Tory MP brands Government’s proposals to tackle homelessness as ‘laughable’
The Government is attempting to criminalise homelessness “via the back door” under proposed criminal justice reforms, a Conservative former minister has warned.
Tracey Crouch (pictured) also described some of the Governments proposals to tackle homelessness under the new Criminal Justice Bill as “laughable”.
Home Secretary James Cleverly told the Commons the Bill will replace the “outdated” Vagrancy Act from 1824, but added that begging would still be addressed.
During the Bill’s second reading, Ms Crouch said the clauses on “nuisance rough sleeping” should be removed and a holistic approach adopted.
The Bill originally included plans for a crackdown on the use of tents by homeless people, but these were shelved after the then-home secretary Suella Braverman described rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice”.
Speaking in the Commons, Ms Crouch (Chatham and Aylesford) said: “I did not work both as a minister and a backbencher on the repeal of the Vagrancy Act which criminalised rough sleeping, to only go and criminalise it again via a different piece of legislation.”
Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran (Oxford West and Abingdon) earlier expressed concerns that the Government’s new plans will not treat homelessness with “compassion”.
In response to this, Mr Cleverly said: “We have committed to scrapping the Vagrancy Act and nobody should or will be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live, which is why we are repealing the outdated Vagrancy Act from 1824. However, we do need to make sure that things like nuisance begging are addressed.”
Ms Crouch later said she understood there was an issue with aggressive begging but added: “There was always a view that there were other pieces of legislation such as the existing anti-social behaviour legislation that could cope with transferring that into.”
She told MPs that criminalising homelessness would only create more problems.
Ms Crouch said: “Rough sleepers require holistic support. They often have extremely complex needs including significant mental health needs.
“Visibility may be uncomfortable for many but it also enables support workers from the many brilliant charities and local authorities to reach out to them.
“Issuing prevention notices does nothing to solve the problem but pushes them further away from the solution. Sentencing them to prison creates nothing more than problems for the person but also the creaking prison estate.”
She added: “Some of these provisions, which by the way, I mean you know respectfully, are laughable, the idea that you can serve a prevention notice to a rough sleeper at their last known address in writing – I mean I’m not entirely sure why that’s even in there.”
Concluding her thoughts on the Bill’s approach to homelessness, Ms Crouch said: “Rough sleeping does not need to be criminalised, we got rid of it as part of the Vagrancy Act repeal, something that was supported by Government, and all we are doing is bringing it via the back door.
“So I will support the Bill on second reading because of the other measures, but I would strongly urge the Government to remove the clauses on nuisance rough sleeping from this Bill and if not I will certainly lend my name to an amendment to remove them from the Bill, which I hope I would get cross-party support.”
Fellow Conservative MP Dame Priti Patel noted that some rough sleepers have experienced trauma and need support.
The former home secretary added: “We need to invest time now across different Government departments and agencies to actually tackle this, rather than looking at this just within a Criminal Justice Bill.
“It’s right that the Government looks at the legislation that is required to prevent rough sleeping, but it’s also essential that the Government helps to bring in measures… to provide the right kind of help and support.”
Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2023, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) PA.