Hoaxes and threats involving noxious
substances (clause 46)
62. The Bill will create a new offence for hoaxes
and threats involving noxious substances. At present, it is only
an offence to make hoaxes or threats in relation to explosive
Under the new provision, however, a person would be guilty of
an offence if they placed, sent or communicated false information
about any substance or article intending to make others believe
that it was likely to be a noxious substance which could endanger
human life or health. The maximum penalty will be seven years'
imprisonment, which is in line with the penalty for bomb hoaxes.
63. It was initially reported that the Government
proposed to apply the offence retrospectively, to any hoax or
threat made on or after midnight 20 to 21 October 2001.
However, this proposal has since been dropped - the offence created
under the Bill will not apply retrospectively. We understand that
there have been many anthrax hoaxes since the events of 11 September.
64. We accept that there is a strong case
for a new offence for hoaxes and threats involving noxious substances.
We welcome the decision not to make it retrospective.
Implementation of EU third pillar
65. The Bill contains a broad power for Ministers
to make statutory instruments, subject to the affirmative procedure,
implementing EU measures in the area of Justice and Home Affairs.
Such instruments will be debatable in standing committee for 90
minutes and subject if necessary to a vote on the floor of the
House. This is the procedure used under section 2(2) of the European
Communities Act 1972 to implement many EU measures. It does not
apply to police and judicial co-operation in criminal matters
under Title VI of the Treaty of European Union. Until now any
such measures which need enactment in UK law have been the subject
of primary legislation. Such a power could be used to put into
effect current proposals for a framework directive on combatting
terrorism or introducing a European arrest warrant. The Minister
told us that the arrest warrant could instead be contained in
a forthcoming Bill on extradition.
We were told by the Minister that:
"...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."
66. The Minister admitted, however, that the
provision could be used to enact, by secondary legislation, any
measure agreed under the Third Pillar, regardless of whether or
not such measures had relevance to the fight against terrorism.
67. We view with concern the broad power
to implement justice and home affairs measures under the third
pillar of the Treaty of European Union - whether concerned with
terrorism or not - by means of a secondary rather than primary
legislation. This would enable a wide range of EU measures on
police and judicial co-operation on criminal matters to be brought
into effect in the UK. We believe that the power to do so in this
Bill should be confined to EU measures contained in the proposed
Framework Decision on combatting terrorism.
46 This offence was previously contained in the Prevention
of Terrorism Act 1989, s.18. In his inquiry, Lord Lloyd recommended
against its re-introduction (Cm. 3420, Vol 1, paras 14.16-14.24).
Consequently it did not appear in the Terrorism Act 2000. We were
told that the events of 11 September had changed the situation
First Report 2000-01 HC 163. Back
Figures provided by the Solicitor-General show that, since 1988,
42 defendants have been successfully prosecuted. In 1999, there
were four prosecutions, which resulted in three convictions: Official
Report, 29 October 2001, 491-492w and 1 November 2001, 851w. Back
Evidence, p.55, para.9. Back
Evidence, p.69, para.18. Back
Evidence p.68, paras.8 and 13. Back
Criminal Law Act 1977, s.51. Back
Criminal Law Act 1977, s.51(4)(b) - as amended. Back
Evidence, pp.62-63. Back