Rough sleepers ‘should not be arrested just if they smell’, says UK minister

Rough sleepers should not be arrested if they smell, a cabinet minister has said, as she apparently joined a growing rebellion by Conservative MPs against plans to criminalise homelessness.

Police in England and Wales are to be given powers to fine or move on rough sleepers deemed to be causing a “nuisance” under proposals that form part of the UK government’s flagship crime bill.

The bill defines “something that is a nuisance” in relation to a person who “causes or does something capable of causing damage”. A section of the criminal justice bill defines that damage as including “excessive noise, smells”.

Asked on Tuesday about the legislation, the education secretary, Gillian Keegan, said she would support government policy but told Sky News: “No, people should not be arrested just if they smell but of course what we will be doing is considering any legislation.”

Gillian Keegan being interviewed by Kay Burley (left) on Sky News. Photograph: Sky News

Keegan also disagreed with the view of Suella Braverman, who had described rough sleeping as a “lifestyle choice” when she was the home secretary overseeing the formulation of the legislation.

“However, it is still not acceptable if people are threatening … there was some talk of aggressively begging near to cashpoints etc, so you do have to get the balance and the line right.”

Asked by Sky’s Kay Burley why the detail about smelling was in the bill, she responded: “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.”

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. Rough sleepers could be moved on, fined up to £2,500 or imprisoned.

Bob Blackman, the Tory MP who is coordinating the rebellion, told the Times: “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.”

On Monday, Kevin Hollinrake, a business minister, refused to say whether he supported the plans.

“I believe that those things are not within my auspices,” he told Times Radio. “I’ll be interested to see the legislation as it goes through. And what the prime minister has planned.”

The Guardian

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