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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 January, 2004, 11:58 GMT
Disaster legislation: Does it go too far?
Troops at Heathrow

The government has revealed new plans for dealing with major terrorist attacks and other emergencies.

The Civil Contingency Bill will enable ministers to rush through temporary legislation without Parliamentary approval and give authorities new powers to declare a regional state of emergency.

The police would be able to evacuate danger areas in the event of a "catastrophic incident" as well restrict public access to "sensitive sites" if there was a serious terror threat.

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

Will the government's proposals be effective in dealing with possible terrorist attacks? Or do they pose a possible threat to human rights?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinion we have received so far:

I sincerely hope this bill will be rejected again and again until it is discarded
Kathy, Marlborough, UK
If this bill goes through, the terrorists will have achieved their aim which is to destroy the freedoms we enjoy. The fact that a British government would even propose such legislation is extremely worrying. I sincerely hope this bill will be rejected again and again until it is discarded.
Kathy, Marlborough, UK

I don't buy into any of the conspiracy stuff being posted here. That said, I don't see the justification for this new bill. We have been subject to terrorism for years - so why does the government need increased powers? Is it for this 'heightened risk', like from the WMD that they can't find?!
Marcus, London

Why is this legislation needed now? Don't we already have the Prevention of Terrorism Act? Hasn't this country been under terrorist threat from the IRA for most of the last 35 years, up to the current truce? Or is this just window-dressing to please the Americans?
John Rogers, Bristol, England

Basically they let the government do whatever they want, whenever they want, without having to tell us why. Has anyone read 1984, its coming true! Convince people that they are in a war without end, that they can be attacked anytime, any place, anywhere, and then they'll let the leaders do whatever they want, including civil right abuses! Has this book ever been so applicable as in the US and UK now. Orwell is a genius!!
Paul Blaylock, Newcastle, UK

The only things that scares me about this Bill is people's, and especially the media's, reaction to it. When (and I do mean when) the next big attack occurs I won't be at all surprised if the self same people are asking why the government wasn't better prepared. Get real people. Terrorists are real, 9/11 was real, the threat is real.

Delay the planes, cancel them completely if you have to, detain people without trial if necessary, do more security checks, gather more information as you see fit, go after the terrorists and those who support them however you can because I for one have no problems with it. I don't want to feel like I did after 9/11 ever again.
Paul, Staffs, UK

Complacency is our biggest failing
John Hickson, Victoria Canada
It floors me that it's taken so long for legislation to come out and it seems rushed! Terrorism has been going on for decades building into more elaborate schemes and disasters. It's been two years since the WTC event. The world really needs to get going on anti terrorist activities in a big way. Wake up, world. Complacency is our biggest failing.
John Hickson, Victoria Canada

This Bill looks very familiar to anyone who has lived in the so called Third World dictatorship countries. The majority of political prisoners languishing in their jails are arrested under the term threat to national security or threat to the government. Any major protest against the government could be termed as a threat and the people arrested or dispersed. The million people march in London against the war could be one of them. Any law that gives any government powers to bypass parliament and the courts is the first step towards a dictatorship.
D Dinkins, Aylesbury

Many correspondents seem convinced that if we allow the government to make temporary legislation then they will abuse it as soon as possible as though there is some kind of giant conspiracy to take over the country - perhaps they might like to consider that the government has had this power since 1920 under the Emergency Powers Act and yet these abuses which they assure us will occur do not. These people need to stop watching the X-Files and get out into the real world.
Chris Moss, Liverpool, UK

I would have expected more alarm towards these sweeping changes, even with the latest changes. The Bill's original format is scary enough and it looks as though we are all getting swept up in the moment. Does restricting public access to sensitive sites include a policy of shoot to kill? How far beyond the powers of the New York mayor on September 11 do these provisions go?
Stefanos Evripidou, Nicosia, Cyprus

The legislation threatens to broaden the definition of an "emergency" too far
Tim Watkins, Cardiff
Bad law results from a failure to look at how it may be abused, not from how it may be of use. The legislation threatens to broaden the definition of an "emergency" too far, leaving massive scope for abuse. Most worryingly, in incidents where the authorities were responsible for the emergency, the same authorities would be able to declare a state of emergency in order to cover up what they had done.
Tim Watkins, Cardiff

