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Counterterrorism: Martyn’s Law

Volume 800: debated on Tuesday 22 October 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given, as part of the Protect workstream of the CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, to the introduction of a so-called “Martyn’s Law” in order to place a duty on large public venues to assess the risk of an attack and put appropriate measures in place.

My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, first, I commend Figen Murray and the campaign team for their efforts to improve security and safety in memory of her son Martyn. The Government have discussed the proposals in the campaign with Figen Murray and others campaigning for Martyn’s law. We continue to consider where improvements can be made to ensure the safety and security of the public in crowded places. That includes considering whether it would be appropriate to legislate on protective security and preparedness measures.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that Answer. Martyn Hett was one of the 22 people who went for a night out in Manchester Arena and never came home. Many people will find it extraordinary that, given we already have so many regulations that sit on places of public entertainment and so on, it is not a legal requirement for such venues to carry out sensible, appropriate and proportionate security checks on those attending them. Will the Government give a firm commitment that they will move forward on this?

I know that the Security Minister met Martyn’s mum on 13 September, and whether legislation is needed is certainly one of the things that the Government are considering. I totally concur with the noble Lord that a lot of regulations are in place, but one thinks of some of the events over the last few years, particularly the shocking event in Manchester—I was there when the first bomb went off and I will never forget that night, particularly as I thought of the children of friends and family. Certainly the Government are seriously considering it.

My Lords, while I have a great respect for the views expressed by the noble Lord, may I ask my noble friend to be very cautious about this suggestion? The truth is that all large public venues—for that matter, any venue—are at risk from terrorist attack. The assessment of risk depends primarily on the information and facts known largely to the police and the security services, and is difficult for the organisers to assess themselves. The danger of going down this road is that there will be an awful lot of back-guarding litigation cost and disproportionate expense. I would be very cautious.

I understand my noble friend’s point. However, take as an example two types of venue: the Parliamentary Estate, and the mitigating measures that the parliamentary authorities have put in around the estate to make your Lordships’ House and the other House safer following the London attacks; and venues where people might go to listen to music, and so on. The Government have a long-standing work programme to provide the owners and operators of these crowded places with high-quality advice and guidance. Therefore, when I say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, that we are considering it, I mean that we need to look at all the various things that are in place and come up with the right solution.

My Lords, the Manchester Arena bomb was detonated outside one of the entrances. Crowds outside venues arguably present an easier target for terrorists. Does the Minister agree that legislation is necessary because security measures should include the build-up of large numbers outside venues, potentially in public spaces, as well as the security of those inside the venues?

My Lords, you cannot think about a crowded venue without thinking about the people outside. I sometimes find that when I am leaving this building in a car, we simply cannot get out. It is quite frightening to be stuck trying to get out of a venue. When we talk about venues, we are talking about both the outside and the inside and what people do when they are stuck trying to get in or out.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the increased use of CCTV, when appropriate, can lead to deterrence and substantial reduction of crime?

In a retrospective way, CCTV can lead to the capturing of criminals and terrorists and could be a deterrent for people engaging in criminal activity at a venue. Live facial recognition, which I know is a controversial subject, could help police in live time to catch people who are on a watch -list.

My Lords, in 2009, we produced a policy document on security in crowded places which made a lot of use of the National Counter Terrorism Security Office, advising venues on exactly what measures should be taken and laying a certain responsibility on them. Do I take it from what I have heard that that work has not been progressed? I understand that the number of security officers has been reduced, but is there now no responsibility at all on people to implement measures advised by those security officers?

I understand that that is not the case: not only is free advice provided to owners and operators of crowded places on how to protect against and prepare for terrorist attacks but, in the light of such attacks, refreshed specialist protective security advice has also been issued. I do not think that that has stopped at all, but I will double check for the noble Lord.

My Lords, encouraged by the Answer that my noble friend gave to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, should not Parliament be setting an example by laying plans for the enclosure of Parliament Square, which itself is a large public venue, so that we could offer better protection to the thousands of staff who come here every day and the millions of people who visit every year?

My noble friend makes a good point. That is all considered in the round because, as my noble friend said, Parliament is full not just of politicians but of the people who work here and the thousands and thousands of people who visit every week of every year. Yes, we have a duty to protect them.