Theresa May refuses to back bid to scrap Dickensian law that criminalises rough sleepers
Lib Dem Layla Moran has called for the 1824 Vagrancy Act to be repealed – but the Prime Minister refused to back it. Theresa May has refused to give her backing to a bid to scrap a Dickensian law that criticises homeless people sleeping rough.
Lib Dem MP Layla Moran has called for the “draconian” law to be scrapped, after it was used by local authorities more than 2,000 times last year. Most recently, Windsor council wanted to use it to ensure homeless people were “moved on” ahead of the Royal Wedding.
Conservative Simon Dudley said beggars could present the town in a “sadly unfavourable light” when Prince Harry marries American actress Meghan Markle in May. He drew criticism from figures including Prime Minister Theresa May after a letter to police earlier this month, in which he complained about “aggressive begging and intimidation”, and “bags and detritus” on the streets.
Speaking at Prime Minister’s Questions, Ms Moran said: “Under the 1824 Vagrancy Act, rough sleeping is illegal. “The Act was used more than 2,000 times last year to drag homeless people before the courts. Scotland and Northern Ireland have already repealed it. “So will the PM support my bill that consigns this heartless, Dickensian law the history books across the whole of the United Kingdom?”
But Mrs May refused to back her plan. She said: “What we are doing is recognising that we do need to take action in relation to rough sleeping.
“That’s why we’re putting more money into projects to reduce rough sleeping and indeed projects like Housing First, which are being put into place in a number of places in the country to ensure that we can provide for those who are rough sleeping. “None of us want to see rough sleeping on our streets, that’s why the government is taking action.”
The Vagrancy Act 1824 makes it an offence to sleep rough or beg.
It means anyone in England and Wales found to be homeless or begging can be arrested and hauled before the courts.
The law has faced criticism for almost the entire 194 years it’s been in force, with early critics including William Wilberforce, who condemned it for failing to consider the circumstances that caused a person’s homelessness.