This proposed legislation is dangerous in the extreme. Almost unlimited executive power will be granted. As terrorism is not new to the UK the question must be asked: why this Bill, and why now?
Shane Daly, Nottingham, UK

Throughout the last thousand years there was always someone with a strong enough belief to go out and kill for it, throughout the next thousand years they will still be there, so what? Enjoy your life. You'll die whether or not a terrorist kills you.
Benjamin Confino, London, UK

There are dangerous flaws in the legislation, which is a typically hasty bit of knee-jerk legislation
David, Evesham, UK
I am not hung up on civil rights; I am quite prepared to see them curtailed temporarily if that is the only way to save innocent lives. My big problem with this one is that there are dangerous flaws in the legislation, which is a typically hasty bit of knee-jerk legislation. Our government is good at rushing laws into being without thinking them through, and then taking refuge behind the courts which are left to sort it out.
David, Evesham, UK

In a real disaster, just as in war, the first casualty is the plan. What is important is making sure that the facilities and personnel are available. When/if the problem arises they will cope far better than any plan made up by the man/woman running this country from his one desk in Whitehall.
R Scott-Watson, Fairfield, UK

This government is a constant prime mover of instant regulation. On top of that, we already change taxation laws and many other regulations without recourse to parliament. If emergency powers are poorly drafted, the multitude of lawyers we have for a government can and may trigger, modify and extend those powers. This government has already ridden roughshod over the Lords, the Commons and the judiciary and our constitution. We'll all be next if this self-serving government has it's way!
Stan Cooper, Sale, Cheshire

And who will guard the guards? The ability to push through legislation without Parliamentary approval is totally unnecessary and overkill of the worst kind. It might not lead us into totalitarianism in this generation, but we'd be making a dangerous bed for future generations to lie on.
Katherine, London, UK

It's a tad ironic that the governments of the UK and US tell us that they're fighting for freedom and democracy, and then take as many steps as possible to take our own freedom and democracy away from us.
Chris, UK

They have too much control over our lives
Dwayne Johnson, UK
The government can take us to a false war, want to DNA test us, ID card us, and now want these extra powers. Do we live in Iraq or the UK? They have too much control over our lives and it terrifies me because the powers will be abused and not catch a single terrorist.
Dwayne Johnson, UK

I believe that we do need special legislation that needs to be invoked at the time of an emergency. However I am disappointed that the UK and US governments are only apparently interested in addressing the effects of terrorism, not addressing some of the legitimate causes that spawn terrorism.
Scott, Sheffield, UK

When people peacefully protested against the Excel arms fair they were detained under the anti-terror laws. An abuse of power which the government will use again when it suits them.
Rahul, UK

I think, simply put, that if you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Better to have 'some' idea of what to do in a crisis than to just 'wing it'.
Robert, Basingstoke, Hants, England

What has to happen before we wake up to the fact that we do not have a decent civil defence network in the UK?
Ian McClellan, London, UK
The majority of views expressed appear to be more concerned with the possible threat to civil liberties. Yet at the same time they are labouring under the misapprehension that we already have effective means in place to cope with a national or regional emergency. The farce of foot-and-mouth or the inadequate flood warning systems are evidence enough surely of our total unpreparedness. What has to happen before we wake up to the fact that we do not have a decent civil defence network in the UK?
Ian McClellan, London, UK

Presumably the Queen would still need to approve any temporary legislation put forward under this bill. We'll have to hope she's brave enough not to give royal assent if a future government attempts to misuse this power.
James Rigby, Wickford, UK

James Rigby, Wickford, UK - the Queen is a rubber stamp and she will agree to whatever the PM says.
Anon, UK

The question is, do we have a country worth saving? Not only that, I don't think there are many out there who would trust our government's judgement if an emergency arose.
Gavin, Cardiff, Wales

