this morning that we don't have a reasonable worst case scenario yet and that that is being worked on.

Professor Collins: Yet.

Q243 Stephen Metcalfe: Who will decide on that? Who will make the final decision on what it is that we should then start preparing for? And is it possible that, once a reasonable worst case scenario has been identified, it is difficult to mitigate that and so, therefore, you won't use that and you will come back down the scale and find something that you can mitigate against and work with?

Professor Collins: Sir John Beddington may not like me for handling this one this way, but I suspect, as the Senior Government Adviser, and this is a pan-Government issue, it will ultimately be for him to make a recommendation to the Minister responsible for approving that situation. My understanding is that Baroness Neville-Jones is responsible for space security within the National Security Plan because this is as much a security as a resilience issue.

Q244 Chair: This isn't just about space security. This is about terrestrial security as well.

Professor Collins: Sure.

Q245 Chair: Surely, this is right at the top. This is a Prime Ministerial issue, surely?

Professor Collins: I was going to go on to say that there is an element of it which is to do with national security, which will go that way. I would not like to guess whether the Prime Minister would want to take the decision himself or delegate it, but I would imagine he would want to take it himself, so yes. My feeling is that the science evidence of what is a reasonable worst case will be produced under the tutelage of Sir John Beddington.

Q246 Chair: And you would expect that to cover national security, communications, ground-based systems?

Professor Collins: Yes; all aspects. That is why it has to go to him because there is no clear departmental lead. That is why I was hesitating slightly to say that, beyond him, I wouldn't like to second guess whether the Prime Minister would like to take ownership of it himself. We are well aware that he is briefed on the matter but whether he would like to take ownership of that decision it's not my place to suggest.

Q247 Stephen Metcalfe: Just to follow up on that, if I may, if a reasonable worst case scenario is of the magnitude of the Carrington event, which I think I have heard this morning would be difficult to handle, what happens then? What do you do? Do you go away and start re-working it?

Professor Collins: I am sorry. If it were on the Carrington scale?

Stephen Metcalfe: Yes.

Professor Collins: Then you would need to look at what the impact would be in terms of investment to provide a proportionate level of resilience to such an event. Then we would have to look to various places to see how we funded it, because there is clearly a Government view but there would also be a commercial view because it will affect markets very significantly. So the insurance industry may want to take a view on how much it wants to see investment in resilience in commercial sectors in order to make sure that various services and sectors are properly protected. Yes, there would be a very profound impact were you to end up with something that looks as difficult as you said it might be. What we are trying to do at the moment is to be objective about that and not let those factors disturb where we think the probability would lie.

Chair: Thank you very much indeed for your time, gentlemen.

1   Note by witness: US experts did support SAG work. Back

2   Note by witness: Some stations use diesel generators rather than gas turbines. Back

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