Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, is to call for the Dickensian Vagrancy Act to be scrapped in a debate on homelessness in the House of Commons tomorrow, highlighting new stats that show a majority of people think rough sleeping should not be criminalised.
The MP will say that “Even one person sleeping rough in this country in 2020 is a disgrace”, bringing the campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act back to Parliament following the General Election.
Moran introduced a Bill to repeal the law from 1824, which makes rough sleeping a criminal offence, in the last parliament, and will say tomorrow that her draft legislation “can be brought back in a heartbeat with this Government’s support.”
She will also highlight the “‘out of sight, out of mind mentality’” shown in the installation of a new gate close to MPs’ and peers’ private entrance to Westminster tube station, which “pushed the homeless people out of MPs’ and peers’ way”.
Layla Moran is expected to say as part of her remarks:
“Even one person sleeping rough in this country in 2020 is a disgrace. We need to be taking a more compassionate and holistic approach to tackling this crisis. And the Vagrancy Act, a Dickensian law from 1824 that criminalises rough sleeping, represents the first hurdle on that journey.
“According to a new survey commissioned by the charity Crisis, 71% of people think arresting people for sleeping rough is a waste of police time. Over half said that it shouldn’t be a crime at all – of course it shouldn’t!
“Mr Speaker, let’s make 2020 the year that we finally scrap the Vagrancy Act. If there was a sizeable amount of political will in this House to spend £500,000 to make Big Ben bong for Brexit, then I firmly believe that there must be the will to repeal this law and work harder to eliminate homelessness in all its forms.
“Mr Speaker, there’s another elephant in the room that needs to be addressed: last year, a new gate was installed at the top of the tunnel leading to our entrance to Parliament from Westminster underground station. It has pushed the homeless people out of MPs’ and peers’ way – this is an ‘out of sight, out of mind mentality’ that angers me.
“In 2018, a homeless man by the name of Gyula Remes died in the station. He was one of over 700 homeless people who died that year, and the second to die in the station that year alone. And how did we react? By building that gate. By shutting the problem out. Mr Speaker, this cannot go on. If we are criminalising rough sleeping, what does that say about us?
“So, Mr Speaker, let’s make scrapping the Vagrancy Act a reality this year. I know the Secretary of State is keen to make his mark, and I’d like to think we’re offering him a golden opportunity to do so.
“Will the Minister whose brief includes homelessness, the Rt Hon Member for Thornbury and Yate, meet with me and some colleagues from across this House to discuss what steps can be taken to make the Vagrancy Act truly a thing of the past? My Vagrancy (Repeal) Bill from the last Parliament can be brought back in a heartbeat with this Government’s support. My door is always open.”
- New statistics from Crisis show that a majority of people (71%) think arresting people for sleeping rough is a waste of police time, with over half stating rough sleeping should not be considered a crime at all. Their full media release is here.
- Layla’s Vagrancy (Repeal) Bill from the last parliament can be viewed here.
- The Opposition Day debate on homelessness will take place in the chamber of the House of Commons this afternoon.