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Disaster plans due to be unveiled

The BBC reports that planned new powers for dealing with a major terrorist attack and other big emergencies are unveiled today. Ministers have already published drafts of the new laws, which were criticised by an influential committee of MPs and peers for putting human rights at risk.

They fear that unless the Civil Contingencies Bill contains suitable constraints its powers could be abused by a future government. Civil rights campaigners want the new powers to be more strictly defined.

Summary of key power in draft bill:

  1. Ministers will be able to bypass Parliament to make emergency regulations
  2. Police will be able to ban public gatherings, impose curfews, seize property
  3. The Human Rights Act could be suspended

A parliamentary committee set up to look at the plans said they had “potentially dangerous flaws”. The Committee chairman Lewis Moonie said his main concern was over human liberty and rights because the terms used in the bill were “too vague”.

The basis under which the government could take these powers to itself – the way in which government defines an emergency – I think is the first concern. If they listen to us, as I’m pretty sure they will, they should have changed the terms on which this is done and made it much more explicit how they take these powers in the first place.

Dr Moonie, a former defence minister warns:

We should not put such power into the hands of anybody without suitable constraints.

Truer words are rarely spoken by politicians.

Full text of the civil contingencies bill here (pdf). Via the Guardian.

Here is Liberty’s response to the government’s civil contingencies bill.

Whenever the authorities try and vote themselves greater powers, there is a need to be cautious and sceptical. By reinstating the courts’ powers to consider human right abuses under these laws, the government has made an important concession.

And Statewatch has a detailed commentary on the issue:

The concessions made by the government in no way change the fundamental objections to this Bill. The powers available to the government and state agencies would be truly draconian. Cities could be sealed off, travel bans introduced, all phones cut off, and websites shut down. Demonstrations could be banned and the news media be made subject to censorship. New offences against the state could be “created” by government decree. This is Britain’s Patriot Act, at a stroke democracy could be replaced by totalitarianism.

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