This is what it is all about. Read the paper, and be very frightened!

Sweeping new emergency laws to counter UK terror.

The Independent, 23 November 2003

By Andy McSmith, Political Editor

Sweeping measures to deal with terrorist attacks and other emergencies are to be announced this week, giving the Government power to over-ride civil liberties in times of crisis, and evacuate threatened areas, restrict people’s movements and confiscate property.

The Civil Contingencies Bill, which covers every kind of disaster from terrorism to the weather, will be the biggest shake-up of emergency laws since the early part of the last century, replacing legislation which saw the UK through a world war and the IRA bombing campaign.

Some of the proposals in the draft version of the Bill, drawn up in the summer, have alarmed civil rights activists, notably a clause that gives the Government the power to suspend parts or all of the Human Rights Act without a vote by MPs.

Once an emergency has been proclaimed by the Queen, the Government can order the destruction of property, order people to evacuate an area or ban them from travelling, and “prohibit assemblies of specified kinds” and “other specified activities”.

If these rules had been in force during the Iraq war, critics say, they cou ld have been used to to ban street demonstrations, making anyone who travelled to protest guilty of a criminal offence. After a major terrorist attack, forums made up of local councils, the emergency services and utility companies would be put in charge of trying to get shattered communities back together.

Other measures will be welcomed as a timely reaction to last week’s carnage in Istanbul, where 57 people were killed and hundreds injured by suicide bombers.

David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, defended government actions saying: “While we must be vigilant, and of course defend our own staff and those using the consulates and embassies, we also have to exercise a degree of common sense . It is very good intelligence that actually saves you in the end, not massive concrete blocks around every piece of British territory abroad.”

The US already has the Patriot Act, rushed through Congress after the 11 September attacks, which has been criticised for its effect on civil liberties. Such fears will have been heightened yesterday by General Tommy Franks, who commanded the coalition troops in Iraq and who has become the first high-ranking US official to talk openly about scrapping the Constitution in the wake of a major terrorist attack.

“The worst thing that could happen is if terrorists acquire and then use a biological, chemical or nuclear weapon that inflicts heavy casualties,” he warned.

The effect of an attack on that scale could be to provoke Americans to “question our own Constitution and to begin to militarise our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass, casualty-producing event – which in fact, then begins to unravel the fabric of our Constitution,” he said.

The Civil Contingencies Bill, which is being handled by the Cabinet Office minister Douglas Alexander, will be announced in Wednesday’s Queen’s Speech . More details will be made public on Friday, when a committee off MPs and peers publish their conclusions after four months examining the proposals.

Civil liberties groups have been alarmed by the Cabinet Office’s sweeping definition of an “emergency” and the powers it confers. It is defined as an y event that represents a serious threat to the welfare of the population, th e environment, political or economic stability or security of any part of the UK. This includes wars, floods, a breakdown of power supplies, outbreaks of animal diseases or any situation that “causes or may cause disruption of the activities of Her Majesty’s Government”.

Gareth Crossman of Liberty said: “We are not saying that the Government shouldn’t have powers to deal with civil emergencies, or that they shouldn’t be brought up to date, but we are concerned that they have been extremely

broadly drawn.”