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The Vagrancy Act and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill

Rosie Downes, Campaigns Manager

Together with Centrepoint, St Mungo’s, Liberty, Homeless Link, Shelter Cymru, Cymorth Cymru and the Wallich, we’ve been calling for the Vagrancy Act to be scrapped. We’ve been getting the message out that the Vagrancy Act does nothing to resolve the root causes of homelessness – in fact, it’s more likely to push someone further away from the vital services that help them to move away from the streets. 
In February 2021, Robert Jenrick MP, then the Secretary of State for Housing, told the House of Commons that the Act should be “consigned to history”. At a Westminster Hall debate in April, Homelessness Minister Eddie Hughes MP echoed this message, saying that the Act is “antiquated” and its “time has been and gone”. “We are currently finalising the conclusions of the review and will announce our position shortly”, Mr Hughes told MPs. But we still have yet to hear any concrete plans from Government as to how and when the Act will be scrapped. 
How could the Policing Bill help? 
We’re delighted that a cross-party group of peers in the House of Lords, supported by Crisis, are looking to repeal the Act by tabling an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. The Bill had its second reading in the House of Lords on Tuesday 14th September, when crossbench peer Lord Best set out his intention to put forward an amendment: 

“My Lords, this Bill presents your Lordships with an opportunity to right a long-standing wrong and introduce a modest legislative change that is long overdue: it is our chance to repeal the cruel and unnecessary Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes rough sleeping a criminal offence… Taking this opportunity to repeal the Vagrancy Act now will surely strengthen the Government’s rough sleeping strategy and their laudable target of eliminating rough sleeping by 2024. It is our good fortune that a legislative opportunity has now emerged, in the form of the Bill before us today, which can finally resolve this matter.”

Other peers also spoke in support of an amendment to repeal the Vagrancy Act. Labour peer Lord Falconer, Shadow Attorney General for England and Wales, said:

“This is a perfect opportunity to deal with the Vagrancy Act… which makes it a crime, in effect, to be street homeless. Are the Government, who have been broadly supportive of changes to the Vagrancy Act, willing to see it repealed?” 

Conservative peer Lord Young of Cookham said

“Given the statement by the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, repeal should not now be controversial, accompanied by amendments if necessary to give the police and others the powers they actually need to deal with vagrancy and aggressive behaviour. I hope that when she winds up, the Minister can say that an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, will have government support.”

The Lord Bishop of Manchester said: “I join other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, in urging that we take this opportunity to repeal the Vagrancy Act.” 
What happens next? 
An amendment to the Policing Bill which would repeal the Vagrancy Act will now be submitted to the Public Bill Office in advance of Committee Stage, where detailed examination of the Bill will take place, including consideration of amendments. After that, the Bill will move to report stage for further scrutiny before its third reading by the Lords. Then the Bill will go back to the House of Commons, where MPs will consider the amendments by the Lords. You can find out more about the passage of a Bill on the Parliament website.  
Many thanks to the peers who spoke in support of repeal of the Vagrancy Act at the Policing Bill’s second reading, and to everyone who’s supported our Scrap the Act campaign so far. Together, we can make sure people experiencing homelessness are helped, not pushed further from support. 

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