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Rishi Sunak faces revolt over new homelessness law: Report

PTI |
Apr 02, 2024 03:52 AM IST

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces a potential revolt from within his party ranks over new legislation that is set to criminalise homelessness.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak faces a potential revolt from within his party ranks over new legislation that is set to criminalise homelessness and hand police powers to crack down on rough sleepers on the country’s streets.

Britain's prime minister Rishi Sunak.(AFP)
Britain's prime minister Rishi Sunak.(AFP)

According to a report in ‘The Times’ on Monday, several Conservative Party MPs have warned that they will vote against the measures in the Criminal Justice Bill, which is currently going through the House of Commons and set to become law before a general election expected later this year.

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The proposals, which had been unveiled by former Indian-origin home secretary Suella Braverman, would mean rough sleepers in England and Wales could be fined as much as 2,500 Pounds or face prison terms.

“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. We are urging ministers to think again,” said Tory MP Bob Blackman, who is also joint secretary of the powerful Conservative backbench 1922 Committee.

Former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and former deputy prime minister Damian Green are among the other Tory MPs who have signed amendments that would remove the new police powers. Green said he supported Blackman’s amendment because it represented “a practical way forward to help people off the streets” rather than criminalising them.

“People are not homeless because they want to be. These plans are even worse than the vagrancy act that was first introduced after the Napoleonic wars that this is supposed to be replaced,” an unnamed Tory MP was quoted by the newspaper as saying.

The Criminal Justice Bill is designed to present the Conservatives as tough on crime as it prepares for a gruelling general election campaign, with the odds stacked against the governing party due to intense anti-incumbency sentiments.

The proposals within the legislation include expanding police powers to test suspects for drugs on arrest and enter premises to search for stolen goods such as mobile phones. It would also give probation officers the power to administer lie-detection tests to sex offenders and terrorists after their release from prison and also increase sentences for some offences.

However, ministers are concerned the bill will be overshadowed by controversies such as the homelessness debate.

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“That’s just part of the things we’re looking to do in terms of making sure that people don’t sleep on the streets and that’s not right, we want to provide the resources for people, housing, improving the number of refuges people can sleep in, and the amount of social housing and affordable housing, which we’ve done,” said UK Business Minister Kevin Hollinrake.

Polly Neate, chief executive of the homelessness charity Shelter, stressed that the legislation was unfair.

“Instead of punishing people for being homeless, politicians should be trying to prevent them from ending up on the streets. Everyone at risk of sleeping rough should have a right to suitable emergency accommodation, and to end homelessness for good it must invest in genuinely affordable social homes – we need 90,000 a year,” she said.

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