What a joke! All of it, the whole process. Last night the House of Lords passed a clause hidden in the legal aid bill to criminalise squatting in residential properties essentially making thousands of homeless people criminals overnight. A whole section of the very poorest and most vulnerable in society have been made criminals and again the debate took place extremely late in the day.
The harsh reality is that the government keeps enough peers at Parliament late at night if they face any risk of defeat while the rest of the Lords (Labour, Crossbenchers, Bishops & others) rarely stay after 8pm. Even though the debating chamber looked empty while the clause on squatting was raised – the government peers hang out behind the scenes (often in the bar) then come in and vote with the government – even though they often aren’t well informed as they weren’t at the debate.
Democracy is dead. 96% of responses to the governments consultation didn’t want to see any action taken on squatting but despite this the government ignored the results to its own consultation. You have to ask what is the point of having a consultation in the first place? To make matters worse, every debate that took place throughout the parliamentary process happened late at night meaning attendance was consistently low, this despite we had gained a lot of support from various sections in the House of Lords.
It’s difficult to comprehend. Its no mistake that such a serious issue got thrown into legislation three days before it was due to pass. Our clause was added so late on that it was right at the end of the bill – meaning it was continuously discussed at the end of the day when most people were in bed. As noted by a number of peers throughout the process in the House of Lords, the new law was never properly discussed or analysed at the Commons stage, which is why it’s such an absurdly shoddy piece of legislation. It’s disgusting that a law with such serious implications for so many can be ushered in through the back door in this way.
To their credit, at such a late hour, a number of Lords came out strongly opposed to criminalisation last night and there were some really powerful speeches. There was consensus in the chamber that the clause is unjust, unnecessary and unaffordable and Lord Bassam (Labour Chief Whip) indicated Labours support on Twitter late last night. Which makes it all much harder to take in – when after midnight Baroness Miller symbolically pushed one of her amendments to a vote and we lost by a landslide.
The SQUASH campaign are gutted but we tried our best and will fight on. There were many victories along the way but to be honest we never stood a chance. The government want to send out a message so ultimately it doesn’t really matter who and what stands in their way; The Law Society, The Metropolitan Police, The Criminal Bar Association, The Magistrates Association, Crisis, Shelter, 160 legal experts, academics, journalists and of course squatters themselves.
The time for lobbying is now definitely over and I doubt many within SQUASH ever want to do anything like it again. The whole process is alienating, demoralising and lacking common-sense. There are many battles ahead for squatters and poor people across the country. This has always been a right-wing attack to defend and enhance private property rights over the human right to shelter and we now have to defend ourselves.
Criminalisation is not immediate and we still have a few months to prepare.
Buddy up. Defend your squats. Set up anti-eviction networks. Keep squatting. Do it.