Skip to main content

Homelessness: Vagrancy Act 1824

Volume 831: debated on Monday 10 July 2023


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what further consideration they have given to using the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824 to end criminalisation of homelessness.

My Lords, the Government are clear that the Vagrancy Act is antiquated and not fit for purpose and that people should not be criminalised for simply having nowhere to live. When we committed to repeal the Act, we said that we would do so once suitable replacement legislation was brought forward. We set out our plans in the Anti-social Behaviour Action Plan to ensure that local authorities and the police have appropriate tools to keep people safe, and that vulnerable people can access health and services. LURB is a large Bill already. Vagrancy is a complex policy that requires careful consideration and scrutiny, and we will table legislation at the right opportunity.

My Lords, in March 2022, the Minister the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, who I am pleased to see in his place, committed to repealing the Vagrancy Act within 18 months. My noble friend Lady Kennedy of Cradley noted in May this year that this Act, which refers to the homeless as “idle and disorderly Persons” deemed to be

“Rogues and Vagabonds … committed to the House of Correction”

is still being used to criminalise 1,000 homeless people a year. A quick check on the College of Policing website shows over 15 pieces of legislation which give police and councils the powers they need to tackle anti-social behaviour and aggressive begging. Why will the Government not use the levelling-up Bill to confine the Vagrancy Act to history, where it belongs, before its 200th birthday?

My Lords, the Vagrancy Act, as I have said, is an outdated piece of legislation; I agree with the noble Baroness that it needs repealing. However, the House rules on admissibility of amendments are set out in the Companion; amendments we have consulted on that were related to repealing the vagrancy offences have not been considered admissible to the levelling-up Bill. We would not normally discuss the clerks’ advice in the Chamber, but I am sure that they will be very happy to discuss it in the usual way with her.

My Lords, an amendment was moved by the noble Lord, Lord Best, to the police and crime Bill to enable abolition to take place, and the consultation to see what, if anything, needed to be carried forward ended in May last year. Against all the commitments that have been given, are we really going to have the Vagrancy Act 1824 still on the statute book in 1924? Oh, I mean 2024.

My noble friend is right. We did consult when the Vagrancy Act was within DLUHC, and the Home Office is holding further discussions particularly with those stakeholders who are important in local authorities, such as the police. However, the anti-social behaviour plan, which was published last March, outlined further details of our plans to introduce new powers for local authorities and police to respond to begging and rough sleeping, coupling this with improved multiagency working between local partners so that vulnerable individuals receive the support they need. This is a complex issue, and further details will be set out in future legislation at the earliest possible parliamentary opportunity.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is rather disheartening to the way in which we operate when the correct processes are followed—an amendment is carried in this House by a large majority, it goes back to the House of Commons for a second thought, the House of Commons decides to support us, Parliament then passes legislation to repeal the Vagrancy Act—and then nothing happens?

As I have said, this is a really complex issue. We need to get this right and to be talking to people. The noble Lord is right that we have committed to repeal the Vagrancy Act as part of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. We have started the consultation, we are discussing with stakeholders but, as I have said, we will look for the proper place in legislation, and the proper piece of legislation is not LURB.

My Lords, I am happy to hear the formula about the right place and the right time. My experience of working with homeless people is that there is only one right time, and it is now. In view of the fact that so much has already happened in the recent past—so many exchanges, so many decisions—do the Government not feel that the right time and the right place is as near now as possible?

That is exactly what I have just said—the right time is now, and we are making our final consultations and will look for the right piece of legislation as soon as possible. My department will work very closely with the Home Office so that this new legislation ensures that vulnerable individuals are always directed to the most appropriate support. It is not just about getting rid of an old-fashioned law.

While we are at it, can we do something about no-fault evictions at the same time? They are driving people into homelessness on the streets—including my brother.

The noble Lord should know that we have the private renters’ Bill starting in the Commons shortly, which will include the repeal of Section 21.

My Lords, surely these consultations have gone on long enough. My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham got the date slightly wrong, but can my noble friend Lady Scott confirm that this will be well off the statute book by 2124?

My Lords, I am sure the House realises that I cannot possibly confirm that as I cannot pre-empt anything that might be in the King’s Speech.

My Lords, the Minister has mentioned a number of times that she will bring this forward in suitable legislation. She must have some legislation in mind. What is it?

My Lords, I never said that I would bring it forward—I said that the Government would. It is now in the hands of the Home Office, which is dealing with this.

My Lords, rough sleepers are just the thin end of the wedge, as the noble Baroness knows. Part of the long-term solution to homelessness must be to build many more homes for social rent and, in particular, to increase the public sector’s role in building them. Given the additional financial pressures there are on social housing providers, as we both know—not least the decent homes standard, net-zero homes, fire safety and increased construction costs—will the Government commit to a minimum 10-year rent deal for these landlords to allow a longer period of annual rent increases and long-term certainty so that they can plan to build more much-needed social homes?

The noble Baroness is absolutely right that we need more homes in this country—more affordable homes and more homes for social rent. That is why we are putting £11.5 billion into the affordable homes programme and, importantly, working with local authorities to ensure that they look at every possible way of using the £500 million we are giving them to keep people in their homes in the first place, rather than becoming homeless.

My noble friend said that this is incredibly complicated and that replacement legislation for the Vagrancy Act must be considered. Can she share with us what laws have to be replaced, as many noble Lords feel that it should be very simple to abolish it now?

I am not prepared to say what legislation might go. Part of this is not about what legislation goes but how much support we can give those individuals in trying to get them off the streets and into homes.

My Lords, in answering a number of questions, the noble Baroness has referred to stakeholders in the consultation. Who has a stake in retaining the Vagrancy Act?

Nobody has a stake in retaining it, but many organisations have a stake in what would replace it—the police, local authorities, the third sector, faith communities and all those people involved in not only changing the law but giving support to those very vulnerable people who may need our help.