Nickie Aiken, Member of Parliament for the Cities of London & Westminster, welcomes the historic vote in the House of Commons to scrap the 1824 Vagrancy Act, sending a clear message to those sleeping on the street that we will help and support them to turn their lives around. Rough sleepers will no longer be criminalised.
For more than a decade, Nickie has campaigned to improve services and resources for rough sleepers. She is hugely grateful to Crisis, St Mungo's, The Passage Charity, Robert Jenrick, Bob Blackman and her colleagues in the One Nation Conservatives for their tireless work to get this far, and to Kit Malthouse MP, Minister for Crime and Policing, for bringing this Amendment forward in the House of Commons
This is a victory for common sense and means rough sleepers will no longer be criminalised. It is about helping people to turn their lives around.
In the Chamber, Nickie said,
"In the time given, I wish to speak on Government amendments (a) and (b) to the Bill in lieu of Lords amendments 89 and 146. Of course, I am speaking about the amendment to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, which brings us a massive step closer to ending rough sleeping and would drastically change how we view and help those on the streets.
"For almost 200 years, the criminalisation of the homeless has shamed our country, but at long last the Vagrancy Act’s days are numbered. I thank the Minister for his constructive discussions with me, and my right hon. Friend the Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick) for being beside me, both when he was on the Front Bench and now on the Back Benches, fighting for the repeal of the Vagrancy Act.
"I know there has been some concern in our discussions about the Vagrancy Act’s disappearing and our inability to deal with aggressive begging. I want to make the point that there are powers in place today in the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 which are now used by the police in the majority of cases against aggressive begging. It should be no surprise, therefore, that arrests and prosecutions under the Vagrancy Act have plummeted since 2014. From the conversations I have had with the Met and the City of London Police, I believe alternative powers to deal with aggressive begging are already available.
"I am a pragmatist, so I accept the Government’s position of seeking a thorough and comprehensive review, but I ask the Minister to ensure that that is done quickly and concisely; up to 18 months is a very long time, so I ask him to please bring it forward. I hope that during the review he and the Home Secretary might consider revising the specific guidance on aggressive begging under the 2014 Act. I would welcome his response on that.
"Finally, in my constituency of the Cities of London and Westminster we have the largest number of rough sleepers in the United Kingdom. I hope that the repeal of the Vagrancy Act will send a clear message to those sleeping on the street, tonight and every night that we will help and support them to turn their lives around and we will no longer criminalise them."