Examination of witnesses (Questions 240
WEDNESDAY 14 NOVEMBER 2001
MP, MR ROBERT
240. Did you also look at closing the gap in
our discrimination laws by extending the protection afforded by
the Race Relations Act to religious groups?
(Beverley Hughes) Could you just expand on what you
mean by that?
241. As I understand it, there is a gap in the
law where the Race Relations Act affords protection against discrimination
to racial groups but not to religious groups. Could you not have
looked at that as another way of?
(Beverley Hughes) I understand. Those are issues that
I am awarebecause I have been talking to members of the
Moslem communitythat they want to see progressed. We feel
these measures, whilst as part of that wider debate do have a
direct link to the themes of this Bill, the wider issues about
discrimination on the basis of religion are things that we are
having continued dialogue with those communities about. Again,
it would be too big an issue to be included in this Bill which
is about a set of balanced and proportionate measures taken together
which will improve our security and ability to respond to terrorism.
The door is not closed on that. We are having dialogue with groups
about that and I know that is of concern to them. We recognise
that concern, but we have also tried to explain that these measures
are the only measures that we could include in this Bill. That
dialogue will go on.
242. Obviously, religious believers in all religions
who no doubt remain the majority of our country should be protected.
Would you accept that there is a feeling of concern that scholarship
and commentary could find themselves under fire if this becomes
law? Those who question the Bible or the Koran and whether Adam
and Eve or Moses existed would find themselves being challenged
in court on the basis that this is incitement to religious hatred.
(Beverley Hughes) What we have done and what we will
continue to do during the passage of this Bill is make very clear
and put on record that those concerns are groundless. We have
no intention that this Billas we have not done with racial
hatredshould catch those people who either make jokes or
who engage in the kind of activity you are talking about, scholarly
comment and critique of the tenets of religion because what the
incitement provision is about and has to be demonstrated, which
is part and parcel of the law at the moment, is that the perpetrator
must use threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour
with the intention and the likelihood that, in the current law,
racial hatred will be stirred up. It is very specific and it does
not prevent at all the kind of debate, dialogue and critique that
you are talking about. We will make that absolutely clear.
243. A series like The Life of Brian,
which perhaps more fundamentalist Christians took exception to,
and such programmes could not be in your view subject to the restrictions
of what is being proposed?
(Beverley Hughes) I do not think anybody would accuse
a film like that of being likely to incite public disorder, so
244. You are satisfied, are you, that the concerns
which have been expressed of dissent and scholarship along the
lines I have already indicated will not be endangered by such
(Beverley Hughes) I am satisfied.
Chairman: Can we turn to clauses 109 and 110,
dealing with Third Pillar legislation?
245. How broad is the definition of terrorism
in the EU framework decision on combating terrorism?
(Beverley Hughes) I must take some advice on that
but, as I understand it, the EU have yet to determine finally
the definition of terrorism. That is something that they have
not yet concluded and will be available when the framework decision
document is published which will be early December, as I understand
(Mr Whalley) That is correct.
246. Perhaps we can come back to that when it
is finally published. Why do we have to implement Third Pillar
obligations through emergency legislation?
(Beverley Hughes) As you know, what we are providing
for in the Bill is a clause which will enable those Third Pillar
provisions to be implemented in the United Kingdom, not through
primary legislation, which is the requirement at the moment, but
through the affirmative resolution procedure in both Houses. This
is to enable the decisions that come out of the framework decision
particularly to be implemented on a timescale that meets the current
requirements. Otherwise, we would have to find a slot in primary
legislation and the ability to do that is more restricted. Similarly,
other EU measures already go through the affirmative resolution
procedure and we think that procedure, together with the earlier
parliamentary scrutiny on the European Scrutiny Committee, will
provide sufficient opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise adequately
the proposals and we can get them on the statute book earlier.
Where there is a legislative opportunity within a reasonable timescale,
we will take it and we expect, for example, if there is a framework
decision on the European arrest warrant as part of the terrorism
road map that is being developed we probably can implement that
within the Extradition Bill that we are going to bring forward.
Where we can find a legislative slot within a reasonable timescale,
we will do it, but this seems to us to be a necessary measure
to make sure that all of the proposals coming through the JHA
Council can be implemented within the timescale necessary to put
the measures in place.
247. It is fortunate we have this emergency
legislation to tack this onto.
(Beverley Hughes) It is.
Bridget Prentice: It is very convenient.
248. It is not convenient if you want to scrutinise
things in Parliament. We are taking emergency powers in this Bill
to implement Third Pillar obligations that we do not yet know
what we are going to do with. Is that right from your first answer?
