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Village Halls Told To Prepare For Terror Attacks Under “Well-Meaning” New Law

Village halls and small venues will be hit with a wave of red tape under “well-meaning” anti-terror legislation

4 min read

Village halls and small venues will be among organisations expected to prepare for the possibility of a terror attack under new anti-terror legislation, which concerned campaigners have described as “well-meaning” but “overblown”.

The draft legislation, known as 'Martyn’s Law' – named for Martyn Hett, who was killed in the Manchester arena bombing in 2017 – aims to better prepare organisations that host gatherings of people to respond to a terrorist attack. Staff at venues of all sizes will be trained to warn attendees in the event of an attack, lockdown and evacuate the premises, use fire safety equipment, call emergency services and alert neighbours of a violent assault.

The legislation, was announced by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak in December in response to criticism that staff at the Manchester Arena were ill-prepared to identify risks and handle the attack. 

But while influential figures close to the legislation have praised the spirit and “ethos” of Martyn’s Law, they are concerned it could be difficult for smaller businesses and venues to implement. 

One senior Conservative MP told PoliticsHome they believed the legislation could prove to be a “huge regulatory burden” on small businesses, as well as non-commercial venues which hold events such as village halls run by volunteers.

“The legislation, as drafted, would apply to village halls run by volunteers, where you would have to train them [in anti-terror legislation]," they explained. 

“It’s gone too far. There is a need for terrorism awareness training in large commercial venues which are more likely to be terrorist targets. Terrorists are not going to be targeting village halls, but they will have to go through the same hoops.

“Why would volunteers do it? Under the plans, there has to be a responsible person for each venue. So, if something were to go wrong, it would fall on them. Why would they want to take that risk?”

Under Martyn’s Law, venues and bars with a capacity between 100 and 799 will need to make sure there is a “baseline protection” for customers to keep them safe. Meanwhile, spaces with a maximum capacity of 800 or more will have to take a risk assessment, which could include putting in place a “vigilance and security culture” and more CCTV.

In a written statement earlier this month, Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, said a new regulator will weigh up what measures are reasonably practicable to expect from certain premises.

He added the Government and new regulator will “provide guidance and support to ensure we do everything possible to alleviate burden on business.”

The policy is very popular with the public, with a majority in favour of supporting stricter security measures on public events hosting more than 100 people, according to YouGov.

However, industry leaders such as Mike Kill, Chief Executive Officer at Night Time Industries Association, told PoliticsHome the measures could cost Britain’s economy thousands of pounds.

“There are still a lot of unanswered questions around this Bill. But without a doubt the red tape is a concern. Look at a music festival, for example. Ten per cent if fewer are full time staff. There is a huge cost and capacity to train people at that level," he said. 

“There is also a concern if there is enough counter terror security expertise to support the industry which will desperately need that.

“The ethos of the bill is positive but it has to be proportionate in its impact.”

Neil Sharpley, Home Affairs Chair at the Federation of Small Businesses, also felt the new measures would disproportionately affect small businesses.

“Unlike large firms, small businesses don’t have the same level of resources to invest in contingency planning. Costs associated with evaluations and assessments as well as premises adaptation arising from the Bill will likely impact small firms disproportionately,” he told PoliticsHome.

“To help close the resilience planning deficit, we suggest that the focus is more on awareness-building and government support to undertake resilience planning and receive counter-terrorism training such as that available from the police.

“It’s also vital to provide small firms with clear guidance and illustrative examples to help them reduce security risks within their communities.”

Scrutiny of the legislation by the Home Affairs Committee is expected to take place next week.

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