The original Bill first surfaced in June 2003 with the intention of updating arrangements for handling civil emergencies in the Civil Defence and Emergency Powers Acts. (The Emergency Powers Act 1920 covers the mainland. It has some far-reaching powers, but is applicable to far more restricted circumstances than the Civil Contingencies Bill is intended to cover).

It was scrutinised before a Civil Contingencies Bill Joint Committee of MPs and Peers, who found that it went well beyond this remit. Several public figures, including representatives of the main parties, have been outspoken over how the powers might be abused.

Some - but not all - of the extreme measures were dropped in January 2004. The Bill passed a Commons review on 24.5.04 - with 271 votes for and none against!!!

The Lords debate in July was cut short, however some amendments have been tabled by concerned Peers. Although some are useful, we either need water-tight safeguards, or - better still - to drop the Bill and start again with something that will just bring measures up to date..

The Bill saw its Lords Committee Stage on 15.9.04, and Report Stage on 9.11.04. In the former, the Opposition Home Affairs Spokesman, Baroness Buscombe spoke of the flood of letters from the public expressing concern over the draconian powers in the Bill.

It received Royal Assent on 18.11.04 after a cave-in by peers of all parties. (This followed a Lords Third Reading on 16.11.04, and two days of shuttling between houses over amendments). This is a crying shame - it could have been stopped by just three and a half hours' more Lords debate, timing it out past Prorogation ('end of Parliamentary session'). Or holding firm on just one of the reasoned amendments against the arrogant demands of Commons.

But it was not to be. Now we are supposed to 'trust' Blair and Blunkett and co.

NB: The official text was 'HL Bill 77' until November 2004, when it became 'HL Bill 128'. Please check this website for ongoing updates on how to read the Act as passed, plus further analysis of the legal position and how we might be able to safeguard ourselves against an abuse of State power.


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Compiled: 29 August 2004, updated: 21 November 2004