Part 2 of the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 sets out the UK's emergency powers framework. This section outlines these emergency powers, when they may be used and how they would be invoked.
What are emergency powers?
Emergency powers allow the Government to make special temporary legislation (emergency regulations) as a last resort in the most serious of emergencies where existing legislation is insufficient to respond in the most effective way. Emergency regulations may make provision of any kind that could be made by an Act of Parliament or by exercise of the Royal Prerogative, so long as such action is needed urgently and is both necessary and proportionate in the circumstances.
The regulations may extend to the whole of the UK or to any one or more of the English regions and/or the devolved administrations. In English regions, Regional Nominated Co-ordinators (RNCs) will be appointed to co-ordinate the handling of the emergency within each region. In devolved areas they will be known as Emergency Co-ordinators.
Emergency powers ensure the Government can respond quickly in emergency situations where new powers are needed and there is not time to legislate in the usual way in advance of acting. They ensure the Government can act legally and accountably in situations where temporary new legal provision is required without the time for Parliament to provide it beforehand. Emergency powers legislation is not a panacea for difficulties faced in responding to or recovering from emergencies. It is a legislative mechanism for making temporary changes to the law within clearly defined limits. Planning and response arrangements must assume that they will not be used.
When emergency powers may be used
The Act states that emergency powers can only be used if an event or situation threatens: serious damage to human welfare in the UK, a devolved territory or region; serious damage to the environment of the UK, a devolved territory or region; or the security of the UK, from war or terrorism. They can be used if such a situation is occurring, has occurred or is about to occur.
If the situation or event is so serious as to warrant consideration of use of the powers then the deciding factor will be whether existing powers, that could be used to deal with it, are insufficient or ineffective. If they are sufficient then emergency powers cannot be used, no matter how serious the emergency.
The decision to use emergency powers, or not, is a matter for UK central government and the relevant Lead Government Department (LGD), subject to collective agreement. The Government will assess any request made for their use by the heads of relevant organisations, based on its overall response strategy and the safeguards set out in the Act. It should be borne in mind that emergency powers are a last-resort option for dealing with only the effects of the most serious of emergencies.
How emergency powers are invoked
Emergency regulations are made by Her Majesty by Order in Council on the advice of her ministers. If, for whatever reason, this is not possible without serious delay, a senior minister may make the regulations by order. The regulations must then be laid before Parliament as soon as it is reasonably practicable. Parliament must approve them within seven days of laying or they fall. They may stay in force for up to 30 days beginning on the day the order comes into force, but can be renewed for a further 30 days if it is deemed necessary.
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