Main navigation

Bookmark and Share

Baroness Neville-Jones gives the introductory speech to the Homeland Security and Border Conference  Queen Elizabeth Conference Centre 1 July 2010

Thank you for inviting me to open the conference.  The scope of today’s discussion is indicative of the breadth of the contemporary homeland security agenda and of its direct relevance to the safety and good functioning of the economy and of the daily lives of the people of this country. In the next few minutes I want to offer a few thoughts about the Government’s approach to national security generally and homeland security in particular in an age when the challenges are dynamic, the threats diverse and the relative power and influence of European societies is declining.

We are all becoming students of Chaos theory: the idea that the slightest disturbance in one part of the world can trigger a chain of events that creates a massive outcome in another part of the globe.  This notion, which seemed fanciful to many not so long ago, is becoming commonplace as the result of experience. So we need to draw the conclusions.  Government needs to equip itself to look ahead, assess risk and be in a position ideally to get ahead of events or at least to be able to respond to them competently.  What has come to be known as an all hazards approach is required.

This morning I would like to explain our general thinking rather than discuss specific measures in detail. Where we are coming from as they say and where we are trying to get.

Holistic Approach

It is a truism that the first duty of government is to provide security-in the context, let me say, of a free society. Not much point in security in my view without freedom.  It has also become widely accepted that in today’s world, though effective border security is essential as a source of information as much as a means of controlling immigration, physical frontiers provide only very limited protection. Security abroad and at home are part of an inseparable continuum in which the different threats and dangers interact. We also know that man made threats are largely unconventional and asymmetric. They are not, by and large, state against state, though interstate conflict has not disappeared and is unlikely to. And, as we learnt this week, old fashioned spying has not stopped. Indeed a growing menace in cyber space.

But by and large it is the non state actor (for instance the terrorist or the organised criminal) who poses the central threat to the ordered state. And the ordered, prosperous, society.  We know that acting upstream, as they say, in concert with others, against such things as terrorism and crime is important and much of this needs to be abroad. But this will avail us little unless we have protection, effective pursuit of criminality and resilience at home.

Domestic security these days is as much about the well-being of our people, the values of our society and the good functioning of an open economy as it is about the safety of physical plant. Though mistake not, the resilience of our infrastructure is vital.  Ultimately, when we discuss national security we are talking about Joe Public. It is the public who are affected by terrorist attacks, floods, and e crime. It is in communities where the battle for ideas takes place. And it is the everyday activities of individuals which are curtailed by security measures.  Security is a people based matter.

You may think that these points are pretty obvious. They are. But government has only gradually adapted to the implications in the way it conducts its own business, the goals it sets for itself and the country. And involving the public in actively contributing to its own security is an essential component.

So where has the government started?

As you know the National Security Council met on the government’s first day and has been functioning, chaired by the Prime Minister, on a weekly basis since then. The agenda cuts across all areas of government business with a security component. Not just defence, diplomacy and international development but also, for example, counter terrorism; cyber security and resilience, to take but a few topics.  You may say that this is no more than a logical outcome of developments in the machinery of government undertaken by our predecessors.  We are indeed able to build on work of the previous government. But the step now taken, with a small but high powered permanent secretariat headed by the Prime Minister’s national security adviser is qualitatively different.

The NSC is not just a fire fighting machine for daily issues. It is the strategic heart of government for a broad definition of national security.  It should ensure excellent policy coordination. But it should also deliver more than this. With the NSC comes integrated policy making and also drive from the centre with active participation from departments. In order to contribute however, they have themselves to develop their own capacity for strategic thought.  One of the main outcomes of the NSC should be to develop the capacity across government for strategic assessment, long term policy making and sustained delivery.  A culture of forward thinking. This has not always been a British strength. It should also contribute to greater efficiency in government.

Frankly this is essential. In current and foreseeable circumstances, no area of policy can be immune from the need for financial discipline, efficiency and value for money. 

