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Campaigners and dissident Tory MPs unite to condemn government attack on homeless people

DISSIDENT Tory MPs and homelessness campaigners united today to condemn government plans for a draconian new law against rough sleeping.

In a sordid squabble over how smelly is too smelly, ministers struggled to defend sections of the Criminal Justice Bill that would empower the police to fine homeless people who are a “nuisance.”

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan conceded that people “should not be arrested just if they smell,” admitting that she did not know what the Bill meant by “excessive” odour.

Backbench Conservative MP Bob Blackman urged the government to reconsider the legislation, originally prepared by far-right former home secretary Suella Braverman. She claimed that rough sleeping was a “lifestyle choice.”

“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,” he said.

Amendments tabled by Mr Blackman stress that “begging or sleeping rough does not in itself amount to unreasonable conduct” and that officers “should balance protection of the community with sensitivity to the problems that cause people to engage in begging or sleeping rough.”

They would also decriminalise rough sleeping after 200 years, repealing laws imposed on the poor after the Napoleonic wars.

Fellow Tory MP Nickie Aiken said that “it’s ridiculous to think we should criminalise rough sleepers. How are they going to pay their £2,500 fine?

“They need proper services addressing the reasons why they are on the street, not a criminal record.”

Former ministers Iain Duncan-Smith and Damian Green are among those asking the government to reconsider the legislation and are understood to be working with Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Homeless charity Shelter said: “Parliament must not enact this legislation.

“Instead of punishing people for being homeless, politicians should be trying to prevent them from ending up on the streets.”

And Matt Downie, chief executive of homelesssnes charity Crisis, urged Home Secretary James Cleverly to “drop these cruel and unnecessary measures and focus on the real solutions,” including the construction of more social housing.

He said: “Through our front-line services, we see the brutality rough sleeping inflicts on people’s lives.

“With more and more people being pushed to the brink from the increased cost of living, we need a compassionate approach, not one that threatens people with fines or imprisonment.”

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