My Lords, I shall add only a few sentences to what the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, said about the undesirability of creating new criminal offences unless there is a substantial reason to do so. Surely that argument is doubly important when the offence carries a term of imprisonment, in this case of up to 51 weeks. We all know-I thought that there was general agreement on this-that short sentences are harmful, leading to greater recidivism on the part of those so imprisoned.
If we are to create these new offences, there have to be extremely powerful arguments in their favour, whereas here the exact opposite is true. I will not rehearse all the reasons that have already been given by noble Lords as to why these provisions are unnecessary and harmful. However, keeping houses empty for more than a year is to be discouraged. People whose homes are occupied by squatters already have effective remedies. In the consultation, not only were 96 per cent of respondents against the clause, but that included the substantial opinions of such organisations as the Law Society, ACPO, the Criminal Bar Association, Liberty, Shelter and Crisis. There is also the fact that homelessness is increasing rapidly. For all these reasons, I hope that the Government will see reason and accept my noble friend's amendment.