Defence Committee

Session 2002-03

Press Notice No.33, 9 July 2003

HC 557

The Seventh Report from the Defence Committee in Session 2002-03, Draft Civil Contingencies Bill, is published today as House of Commons Paper 557.

The report examines the draft Civil Contingencies Bill, published by the Government on 19 June. This long-promised draft bill is to be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny by a Joint Committee.  The Defence Committee’s report draws on its earlier inquiry into Defence and Security in the UK and on additional evidence taken earlier this year.  It is intended to assist the Joint Committee in its work.

The Summary to the report states:
We welcome the publication of the draft Civil Contingencies Bill. New legislation is urgently needed in this area. But we regret that progress with it has not been made sooner. In our report Defence and Security in the UK, published in July last year, we recommended that civil contingencies legislation should be introduced into Parliament in autumn 2002.

The current draft bill comes in two parts: civil protection and emergency powers.

The consultation document accompanying the draft bill sets out a new model for national civil protection organised in three tiers: national (ie central government), regional and local. Only the local tier is included in the draft bill. The Government must explain why it is right to impose statutory obligations on local authorities and local emergency services, but not on itself or on regional bodies.

The draft bill is an ‘enabling’ bill. It gives Ministers powers to make regulations to implement their proposals. But the Government has not described what use it will make of those powers, or what specific obligations it intends to impose on the bodies covered by the bill. We believe that it must do so before asking for parliamentary approval of the bill.

The emergency powers provisions in the bill allow the Government to declare an emergency and having done so introduce special legislative measures in order to deal with it. The powers themselves are similar to existing powers in legislation dating back to the 1920s, but the definition of emergency is much wider. The principal safeguards against the misuse of the powers are described by the Government as a ‘triple lock’: the emergency must be serious, the powers must be necessary and they must only be applied to those regions where they are needed. But these safeguards are not in the draft bill. We believe they should be.

The bill would also prevent any special legislative measures being struck down by a court as incompatible with the Human Rights Act. The Government will need to present a clear and compelling case for this provision. It has not yet done so.

The draft bill is published for public consultation and for pre-legislative scrutiny. Although we would not wish to see this bill delayed any further, we believe that insufficient time has been allowed for the public consultation. Pre-legislative scrutiny is to be conducted by a specially appointed Joint Committee. It too is being asked to work to a very tight deadline. We hope that our report, which builds on experience gained in our earlier inquiries and on additional more recent evidence, will assist the Joint Committee in its work.

The full text of the Report will be  available on the Defence Committee website at: