Layla Moran, Liberal Democrat MP for Oxford West and Abingdon, has presented a bill to parliament aiming to repeal the 1824 Vagrancy Act, which she has called “draconian”.
The Act makes it an offence to sleep rough or to beg and was used over 2,000 times by local authorities last year.
Speaking in Parliament on Wednesday, Moran said: “Scotland and Ireland have already repealed it.
“So will the Prime Minister support my bill that consigns this heartless, Dickensian law to the history book across the whole of the United Kingdom?”
Prime Minister May refused to back her plan. Instead, she stressed that “What we are doing is recognising that we do need to take action in relation to rough sleeping.
“That’s why we’re putting more money into projects to reduce rough sleeping and indeed projects like Housing First, which are being put into place in a number of places in the country to ensure that we can provide for those who are rough sleeping.
“None of us want to see rough sleeping on our streets, that’s why the government is taking action.”
In a video posted on her Twitter account, Moran said that Act “is totally out of step with modern society’s views.
“There’s other legislation if someone is being genuinely a nuisance – and actually … the whole thing about should we be criminalising homeless people is a dubious, dubious set of rules anyway.
“So I’m pleased to have started the first step in the legislative process to get something done.”
She also referred to a petition, started by the Oxford SU’s On Your Doorstep homelessness campaign, which appeals for an end to the Vagrancy Act.
At the time of writing the petition had 15,073 signatures, far surpassing the 10,000 needed for a response from the government.
It refers to the Act as a “barbaric, archaic law that criminalises the very existence of those homeless forced to take to the streets or beg for survival.”
The Vagrancy Act 1824 has faced criticism since its inception 194 years ago. An early critic was William Wilberforce, the English abolitionist, who condemned it for not considering the circumstances that lead people to homelessness.