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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 January, 2004, 18:42 GMT
Emergency plans broadly welcomed
Armed Police outside Heathrow Airport
The UK faces a heightened terror threat
New emergency powers to combat terror attacks and other emergencies have been broadly welcomed in Scotland.

The Civil Contingencies Bill has been introduced in the House of Commons and will have specific relevance to Scotland within the legislation.

The bill is intended to improve responses to terrorist attacks and other national disasters.

The Scottish Emergency Planning Society and First Minister Jack McConnell welcomed the move.

Training exercises

Civil rights groups have voiced concern about how often a state of emergency could be declared.

However, Cabinet Office Minister Douglas Alexander, who is responsible for the bill, said he is confident the plans will protect the public without being unnecessarily draconian.

The bill will allow ministers to issue emergency orders without first receiving government approval.

Ministers could ban access to sensitive sites, evacuate affected areas and stop public gatherings.

Specific emergency measures covering Scotland could be granted in the wake of terrorist attacks, major floods, catastrophic storms or oil spills.

First Minister Jack McConnell
Jack McConnell said Scottish ministers will be involved

Bill Maddox, the Scottish chairman of the Emergency Planning Society, said he was pleased police will be given powers to compel people to leave areas in an emergency situation.

Mr Maddox said there will be little difference in Scotland where emergency planning is well advanced, with regular training exercises.

Scotland's first minister said the bill will enable a more effective response to emergencies.

Mr McConnell said: "What the bill will allow is a much greater involvement for the devolved government in Scotland in the initial decision making about a state of emergency.

"Scottish ministers will have a clear responsibility and a potential to request a specific state of emergency in Scotland should conditions require that."

Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson said people will be able to rely on "robust arrangements for civil protection" in the future.

Civil rights campaigners have called for the definition of "an emergency" to be tightened.

They said earlier draft plans gave ministers too much scope to effectively suspend parliament.

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