(Beverley Hughes) There has been an agreement at the
two meetings of the JHA Council that the Member States will work
together to put forward a raft of measures. It has been called
a road map because it has a range of measures of different orders
and so on coming through. There will be a number of framework
decisions on combating terrorism, on setting up joint investigative
teams and on freezing of assets. We need a mechanism in this country
to bring those measures in. As I have just explained, our normal
mechanism is primary legislation but we need a process which will
enable us, as we are committed to working with our European partners
in these matters, to bring them in in a timescale that reflects
the urgency of the situation.
249. We are finding time in Parliament for this
big, important Bill with some major powers that we have been talking
about this morning. Why can we not find time in Parliament for
primary legislation for these other things?
(Beverley Hughes) Because in terms of bringing forward
particular bills, where there is a legislative slot that is appropriate
and a particular measure is within the scope of a bill that is
coming along, we will do it.
250. That is saying, "Trust me, I am the
government. We promise we will put these things in bills if we
can but, if we cannot, affirmative resolution and straight through."
(Beverley Hughes) You are not giving sufficient credence
to the process of affirmative resolution. There will be parliamentary
scrutiny of the proposals at an early stage on the European Scrutiny
Committee and the affirmative resolution procedure itself will
enable both Houses of Parliament to debate these issues in the
normal way. Other EU measures go through that process already.
It is not something new.
251. It is extending it. Will the Third Pillar
things that go through on affirmative resolution be limited to
those linked to the current emergency or will they go wider than
(Beverley Hughes) I think they are all linked, although
we have some extradition conventions as well that are included.
(Mr Whalley) Very briefly, the framework decision
and the process linked with that follow on from the events of
11 September and they are concerned with coordinating activity
and response across the European Union to those events. That is
the context in which this is going on. What the detail of that
will be will depend upon what the Member States think of the matters
which should be covered.
252. Once passed, could this affirmative resolution
procedure for things agreed in the Council of Ministers be used
in future for all home affairs things agreed in Europe? It is
a major constitutional change if the answer to that is yes.
(Beverley Hughes) I do not accept it is a major constitutional
change. As I have said and you have just agreed, this procedure
is already used for other Third Pillar areas of policy. It is
certainly not an exception or a major constitutional change. I
understand that the Honourable Member, Mr Cameron, and his friends
get very excited with anything to do with Europe, but he is portraying
this in a way that does not reflect what we are proposing here.
This is a perfectly proper process. It involves proper parliamentary
scrutiny. It already exists for other policy areas emanating from
the EU that we agreed voluntarily we want to cooperate on. His
attempt to portray this as a major constitutional change is not
something I accept.
253. Can you answer the specific question? In
future, when things are agreed under the Third Pillar that may
have nothing to do with this current emergency, will it be possible
for those to go through the House via affirmative resolution rather
than primary legislation?
(Beverley Hughes) The Bill as it is currently drafted
does not contain a review or some such provision.
254. The answer is yes?
(Beverley Hughes) The answer is yes.
255. Minister, the existing maximum penalty
for making bomb threats is two years. Does the Bill change that?
(Beverley Hughes) Yes, to seven years.
256. For the use of conventional bombs? Can
you give me the clause?
(Mr Whalley) Clause 111 is relevant.
(Beverley Hughes) The Bill makes it an offence for
a hoax to be threatened in relation to noxious substances, anthrax
and other types of diseases and so on. It includes those potential
weapons alongside the measures that exist already in relation
to bomb hoaxes, but it does increase the penalty for all hoaxes.
(Mr Whalley) Clause 112 deals with the penalty point
257. I have not found anywhere in the Bill yet
anything stating that to phone up the local police and say, "I
am placing a bomb in the police station tonight" increases
the penalty to seven years. It is very clear for noxious substances,
anthrax and biological chemicals there are changes.
(Beverley Hughes) You are saying you think the Bill
at the moment, as it is drafted, appears only to increase the
penalty for hoaxes of noxious substances and not more generally
for the powers we already have for hoaxes. I will certainly check
that but our intention was to increase the penalty across the
board. I will get some clarification on that and write to you.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes, pronto.
259. This might be swept up by whatever there
might be in the Bill but when you make that check could you also
check what penalties or deterrents there are against someone who
makes a telephone call and threatens to fly an aircraft into Canary
Wharf, for instance, because that would not be specifically to
do with explosives, which is the crux of the original provisions.
(Beverley Hughes) Yes, I will certainly clarify that