Documents considered by the Committee on 27 February 2019 Contents

12Tightening EU rules on explosives precursors

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Cleared from scrutiny; drawn to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee

Document details

Proposal for a Regulation on the marketing and use of explosives precursors

Legal base

Article 114 TFEU, ordinary legislative procedure, QMV


Home Office

Document Number

(39653), 8342/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18) 209

Summary and Committee’s conclusions

12.1The proposed Regulation would tighten controls on “explosives precursors”—chemical substances that have a legitimate purpose but can also can be used in home-made explosives—to keep pace with the evolving security threat. The aim is to strike a balance between freedom of movement within the internal market and public safety and security. The changes proposed would further restrict access to explosives precursors and clarify the rights and obligations of those involved in the supply chain. It would distinguish between ordinary members of the public, who would require a licence to purchase restricted explosives precursors above a specified concentration limit, “professional users” who need the substances for their own trade, business or profession, and “economic operators” who trade in them. Professional users would not require a licence but would have to explain the purpose for which restricted explosives precursors were to be used. This information would be available to national law enforcement and inspection authorities. Our earlier Report agreed on 23 May 2018 provides further details of the proposed changes.

12.2In his Explanatory Memorandum of 14 May 2018, the Minister for Security and Economic Crime (Rt Hon. Ben Wallace MP) indicated that the Government broadly welcomed the changes proposed by the European Commission but expressed concern that an expansion in the number of restricted substances that could only be supplied to a licence-holding member of the public and the introduction of maximum concentration limits for certain restricted substances might have “a significant impact on a small number of members of the public who would be prevented in some cases from being able to participate in their hobbies”.

12.3The Government’s Impact Assessment revealed that the main benefits of the proposed Regulation would be “the reduced risk of the misuse of explosives precursors and the enhanced likelihood of detection and deterrence, increasing the security of the UK public”, whilst the main costs would be “social rather than financial, due to the relatively small number of people directly impacted”. The greatest impact and most significant social cost would fall on a relatively small number of “hobbyists” as further restrictions on nitromethane (used in drag car racing) and on various chlorates/perchlorates (used in pyrotechnics), as well as the lack of viable alternative chemicals, would mean that they would no longer be able to pursue their hobbies. The Government therefore intended to “actively seek amendments” to maintain the UK’s ability to issue individual users with licences for these substances if supplied in a concentration exceeding a maximum limit value.78

12.4In his letter of 23 October 2018, the Minister told us that changes made to the proposed Regulation during negotiations within the Council included “a combined definition for professional users and farmers in order to demonstrate an on-going professional status and requirement for the chemicals for business or professional purposes”. Checks throughout the supply chain and at point of sale had also been strengthened:

The amendments also now propose that an economic operator shall request the name, address and proof of identity of the prospective customer. This is in addition to requesting the trade, business or profession and the intended use of the chemical from the prospective customer, making the process more robust.

12.5We shared the Government’s concern that some of the proposed restrictions on explosives precursors would have a disproportionate impact on a small number of members of the public who pose little or no risk to public safety and security. We noted the Government’s intention to seek amendments that would enable the UK to continue licensing these chemical substances where appropriate and the possibility that the proposed Regulation might be brought to the Council for a vote before the end of the Austrian Presidency (December 2018). Given that the degree of support for the changes sought by the Government, and the outcome of negotiations within the Council, remained uncertain, we were unwilling to clear the proposed Regulation from scrutiny but granted a scrutiny waiver so that the Government had the flexibility to support the proposed Regulation if it was able to secure the changes it sought. We asked the Minister to report back to us on the outcome of the Council meeting.

12.6In his letter of 5 February 2019, the Minister tells us that the proposed Regulation was considered at a meeting of Member States’ ambassadors to the EU (COREPER) on 12 December 2018 and a mandate agreed to begin negotiations with the European Parliament on a final compromise text. The UK voted to support the negotiating mandate as it addressed “almost all our key priorities”. He explains that the Government was partially successful in securing the changes it sought to make the proposed Regulation more proportionate for UK citizens. Nitromethane at a higher concentration than originally envisaged in the Commission’s proposal would be available to those holding a licence, and the Government would continue to press for a similar outcome on chlorates/perchlorates.

12.7Home Office officials have since informed us that trilogue negotiations concluded on 4 February 2019. Despite the Government’s efforts, the provisional text agreed does not permit the licensing of chlorates/perchlorates at the higher weight concentration sought by the UK. The Government nonetheless considers the final text to be “very positive” for the UK. COREPER approved the compromise text on 14 February 2019 (with the UK abstaining as the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny) and the Council is expected formally to adopt the Regulation ahead of European Parliament elections in May 2019. As the Regulation will apply 18 months after its formal adoption and entry into force, it may well form part of EU law applicable in the UK during any post-exit transition/implementation period agreed in negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

Our Conclusions

12.8We recognise that the Government has secured most of its negotiating objectives and accept the Minister’s assurance that the impact of the restrictions on chlorates/perchlorates will be small when compared with the wider security benefits of tighter controls on explosives precursors. We are now content to clear the proposed Regulation from scrutiny. We draw this chapter to the attention of the Home Affairs Committee.

Full details of the documents

Proposal for a Regulation on the marketing and use of explosives precursors, amending Annex XVII to Regulation (EC) No 1907/2006 and repealing Regulation (EU) No 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors: (39653), 8342/18 + ADDs 1–3, COM(18).

Previous Committee Reports

Forty-fourth Report HC 301–xliii (2017–19), chapter 10 (14 November 2018) and Twenty-ninth Report HC 301–xxviii (2017–19), chapter 8 (23 May 2018).

78 See the Minister’s letter of 23 October 2018 to the Chair of the European Scrutiny Committee.

Published: 5 March 2019