UK Government refuses to accept Lords attempts to repeal Vagrancy Act
The UK Government has refused to back a cross-party effort in the House of Lords to decriminalise homelessness, by not accepting amendments that would repeal the Vagrancy Act.
The Act, which came into law in 1824, criminalises rough sleeping and begging. Already repealed in Scotland, the legislation is still continually used across England and Wales to criminalise people for rough sleeping or begging. Anyone prosecuted under the act faces a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record.
Repeal of the Act was not included in the Queen’s Speech in May, despite support from across parties and from then housing secretary Robert Jenrick, who told the House of Commons in February that the act was “antiquated legislation, whose time has been and gone”.
Through its ‘Scrap the Act’ campaign, homelessness charity Crisis has been calling for the Act to be repealed so that people experiencing homelessness are supported rather than criminalised for having nowhere to go, other than the streets.
But despite the Prime Minister recently recognising the need to “reconsider” the archaic Vagrancy Act in Prime Minister’s Questions, the government has not accepted amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill which would have ensured that the nearly 200-years-old legislation would be consigned to the history books.
Matt Downie, director of policy and external affairs at Crisis, said: “It is very disappointing that the UK government has missed this perfect opportunity to decriminalise homelessness and destitution.
“As the Prime Minister himself has said, no one should be criminalised for being homeless. The policing bill represents the best possible chance to consign this appalling law to history. Outdated and counterproductive, the Vagrancy Act only drives people further away from support.
“The government still has the chance to do the right thing and back Lord Best’s amendments at Report Stage. We urge ministers and Peers across the House of Lords to take this precious opportunity to right a 200-year-old wrong.”
Lord Best, who tabled the amendments, said: “My amendments to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill have received warm support from all parties, so it is disappointing that the Government did not feel able to support them at Committee Stage. All evidence suggests that supporting people out of homelessness is far more effective than criminalising them, and I believe there is an overall recognition that the Vagrancy Act is not an effective or necessary piece of legislation. It would seem right to ask the House of Lords to pass this amendment at the Bill’s Report Stage and send the issue back to the House of Commons.”
Bob Blackman MP, co-chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Ending Homelessness, said: “By enacting this long overdue repeal through the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, there is no additional cost to the government in time or public money. There has never been a better opportunity before the House to put an end to this divisive and outdated piece of legislation once and for all, whilst also ensuring that the police have the tools they need to tackle antisocial behaviour and aggressive begging. I urge Peers to support these important amendments at the Bill’s Report Stage.”