My Lords, I should start by declaring an interest, or at least a former interest. In a previous life, I was a shareholder in and director of a company that made its money-in fact, quite a lot of money-from keeping squatters and others out of empty properties. You might conclude, when I have finished my short speech, that I am a bit of a gamekeeper turned poacher.
This clause was added late to the Bill, which might explain why it is a rather clumsy and blunt instrument. I am not sure who this new offence is aimed at. Is it aimed at squatters in vacant properties, who are not currently committing a criminal offence, or is it aimed at squatters in occupied properties that might be temporarily empty while the occupiers are on holiday, or even shopping? As we have heard, squatting such as that is already a criminal offence. I am not sure which situation this clause is intended to address. Perhaps the Minister will enlighten me.
This clause is a blunt instrument because its unintended consequence-and I sincerely hope that it is an unintended consequence-is to protect unscrupulous property owners who keep properties vacant for years for purely speculative reasons and, in the process, prevent homeless people having somewhere to live. The amendment deals with that by limiting the period of that protection. This clause is a cuckoo in the nest because such a provision has no place in the Bill and has no connection with any other part of it. Squatting should not be considered in isolation, as we have heard, but should be considered in the context of housing and homelessness.