Biosecurity and national security inquiry launched
21 May 2020
Following up the previous Committee's partially completed inquiry into biosecurity in 2019, and the continued salience of such pandemic risks with Covid-19, the Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy is examining how biosecurity is addressed in national security planning and resilience implementation.
Purpose of the inquiry
The Government's last Strategic Defence and Security Review in 2015 categorised 'Disease, particularly pandemic influenza, and emerging infectious diseases' as a tier-1 ('highest priority') risk. In March 2018, the Government's National Security Capability Review elevated 'diseases and natural hazards affecting the UK' to be one of six principal challenges likely to drive national security priorities over the coming decade.
Pandemics and emerging infectious diseases have also been categorised as a top-tier risk in National Security Risk Assessments (NSRAs). The Committee will soon be briefed by the Government on its latest NSRA (see letter to Prime Minister).
The Government published a 'Biological security strategy' in July 2018, signed by the Home Office, the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs, and the Department of Health & Social Care, and intended to coordinate a cross-government approach to biosecurity threats, whether they materialise naturally, accidentally or deliberately.
The arrival of Covid-19 now presents a test case for that Strategy and the Risk Assessment process, as well as for the UK’s system of national security oversight and governance. The Committee's inquiry will take forward its earlier examination of Biosecurity, including the written evidence it received for that inquiry from the Government in September 2019.
Send us your views
The Joint Committee is calling for written evidence, in particular addressing:
- The main drivers of biosecurity risks to human health in the UK, including from pandemics and emerging infectious diseases;
- How, and how effectively, these risks are monitored and assessed by the UK Government, and by whom; and whether the specific type of risk to the UK represented by Covid-19 fell within such monitoring and assessment processes;
- The extent to which the Government has supported domestic preparedness against biosecurity risks in terms of:
o building and measuring resilience;
o designing emergency response mechanisms;
o testing and exercising that response, and building the lessons from exercises into active resilience planning and into resource allocation priorities; and
o anticipating required public communications campaigns, and devising means to measure their effectiveness.
- The extent to which the Government's planning for pandemics in the 2015 Strategic Defence & Security Review, the subsequent National Security Capability Review and the 2018 Biosecurity Strategy helped in guiding that preparedness;
- The extent to which policy-making in this area draws on cross-government input, and how well preparedness plans have taken a genuinely 'fusion doctrine' approach (that should optimally combine UK capabilities to promote 'security', 'influence' and 'prosperity' objectives);
- In regard to the oversight of such policy-making and the management of biosecurity risks within overall national security risks: the roles and responsibilities of the National Security Council, relevant Government departments and agencies, and how their work is coordinated with that of the Devolved Administrations. Later, we intend to examine progress on the Government’s 'Integrated Security, Defence & Foreign Policy Review', including how well it is addressing different 'tiers' of risks, including risks such as pandemics, and how well the national security implications of Covid-19 are being absorbed in that Review. We anticipate our initial inquiry feeding into that later work."
Later, we intend to examine progress on the Government's 'Integrated Security, Defence & Foreign Policy Review', including how well it is addressing different 'tiers' of risks, including risks such as pandemics, and how well the national security implications of Covid-19 are being absorbed in that Review. We anticipate our initial inquiry feeding into that later work.