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.
I am Professor Brian Collins. I am the Chief Scientific Adviser
at the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
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
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 peoplethere were about
45 people in the roomfrom 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 nowit
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.
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
You can kick off with that, Phil, because you're closer to the
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.
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
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 backbut
before the end of the yearon 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
workI think that is roughly what you said?
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?
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 eventsand we've got events in 1921, 1989 and 2003why
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?
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
Secretariatand you should obviously ask themto 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
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 inapologiesto 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
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
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 leastthough my colleagues
know betterI 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?
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
Q216 Stephen Metcalfe:
Having started this piece of work nowit's work in progresshow
resilient do you think the infrastructure is to space weather?
Where do you think the greatest damage could be caused?
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?
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 leademergency planning centres around COMAH sites,
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
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
Q220 Stephen Metcalfe:
or are there sensitivities?
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.
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
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
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
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
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
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?
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?
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?
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.
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?
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
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?
Maybe. That is an issue for them, quite frankly.
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?
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. 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?
This is going to sound like a cracked record.
Q236 Alok Sharma:
Work in progress?
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
itspace 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
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
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?
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
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 warningmost of the really valuable
onesare 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
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?
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 lifetimestens of years
or 30 yearsis 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
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
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?
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
Q245 Chair: Surely, this
is right at the top. This is a Prime Ministerial issue, surely?
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,
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
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?
I am sorry. If it were on the Carrington scale?
Stephen Metcalfe: Yes.
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
Note by witness: Some stations use diesel generators rather than
gas turbines. Back