Squash Parliament

They say ’7 days is a long time in politics’.

A week ago today we found out that the government was introducing a sneaky last minute clause to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill that would criminalise squatting in residential buildings.

Yesterday the clause was voted through in Parliament by 283 to 13 against.

The amendment to the clause brought by John Mcdonnell and Crisis was defeated by 23 to 300 against.

The clause will now move to the House of Lords where it will face its first proper scrutiny.

On Monday night hundreds came for a ‘mass sleep out’ outside Parliament to show the government that if you force the homeless out of the squats then they will be present en masse in the streets.

The police responded by stating that our presence outside Parliament constituted an unauthorised protest as we hadn’t given 7 days notice. The irony being that there were only 6 days in total between the clause being announced and it being voted through, and that this law (SOCPA 132) has already been repealed.

As a result of this up to 17 people were arrested after being kettled and beaten by the police.

Today the last 5 were released on bail from court battered and bruised.

 

What does the last week mean?

  • 96% of respondents from all across society were concerned about criminalisation. This included such unlikely bedfellows as the Police, Magistrates and even one Landlords Association. We can be proud that we used the consultation process to identify so many potential allies for the rest of the campaign.
  • Despite the 96% the government introduced criminalisation through the back door by adding a last minute clause that received little to no scrutiny in the commons.
  • The consultation and the clause were made alongside a campaign of misinformation from sections of the media. This campaign served to create confusion about existing legislation on squatting and constructed a ‘public demand’ for criminalisation. In the end only 7 people out of¬†2,217 responded to the consultation to say that their residential property had been squatted and they considered it a problem.
  • Angered by what is effectively the ¬†criminalisation of homeless in the middle of a housing crisis, hundreds of people came to Parliament to protest. They were kettled, beaten and removed under a law that is in the process of being taken off the statute book.
  • The next day, despite the best efforts of the police, campaigners were able to get into Parliament to brief their MPs, on the undemocratic and socially damaging proposals . This meant that nearly all of the points of our briefings were made by Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green MPs including the Labour shadow Justice Minister.
  • Despite the expected defeat this means that the Lords are now free to tear the legislation apart on a large number of grounds.
  • It’s likely that we have saved squatting in commercial property and this represents a very real success at an early stage of the campaign with everything still to play for.
  • The squatting movement must now start to set the agenda by showing the wider public the value of being able to squat in empty residential buildings.
  • Organising against the criminalisation has provided squatters with a very real base for a longer term fight and a stronger squatters movement.