Thursday, 16 February 2012
Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer's amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill would have allowed squatters to occupy dwellings "where the building has been empty for six months or more and where there are no significant steps being taken to refurbish, let or sell the building at the time of the trespass."
The Bill proposes to make all forms of squatting a criminal offence. At present it is a civil matter unless the squatters break other laws - such as criminal damage or displacing a lawful occupant.
Lady Miller said that criminalising squatters would do nothing to alleviate homelessness and would place unnecessary burdens on the police.
Labour's Justice spokesman, Lord Bach said "Squatting for the main part is already illegal and, in most instances, criminal, too....The reason for bringing in this new piece of criminal legislation is pure populism...It is very telling that the Metropolitan Police, the Bar Council and the Law Society, none of which are natural friends of the squatting community, all think that bringing this particular legislation is completely unnecessary."
In spite of this, he couldn't support the amendment as tabled but, "if the noble Baroness were to bring back her amendment in a different form, perhaps with a longer period of time, we would be sorely tempted to support it".
The Baroness decided to withdraw the amendment so that it could be re-tabled with a longer time period. A committee will look at this matter and decide how to re-word the amendment at the Bill's Report Stage on 5 March.