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FRIDAY 28TH NOVEMBER 2003

  JOINT COMMITTEE WARN THAT DRAFT CIVIL CONTINGENCIES BILL IS OPEN TO MISUSE OF EMERGENCY POWERS

An all-party Committee of MP's and Peers, set up to examine and report on the draft Civil Contingencies Bill, has advised the Government that its proposals for standardising contingency planning and modernising emergency powers have potentially dangerous flaws.

The Chairman of the Committee, Dr Lewis Moonie MP said:

"In defining emergency powers, the Government has come up with a one-size-fits-all Bill for every possible scenario.

"We are concerned that as a result the draft Bill does not provide adequate safeguards to protect against the misuse of emergency powers. In the wrong hands, it could be used to undermine or even remove legislation underpinning the British Constitution and infringe human rights.

"Our democracy and civil liberties could be in danger if the Government does not take account of our recommended improvements.

"I very much welcome the willingness of the Government, expressed by Douglas Alexander MP when he gave evidence on 16 October, to consider the points which have come up in our evidence and to make improvements to the Bill. This has been a very constructive exercise."

Human Rights

As drafted, there is a significant risk that regulations made in an emergency under this "enabling" Bill could infringe human rights laws. We recommend the Bill explicitly prohibit regulations which would contravene any inalienable rights protected by the European Convention on Human Rights or the Geneva Conventions.

Constitutional Issues

Clause 21(3)(i) allows regulations to disapply or modify any Act of Parliament in an emergency. The Committee believe the Bill should list as exempt from modification or disapplication by regulation, even in an emergency, those Acts of Parliament which form the bedrock of our Constitution.

Funding

The Government's consultation process was seriously hampered by the absence of draft regulations, making it impossible for local authorities and other bodies to estimate the cost of the responsibilities that they would be expected to undertake. Once the detail of the regulations is known the Government needs urgently to carry out a comprehensive review of the funding provision.

Definition of an emergency

The draft Bill defines an emergency as an event which presents a "serious" threat to: human welfare, the environment, political, administrative, or economic stability; and the security of the UK or part of it. We believe that the definition is too subjective and loose, especially in Part 2 where it could trigger substantial emergency powers. We suggest that key terms, such as "serious", "essential" and "stability" must be defined within the Bill and that robust safeguards appear on the face of the Bill.

NOTES FOR EDITORS:

1. The Committee was appointed on 11 July 2003 "to consider and report on any draft civil contingencies Bill…"  Members of the Committee are as follows:

Dr Lewis Moonie MP (Labour, Kirkcaldy) (Chairman)

Richard Allan MP (Liberal Democrat, Sheffield Hallam)

Adrian Bailey MP (Labour, West Bromwich West)

David Cairns MP (Labour, Greenock and Inverclyde)

James Clappison MP (Conservative, Hertsmere)

Kevan Jones MP (Labour, Durhum North)

Elfyn Llwyd MP (Plaid Cymru, Meirionnydd Nant Conwy)

Patrick Mercer MP (Conservative, Newark)

Chris Mole MP, (Labour, Ipswich)

Kali Mountford MP (Labour, Colne Valley)

David Wright MP (Labour, Telford)

Lord Archer of Sandwell (Labour)

Lord Bradshaw (Liberal Democrat)

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Labour)

Lord Condon (Cross-Bencher)

Lord Jordan (Labour)

Lord King of Bridgwater (Conservative)

Lord Lucas of Crudwell and Dingwall (Conservative)

Lord Maginnis of Drumglass (Cross-Bencher)

Baroness Ramsay of Cartvale (Labour)

Lord Roper (Liberal Democrat)

The Earl of Shrewsbury (Conservative)

2. The report is published by the Stationery Office: Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, Joint Committee on the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, Session 2002-03, HL Paper 184, HC1074, ISBN 010 400 3189, price £36.00. The full text of the report will be available on the internet via www.parliament.uk shortly after publication.

3. The Draft Bill was published by the Government in June 2003 as Cmnd 5843. The text of the draft Bill can be found at: http://www.ukresilience.info/ccbill/ccbill.pdf.

4. The Bill is "enabling" legislation. Regulations under Part 1, setting out the responsibilities of local authorities and others for contingency planning, are due to be published with the Bill.

Part 1 would apply to England and Wales and sets out local arrangements for civil protection. It imposes on certain local bodies a legal obligation to prepare plans for dealing with a wide range of civil emergencies.

Part 2 would apply to the whole of the UK and replaces the Emergency Powers Act 1920, the Emergency Powers Act (Northern Ireland) 1926 and the Civil Defence Act 1948. Under Part 2, a declaration of emergency can be made by Her Majesty or a Secretary of State and powers conferred to make regulations to control, prevent or mitigate the effects of an emergency.  It provides for a proclamation of emergency on a regional as well as a national basis.

Other legislation to be repealed are Section 1 of The Emergency Powers Act 1964, the Civil Defence Act 1948, The Civil Protection in Peacetime Act 1986, and The Civil Defence (Grant) Act 2002.

For further information contact Jillian Bailey on 020 7219 8659                           

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