U.K.'s House of Lords debates biothreats facing the nation

The United Kingdom's House of Lords held a short debate this week on biological threats facing the United Kingdom, questioning what safeguards are currently in place.

Lord Toby Harris started the debate by asking "Her Majesty's Government what arrangements they have in place to protect the residents of the United Kingdom against biological threats; and what measures they are taking to promote the international regulation of biological weapons and to ensure that security standards are sufficient in laboratories engaged in biological research around the world."

Harris warned that additional safeguards against bioattacks are needed.

"Although countries have said that they accept that they should not be developing biological weapons, the world has not set up what we might consider to be any effective system for monitoring compliance or verification," Harris said. "Some of the biggest and most powerful countries-the United States of America, for one-are extremely dubious about setting up any external system to monitor their own compliance and do not necessarily see the need for a supervisory body."

Biolgical attacks by terrorists are currently listed as a top tier serious threat by the National Risk Register.

"There are three sets of factors which make biological threats far more menacing than they were for previous generations," Lord Tony Giddens said. "The first of these...is work in scientific laboratories that is designed to unpack the basic building blocks of nature but which can have spin-offs of a dangerous kind. Secondly, there is the disruption to or destruction of the world's ecosystems, releasing pathogens from their normal hosts. The process is normally known as zoonosis and it is one that is fraught with implications for human beings. Thirdly, we have globalization which can transmit pathogens almost immediately from one side of the world to the other."