Pauline Neville-Jones' speech at Farnborough air show security day conference

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The minister for security gave this speech on 22 July at the security day conference at Farnborough air show.


I am absolutely delighted to be here today and to open the conference on security day.

Thanks to Sir Edward Crew for his kind words of introduction and to ADS for organising the conference and, of course, the air show. Farnborough is a major event in the international calendar of the global aviation industry and it is of course a show case for British engineering and technology. This year, the British government has fielded 11 Ministers to be with you.  I am proud to be among them. I want this morning to explain why the government regards security day as one that increasingly ranks alongside the defence day in importance in the contribution it makes to public policy. I also want to explain why this government wants to support our security industry, not just because of the imperative of our collective safety, but also because of its importance to the economy now, to the economy in the future and because of the potential it has to be a leading British export. The British security industry has the capacity to be a world leader and it should be our shared objective to achieve this.

Policy context

May I for a moment set the context so far as public policy is concerned? You will be aware that the Coalition government has set up the National Security Council which has quickly established itself as a central decision making body. We face a range of complex and interdependent security challenges. We continue to be engaged in operations around the world. Here our counter-insurgency work, both military and political as well as development and reconstruction activity, is closely linked to our counter-terrorism efforts. It is clear that we cannot - and should not - separate our approach to security from our approach to defence. That is why we have begun a strategic defence and security review, the first of its kind in British history.

It will be a full review of all of the UK’s plans, policies, resources and commitments across all areas of national security, covering not just defence, but civil emergencies, national resilience, cyber security and counter-terrorism. This review is being undertaken at a time of considerable financial stringency which places a premium on our ability to choose our national priorities wisely. We need to be pragmatic in realigning our capabilities to respond to the most serious risks to the UK and our interests overseas. Many people think- and I share this view- that flexibility should be an important characteristic of them.

But the scope of the Council’s remit goes somewhat wider still. What is different about this government in its approach is the definition given to national security. It is not merely about defence as an arm of foreign policy objectives - which it is, and very importantly so. It is not just about energy security or homeland security- which it is as well. It is also about the relationship of our global goals to the welfare, moral as well as material, of the British people here at home -our security, our prosperity and our cohesion as a nation. The direct challenge we face today, in the form of international terrorism, is as much about our values as a society as it is about our ability to protect ourselves. For the government led by David Cameron, the liberties we seek to preserve are as important as the vital matter of our physical security. All this is on the agenda of the NSC.

That is why last week the Home Secretary announced a review of key counter-terrorism and security powers, as this government promised in the Coalition agreement. This review will ensure that we have a legal regime in place that is both effective and proportionate to the threat we continue to face, but crucially is focused on the safeguards we need in place to protect individuals’ civil liberties. It is also why there will be a Freedom Bill, again focussed on curtailing unwanted and unnecessary state power, and it is why we are reviewing the Prevent strand of the CONTEST strategy.  This government will maintain the framework of CONTEST which we consider to be a tried and tested overall approach to counterterrorism, but we shall ensure that actions to counter violent extremism do not contaminate the separate and vital task of encouraging all people in this country, irrespective of their ethnicity or any other differentiating characteristic, to be fully active participating members of the community. Shared values need to be given concrete expression.

Technology, ladies and gentlemen, incorrectly used can be oppressive and very intrusive into our private space as citizens. Properly used, it can be liberating in its efficiency and unobtrusiveness while acting to protect us. It all depends on what we do with it. This government believes that is has a big contribution to make though we would like to see it used in ways which protect the safety and security of ordinary people without merely enlarging the power of the state.

The role of technology

My particular area of responsibilities - counter terrorism, security and resilience- illustrate the issue rather well. To a considerable extent we are faced by a technology arms race with terrorists. The communications revolution has made it easier for terrorist groups to reach out to vulnerable individuals with their violent extremist ideology and propaganda. It has also facilitated fundraising, recruitment and training. Additionally, and just as important, technology has provided terrorist groups with the means to plan operations more securely and to achieve more lethal effects.

These trends will continue. And they apply equally to organised crime. But technology, with intelligence, is also a key element of our response. Absent intelligence and our response is bound to be less well focussed and almost certainly heavier handed. Technology generates intelligence and intelligence helps us direct our effort with the aid of technology. 

