'The State It's In' - Squall Editorial
Squatting: The political Arena.
Squall 4, April/May 1993, pg. 3.
“A definitive timetable for legislation on this subject has not been proposed because of the complex nature of the issues involved.” (Colin Walgrove, Private Secretary for Sir George Young DOE 19/1/93.)
Ever since the Conservative manifesto pre-empted the results of the so-called consultation period on squatting by announcing a commitment to strengthen the law against squatters, the subject has been in political limbo. Some people feel that this non-committal is designed to exhaust the resources of grass-roots opposition, the absence of any moves on the chess board whittling down an opponent’s interest in the game.
However, whilst the Government may welcome this possible side-effect of their hesitancy, MPs have suggested to SQUALL that the limbo period is more likely due to a silent acknowledgement that laws against squatting may prove unmanageable in this time of rising homelessness and unemployment.
Not so the proposed legislation against travellers presented in August ’92 by the Department of the Environment. This issue is still fermenting in the corridors of Whitehall, with one Tory backbencher attempting to seize the initiative from the Government by introducing a Private Members Bill on the subject. Fortunately it was rejected by the House. Never the less, MPs are expecting legislation perhaps as early as November (this session of parliament being occupied with the Maastricht Treaty debate).
The DOE’s proposals include the abolition of the Caravan Sites Act 1968, which requires the statutory provision of sites for travellers. According to one MP who spoke to SQUALL, there is now a suggestion that the Government may push for the selling off of already established sites to private owners.
A fear also exists among sympathetic MPs, housing workers and squatter groups that clauses effectively criminalising squatting may get tagged onto any traveller legislation. From all accounts, right wing backbenchers are baying for the blood of travellers who they see as ruining the tranquillity of our settled shires. Combined with this, and aided by media slurry spreading, public fear may be such that traveller legislation is likely to receive the thumbs up from Joe Punter and the democracy of sheep.
What has to be made clearer is that the proposed legislation against both travellers and squatters is an issue concerned with homelessness, human dignity and cultural identity, not the commonly presumed one of an antisocial, middle class, lifestyle choice. The work now is to inform politicians, journalists and Joe Punter of these realities and expose the criminalisation of squatting as draconian and bigoted. The democracy of sheep is not necessarily glued to one shepherd.
There are 818,000 empty homes in the UK.
(Figure: Department of the Environment, April ’92.)
For more articles about the Criminal Justice Act and Public Order Act 1994 - covering the build-up, the resistance, the consequences, plus commentary of discussions in the House of Commons about it click here.