Page last updated at 22:34 GMT, Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Legal Aid and Sentencing Bill part two

MPs have given the green light to plans to strengthen the legal rights of householders who use force to defend their home.

Justice minister Crispin Blunt said the government wanted to "clarify" the existing law around self-defence so homeowners and shopkeepers could protect themselves, their property or others.

Advocating the need for change, Mr Blunt told MPs: "It's essential the law in this area is clear so people who use reasonable force... can be confident the law is on their side."

He was speaking during day two of report-stage debate on the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill on 1 November 2011.

Shadow justice minister Sadiq Khan asked whether the change would mean more, less or the same rights for people. Mr Blunt told him it would give people "much greater reassurance about exercising their rights".

But Plaid Cymru's Westminster leader Elfyn Llwyd accused the Ministry of Justice of "dancing to the tune of the tabloids", claiming that existing law worked well.

MPs approved the amendments without a vote before turning their attention to the government's plans to make squatting in residential properties a criminal offence.

Presenting the amendments, Mr Blunt said that following a consultation the government had decided "decisive action" was needed to show people the law would protect them if squatters occupied their property.

Acknowledging it was a controversial area of policy, the minister promised the reforms would be handled sensitively to tackle the root causes of homelessness. He added that the government was working to provide more affordable homes and bring empty homes back into use.

Shadow justice minister Andrew Slaughter said Labour supported the change but he feared that by it being added to the bill at such a late stage the government was trying to rush it through without proper scrutiny.

Conservative Mike Weatherley said it was a "good day for law-abiding citizens" but Green Party leader Caroline Lucas opposed the move, arguing that existing laws on squatting were sufficient.

The government's amendment was passed by 283 votes to 13, a majority of 270. However, MPs rejected Labour MP John McDonnell's amendment to allow squatters to occupy a building if it had been empty for six months or more and if there were no significant steps being taken to "refurbish, let or sell the building at the time of the trespass".

Watch part one of the Legal Aid Bill from day two.

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