These are Emergency laws and the decision to activate them will not be taken lightly and will follow a major terrorist attack. The cynics are wrong to think that the Gov. will use them for their own means
Jonny, London, UK

I would be slightly more inclined to accept this sort of draconian legislation if the Government could be trusted
Malcolm, England
The problem with this sort of thing is simply this: It is the Government who will decide when there is a threat and invoke extraordinary powers. Then again you can surely trust them can't you? After all it was this government who told us all that we were going to war in Iraq because there was an immediate threat to the UK from WMD! I would be slightly more inclined to accept this sort of draconian legislation if the Government could be trusted. Unfortunately this one has shown time and again that it can't.
Malcolm, England

For the life of me I can't think of any circumstance under which these powers would be needed that doesn't sound like a bad Hollywood movie. I am in more danger of getting hit by a car than I am of suffering due to any of these threats. I find it odd that in order to combat rogue states and terrorism we are putting in place laws and taking up attitudes that make us more like those we oppose.
Joe, High Wycombe, UK

Can someone tell me why we need this new legislation? Do the police not currently have the ability to evacuate danger areas and restrict public access? As far as I can tell, the only really new stuff this adds I the ability of government to pass laws without Parliamentary consent - effectively 'suspending' Parliament. I find that far scarier than most of the potential terrorist threats out there at the moment. The drip-drip affect of all the recent proposals is taking us down a dangerous road.
Katherine, London, UK

This is a step too far. What constitutes 'political, administrative or economic stability'? A protest march against the government could fall into this category. Make no mistake, Blair and his band of acolytes, to whom the word 'democracy' equates to 'don't do as I do, do as I tell you' will use this to take complete power. In a real emergency, people would automatically look to the government and emergency services. We do not need a new Bill.
Sally, England

To Sally, England: It is astonishing to me that there are those who have such a paranoid view of Blair and his administration yet they do not see what the EU is headed for. It won't be long before Schroeder and Chirac have bullied their way into a controlling position in the EU but no one seems bothered by that in the least. I'd say that you're worried about the wrong politician.
Rachel, Rhode Island, USA

I would feel more secure if a significant military presence was walking around the streets
Jack, England
I disagree with the comment that by stopping our daily business we're letting the terrorists win. I would feel more secure if a significant military presence was walking around the streets, than having nothing done during a high state of emergency.
Jack, England

Jack, England - essentially you are saying you will give up your freedom for safety - well go live in a jail, nothing can harm you there either.
Anon, UK

We have a government that has repeatedly misled the people of this country. In my view they cannot be trusted to handle such powers as they seek. Of particular concern is the bypassing of Parliament. This would in effect give the government 'free rein' to introduce what further measures it felt like implementing without the need for explanation or public accountability. The thought that elections could be cancelled or results overturned under the guise of a state of emergency is positively frightening and make no mistake Blair has shown repeatedly himself to be a control freak and no democrat.
Terry, Worcester, England

Predictably, this government is over-hyping the potential terrorist threat to this country. This over-hyping includes the introduction of such unnecessarily draconian legislation. Blair is smart enough to realise that a frightened electorate is a compliant electorate, which will divert attention away from his true aim - the securing of the Middle East's oil supplies.
Rod Devonshire, UK

No, this is government's role - to be prepared in case of disaster. I lived in NYC after 9/11, it is imperative that government is prepared. There is no threat to human rights if people are in danger, remember you have to be alive to have human rights. If some of your "civil" rights are taken away for a short time, I still think depending on circumstances, that may have to happen in order to save lives.
Mike Daly, Hackettstown, NJ, USA

How far down George Orwell's 1984 road can this government be allowed to go?
Vik, UK
Once again the government appears to have forgotten that the UK is a democracy and that their leader is not president. I'm sure that the 'temporary' laws would be in place only as long as is necessary but unfortunately for democracy it is the same people who put them in place that decide how long 'necessary' is. How far down George Orwell's 1984 road can this government be allowed to go?
Vik, UK

I believe that the emergency services and armed forces already have the powers to isolate areas and control access to them. This has been demonstrated time and again in terrorist incidents, serious fires and accidents. Why the need for more powers to allow politicians to place yet more restrictions on the way I live? My safety? I think not!
Mike, Salisbury

