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Civil Contingencies Bill is recipe for dictatorship

(News, Nov 15) that the Civil Contingencies Bill, as presently drafted, will allow a government to suspend on request "any Act of Parliament if there is an event or situation which threatens serious damage to human welfare, the environment or security of the United Kingdom or a place in the United Kingdom".

In other words, a government could invoke "the security of the United Kingdom" to repeal the 1911 Parliament Act and therefore suspend general elections indefinitely. The Government refuses to exempt any Act from this extraordinary extension of executive power, except the 1998 Human Rights Act. It argues that the Human Rights Act provides sufficient protection from any arbitrary exercise of power.

If this is the Government's actual position, it is wrong and probably disingenuous. Although the Human Rights Act gives judges considerable power to interpret legislation in a way they perceive to be compatible with the European Convention of Human Rights, it most certainly does not give the courts power to override an unambiguous Act of Parliament.

It is ironic that, in attempting to pass a Bill enabling the executive to acquire dictatorial powers, the Government should rely upon the Human Rights Act.

Matthew Scott, Pump Court Chambers, London EC4

Sir I never thought I would see the Conservative Party defending civil rights and democratic traditions and see my former colleagues who left to join the Lib Dems back David Blunkett's authoritarian measures.

During the House of Lords debate on the Civil Contingency Bill, the Conservatives proposed a modest and balanced amendment to ensure that the Government could not override "core rights" such as the Habeas Corpus Act of 1816, and the Parliament Act of 1911.

The Parliament Act merely limits the duration of a Parliament to five years. Baroness Buscombe said: "We are attempting to safeguard our civil rights, the foundations of our democracy and to ensure that the supremacy and independence of Parliament is guaranteed." The amendment was defeated by 169 to 146.

So were the so-called liberals in the Liberal Democrats defending freedoms such as fair trial or limitations on parliamentary terms? No, they were doing what they have become best at - cowering in the corner, rather than standing up for their proclaimed beliefs.

The fear of terrorism - a terrorism inflamed by this Government's support of an illegal occupation and American gung-ho tactics - is being used to erode every historic freedom this country has depended on.
 Cllr Steve Radford, President, The Liberal Party, Liverpool