By Jodhi Doherty
Lords debated the government’s proposal of the criminalisation of squatting with talks to continue next week.
The proposal by the government of clause 136 took place after midnight on Tuesday, if passed criminalises the act of squatting and allows a £5000 fine or up to a year in prison for those squatting in residential buildings.
Squatting in someone’s home is already a criminal offence but the Cabinet’s Ministry of Justice hopes to extend the law to cover vacant residential buildings that have no tenant.
The proposed clause could, if agreed cost taxpayers well over £700 million, effectively using up government legal aid budget savings.
The last debate of Tuesday evening, a representative for Didly Squat London, present at the debate reported on Twitter how: “the House of Lords was pretty empty and sleepy looking”.
At 11.45pm it started with Liberal Democratic, Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer opening with a speech of why she is why she is opposed the criminalisation of squatting and how she believed the government in their hearts did not want to criminalise a part of society who were homeless.
Miller pointed also out that if you re-named squatters “vulnerable homeless” you would have a very different debate on your hands.
”Squatting is a homeless and welfare issue, not criminal.”
In Miller’s passionate speech she added: “squatting is a homeless and welfare issue, not criminal” continuing that a message needed to be sent to the right-wing press who had demonised homeless people in their attack on squatting.
Liberal Democrat’s, Baroness Hamwee made a reference to the work of SQUASH (Squatters Action for Secure Homes) and the importance of the word ’security’ in the their acronym with 40% of people squatting preferring to do so rather than sleeping rough on the street.
Lord Bach, Shadow Justice Minister went on to ask: “What, apart from a hostile media, makes it necessary to bring in this new piece of legislation?” especially when the existing legislation served the purpose.
Defending the government’s proposal, Baroness Northover,argument: “The occupation of other people’s homes should be a criminal offence” was promptly interrupted by Lord Bach in to point out “It is a crime.”
Northover seemed quite concerned about keeping the Lords at such a late hour, speaking quickly and quietly and appearing quite vague in the next step in the debate.
After pressing from Miller and Bach for the ability to return to the issue at a third reading Miller appeared seemingly frustrated over Northover’s failure to answer the question.
Following some discussion of wherever the issue was still open the amendment was withdrawn under the understanding that it would be returned to.
In this unusual move, they will return to the debate for the proposal of clause 136 which will take place Tuesday 27th March for a third reading.
To watch the event live watch: BBC’s Democracy Live
Join the debate on twitter with: Squash Campaign
Update: The clause has now changed from 136 to clause 145 under Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders bill (LASPO).