Draft anti-terror bill should focus on venue risk not capacity

Draft anti-terror bill should focus on venue risk not capacity

The Home Affairs Committee says the bill as proposed would mean small venues having to implement costly new anti-terror measures while larger events fall out of scope.

In an announcement by the Home Affairs Committee on 27 July, it said that "onerous new anti-terror regulations could place small businesses and voluntary organisations at risk of closure but fail to make a difference to public safety".

The committee continued:

Following pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill, the Committee calls on the Government to ensure safety measures are based on risk and not on the size of a venue.

The Draft Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill was introduced by the Government in response to recommendations made in the inquiry into the 2017 Manchester Arena attack. It sets out how venues should assess the risk of terror attacks and take measures to mitigate their consequences, with different standards for venues above 100 and above 800 capacity.

The Committee finds that in its current form the bill would place a significant and disproportionate burden on smaller venues while failing to ensure adequate safety measures at all public events at risk of terror attacks. Thousands of small organisations, many of them reliant on community and volunteer support, would be required to implement potentially costly safety measures without adequate resources to do so. Yet other events and venues with a greater history of terror attacks or with a higher footfall fall out of scope such as farmers markets or Christmas markets.

Evidence heard over the course of the inquiry indicated that measures in the bill would not have made a significant difference in recent terror attacks in the UK. The Committee is also concerned that the Bill’s objectives are unclear, with the bill promoted as terror prevention legislation while most of its measures relate to mitigating the consequences of attacks.

The Committee supports measures in the bill that would improve the response to terror attacks in larger venues. It calls on the Government to introduce the legislation in stages, beginning with these larger venues, and review its implementation annually to assess its impact. It should carry out further research to better assess whether the threat to small businesses and venues is sufficient to require them to undertake anti-terrorism measures.

Outdoor events continue to be at heightened risk of terror attacks and the Government should also ensure that they are covered by the legislation, the Committee finds.

The Government should also ensure that the new duties established by the bill fall on the right people, and coordinate effectively with existing responsibilities. Training must be high quality, have a clear purpose and be to a prescribed standard if it is to have an meaningful impact.  

The Committee was particularly concerned by low training standards in the security industry and urges the Government to ensure improved education and standards in this sector.

The ability of on-site staff to provide immediate medical treatment in the event of a terrorist attack could be the difference between life and death, the Committee finds. The Government should ensure all premises covered by the bill provide mandatory life-saving training to staff and medical kits required on site.

Adequate funding needs to in place to enable smaller venues or voluntary to implement the bill’s requirements, particularly if they fall within the enhanced tier of over 800 capacity. Evidence heard in the inquiry suggested that companies were already seeking to exploit uncertainty around the impact of the bill by offering expensive consultancy services. The Committee urges the Government to carry out a comprehensive communications campaign to ensure venues know what is required of them and where to get more information.

Despite playing a critical role in how the regulatory framework operates, there is a lack of clarity over the role of the regulator. This includes whether the regulator would be independent, who they would be accountable to, and what investigation and enforcement powers it would have. The Committee calls on the Government to ensure there are comprehensive proposals for the regulator are published in the next two months, before the bill returns to Parliament. 

Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, Dame Diana Johnson MP said: 

“The Home Affairs Committee particularly commends the efforts of Figen Murray in campaigning for change in how venues prepare and respond to terror incidents. We need to ensure the right initiatives are in place that can ultimately make the difference in saving lives.

The overall intent of the bill is right. We must do all we can to ensure venues are equipped to react to terror threats. But the Government must ensure that the steps they need to take are based on an accurate assessment of risk and not arbitrary capacity figures.

We are also concerned that this bill as currently drafted would fail to make a significant impact in preventing or mitigating the effects of terrorism. For example, in its current form a local village hall would be required to carry out safety precautions while a city centre open-air farmers market or Christmas market would not. This makes little sense and takes no account of the actual terrorist threat they face.

Also the costs in money and time required under the Bill could place the very future of some smaller businesses and voluntary organisations at risk. With many venues already struggling with the cost of living, including energy bills, they are ill-equipped to absorb more financial pressure. In particular losing any vital community hubs such as a village hall would be a real blow and represent a win for terrorism, not an effective means of combatting it.”

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