Actors Of Parliament
Squall 7, Summer 1994, pg. 5.
It is undoubtedly the case that new clause 67 on violent entry, added to the Criminal Justice Bill on Feb 9th, is worse than what was already in the Bill.
When two lobbyists from SQUASH (Squatter’s Action for Secure Homes) noticed that these clauses had been included in the new clause sheets, they informed the Labour benches who were themselves unaware of their existence. After all, any law that sanctions violence and allows someone to break down the door of an occupied property with no authorisation from the courts is, let's face it, a seriously draconian addition to the Bill. It surely provided the greatest opportunity for a political challenge by the Labour Party. But not so. A few Labour backbenchers tried to make an outcry against it but there was no official stance from the Labour front benches and when unsupported by your own leadership, backbench stances amount to little.
SQUALL was informed by a Labour backbench MP that Tony Blair (Shadow Home Secretary) was intending to table some amendments opposing the ‘violent entry’ clauses and that he would introduce them at the report stage of the Bill. However when the report stage was heard in the House of Commons, Tony Blah rescinded on his intention and played the safe ball, tabling no amendments on the issue. Labour front bench political opposition once again cotton wooled to avoid the ‘soft on crime’ tag.
Tony Blah may have said: "We are not going to win through the politics of caution; we are going to win through the politics of change." but few people, least of all his own party, seem to believe he is the man of principle he makes out. Take Lord Macintosh of Haringey, Labour Home Affairs spokesman in the Lords, for example. Speaking in the Lords' committee stage debate, in support of amendments to the clauses on squatting, Lord Macintosh fell compelled to tell the House: “We are not in any sense being soft on squatters. If I was to suggest that we were being soft on them, Mr Tony Blair would have me shot at dawn.”
In the last copy of SQUALL we reported that some labour MPs were fearing their own party would abstain on the third reading of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Bill. Since then their fears have been realised. Only 44 MPs voted against the Bill and one of them was a Tory MP!
The following 43 MPs were the only ones to stick their vote and reputations where their ideologies lay.
Diane Abbott, John Austin-Walker, Barry Barnes, Tony Benn, Richard Burden, Malcolm Chisholm, Michael Clapham, Eric Clarke, David Clelland, Michael Connarty, Jeremy Corbyn, Jean Corston, Jim Cunningham, Denzil Davies, Jimmy Dunnachie, Mildred Gordon, Thomas Graham, Bernie Grant, John Gunnell, John Heppell, John Home Robertson, Jimmy Hood, Kevin Hughes, Robert Hughes, Glenda Jackson, Helen Jackson, Lynne Jones, Jane Kennedy, Terry Lewis, Ken Livingstone, Eddie Loyden, John McAllion, Calum MacDonald, Max Madden, Alice Mahon, Jim Marshall, Bill Michie, Colin Pickthall, Brian Sedgemore, Alan Simpson, Denis Skinner, John Watts, Audrey Wise, Jimmy Wrae.
Neil Gerrard and Andrew Bennett counted the no votes which also means they too were in the no lobby.
When a SQUALL bod met up with Bernie Grant (Labour MP Tottenham) at a fundraising do for the local Labour Party recently, it was an opportunity to ask him what position he took on the proposals contained within the Criminal Justice Bill with regard travellers and squatters.
“I think they’re ridiculous - just looking for something to grab a few votes.”
When the SQUALL bod mentioned that Tony Blair (Shadow Home Secretary) had refused to condemn the measures, even taking the time to slag off squatters too, Bernie had this to say: “Tony Blair’s an arsehole!”
Unfortunately for Bernie, Tony Blah now looks set to be leader of the Labour Party. Talk about leading from the behind.
An indication of the kind of direction the land laws are heading in, was given by Peter Butler (Con MP - Milton Keynes NE) during the Second Reading of the Criminal Justice Bill in the House of Commons. “I welcome what I hope will prove in retrospect to have been the first tentative steps towards a law of criminal trespass,” drooled Butler expectantly. “It should be an offence to knowingly to enter or remain on land or building belonging to another person without consent.”
The standing committee selected for the Commons’ committee stage of the Bill is often chosen on the basis of how the MPs spoke during the second reading debate. Needless to say the Government selectors considered Peter Butler’s property-is-God sentiments to be a useful asset, consequently placing him as one of the 16 Tories who sat on the standing committee pushing the Bill through.
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.
Actors Of Parliament - Thespians or puppets in the House as the All Party Parliamentary Group on Homelessness meet - Squall 6 - Spring 1994.