To take one example of this intertwining: The need to be well informed about the threat or the level of risk (or potential level of risk) posed by people is increasingly dependent on our ability to obtain a high level of situational awareness, in relation to which data collection is critical. Equally, as technology advances, our security and law enforcement services have to tackle the challenges of data volume, velocity and variety. But in turn, technology should once again help us overcome this new complexity by enabling us to develop analysis techniques such as visualisation - whereby complex information can be displayed graphically - offering additional opportunities to improve the effectiveness of our response.
And nowhere is information and data management more relevant than at our borders: which is why in February I said that the UK needed to build ‘intelligent borders’. Knowing in advance who is leaving and entering the country is a key element in delivering effective and efficient border security as is the marking and tracking of passengers assessed as high risk as they proceed through the entire booking and embarkation cycle. Such a system also allows effective targeting of police resources by identifying known threats prior to travel, and by subsequent checking of travel histories for evidential and intelligence leads. 

Technology also provides systems to protect our critical national infrastructure better and improve our resilience, protect our crowded places and improve detection of explosives and CBRN threats. Upgrading of communications and surveillance systems are also integral to the work of law enforcement and security and intelligence services. And, finally, technology also improves our ability to manage our response following an incident - indeed a response that failed to exploit technology would be either inadequate or prohibitively expensive. Or both.

Traditionally, scientific and technological support to counter-terrorism has been focussed on the technical sciences.  But never forget the human factor either in how technology is used or what behavioural sciences can do to help us understand  particular situations- how crowds are likely to react in unusual circumstances - to take but one example.  All these techniques put together are part of the layered approach to security.
Technological change brings with its efficiencies new dependencies and vulnerabilities. Our social and economic structures today are much more highly geared than, say, 20 years ago and the effects of disruption in one sector are likely to have correspondingly greater repercussions on the others. We have to reduce our vulnerability to disruption.

I have Ministerial responsibility for cyber security, and I am clear that this is an area where government must give a lead. But I am also clear that as a country we will not have a robust and secure cyber platform without partnership with the private sector, which owns so many of the nation’s vital assets, and without responsible internet use by the public at large.  Equally, 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. 

Role of the security industry and the relationship with government

Which brings me to the role of the security industry. To start with, what should the relationship be between government and this industry? I hope you note that I think there should be one and that we should get away from the idea that the security industry is an afterthought of the defence industry. But how well is it doing? Figures seem to show that while the UK captures 18 per cent of the worldwide defence market, it gets only 9 per cent of the space market and a mere 4 per cent of the security market. But to my mind this represents a collective failure - in which I include government. The security industry based in this country has much more to offer the world by way of innovative solutions to security problems than these figures suggest. Much more. I would like to see a major uplift in this performance with government playing the sort of strong supportive role it has played in relation to the defence exports - or more accurately that Conservative governments have played in relation to the promotion of UK defence exports. Security needs to take its place in the UKTI programme and I know that officials are keen to see this happen.

Such a joint effort however needs to be underpinned by a closer relationship between government and industry. Those who have heard me speak on this subject while my party was still in Opposition know that I am attached to the following ideas:

  • that in seeking solutions to specific problems, government and industry should talk to each other much sooner in the process which may lead to procurement than has often been the case.  I think strides are being made in this direction, for example through our innovative science and technology in counter-terrorism - INSTINCT - programme; set up in 2009 to improve government’s ability to engage with academia and the private sector on key challenges in counter-terrorism. Our aim should be to talk at the concept stage rather than at the specification stage
  • to enable this to happen, industry needs to set itself up in ways which enable this dialogue to take place without the government falling foul of charges of unfair competition through appearing to have preferred partners.  That is why federations like ADS and organisations like Intellect are very helpful.  Divorcing the concept discussion from the promotion of a particular solution also in my view increases the chance of genuine innovation. And it is only by innovation that Western companies, and especially manufacturers, can keep ahead of the competition offered by countries like China which have the huge advantage of lower manufacturing costs.  Innovation needs to be a hall mark of the UK security industry which I firmly believe it is more than capable of being
  • government is an important purchaser of security solutions and I recognise the value to export promotion that UK government purchase brings. This most certainly cannot be without regard to price, but it should have regard to technical standards as well as to value for money. Financial stringency in the public sector brings with it the need for more efficient procurement practices with much less variation in specification in contracts with similar outcomes in view
  • reduction in the fragmentation of government demand should help reduce fragmentation on the supply side too. One of the marked characteristics of the UK security industry as compared with defence is the lack of company scale. This can put our firms at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to big contracts. We do not on the other hand need excessive consolidation which can lead to the snuffing out of creativity. This government is a champion of the SME sector - and by that I include the very small company which has barely emerged from the university laboratory - and we have to find ways of ensuring that small enterprises have the chance of being integrated into bigger consortia without losing the very innovative capability which gives them their comparative advantage.


We are in a period of change and through it, it will be important to maintain an open, honest and effective dialogue between government and industry. As I said at the outset, the British based security industry has the capacity to be a world leader.  We can help each other and it should be our common endeavour to seek to do so.