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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 January, 2004, 16:34 GMT
Q&A: Civil Contingencies Bill
British Army soldiers at Heathrow Airport after terror alert
Police and ministers are proposing they get new powers to deal with terror incidents and other emergencies.

What is the government planning?

Ministers have drawn up rules to deal with big terror attacks or natural or major disasters, such as foot-and-mouth or internet hacking. The measures are aimed at shaking up legislation which dates back to the 1920s.

What powers do ministers want?

They want the right to amend any Act of Parliament to deal with an emergency, subject to any special powers lapsing after 21 days unless further approved by Parliament. These powers could allow them to restrict public access to "sensitive sites", evacuate affected areas, deploy the armed forces, requisition property, ban public gatherings or set up a special court to deal with a disaster.

What disasters will the measures cover?

These will include major floods, disease, catastrophic storms, oil-spills or outbreaks of war, but are thought most likely to be used in the case of a terrorist attack on British soil.

Why does the government say it needs this?

It is a somewhat belated response to the 11 September attacks on the US. Ministers believe new laws are necessary to protect the public and save lives. It will also get Britain moving again after a disaster.

Why do people fear it?

They say it could lead to the government effectively becoming a dictatorship. They fear human rights could be put at risk.

What assurances have ministers given?

They say they are trying to get the balance right between civil liberties and giving the police sufficient powers to deal with an emergency and protect the public. They have tightened the definition of emergency following concerns raised by MPs and civil rights campaigners. They cannot envisage a situation where such powers would be used to alter laws of constitutional importance such as the Bill of Rights or the Human Rights Act.

What is the government's 'triple lock' guarantee?

Ministers have included a "triple lock" which they say ensures powers are not invoked without good reason. They would have to be sure a serious threat to human welfare, the environment or UK security had happened or was about to happen before the powers were invoked. They would also have to show emergency regulations were necessary to cope with the situation. Any measures taken would have to be proportionate to any threat.

The BBC's Mike Sergeant
"Today ministers will outline fresh legislation to deal with the threats of 2004"

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