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Counterterrorism: Martyn’s Law

Volume 825: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the letter from senior police officers to the Prime Minister on 21 November calling for the introduction of “Martyn’s Law”, when they intend to introduce counterterrorism legislation to improve the safety and security of public venues.

I refer to my interest in the register and beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, the Government are grateful to Figen Murray for her tireless campaigning for Martyn’s law. The protected duty will ensure that public places put safety and security first. We are working hard to bring forward this important piece of legislation as soon as possible.

My Lords, it is five years since the Manchester Arena bombing and Figen Murray has campaigned tirelessly following the death of her son. Had there been a Protect duty in place at that time, 22 people might not have died. The Home Office has moved with extraordinary sloth since the principle was accepted. It has consulted at length and responded to the consultation. We were promised this in the Queen’s Speech. When is this going to happen, or do we have to wait for another atrocity?

Bringing forward this legislation was a 2019 manifesto commitment. As the noble Lord noted, there was supposed to be a consultation in early 2020, but that was delayed due to Covid. It was eventually undertaken between 26 February and 2 July 2021. It was a very comprehensive consultation process with more than 2,500 responses, and the duty has received strong support from businesses and others. As I say, the Government are committed to bringing forward this important legislation, as per the Queen’s Speech, as soon as parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that one of the best ways to tackle terrorism is to prevent people becoming terrorists in the first place? What is his department is doing to work with the many local civil society organisations that are working with young people in many communities across the country, to prevent them being recruited by terrorists?

I thank my noble friend for his question. The Contest strategy is the Government’s counterterrorism strategy and has the four Ps at its core, one of which is Prevent. Many sections of the community are engaged with that and the Government expect to publish an updated and enhanced version of Contest early next year.

My Lords, notwithstanding the horrific slaughter of young people in the Manchester Arena, a clear majority of the 100 or so deaths from terrorism in Great Britain this century have been on public transport or on the streets of London. Knowing the risks, we still prize the ability to run for a train or hop on a bus without submitting to checks or scrutiny of any kind. Does the Minister agree that we need to reflect long and hard before requiring precautions at public venues that are not required on public transport? I think particularly of the hundreds of thousands of small venues, such as cafes or parish churches, where there may be no money to spare and no specific threat.

The noble Lord makes a very sound point. He is, in effect, asking me about the scope of the proposed legislation and that work is ongoing. It would not be appropriate for me to comment at this point.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, and to Martyn’s family for their work on these issues. What else can the Government do to encourage small venues to improve security, while we await this long-overdue legislation? What about a public information campaign or a security rating scheme for venues? Lives may be unnecessarily at risk because of government inaction.

The noble Lord makes an interesting point. ProtectUK was launched in March 2022 as a digital tool. Its work includes offering guidance, advice and engagement with counterterrorism experts via an online platform. As it develops, it will establish itself as a central digital location for counterterrorism support. There are a number of other aspects to that, which I could go on about at some length, but considerable work is being done in that space.

My Lords, seven former Home Secretaries have written to the Prime Minister today, asking for this matter to be expedited, given that it is almost 18 months since the end of the consultation. I am being only slightly facetious when I ask the noble Lord if he will make sure that the Prime Minister gets the letter because, when Tony Blair’s dad wrote a letter to Downing Street and signed it “love, Pop”, he got a letter back saying “Dear Mr Pop”. Perhaps we could make sure that this letter reaches Rishi Sunak.

My Lords, as the former Victims’ Commissioner, I have met Figen and other campaigners. For the Government not to have any legislation in place after five years is inhumane to the families who are grieving and fighting to make other venues safe. After all, at the end of the day, the Manchester inquiry has a huge profile and it is up to the Government to put legislation in place for the sake of the lost family members and for those fighting to protect others—as Figen has and will continue to, in a dignified manner.

I agree with my noble friend that the campaign has been conducted in a very dignified manner. Of course, I express my sympathies with all the victims and their families. As I say—I cannot improve on this answer—the legislation will come forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.

My Lords, we are not going to let the Minister off the hook with that. My noble friend Lord Harris has been campaigning with Martyn’s family on this issue for years. It has been five years since the Manchester Arena bombing. It is not good enough for the Minister to say that this will be done as soon as possible, “We are trying to do it expeditiously”, et cetera. When will we see this legislation put into practice to honour the memory of those who died at Manchester and elsewhere?

I am sorry to disappoint the noble Lord again, but I will have to stay on the hook. The fact is that it will be as soon as parliamentary time allows. I cannot improve on that answer.

My Lords, in 2009, I signed off a mass of work to do with security in crowded places. My right honourable friend was in a nearby office at the time and we increased the number of NaCTSOs, as well. Can the Minister confirm that that work—a great deal of work—on exactly this stuff is being looked at and used in the context of this legislation? If not, as with so many things, we will be going round and round in circles.

As I say, the Government are still working on this and all aspects of it will be included in the legislation and in the other things I have referenced, such as the Contest and Protect strategies.

My Lords, do the Government consider counterterrorist measures the most suitable measures to deal with the security of public venues?

My Lords, can the Minister explain why the legislation programme seems much slower with this Government than it was with the previous ones?

My Lords, while we wait for this proposed legislation to pass through this House and the other place, can we be assured that one of the main failures that was a contributory factor to the Manchester bombing was the lack of joined-up thinking and joined-up work by the emergency services? Can we at least have the assurance that that is in hand and that all venues, small or large, now have proper contingency planning while we await the legislation?

My noble friend makes a good point. I am, of course, happy to try to give that assurance from the Dispatch Box but, as we know, all police forces and emergency services remain operationally independent to some extent. The fact is that they have access to the various services I have outlined, through Contest.

My Lords, I am sorry to come back to the Minister, but the question just asked by his noble friend highlights that there is a lot of guidance there. The whole point of this proposed legislation was that it would place a duty to act proportionately on those responsible for public venues. I cannot understand why there is this continued delay. Is it simply that there is no parliamentary time, given that both Houses seem to have a very light load at the moment?

From my personal point of view, I am not sure that it is a particularly light load. As the noble Lord says, the duty will enhance public security by introducing new requirements for certain public places to ensure preparedness. It is necessary: there is no disagreement about that. It will come forward as soon as parliamentary time allows.