They have slammed the government as “duplicitous” for including a clause which would allow for the reintroduction of the Vagrancy Act.
The Act, which dates back to almost 200 years ago, made it a criminal offence for homeless people to sleep on the streets. It was punishable by a fine of up to £1,000 fine and the possibility of a criminal record – neither of which could do anything to help the person out of homelessness.
Earlier this year the House of Commons voted to abolish the Vagrancy Act. But now the government has introduced a clause in the new Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that could once again make rough sleeping a crime, say the Lib Dems.
The government claims that this is ‘placeholder text’ and it will be amended at the Committee stage of the Bill. However, it has not given assurances that rough sleepers will be protected from the return of this legislation.
Milton Keynes Liberal Democrat councillor Jenni Ferrans described the move as a “disgrace”.
She said: “Thousands of residents could find themselves sleeping rough this year because they can’t find somewhere they can afford to live. The Conservative government has not raised benefits in line with costs. Now the Conservatives want to criminalise them by bringing back the vagrancy act by the back door.”
Layla Moran, Lib Dem MP in Oxfordshire, is seeking urgent clarification from the government.
She said: “I am disgusted that this placeholder text seems to expose the true motivations of this duplicitous government. They promised over and over again to fully scrap the Vagrancy Act.
“The revelation that they intend to bring it back in different words is a betrayal... especially for the vulnerable people left out cold in the streets.
The Vagrancy Act was passed in the summer of 1824 and was originally intended to deal with injured ex-serviceman who had become homeless after the Napoleonic Wars and had to resort to begging.
It also aimed to punish “every person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or wagon”.