Statewatch article: RefNo# 25712
Civil Contingencies Bill: Britainís Patriot Act
Statewatch Bulletin; vol 14 no 1 January-February 2004
The Bill has been revised but the overalll powers remain a great danger to democracy

On 7 January the government published their response to a highly critical report by the parliamentary Joint Committee on the Civil Contingencies Bill. Douglas Alexander, Cabinet Office Minister, appeared on TV news broadcasts saying that the government had "listened to concerns about civil liberties". Lewis Moonie MP, chair of the Joint Committee, said the changes were: "better than I feared and as much as I'd hoped for". The overall message was that the government had listened to criticisms that the Bill might give governments draconian powers and amended it accordingly (eg: "MPs welcome rethink on anti-terror plans", Guardian, 8.1.03). The government's approach was also praised as a good example of pre-legislative scrutiny (Note: this analysis thus replaced that in Statewatch vol 13 no 6).

The draft Civil Contingencies Bill and Explanatory Notes had been published in June 2003 and the Joint Committee reported on 28 November 2003. The proposal would replace the 1920 Emergency Powers Act. The government's response to the Committee's report and the formal Civil Contingencies Bill came out on 7 January.

The new Bill meets a number of the concerns raised by the parliamentary Committee and civil liberties groups. The scope of the Bill now no longer covers: "the political, administrative or economic stability of the United Kingdom" and the controversial Clause 25 which could have excluded judicial review is gone too. The term "human welfare" applies in both Parts of the Bill, regulations made under an emergency should not be allowed to change criminal procedures and the creation or use of Tribunals is set out.

On the face of it the new Bill was presented, and widely accepted in the media, as having been significantly changed to respond to criticisms that it could be misused by a right-wing/authoritarian government in the future. But was it?

The new Bill

The Bill has two Parts, Part 1 covers "local arrangements for civil protection" and Part 2 is an entirely new proposal which would protect the state, government, financial companies in times of crisis/emergency and give exceptional and extensive powers to the government and state.

The Emergency Powers Act 1920 is concerned solely with:

the supply and distribution of food, water, fuel, or light, or with the means of locomotion, to deprive the community, or any substantial portion of the community, of the essentials of life

This new Bill, like its predecessor, extends powers to protect the government, state agencies and financial institutions.

The definition of an emergency - Clause 18

The "meaning of "emergency"" (Clause 18) is defined as "an event or situation" which "threatens serious damage" to:

(a) human welfare,
(b) the environment or
(c) the security of the United Kingdom.

Under all three headings this may affect the whole UK, part of it, or a region.

The clause 18 now excludes "the political, administrative or economic stability of the United Kingdom" which was defined in the first draft as covering the "activities of Her Majesty's government", "the performance of public functions" and "the activities of banks and other financial institutions" (however, see below).

Clause 18.2.e, where an event or situation affects "human welfare" has been changed to:

disruption of a supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel

The word "money" has been added and is the first of three changes concerning "the activities of banks and other financial institutions" in the new Bill.

The "security of the UK" is defined in 18.4 as:

(a) war or armed conflict, and
(b) terrorism, within the meaning given by section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000

The inclusion of S.1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 is a major extension in the concept of emergency powers (see S.1 text below). This Act is intended for use in everyday policing<

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