Conservatives 'face backbench backlash' over 'heartless' plans to 'criminalise rough sleeping'

1 April 2024, 13:39

Homeless tents in Central London as reports state that government.ministers are facing a Tory revolt over proposed plans to criminalise rough sleeping
Homeless tents in Central London as reports state that government.ministers are facing a Tory revolt over proposed plans to criminalise rough sleeping. Picture: Alamy

By Kit Heren

The government is facing a revolt on the Conservative backbenches over a plan that would effectively criminalise rough sleeping.

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Some 40 Conservative MPs are opposed to proposals, contained in the Criminal Justice Bill, that would allow the police to fine or move on "nuisance" rough sleepers.

The plans have been paused, according to the Times, as ministers negotiate with critical MPs on the left and right of the party.

Conservative minister Kevin Hollinrake said that the government planned to increase the "resources so people can find a bed in a secure place".

He told LBC's Matthew Wright: "I don't think it is right that people do sleep on the streets, I don't think anybody thinks it's right.

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Business minister Kevin Hollinrake joins Matthew Wright

"So we've got to provide the places available so people can get off the streets. But given that, I don't think people should be on the street. They should be in those safe places."

Measures tabled by Tory MP Bob Blackman (Harrow East) would seek to ensure ministers fulfil their promise to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, the law which currently criminalises rough sleeping and begging.

The government promised to do so when it passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act in 2022, but only when it found a suitable replacement.

Measures in the Criminal Justice Bill aim to provide this replacement, but are thought to be too widely drawn by the Tory rebels.

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A second amendment from Mr Blackman aims to clarify when the police are able to use the new powers.

The amendment says police should be given guidance that "begging or sleeping rough does not in itself amount to unreasonable conduct", and insists officers "should balance protection of the community with sensitivity to the problems that cause people to engage in begging or sleeping rough".

The Bill was introduced to Parliament by Suella Braverman - who branded rough sleeping a "lifestyle choice" - when she was home secretary.

Opposition and homelessness campaigners opposed the plans and welcomed the move to pause them.

Homeless tents in Central London as reports state that government ministers are facing a Tory revolt over plans to criminalise rough sleeping. Credit: Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News
Homeless tents in Central London as reports state that government ministers are facing a Tory revolt over plans to criminalise rough sleeping. Credit: Vuk Valcic/Alamy Live News. Picture: Alamy

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP who spearheaded the cross-party campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act, said: "The heartless proposals in the Criminal Justice Bill risk bringing back the Vagrancy Act by the back door.

"The Government should listen to their own backbenchers and take a compassionate approach to tackling homelessness, instead of stigmatising and criminalising rough sleepers.

"Sleeping rough is not a lifestyle choice. Ministers should focus on tackling the root causes of this crisis, not scapegoating the victims of it."

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Matt Downie, chief executive of Crisis, the national homelessness charity, urged Home Secretary James Cleverly to "drop these cruel and unnecessary measures and focus on the real solutions" including building more social housing.

He said: "It should never have been Government policy to criminalise rough sleeping, so we would be thrilled to see the back of these deeply-damaging proposals that will do nothing to support people away from the streets.

"Through our frontline services we see the brutality rough sleeping inflicts on people's lives. With more and more people being pushed to the brink from the increased cost of living, we need a compassionate approach, not one that threatens people with fines or imprisonment."

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