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Scrap the Act: Government defeated as Peers back repeal of Vagrancy Act

Martine Martin, Campaigns and Political Engagement Manager

Last night, we came closer than we ever have before to repealing the Vagrancy Act of 1824 – the outdated legislation that criminalises homelessness – with a late-night vote in the House of Lords.

The Act’s full title, ‘An Act for the Punishment of idle and disorderly Persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds’ tells the full story of its purpose and the attitudes of the time of its creation. Yet this outdated piece of legislation is still in force in England and Wales, despite being repealed in Scotland in the 1980s.

We know that criminalisation as the first response to rough sleeping and passive begging only pushes people away from the support they need and perpetuates the cycle of homelessness.

There are better options and ways of supporting people out of homelessness that don’t involve fining them or giving them a criminal record simply for having no place to go.

Working in coalition with St Mungo’s, Centrepoint, Shelter Cymru, Homeless Link, Cymorth Cymru, the Wallich and Liberty, with the support of many other organisations, we have been working to repeal the Vagrancy Act once and for all.

Over the last few months, we have been supporting a cross-party coalition of Peers, led by Lord Best, to amend the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to repeal the Act.

Crisis supporters have been getting in touch with Baroness Williams, the Peer in charge of the Bill in the Lords, asking her to support the amendments.

Despite this, the Government still refused to do the right thing and back repeal.

As a result, Peers voted 144 to 101 in favour of the amendments, defeating the Government in the final vote of a very late night.

So, what happens next?

Now that the House of Lords has taken this decisive measure to press the Government to get rid of the Vagrancy Act, the matter will return to the Commons.

There are several hurdles that still need to be to overcome, not least the potential for a game of parliamentary ping-pong to emerge, with the two Houses at odds over the details of the bill, including its amendments.

Fundamentally, it all comes down to what happens in the Commons, as the elected chamber has the ultimate say over what becomes law.

That means it’s over to Members of Parliament - from all sides of the House - to support these amendments and make this historic change happen.

I know many people have concerns about elements of the policing bill itself. We do too, and we will continue to make these concerns known along with other charities.

But this may be our best chance to repeal the Vagrancy Act and end the criminalisation of homelessness once and for all. That’s why we must take it.

We need everyone to tell MPs to make a stand and help us to get rid of this harmful and divisive legislation.

Email your MP now to tell them to pledge their support for repeal.

Email your MP

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