Rishi Sunak declines to rule out tents proposal as part of Criminal Justice Bill

The PM insisted Home Secretary Suella Braverman is focused on the public’s priorities when asked if he felt she was undermining him.

Dominic McGrath
Wednesday 08 November 2023 11:02 GMT
Rishi Sunak said people should not be criminalised for having nowhere to live but declined to rule out a restriction on tents for homeless people (PA)
Rishi Sunak said people should not be criminalised for having nowhere to live but declined to rule out a restriction on tents for homeless people (PA)

Rishi Sunak said people should not be criminalised for having nowhere to live but declined to rule out a restriction on tents for homeless people.

The Prime Minister also insisted Home Secretary Suella Braverman, whose comments on rough sleeping sometimes being a “lifestyle choice” have prompted strong criticism, is focused on the public’s priorities when asked if he felt she was undermining him.

Despite expectations that proposals from Ms Braverman to ban charities from handing out tents to the homeless might have been included in the King’s Speech on Tuesday, there was no mention of them.

Downing Street sources said they were still “undergoing scrutiny”.

On Wednesday, on a visit to a school in Lincolnshire, Mr Sunak was asked if there will be a restriction on tents involved in the Criminal Justice Bill.

He told reporters: “I don’t want anyone to have to sleep rough and I’m proud of the Government’s track record over the past few years in tackling that.”

He said police should have the power to deal with “intimidating or violent conduct”.

He said: “We said earlier in the year that we didn’t want anyone to be criminalised for not having somewhere to live and that’s why we were going to repeal something called the Vagrancy Act, which is an outdated piece of law from the 1800s, and at the same time as part of that plan we want to make sure that intimidating or violent conduct, that the police do have the powers to tackle that.”

Mr Sunak again refused to repeat Ms Braverman’s remarks and did not directly say he agreed with them.

Asked if he felt Ms Braverman was supporting or undermining him, the PM said: “What the Home Secretary and the Government is doing is focus on people’s priorities.”

He repeated the Government’s aims of cutting crime and tackling anti-social behaviour.

Earlier, Health Secretary Steve Barclay became the latest senior Conservative to distance himself from Ms Braverman’s comments.

Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho and Justice Secretary Alex Chalk have also distanced themselves.

Tory MP Natalie Elphicke and Conservative former minister Vicky Ford have made it clear that they disagree with Ms Braverman’s claim.

We have a party so devoid of leadership it is happy to follow a Home Secretary who describes homelessness as a lifestyle choice

Sir Keir Starmer

In a post on X, formerly Twitter, the Home Secretary said the UK should not become San Francisco or Los Angeles and warned against rough sleeping becoming a “lifestyle choice”.

Mr Barclay repeatedly declined on Wednesday to endorse the phrasing.

He told Sky News ministers were working to get rough sleeping down.

“There’s often complex issues behind this and what we’re determined to do from a health point of view is address those – is it mental health, is it addiction? What are the issues driving some of the people that are rough sleeping?”

Ms Braverman’s comments have been widely criticised, with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer taking aim at the Cabinet minister during the King’s Speech debate in the Commons on Tuesday.

“We have a party so devoid of leadership it is happy to follow a Home Secretary who describes homelessness as a lifestyle choice,” he told MPs.

Homeless charities have also expressed their outrage at Ms Braverman’s comments, with the Salvation Army saying: “Nobody in Britain should be living in a tent on our streets but penalising those that do will cause vulnerable people harm and make it even harder for them to move on from rough sleeping.”

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