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People should not be arrested ‘just if they smell’ – Cabinet minister

02 Apr 2024 4 minute read
Police officer talking with a homeless man in Victoria, London. Image: Nicholas.T.Ansell/PA Wire

People should not be arrested for smelling bad, a Cabinet minister has said amid a growing backbench rebellion against plans that could “criminalise homelessness”.

More than 40 Conservative MPs are expected to rebel against parts of the Criminal Justice Bill, which would allow the police to fine “nuisance” rough sleepers.

Critics say the Bill is drafted so widely it could result in people being arrested or fined for having an “excessive odour”, or merely appearing as if they intended to sleep rough.

“Protecting the public”

On Tuesday morning, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said she would support Government policy but told Sky News that people “should not be arrested just if they smell”.

She added: “I haven’t looked at that detail of it, but I guess the word is ‘excessive’, and I don’t know what they mean by that.”

Downing Street said the Prime Minister agreed with Ms Keegan, adding that the “focus” of the new legislation was on replacing a Vagrancy Act that “criminalises people for being homeless” while also protecting the public from “harassment and intimidation”.

A Number 10 spokeswoman said police would receive “guidance” on using the powers contained in the Criminal Justice Bill.

According to the Times newspaper, senior Government sources have said the Bill has been “paused” while ministers negotiate with MPs from both the left and right of the Conservative Party concerned about the plans.

Amendments

Conservative former ministers Sir Iain Duncan Smith and Damian Green are among 10 Tories who have signed a series of amendments to the Bill aimed at countering the drive to criminalise rough sleeping.

Measures tabled by Tory MP Bob Blackman would seek to ensure ministers fulfil their promise to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824, the law which currently criminalises rough sleeping and begging.

The Government promised to do so when it passed the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act in 2022, but only when it found a suitable replacement.

Measures in the Criminal Justice Bill aim to provide this replacement, but are thought to be too widely drawn by the Tory rebels.

“Lifestyle choice” – Braverman

Mr Blackman told the Times newspaper he and his colleagues were urging the Government to think again.

“A lot of colleagues believe that the Bill as it stands is completely unacceptable because it would have the effect of criminalising people who have no choice but to sleep on the streets,” he added.

A second amendment from Mr Blackman aims to clarify when the police are able to use the new powers.

The amendment says police should be given guidance that “begging or sleeping rough does not in itself amount to unreasonable conduct”, and insists officers “should balance protection of the community with sensitivity to the problems that cause people to engage in begging or sleeping rough”.

The Bill was introduced to Parliament by Suella Braverman – who branded rough sleeping a “lifestyle choice” – when she was home secretary.

“Hardship”

Ms Keegan said she disagreed with the description of rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice”, saying: “Normally, people have had a lot of hardship before they get to that point.”

She said the Government needed to strike a balance between supporting rough sleepers into accommodation and employment, and ensuring members of the public were protected from “aggressive” begging or other “nuisance”.

Liberal Democrat MP Layla Moran, who spearheaded the cross-party campaign to scrap the Vagrancy Act, said the current proposals “risk bringing back the Vagrancy Act by the back door”.

She said: “The Government should listen to their own backbenchers and take a compassionate approach to tackling homelessness, instead of stigmatising and criminalising rough sleepers.”


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Linda Jones
Linda Jones
7 days ago

Its criminal for people to be deprived of a home. Nothing works without one. I suggest the politicians who allowed this to happen should be arrested not the victims of their neo con maladministration.

Jane
Jane
7 days ago
Reply to  Linda Jones

Goverment/ police Society all gone loopy

Y Cymro
Y Cymro
7 days ago

To be homeless, poor or unemployed now is a criminal offence it seems. The out of touch Tories omit the reasons why someone is homeless , which there are a number of factors, be it sexual, physical or mental abuse, addiction , financial woes ect. Oh but let’s think simplistic as most right wingers do by treating those at their lowest ebb like rubbish to be swept away into the gutter. Society mirrors its people and what I see reflected back isn’t pretty. This shambolic government is in its deaththrows and should be put out of its misery. The sooner… Read more »

Richard Davies
Richard Davies
7 days ago

The tories seem to be intent on turning everything possible into a criminal act and who knows what could be next; leaving your house during curfew; breathing without a licence?

Rhufawn Jones
Rhufawn Jones
7 days ago

Whereas the Tories don’t just smell. They absolutely stink.

Dai Ponty
Dai Ponty
7 days ago

They the Tories have come up with daft ideas but this is one of their more stupid ideas arresting them and sending them to prison when prisons are full or fine them TWO AND A HALF THOUSAND POUNDS if they had that sort of money they would not be sleeping on the street the tories are really sick B

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