A draft bill designed to reduce the threat of terrorist attacks has undergone scrutiny by a committee of MPs. They say they are unconvinced the proposed new laws would make a difference and have proposed a raft of changes. The Draft Terrorism (Protection of Premises) Bill aims to place a duty on qualifying public premises or events to take certain steps to deter and minimise the threat and impact of terrorism to the public.
The draft bill follows recommendations made as part of the inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack in 2017 which killed 22 people. Also known as Martyn’s Law following a campaign by the mother of 29-year-old victim Martyn Hett, one of the victims killed in the bombing, the bill introduces a ‘Protect Duty’ on those responsible for publicly accessible venues and events to help reduce the threat to the public from terrorist attacks.
As the BBC reports, in May the Government invited the Home Affairs Select Committee to conduct pre-legislative scrutiny of the Draft Bill before it is formally introduced in Parliament later this year. In July the MPs reported back saying the current bill, which has different standards based on venue capacity, would be hard to apply consistently and would place a significant burden on small businesses. Chair Dame Diana Johnson said: "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." She said that, as it stands, a village hall would have to take safety precautions while a city centre open-air farmers market or Christmas market would not, which she said made little sense. The committee has put forward a number of recommendations to address those concerns. Meanwhile a Home Office spokesperson said: "The government is committed to improving security at public venues and the pre-legislative scrutiny process will ensure we create a strong bill that delivers on this aim while being proportionate."
So, let’s take a closer look at the bill and how employers might be affected by it. Earlier I was joined by health and safety specialists Hannah Burton and Jonathan Cowlan to discuss the proposed new law. I asked Hannah to outline the scope of new duty:
Hannah Burton: “So within the draft bill, and you might hear it called the Protect Duty, you might hear it called Martyn’s Law, you might hear the actual name the Terrorism Bill, we're talking about the same thing here and, within that, the bill provides for a requirement that, depending on the capacity of your venue - so whether you fall under the standard duty or the enhanced duty - there's this element of risk assessing. What that looks like is still to be determined but it will certainly include some form of a risk assessment, the enhanced duty being a more in-depth risk assessment because the capacity is 800 or more, so it's deemed to be a higher risk, but what that actually will include is still slightly to be determined but we know there will be some duties on individuals. So, there will be a responsible person under the enhanced duty, so that person will need training and will need to understand what this is all about. Also, there are other training requirements that are likely to fall with the HR team. Where that training is going to come from we still don't really know, and we don't really understand, still, who is going to be providing that training, that’s still to be determined, but these are things that need to be flagged at this stage, that this is coming down the line, and these additional burdens need to be communicated within the business, essentially part of your horizon scanning, or whatever you do within your business, where you're looking down the line to see what's coming. There are going to be requirements if the premises or the event falls within this Protect Duty that will need to be considered.”
Joe Glavina: “It’s clear from the report that the Home Affairs Committee has a lot of reservations about the bill – a long list of issues they have with it. Do you think there is a risk that it will never make it to the statute books?”
Hannah Burton: “I think there's always that risk and that is the job of these scrutiny select committees, that's their job to go through it and have a look at it. I think some of the points are quite valid. The distinction between enhanced and standard duty and whether it should be phased in and whether those larger venues, the likes of the MEN arena where this all stems from, should they be piloted first. There is some constructive criticism, I'd like to call it, but I think there has to be something, this was such a devastating event that I think something will come for sure. Whether it comes in this exact format is unlikely - I don't think draft bills ever come through the process untouched. So, I think there's likely to be some changes and that's always propped up with guidance so there will be significant guidance coming down the line from the government as to how to implement whatever final version of this is determined to be appropriate. So, I think for sure something will be coming which is why it needs to be on the radar now.”
Joe Glavina: “Jon if I can come to you. Which businesses are likely to be caught by the new duty to protect? Which sectors is it aimed at?”
Jonathan Cowlan: “Yes, sure, that's a really good point to raise because when you look at what's being framed in the draft bill it's about publicly accessible places being used for a prime purpose which is listed within that bill and that covers things such as entertainment and leisure, food and drink, visitor attractions, museums and sports grounds so it is quite broad brush in terms of that. Probably just as interesting is it’s based on capacity as well. So there are two separate levels in terms of premises. One of those is capacity of 100 or more, up to 800, and that will have what's called ‘standard evaluation criteria’ and there's been some guidance already released following the publication of the draft bill. For premises 800 capacity and over, they're called ‘enhanced premises’ and there will, in essence, be a detailed risk assessment required which is going to be significantly more onerous for those premises. The third category is ‘publicly qualifying events’ and that's events that fit into the 800-plus category where you have express permission to attend. So, things like ticketed events, for example. That's really the criteria in terms of where you get to with what's likely to be covered by the bill.”
Joe Glavina: “What if a business holds an event with 100-plus people but they choose to outsource it to a third party so it takes place on the third party’s premises, not their own premises. Where would responsibility lie in that case?”
Jonathan Cowlan: “The responsibility falls on what's called the ‘responsible person’, that’s how it's currently drafted, and that's not a new concept. There's quite a few other pieces of legislation such as fire safety, for example, where that terminology is used. What it's really about is control of events and premises. So you could very well see shared responsibility and I think one of the interesting things is going to be how that’s drafted in more detailed legislation and guidance. So, for example, whether it's the premises owner that takes the lead role, or whether it is the party that may lease, or rent out, part of the premises to run an event, and the coordination that's going to be required, because that will obviously lead to a combined effort for things like risk assessment and who actually runs the event and procuring subcontractors and things like that. So, good question. A lot of detail to come on that I think.”
The Home Affairs Select Committee published its latest 42-page report on 19 July and we have put a link to that in the transcript of this programme. As the committee’s report makes clear, employers caught by the bill will be given an opportunity to give feedback and raise any concerns they have, after which the bill will progress to its first stage in the House of Commons and we will be tracking that closely for you.
- Link to Home Affairs Select Committee Report on the Terrorism (Protection of Premises) draft Bill