Member of Parliament for the Cities of London & Westminster Nickie Aiken has today led a Westminster Hall debate on the repeal and replacement of the 1824 Vagrancy Act.
A coalition of charities, local authorities and parliamentarians from all major parties have long been calling for the Act to be scrapped.
Introduced in the aftermath of the Napoleonic wars to deal with returning often wounded soldiers who fell on hard times, the Act makes it a criminal office to sleep on the streets in England and Wales. Under it, authorities can fine people up to £1,000 for rough sleeping or begging. Unfortunately, this has fuelled many rough sleepers mistrust of authority and deter a significant number from reaching out for help.
In opening the Debate Nickie expressed her desire to see the Act replaced. She said,
Rather than criminalising a rough sleeper, I truly believe that the better outcome for both the individual and for society is to address the reasons why they are on the street in the first place and provide the necessary help and support they obviously need.
Nickie received support for the debate from MPs across the House.
All of the speakers in the debate agreed that the Act should be scrapped.
At the end of the debate, Nickie received an encouraging response to her call for the Act to be replaced from the Minister for Housing and Rough Sleeping Eddie Hughes. During his remarks closing the debate, the Minister stated that the government was keen to conclude its ongoing review of the Vagrancy Act as soon as possible. He said,
I am now determined to take this work forward at pace.
It has been crucial to understand the full picture of why the Vagrancy Act is used and what impact any changes to the act will have.
We are currently finalising the conclusions of the review and will be announcing our position shortly.
Nickie is keen to ensure that whatever legislation replaces the 1824 Vagrancy Act focuses on providing rough sleepers with comprehensive wrap-around care, to help them turn their lives around.
You can watch Nickie’s speech, opening the Westminster Hall Debate above.