Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



  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 aware—because I have been talking to members of the Moslem community—that 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.

David Winnick

  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 Bill—as we have not done with racial hatred—should 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 no.

  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 a clause?
  (Beverley Hughes) I am satisfied.

  Chairman: Can we turn to clauses 109 and 110, dealing with Third Pillar legislation?

Bridget Prentice

  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 it.
  (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.

Mr Cameron

  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 that?
  (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.

Mr Prosser

  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 in 3(b).

  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.


  258. Pronto?
  (Beverley Hughes) Yes, pronto.

Mr Prosser

  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 too.

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