Where it’s at: an update on the parliamentary process and our campaign to stop criminalisation…

A seat in the House of Lords

The House of Lords: on these posh seats the fate of squatting will be decided...

On 13 July 2011 the government launched a consultation – ‘Options for Dealing with Squatting’ – as part of its plan to criminalise squatting.

Despite 96% of respondents (including the Law Society, the Metropolitan Police Service and homelessness charities Crisis and Shelter) being opposed to criminalisation, the government pressed ahead with its plans.

It did this by introducing an amendment – clause 130 – to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill (LASPO). The clause called for the criminalisation of trespass in all buildings adapted for habitation –  effectively, the criminalisation of squatting in residential buildings.

Clause 130 was introduced when the bill was already at the report stage in the House of Commons, which meant it received almost no parliamentary scrutiny whatsoever (read the full debate). On 1 November 2011, it passed through the Commons by 283 votes to 13.

On 15 February 2012, clause 130 was debated for the first time in the House of Lords during the committee stage. Four Liberal Democrat peers spoke in opposition to the clause, debating an amendment tabled by Baroness Sue Miller. Labour’s Lord Bach described clause 130 as ‘pure populism’ and ‘demonisation of the poor by another method’.

On Monday 5 March, LASPO entered the report stage in the House of Lords, where various parts of the bill are voted on before going back to the House of Commons and being passed into law (or, if there’s disagreement, ‘ping-ponging’ back to the House of Lords for more discussion). Clause 130 has now been renamed Clause 136 and a final vote on it is expected to happen on or around 14 March.

Squash is currently working with sympathetic Peers in the House (there are a few) in order to push amendments that could mitigate the effects of this new law. If our campaign is successful and one or more of our amendments are accepted by the Lords, the clause will go back to the House of Commons for consideration of those amendments. More lobbying work would then be needed: MPs could just choose to refuse the proposed changes and stick to the original version of the law.

If our amendments are not added to the bill it will still go back to the House of Commons for consideration of other ammendments. There will then be up to two months before LASPO is sent for royal assent and officially passed into law.

Nothing is certain but we think that, whatever happens, squatting will not be criminalised before the end of May.

We’re at a critical stage but a lot can still be done to prevent the criminalisation of squatting: have a look at the website to see what you can do to help with lobbying the Lords.

Some useful links:

Track LASPO and clause 136’s progress into law on parliament’s website.

Guide to how a bill becomes an Act 

Complete text of the LASPO Bill  

List of tabled amendments to the LASPO Bill (our amendments will appear here soon)