Today marks a huge victory for the campaign to repeal the Vagrancy Act.
The Government has bowed to cross-party pressure and tabled an amendment to the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 in full. After years of campaigning, I am elated that we have finally consigned this archaic and cruel law to history. It has been a long time coming.
In 2018 a group of students from the Oxford University Student Union and Oxford-based homelessness group On Your Doorstep approached me with a petition to end the criminalisation of rough sleeping.
I was shocked to learn that the police had powers to arrest, prosecute, and otherwise harass any homeless person found begging in public. Like the students who approached me, I was outraged that those in extremely vulnerable circumstances were treated in such a Dickensian manner. I raised the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions – the first time it had been mentioned in Parliament since 1991.
Over the last few years, I continued to put pressure on the Government whenever I could. I led a debate in parliament on the Vagrancy Act, led another on rough sleeping, and late last year I, along with Tracey Crouch MP, led a letter to the prime minister calling for the Vagrancy Act to be repealed. This helped elicit a commitment from him, announced at prime minister’s questions, that the government wanted to ‘look again’ at the legislation.
In January, Liberal Democrats joined a cross-party effort in the House of Lords which defeated the government to add a clause to the policing bill repealing the Vagrancy Act. And today the government have progressed the campaign further by laying their own amendment to the bill in the House of Commons.