ALERT & Update: Attempt to criminalise squatting in commercial

Update: 1st July 2014

Update is that the Criminal Courts and Justice Bill is now in the Lords. The backbench MP’s who were calling for criminalisation of squatting on land and commercial property in the Commons didn’t push the clause (34) to a vote because the Tory frontbench said they don’t want to criminalise it further for now.

The next thing to look out for is amendments tabled in the Lords. This hasn’t been published yet but should happen fairly soon, and will be posted here: http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2013-14/criminaljusticeandcourts.html

Basically, no need to panic yet but it needs to be watched closely. A contact in the Lords told SQUASH: “There is nothing in the actual Bill, [s]o it would have to be a motivated Lord to bother to put something down. If the Tory frontbencher in the Commons did not go for it then it is unlikely to get a nod through in the Lords […].”

SQUASH Analysis:

The Amendment is Not a Risk: Amendment made by Tory backbenchers, but from the Parliamentary transcript, frontbench were saying: “This amendment is not what we’re talking about, need to look at impact of existing law; need to give it time”. The frontbench are unlikely to introduce divisive, aggressive legislation just before a general election. Without the support of the frontbench, the amendment is unlikely to go anywhere, and this is just Tory backbenchers trying to keep the issue/ debate alive.

The Amendment Is a Risk: Timing and strategy is very similar to the introduction of the last law (s144), ie a last minute addition to a bill. Frontbench may be playing the game, that is getting backbenchers to make far-reaching demands, too extreme for the frontbenchers, thus opening up space to move in that direction. Tory legislation is pretty wild at the moment (eg recent bills allowing private companies to develop on land without consultation), and SQUASH can’t be sure what’s going on behind closed doors.

******UPDATE ENDS********

Some backbenchers in Parliament have tried but seemingly failed to amend the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill to include the criminalisation of squatting in commercial premises and on land. The attempt took place on the 12th May, and as far as SQUASH can see, the hearing was adjourned before the question of amendment 34 could be pushed to a vote or withdrawn. This Bill is currently at the report stage and next date for the report stage has not yet been set.

The following taken from “They Work for You” reporting on Parliamentary proceedings:

[STARTS]

Criminal Justice and Courts Bill

New clause 34 — Criminalising commercial squatting and squatting on land.

‘(1) Section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is amended as follows.

(2) In the heading, after “in”, leave out “a residential building” and insert “buildings and on land”.

(3) In subsection (1)(a) after “a”, leave out “residential”, and after “building”, insert “or on land”.

(4) In subsection (1)(c) after “building”, insert “or on the land”.

(5) In subsection (2) after “building”, add “or land”.

(6) Leave out subsection (3)(b) and insert “Land has the meaning defined in section 205(1)(ix) of the Law of Property Act 1925.

(7) After “building”, insert “or land”.

(8) (a) after “squatting in” leave out “a residential building” and insert “buildings and on land”.”

Jeremy White, Under-secretary for Justice: I will turn to the new clauses that have been tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), starting with new clause 34. The House may recall that the offence of squatting in a residential building in section 144 of the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 was introduced following widespread concern about the harm that squatters can cause when they occupy other people’s homes. The offence is working well and has provided welcome relief for home owners who have found their property violated.

I recognise that there are also concerns about squatters who occupy non-residential buildings and land, particularly when it has a damaging effect on business, jeopardises the livelihood of the owner or causes anxiety among the neighbouring community. I hope that my hon. Friends will be pleased to hear that we have been monitoring the situation closely and do not rule out further action if it is needed. However, it would be premature for us to make any changes until we have fully considered what they might mean in practice. The reforms that we made in respect of squatting in residential buildings followed a full public consultation exercise. We would need to think carefully about the impact of such a change on all the different groups affected.

[ENDS]

SQUASH and other squatting groups are taking this seriously. We will be looking into this underhand attempt to further criminalise squatting, and report back as soon as we know more. Please be ready to act once we have ascertained whether this is a real threat or opportunistic politiking.