All One Big Party Parliamentary Group
On what was it again?
Squall 5, Oct/Nov 1993, pg. 21.
The invitation arrives on the doormat (fortunate I am to have one at the moment), emblazoned with the green portcullis and crown of official import. It sounded grand - The All Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness are meeting in Room W4 off Westminster Hall to discuss: ‘Squatting: The Need for Legislation?’
The All Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness - 220 MPs and Lords, a steering committee, a co-ordinating committee and a clerks' committee. IMPORTANT.
So donning my best thread-bares, I catch a bus down to the Palace and risk all kinds of cancers in the X-ray machine at the entrance, in order to search out Room W4. When I did find it, I thought it must surely be the wrong place, for the room was the size of a large toilet, with a table and ten chairs instead of bidet and bath.
“Expecting a large turn out then,” says I to the clerk and she mutters something about it being all that was available.
Ten minutes later and all the chairs are full, when in walks Lord Milverton wearing a collar of vicarage. “Here you go vicar,” says I, giving him my chair. “I’ll squat.” There was a small rumble of laughter from the assembled veterans but most are already checking their watches as if it might be time to go home soon.
After the speeches had been running for a while, the squatting began to get a little uncomfortable, as it often does, so I stood up.
In this new position I had a better view of the scene. Out of the fifteen or so in attendance (a fair turn out I was told later, the record is around 30!), there were maybe five or six paying any kind of attention seemed more interested in who was coming into the room and whether their attendance was being noted.
The crown of inattentiveness however, should be laid on the greying head of Lord Beaumont, who at the beginning of the meeting produced a photocopy of the Times Crossword from his executive case and then, like a surreptitious schoolboy, proceeded to ponder over the clues for the full hour. To my knowledge, he looked up not once and what’s more, managed only five clues.
With the sun streaming through the triple glazing, I was experiencing a new form of sweat equity and only just managed to stay cool, resisting the temptation to call out: “Three down, (3,2,5) - Out to Lunch”. It would have been a delicious disgrace.
As it was, most of the assemblage seemed to be interested only in signing their name on the list of attenders and then leaving after ten minutes, as if other urgent matters and appointments pressed.
Was it the speakers who bored them away? Was it the sunny day? Was it really lunchtime? No I was told later, it was usually like this - the grand labouring of the nation’s democratic stalwarts trying to keep up appearances.
Time ran out and some of the politicians were still saying, “Yes, but it’s not right that people should come back from holiday and find squatters etc”.
“Perhaps we might have another meeting to answer some of these points,” suggested the clerk.
“Perhaps the next meeting should be titled: ‘Politics: The Need For Attention?’ suggested I, but no one was listening.
ACCORDING TO THE DEPARTMENT OF ENVIRONMENT, THERE ARE 139,850 ENGLISH HOUSEHOLDS CLASSIFIED AS HOMELESS IN THE YEAR ENDING JUNE 93. Carol Grant, Director of Communications at SHELTER suggests that families “are escaping temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfast through squatting”.