The times are changing and our responses to situations must change with it. We live in a day and age where no country is immune to terrorism. Therefore, there must be plans in place which allow our government to act quickly for the safety and security of its people. This is a prudent measure and those who oppose it would allow bureaucracy to tie the hands of the government during a crisis or national emergency.
Jessamine, UK

Are people not aware that the UK has been subject to terrorism for decades? We had no need of special legislation like this to oppose the IRA. Yet as soon as the US discovers terrorism, suddenly we're told that the world has changed and it's imperative that the government is given increased powers. Strange how many people lap up government propaganda without question.
James, Coventry, England

The term "emergency" must not be defined vaguely in the legislation.
Peter, London, UK

The term "emergency" must not be defined vaguely in the legislation. If it is not defined with precision, then any subsequent government, including the Blair government, can ride, rough-shot, over us all. A very dangerous prospect indeed!
Peter, London, UK

Which is worse - an abstract threat to a tiny section of the population, or having human rights crushed further in the name of "if it saves just one life?" It is not enough to save the country - we must have a country worth saving.
Chris Jones, Scotland

Is it just me, or does the term 'homeland security' sound awfully like 'the security of the fatherland' that was used to justify several measures now recognised as unacceptable back in the 1930's and 40's?
Mike, London, UK

I think that a special minister for Emergency Planning & Homeland security is essential.
Paul, Didcot, UK

I think that a special minister for Emergency Planning & Homeland security is essential. The current process is too uncoordinated and fragmented. However, we must be sure that the new proposed powers will not allow a future prime minister to become a dictator and take this country away from democracy.
Paul, Didcot, UK

To all those who want to protect our human rights at any cost: Please believe me having all the rights in the world will not make the pain of a blown off leg, or the loss of a loved one any less painful.
Nigel , Worcester Park UK

I have no problem with this legislation. Nor do I have a problem with Identity Cards or the compulsory taking of DNA samples, fingerprints and photographs of people entering the UK. It is only the terrorists, illegal immigrants and criminals that have anything to fear.
John Hedges, Oxford. England

History shows that when any government is given dictatorial powers we can reasonably expect those powers to be abused. This is because governments are full of people who chose a career in politics precisely because it gives them power. These are exactly the wrong sort of people to trust with dictatorial power!
Roderick, Glasgow

I am very worried about what is happening in England.
John, Wales

I am very worried about what is happening in England. This government, and especially the American one, seem to see everyone else as the problem when in fact they have a direct responsibility for the unrest and instability in the world at the moment.
John, Wales

I welcome the new legislation. It is something which has been necessary to protect the security of this country since September 2001. I also welcome tightening of the term 'emergency' in the bill which will go someway to appease civil rights activists and hopefully provide an equilibrium for both sides to allow progress.
Ryan Long, London, Uk

I think it is about time we got a member of the government to take control of our homeland security like America and let the Home Secretary take control of his work in our own country.
Paul Holmes, Cardiff Wales

As in all the recent cases it is the complete failure of the 'authorities' to work together that is the real problem
Brendan, UK
When the UK was being attacked by the IRA there was absolutely no further need for any new legislation. As in all the recent cases it is the complete failure of the 'authorities' to work together that is the real problem. This is where the real attention and accountability (and legislation) is needed.
Brendan, UK

If we stop going about our daily business the terrorists have won. Surely we can be vigilant without turning this country into a police state?
Mike Parker, England

I'm not sure. On the one hand I don't like the idea of the government being able to make laws without Parliament (it sounds too much like Hitler's 1933 enabling act). On the other hand I don't know how much of the claims from the civil liberties people to believe - if you listen to them then every new piece of legislation is going to turn the UK in to a totalitarian state.
Peter, Nottingham, UK

Would it not be cheaper, less draconian, more in-keeping with the British way of life and basically more effective, simply to climb OUT of bed with the Americans.
Ian Hodgson, UK

