Baroness Taylor of Stevenage has urged the government to repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act.

During a debate in the House of Lords on Monday, September 18, Baroness Taylor proposed an amendment to the Levelling Up and Regeneration Bill that would force ministers to produce an assessment of the impact on levelling up of the enforcement measures in the Vagrancy Act.

The former leader of Stevenage Borough Council argued that legislation already exists to give police and councils the powers they need to tackle anti-social behaviour and aggressive begging.

She said: “Fundamentally, this is a levelling-up Bill, and the treatment of vagrancy in our communities is a levelling-up issue.

“It is an issue that should not be the subject of legislation made nearly 200 years ago when the world, its values and our country were very different places.”

She added: “We hope that this will concentrate the Government’s mind on ensuring that street homeless people in Great Britain in 2023 will be treated with compassion and given the help they need to tackle the underlying issues that have led to their homelessness, and not confined to the punishment regime of an Act which has no place in modern Britain.”

Peers backed the amendment by 177 votes to 152, setting the stage for a prolonged tussle between the Lords and the Commons - known as parliamentary ping-pong - where draft legislation is batted between the two Houses until agreement is reached.

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The government has previously committed to repealing the Vagrancy Act - which will be 200 years old next year - but it remains on the statute book and critics are concerned at the lack of progress in confining it to history.

The Act's preamble says that it is: "For the Punishment of idle and disorderly Persons, and Rogues and Vagabonds, in England."

Since the government committed to repealing the Act, more than 1,000 homeless people have been arrested for offences committed under it.

Responding to Baroness Taylor for the government, Home Office minister Lord Sharpe of Epsom said: “The Vagrancy Act is antiquated and not fit for purpose.

“I am happy to reassure members that we will repeal the Vagrancy Act at the earliest opportunity, once suitable replacement legislation has been brought forward.

“Given that we remain committed to repealing the Vagrancy Act, there is little value in carrying out an assessment of the kind described in the amendment.”