BBC 11/3/11. The magnitude of this disaster is brought home by some haunting (and distressing) pictures published by the Daily Mail. The total of people killed and missing is not known but certainly exceeds 28,000. Dealing with an event of this seriousness requires massive concentration of effort and perhaps even international assistance. What is in place to enable government to manage if some major crisis were to occur in the U.K. ?
Under the previous Labour government, legal powers to handle emergencies were reviewed and the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 (CCA) was enacted. This replaced earlier legislation - in particular, the Emergency Powers Act 1920 and the Civil Defence Act 1948. (Explanatory Notes to the CCA are available). Part 1 of the CCA addresses "Local Arrangements for Civil Protection" and places duties on various bodies - (referred to as "responders") - to assess risks and to prepare plans. In the light of the present economic climate it would be interesting to know if such plans were affected adversely and, if so, how.
Part 2 of the CCA deals with "Emergency Powers" and the term "emergency" is defined in section 19. A power to make emergency regulations is conferred by section 20 but this power is subject to certain conditions applying - section 21 . Regulations could be exceptionally
extensive in scope - (section 22) - and permit, amongst many other things, the requisition or confiscation of property (with or without compensation); control of movement and transport; deployment of the armed forces etc. Certain limitations apply to the powers which can be granted - section 23. Further sections deal with the appointment of Regional and Emergency Coordinators and for Parliamentary scrutiny of any regulations (sections 27 and 28). Basically, emergency regulations last for 30 days from the day on which they are made but further regulations can be made.
Therefore, at least in legislative terms, the U.K. has strong means to deal with a crisis. Within the Cabinet Office there is a Civil Contingencies Secretariat (UK Resilience) and also an Emergency Planning College exists. In early 2010, SERCO was contracted by government to manage and operate the EPC. A text on the CCA is available - "The Civil Contingencies Act 2004: Risk, Resilience and the Law in the U.K." - Clive Walker and James Broderick - OUP July 2006.