new laws to deal with a large-scale terror attack in Britain smack
of "needless totalitarianism", said the Conservatives.
A terrorist attack on the UK is seen as a
Tory homeland defence spokesman Patrick Mercer was commenting on
legislation which could allow the government to invoke a vast array
of powers if Britain was attacked or was perceived to be at risk of
a terrorist strike.
One Conservative peer on the cross-parliamentary committee
looking at the Draft Civil Contingencies Bill suggested the plans
could theoretically be used to turn Britain into a republic if a
state of emergency was called.
The government says the measures are designed to ensure Britain
has the best possible plans for dealing with an emergency, with
clear responsibilities set out for those on the front line.
The measures would shake up legislation that dates back to the
1920s, giving ministers all the powers they need to tackle a wide
range of incidents.
These would include allowing the government to rush through
temporary legislation without prior parliamentary approval, and
giving authorities the right to declare a regional state of
Mr Mercer told BBC News Online the draft laws contained "elements
that smacked of needless totalitarianism".
But he added: "The reason we have a joint committee is to iron
this sort of thing out.
"The last time we were threatened with something like this -
either the danger of invasion by Hitler or the possibility of a
nuclear bomb being dropped on us - we had to give the government
Current legislation was more suited for World War II, he said,
and any new law had to strike a balance between being "effective and
over-effective", he argued.
The comments came after civil rights group Liberty warned that
ministers would be left with almost limitless powers in the event of
the legislation being invoked.
The organisation's Shami Chakrabati told the committee of MPs and
peers that the draft legislation gave far too broad a definition of
If the law were invoked, Parliament would later be recalled to
discuss the issue, but Ms Chakrabati said the draft bill allowed for
too great a delay in this.
Liberty was also concerned there would not be enough scrutiny of
ministers' actions under the proposals.
One committee member, former Tory whip Lord Lucas of Crudwell,
raised the prospect that "once a state of emergency is declared [the
government] can effectively tear up the rest of the constitution and
any bits of this bill [they do not like] and create a republic...".
Ms Chakrabati agreed that the most "colourful scenario" could see
a secretary of state with "absolute legislative power" -
theoretically mounting a threat to the whole UK constitution.
She added: "It is incredibly important that every safeguard
possible is adopted in the legislation.
"Parliament needs to be convened immediately in a scenario like
this and if something needs to be done before that, then fine, the
Earlier this month a terror attack exercise was staged at one of
London's busiest Tube stations.
The simulation, at Bank station, involved fire, ambulance, police
and medical staff.
Teenage police cadets acted as passengers in a Tube train which
was halted 50 yards short of the platform following "reports" of a
New equipment worth millions of pounds, including chemical suits,
was tested in the exercise.
Five hundred emergency workers cordoned off streets, then rescued
and decontaminated passengers, before taking them to hospital.