The benefits also go wider than this however. Bringing together different aspects of policy in this way enables the government also to see the opportunities for the country and make its own contribution to realising them.  Thus, a country that has highly developed cyber security and information assurance is also one that has the basis for future investment in high value industrial activity and innovation.  If government works imaginatively, it will provide some of the essential underpinnings which only it possesses to help the private sector.  And in the next stage of our work in the cyber domain we shall accordingly be inviting the active participation of business in the development of a strategy based on partnership.   By this I mean the private sector having a real say in the development of policy

Homeland Security

That is the broad context. You will perhaps expect me to say a few words about the immediate subject of this conference, homeland security.  It is of course a component of the National Security Strategy and it is an element in the Strategic Defence and Security Review.  In our thinking the armed forces will in future have a more dedicated capability available for homeland security.

My particular responsibilities- counterterrorism, resilience and cyber security, which straddle the Home and Cabinet Offices, are all  examples of the cross-cutting nature of the policy responses we have to bring to the threats – and opportunities - we face. Resilience is a field crowded with competing priorities: gas or electricity? Or water? Against floods or drought? Or should we give priority to being organised for pandemics? Or a dirty bomb? How much do we really know about the crucial interdependencies of a highly geared, crowded just-in-time economy and society? How far does one invest to protect against a threat that is of low likelihood but of high impact, should it, against all the odds, occur? 

Much of security policy is about risk management.  We cannot hope to cover all angles, protect from all eventualities – quite apart from its unaffordability, to do this would almost certainly be to live in a prison. But we can aspire to understand the risks we face so that we can choose wisely where to invest precious resources and where not.  These are not always easy decisions.  They require intellectual rigour and can demand political courage.   Building on the work of our predecessors in developing the National Risk Assessment, we have a tool for risk assessment and prioritisation - to be used judiciously for sure.

The NRA assists in assessing the impact and likelihood of the major risks - both hazards and threats - that the country could face in the next five years or so.  It then helps set the bar for resilience building. Many of the findings of this assessment are published in the National Risk Register, which we hope to develop further, to help industry and the public develop their own plans.  

I mentioned Joe Public earlier. Government and public authorities like the police needs to give good leadership in crisis.  But we reckon that local communities will be more resilient if they have had a hand in and take some responsibility for preparing for emergencies and playing role in them. This is part of the Big Society. The Germans have a well developed tradition of volunteering in this field which we could learn from.

At the outset I said that security was, among other things about preserving and protecting our values and not just our plant; about preserving our traditional liberties within the framework of a fair, open and equal society.  On the one hand our society faces an ideological challenge accompanied by violence which we have to confront without betraying what we stand for.  This involves two interrelated aspects of policy. First the easy bit.

We have said that we believe that the previous government allowed the powers of the state to encroach too far into the rights of the individual with the result that the so called protective state began to become the oppressive state and a source of division rather than trust. We will roll back a number of these powers– work on freedom issues is now underway in government  The other bit, meeting the challenge of ideologically driven violence, is more complicated.  Tackling radicalisation is one very important part but this needs to take place within the context of a much more serious effort than has hitherto been the case of integrating our plural society into a single whole.  Diversity is enriching if hewn to shared values.  Multiculturalism is impoverishing if it acts as a centrifugal force. The Big Society should empower and unite.


The establishment of the NSC and the Strategic Defence and Security Review are all vital steps to delivering an integrated, more purposive and comprehensive approach to national security.

The SDSR in particular will deliver the operational outcome of the defence and security aspects of the National Security strategy in terms that are up to date in relation to the threat and affordable. We will ensure that our capabilities and resources are focussed on the most significant risks we face and opportunities open to us.

And, since government neither can, nor wishes to do these things alone, we will work consistently with international partners, the private and the voluntary sectors, not just in formulating the strategy but in its implementation as well.  And we will involve the people of this country, especially at the local level.

While combating terror and providing security, the government will reduce the intrusion by the state into peoples’ lives and give impetus to integrating our society on the basis of equality, responsibility and shared values.

The goal is a society that is resilient physically and psychologically with a shared sense of purpose