Skip to main content

Nurseries and Schools: Protection from Terrorism

Volume 788: debated on Thursday 8 February 2018


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what measures they are taking to protect nurseries and schools from terrorist attack.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and I refer to my interests in policing and security as set out in the register.

My Lords, schools and nurseries have a legal responsibility to ensure that staff and pupils are safe, including in the event of a terrorist attack. The Government provide a range of advice to help them fulfil their responsibilities. The National Counter Terrorism Security Office also provides specialist advice on staying safe in the event of an attack, including tailored advice for education establishments, which schools and nurseries are able to draw upon.

My Lords, not for the first time I think that the Minister has drawn the short straw on the Government Front Bench, in that this is really a Question on what the Department for Education is doing about this. Two years ago I made a recommendation that every school governing body should appoint one of their members to take a lead in overseeing work on security and protecting pupils in the event of some attack of this nature. The Department for Education’s response was to say, no, it would leave it to individual schools. That response was then criticised by the head teachers’ associations which said they would welcome such general guidance. Will the Minister talk to her colleagues in the Department for Education so that it actually provides some guidance and a framework for schools to protect children in the event of such an attack?

I am very aware of the noble Lord’s advice and recommendations on governing bodies and a single person on a governing body. Governing bodies have to make a judgment as a whole on the health, safety and protective measures that they need to put in their schools. As for guidance, clearly the last year has been unprecedented in terms of security generally and our schools are no less vulnerable. The DfE is currently reviewing its health, safety and school security advice, giving consideration to how guidance material can improve advice that is given to schools.

My Lords, the matter that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, is referring to is recommendation 121 of his comprehensive report about London’s preparedness to deal with terrorism. Recommendation 11 of that report states that it is essential that UK policing is able to maintain the required international arrangements that currently work to keep us safe. There is no precedent for a non-EU country that is outside Schengen to have access to the essential intelligence databases SIS II and ECRIS, and the European Commission has said that a non-member state cannot have the same rights as a member state. Does the Minister accept that whatever the desired outcomes, we are likely to be less safe if we leave the EU? It is about not what everybody wants but what is legally possible.

In terms of London’s preparedness, the noble Lord will know that there has been quite an uplift in the CT policing budget. In terms of the EU, he will also know through the various debates we have had that the UK has been a leader in work across Europe in law enforcement and counterterrorism data sharing. We have had the pleasurable experience of the passage of the Data Protection Bill, during which law enforcement and other matters were discussed. We very much want to continue that to the extent that we have put the law enforcement directive into UK law.

Does the Minister agree that the threat is less a general one than a specific one targeted against various minority communities, particularly the Jewish minority? Is she satisfied that the Government have sufficiently close consultation with the Jewish community in this country, particularly in London, to prevent attacks?

The Government liaise closely with the Jewish community, in particular with the CST. All Jewish schools have security protective mechanisms, following some of the terrorist threats in Europe. I commend the CST for the work it does not only for the Jewish community but for the broader community.

My Lords, are the Government aware that the National Police Chiefs’ Council has estimated that only 8.6% of the tip-offs to the police and the Prevent programme come from within our Muslim communities? What are the Government doing to encourage those close-knit communities to do much more to expose their violent co-religionists before they strike?

My Lords, the Muslim community is as anxious to prevent terrorist attacks as any other community. The Question relates to schools. Parents in the Muslim community do not want their children radicalised any more than we do.

My Lords, will the Minister tell the House what specific work the Government have done with head teachers and governors over the past year? As she said, the situation has been unprecedented.

It has been—the noble Lord is right to point that out. DfE is working with the National Counter Terrorism Security Office and has had expert advice from the counterterrorism policing unit. As I said earlier, it is reviewing its guidance on preparedness, security measures and vulnerability to attack.

My Lords, might it not be better if the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch, concentrated on Brexit and left this delicate issue alone?

My Lords, I think we concentrate a lot on Brexit these days in your Lordships’ House. The Question is important. Given the threats of the past year, it is important that we are all safe whether in our schools, our homes or our communities.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that in the event—God forbid—of a terrorist attack on one of our schools, my noble friend Lord Harris’s recommendation 121 would be implemented within the week? Is it not better to concentrate on prevention rather than afterwards? At a time when it is obvious that the terrorists are now moving towards soft targets, schools are among the major soft targets that should be protected.

I could not disagree at all with the noble Lord when he says that we need to make sure our schools are protected. He will be aware, I am sure, of the Crowded Places Guidance that has come out. This is up to governing bodies. Of course the threat will feel different in different places, and we are updating our guidance on assisting schools. It would be a terrible thing if a school was subjected to a terrorist attack.