by Democrat reporter
THE BRITISH government is planning a major extension to emergency powers for use in times of crisis, including new powers described recently by The Guardian newspaper as “the greatest threat to civil liberty that any parliament is ever likely to consider”.
Published towards the end of June, the Civil Contingencies Bill includes the repeal of the 1920 and 1964 Emergency Powers Acts and the 1986 Protection in Peacetime Act. However, according to a source with considerable experience of emergency planning, most commentators have failed to register the significance of the government’s ability to apply the legislation regionally as well as at national level.
“This is something that governments have not had the power to do previously,” said the source.
The 1920 Act deals with the provision of “the essentials of life” -- food, water, fuel, light and the means of ‘locomotion’. However, the new legislation proposes that these powers be extended to include “the political, administrative or economic stability of the United Kingdom or a part or region or the security of the United Kingdom or a part or region”.
It is also planned to retain the royal prerogative, in consultation with just two Privy Counsellors, to introduce emergency powers. The Privy Council consists of all current and past cabinet members and a number or other ‘eminent’ people. Although parliament has to ratify the introduction of emergency powers, real power is effectively delegated to ministers and state officials.
Commenting on the Bill, which is out to consultation until 11 September, Statewatch editor Tony Bunyan described the government’s continued reliance on the powers of the British monarch as “extraordinary”.
“Moreover it intends to change its purpose from a law to provide the essentials of life for the population to one that also covers the protection of the government, the state and financial institutions.”
Most people would also be unaware, he said, that under emergency plans put in place in the late 1970s the government could introduce travel bans, food rationing and cut off all telecommunications.
“The whole of the civilian population can be cut off from the outside world, with no access to phone calls, emails or the internet, at a stroke,” he said.
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