European Scrutiny Committee

No. 7
(Session 2002-03)


The EU is proposing new legislation on racism and xenophobia which is intended to 'approximate' the laws of Member States.  It covers public incitement to discrimination, violence or hatred in respect of certain types of person or groups of person, the public 'condoning' of genocide and the public denial or 'gross trivialisation' of the Holocaust.

The European Scrutiny Committee is today publishing a report on the proposal, following evidence from the Home Office Minister responsible, Lord Filkin.  The Committee has been examining the development of the proposal since February last year, and raised three concerns with the Minister.

The first was whether uniformity at EU level was necessary, or whether each Member State should be left to determine its criminal law according to its own social needs and traditions.  The Minister replied that there would be 'appreciable gains' from agreeing the measure, though the Government would resist any compromise affecting freedom of speech.

The second problem was the subjective nature of the proposed offences.  Member States may limit the offence to those acts likely to incite violence or hatred or where the conduct is threatening, abusive or insulting, but they are allowed to create such offences without these objective elements.  Also, while Member States can exclude public incitement to discrimination on grounds of religious conviction from the scope of the offence, this will be subject to a review after only two years.  The Minister indicated that the review clause was 'the necessary product of a negotiating process'.

Thirdly, the Committee thought there was a risk that, under the European Arrest Warrant, people could be extradited from the UK for conduct which was lawful in the UK, e.g. for giving a television interview in the UK which was broadcast elsewhere, or placing material on the internet.  The Committee concludes from the Minister's evidence that in these cases no-one will be extradited under the European Arrest Warrant for a 'racism and xenophobia' offence if any part of the conduct in question took place in the UK.  It has asked the Minister to confirm this, and whether the principle will be made clear in the Extradition Bill.

Separately, the report examines the agreement between the USA and Europol on the exchange of personal data.

For further information telephone 020 7219 5561.

12 February 2003

Notes for Editors

The main purpose of the European Scrutiny Committee is to report to the House on the legal and political importance of each EU document and to determine which EU documents are debated. Such debates take place either in a European Standing Committee or on the Floor of the House. The Committee normally reports weekly on a range of documents when the House is sitting.  The Committee also monitors business in the Council of Ministers, especially the activities of UK Ministers in the Council, and produces occasional reports on wider EU developments.

The Scrutiny Reserve Resolution, passed by the House, is crucial to the Committee's work.  Under that Resolution Ministers are constrained from agreeing to EU legislative or other proposals until parliamentary scrutiny is completed.  There are certain circumstances in which agreement is nevertheless permitted, but in such cases the European Scrutiny Committee or the House must be informed as soon as possible.

The Committee has 16 Members, as follows:

Jimmy Hood MP (Chairman) - Labour - Clydesdale
Richard Bacon MP - Conservative - South Norfolk
Colin Breed MP - Lib Dem - Cornwall South East
Roger Casale MP - Labour - Wimbledon
William Cash MP - Conservative - Stone
Michael Connarty MP - Labour - Falkirk East
Tony Cunningham MP - Labour - Workington
Wayne David MP - Labour - Caerphilly
Terry Davis MP - Labour - Birmingham Hodge Hill
Jim Dobbin MP - Labour/Co-op - Heywood & Middleton
Mark Hendrick MP - Labour - Preston
Jim Marshall MP - Labour - Leicester South
Anne McIntosh MP - Conservative - Vale of York
Angus Robertson MP - SNP - Moray
Anthony Steen MP - Conservative - Totnes
Bill Tynan MP - Labour - Hamilton South

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