Documents considered by the Committee on 23 May 2018 Contents

8Tightening EU rules on explosives precursors

Committee’s assessment

Politically important

Committee’s decision

Not cleared from scrutiny; further information requested; 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

8.1Home-made explosives have been used in many terrorist attacks in the EU. In 2013 the EU put in place rules to restrict public access to chemical substances that can be used in the manufacture of home-made explosives—“explosives precursors”—and to report suspicious transactions.70 As these substances can also be used for legitimate purposes, the aim was to strike a balance between freedom of movement within the internal market and public safety and security.

8.2The threat posed by homemade explosives has not diminished and terrorists have developed new bomb-making techniques to circumvent existing controls. The Commission considers that significant differences in the way that EU rules on explosives precursors are applied by Member States have created uncertainty for economic operators, barriers to trade and security gaps which terrorists can exploit. It has therefore proposed a Regulation which seeks to strengthen the existing rules and ensure they are applied more consistently. The proposal would further restrict access to dangerous substances that can be used in homemade explosives (“restricted 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 at or above a certain concentration limit, “professional users” who need the substances for their own trade, craft or profession, and “economic operators” who trade in them. Professional users and farmers would not require a licence but would have to provide their name and address when acquiring restricted explosives precursors and state the purpose for which they are to be used. This information would be available to national law enforcement and inspection authorities.

8.3Other changes proposed by the Commission would:

8.4Member States would be able to take more restrictive measures—lowering the concentration limits at which explosives precursors can be made available to the general public or extending restrictions to substances not covered by the proposed Regulation—but must notify the Commission and may be asked to withdraw them if it decides they are not justified.

8.5In his Explanatory Memorandum, the Security Minister (Mr Ben Wallace) “broadly welcomes” the changes proposed by the Commission and considers that they could “add value in terms of improving minimum standards and creating greater harmonisation to make it easier for businesses to comply across borders”. He supports:

8.6The Minister indicates that the Government is still considering certain elements of the proposed Regulation, including lowering the concentration limit for nitromethane, introducing maximum concentration limits for certain restricted substances and reducing the number that can be supplied to a licence-holding member of the public if they exceed a specified concentration limit. He anticipates that these changes would 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” and involve “a decision about where the balance between security and individual freedom lies”. The Government is preparing an Impact Assessment which will examine the benefits and burdens of the proposed Regulation for the UK. Whilst the Minister expects there to be additional costs and burdens for business and Government, he notes that the proposal would “increase standards in other Member States” and “reduce the threat to the UK”.

8.7The Commission is aiming to reach a formal agreement on the proposed Regulation by February 2019. Member States would have to apply the Regulation 12 months after it has been adopted and entered into force.72 The Minister anticipates that changes to the Poisons Act 1972 (which establishes a licensing and suspicious activity reporting regime applicable in England, Wales and Scotland) are likely to be necessary.

8.8Under the draft Withdrawal Agreement setting out the terms on which the UK will leave the EU, the UK will be required to implement EU laws adopted before exit day or during a transition/implementation period ending on 31 December 2020.73 We ask the Minister whether the negotiating timetable envisaged by the Commission appears realistic and, if so, whether he accepts that the UK will be required to amend domestic law to comply with the changes to EU law on explosives precursors, even though the UK will have left the EU.

8.9We note the Minister’s concern that some of the changes proposed by the Commission would affect “the balance between security and individual freedom” and may have “a significant negative impact on a small number of members of the public who use substances in hobbies or household activities”. We ask him to share with us the main findings of the Government’s Impact Assessment and to indicate how many individuals and which types of activity are likely to be affected. If the Government concludes that some provisions of the Regulation would infringe individual freedom to an unacceptable degree, does the Minister consider that the UK would nonetheless be duty-bound to apply them, at least until the end of the transition/implementation period? Is this an area in which the Government might wish to diverge from EU rules post-transition and what might the consequences be for the UK’s future trade and security partnerships with the EU?

8.10The Minister supports the distinction made between ordinary members of the public who would require a licence to obtain restricted explosives precursors and “professional users” who would not. We ask him to explain why a separate category is needed for farmers, given that they seem to meet the criteria for a professional user, and whether he is satisfied that the checks on prospective customers at the point of sale are sufficiently robust to establish that an individual is a professional user or farmer rather than an ordinary member of the public.

8.11Pending further information, the proposed Regulation remains under scrutiny. We ask the Minister to provided regular progress reports on negotiations. 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) 209.

Previous Committee Reports

None on this document.

70 See Regulation (EU) 98/2013 on the marketing and use of explosives precursors.

71 This would include details of convictions given in another Member State by exchanging information through the European Criminal Records Information System (ECRIS).

72 The proposed Regulation will enter into force 20 days after publication in the EU’s Official Journal.

73 See Article 122 of the draft Withdrawal Agreement.

Published: 29 May 2015