This whole issue rests on what defines situations affecting 'national security, human welfare' etc. The government would have to be extremely clear and precise about the definitions which apply and processes involved to ensure the public's trust and ensuring that it would not pose a threat to human rights.
Alex, UK

The majority must come before the minority in this case
Philip Holroyd, Elland, West Yorkshire
Having served in the forces for 25 years I understand the need to react quickly to situations without considering any social indiscretion. People must understand that any powers imposed would only be in place for however long is necessary. The majority must come before the minority in this case.
Philip Holroyd, Elland, West Yorkshire

"I would sacrifice my human rights to catch a terrorist..." In which case they have already won. The whole point is that we keep our freedoms not give them up. It's the main difference we have between us and the terrorists. They have terrorised the US to the point where people actually buy duct tape to protect themselves and now a similar hysteria is creeping in over here.
Ross Woodhouse, Brighton, UK

As this government doesn't seem to have any qualms at all about ignoring Parliament or the population, I'm rather surprised that they feel they actually have to put these powers on paper. I suppose it does give them an air of legitimacy (though when they force it through with a 3 line whip, is that really morally sound anyway?)
Robbie, UK

The people who complain about this legislation will shout loudest when some catastrophe occurs. Any law can be misused, and in war time or a state of extended threat, human rights are inevitably affected. The choice is this - an abstract threat to some people's human rights, or very real deaths resulting from a successful terrorist attack.
Robert, UK

Considering that the government has already used anti-terrorism laws against peaceful protestors, one has to be scared about what it will do with this extra power. As for human rights - this government has already "opted out" of part of those already anyway!
Martin, England, UK

It is our responsibility to keep the power of the state in check and defend our civil liberties
Will, Oxford, England
Modern Western society faces a challenge to democracy from inside and outside the country. If we really believe in democracy then infringements to civil liberties should be resisted (through the political process). Politicians always want to strengthen legislation so that they can act effectively. It is our responsibility to keep the power of the state in check and defend our civil liberties.
Will, Oxford, England

There is always the possibility that human rights will be infringed upon. But, that can't be used as an excuse not to put legislation in place that prepares the country for these problems. If there was an attack/crisis and no provision had been made to deal with it, there would be an outcry that would somewhat mute the bleatings about human rights.
Andy R, UK

With these changes it is only a matter of time before the powers are abused and we become a virtual dictatorship with everyone's rights no longer in existence. Giving anyone the power to ride roughshod over the human rights of ordinary citizens of our islands is just asking for that power to be abused the minute any of our leaders consider themselves above the rest of us.
Artela, Swansea, Wales

Any such powers should exist because there is a genuine realistic threat
Mike Diricci, London, UK
One has to wonder if the reason the government is focusing so much attention on these "threats" recently is to justify such a bill. That is just wrong. Any such powers should exist because there is a genuine realistic threat.
Mike Diricci, London, UK

One can imagine this 'disaster' legislation being used as an excuse to Trojan horse through laws that restrict free speech, the right to strike, and the right to peaceful protest. The proposed new US law the 'Patriot Act' is precisely along these lines, and is designed to subsume individual liberty in the name of Bush's version of freedom. My liberal American friends tell me that they are afraid to say what they really feel about the current 'war' on terrorism.
Alan, Reading, England

I can't help but read the media reports of these new powers for the government with a growing sense of alarm. Although in a major national emergency it may be necessary for a government to take drastic action, these new powers could be so easily abused. It needs to be clearly defined as to what a national emergency is and exactly what the government can do relating to individual crisis.
Matt Dawson, Loughborough, UK

If you trust the government there is nothing to worry about, except your sanity.
Martin Juckes, Oxford, UK

I think it's an interesting way for the government to work. Human rights is a big issue in politics but so is terrorism. I would sacrifice my human rights to catch a terrorist, after all they really don't care whose human rights they endanger do they!
Alex, Amesbury, Wiltshire

This highlights the real problem at the heart of our constitution - an over-mighty executive. What 'temporary legislation' could potentially bypass Parliament? Suspension of general elections, perhaps?
Jess, Reading, Berkshire

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