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The FULL Story...


THE proposal, for purely political reasons, to delay the implementation of the ban on foxhunting for up to two years is the final proof, if any were needed, that animal welfare is the least of the concerns of those backbench MPs, such as Carlisle’s Eric Martlew, who have bayed so long and so loudly for the abolition of hunting.

As has always been the case, this Labour Government cynically uses the foxhunting issue (about which it knows little and cares even less) as a wild card to be played whenever its real political ambitions are in danger of being thwarted.

In the present instance, apart from possibly saving them from a revolt over pensions, it is being used to distract attention from the passage of the Civil Contingencies Bill, possibly the most Draconian piece of legislation ever to have been laid before a British Parliament.

All of us who were involved in the foot and mouth disaster will remember instances of both Government ministers and civil servants who exceeded their legal authority and were subsequently successfully challenged in the courts. However, under the powers conferred by this new act, once a state of emergency (which may be either national or local and can be either general or specific to some particular situation) has been declared by any one of a number of authorised ministers, all normal legal rights can be suspended, without any prospect of subsequent compensation or redress.

Even more significantly, the emergency does not even have to exist. Under the act, it would be sufficient for the minister merely to fear that it was about to exist.

The list of powers proposed to be delegated to ‘those appointed to positions of authority’ is, quite deliberately, drafted in such general terms that these would be almost unlimited.

Moreover, ‘states of emergency’ relate not merely to war, threats of terrorism or natural disasters, but also to anything which might dispute the ‘supply of money’ or endanger Britain’s financial welfare.

If this bill is passed in its present state, it would certainly be possible for the Government, upon a whim, to declare any strike unlawful, to ban any march or public meeting, to censor public communications (though, surprisingly, the BBC seems to enjoy special exemption from this clause) to prohibit travel between specific places or at specified times and to requisition or confiscate private property.

It may also order the evacuation or relocation (to a place of its own choosing) of individuals or groups of people.

The original bill was heavily criticised by a joint Parliamentary scrutiny committee, but the Government’s predictably arrogant response to its report was to reject the majority of this committee’s recommendations and to re-introduce those few which it did accept, albeit with different, but even more inclusive wording, in the small print of section two of that bill.

Overall, this bill would give, not Parliament but the government of the day, in times of peace, far greater powers than were ever granted to any of our coalition governments in times of real war.

It is also quite clear that, while this bill was originally presented to both Parliament and the public as an essential safeguard against terrorism, its real objectives were, in the long term, potentially even more dangerous to our individual freedoms, and the British way of life than the results of any single act of terrorism.

Even in its present, very slightly amended form, the Civil Contingencies Bill is, quite simply, a charter for future dictatorship.

As several recent polls have shown, a substantial majority of the population of this country believe that hunting should not be banned, not because they themselves approve of it, but upon the principle that activities should only be banned and made criminal offences if there is an obvious and overwhelming case for doing so and it would be for the benefit of the population as a whole (which was certainly not established by either the Burns Report of the Portcullis Enquiry).

However, ordinary people are right to be suspicious of any legislation which is not based upon sound evidence and principle, even though this may not directly affect them personally, for it is Mr Martlew and his colleagues who are also supporting the Civil Contingencies Bill, which, if it is passed, will directly affect the rights and liberties of every person in this country.