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Disaster plans to be unveiled in UK on Wednesday

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posted on Jan, 6 2004 @ 07:43 PM

Planned new powers for dealing with a major terrorist attack or natural disaster are unveiled on Wednesday.
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.

The critics will be looking to see what concessions the government has made when the Civil Contingencies Bill is published on Wednesday.

Civil rights campaigners want the new powers to be more strictly defined.

The government published its draft legislation last June, part of a programme of giving MPs and peers the chance to examine legislation before it is debated in Parliament.

The Queen's Speech included a promise to put the plans into law.

But a parliamentary committee set up to look at the plans said they had "potentially dangerous flaws".

Police powers

The measures are aimed at shaking up legislation that dates back to the 1920s, giving ministers all the powers they need to tackle a wide range of incidents - ranging from foot-and-mouth to an attack on the internet.

The draft plans included enabling the government to rush through temporary legislation without prior Parliamentary approval, with authorities having new powers to declare a regional state of emergency.

The police would get new powers to evacuate danger areas in the event of a "catastrophic incident".

They could also be able to restrict public access to "sensitive sites" if there was a serious terror threat.

The definition of an emergency would also be extended to encompass emergency situations affecting national security, human welfare, the environment and "political, administrative or economic stability".

Democracy fears

In November, committee chairman Lewis Moonie said: "In defining emergency powers, the government has come up with a one-size-fits-all bill for every possible scenario.

The Army took part in an anti-terrorist operation at Heathrow
"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."

'Loose definitions'

Civil rights campaigners say the plans give ministers too much scope to define an emergency.

Pressure group Liberty said the definition of an emergency was "extraordinarily wide", was open to potential abuse by unscrupulous governments and did not safeguard human rights challenges.

As currently framed, the new powers could be used against political protests, computer hacking or a campaign against banking practices, it says.

Cabinet Office Minister Douglas Alexander, minister to the Cabinet Office said the government would look at the committee's recommendations.

Now the results of that review are being set out.

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