MP questions ‘out of sight, out of mind’ approach to Westminster’s homeless

By David Hughes, Press Association Political Editor

An MP has questioned whether the Commons is adopting an “out of sight, out of mind” approach to homelessness after rough sleepers were moved from outside an entrance to Parliament.

Layla Moran has written to the House of Commons Commission demanding answers about a decision to position a new gate at the entrance to Parliament from Westminster Underground station.

She claimed that “really bad publicity” following the death of a homeless man at the entrance could have contributed to the decision to clear the area.

In her letter to the Commons Commission and the Serjeant at Arms, the official in charge of security, Liberal Democrat MP Ms Moran said: “After a homeless man was found dead in the Westminster station on December 19 of last year, it concerns me that Parliament is acting in a seemingly harsh manner only months after this tragedy.”

She questioned what consideration was made of the impact on the homeless people who used the area as a shelter and whether the decision was made “based on the complaints of MPs”.

The Oxford West and Abingdon MP told the Press Association: “I suspect what they will say is it’s a question of security, but if that’s the case then why were they there for so long? What exactly has changed.”

Floral tributes left at Westminster station following the death of Gyula Remes in 2018 (Jasmine Cameron-Chileshe/PA)

She said the presence of homeless people at an entrance used by MPs should have served as a reminder to politicians about the need to tackle the problem.

“I hate to say this, but I think it was a useful reminder to everyone here when we saw them that we need to do more,” she said.

“I think it’s a real shame that they are there at all – because if they aren’t there, the reason should be that we have solved the problem, not because they have been moved out of sight, out of mind.”

A UK Parliament spokesman said: “We are in the process of transferring ownership of the area to Parliament and have installed a pass activated gate to better manage the area for those entering the estate.

“We continue to engage with partners on addressing the difficult issue of rough sleeping in and around the station constructively and sympathetically.”

Ms Moran’s intervention came as figures showed the number of rough sleepers on London’s streets had reached a record high, with Westminster the borough with the largest number.

Some 8,855 people slept rough in the capital between April 2018 and March 2019, according to data from the Combined Homelessness and Information Network (Chain), 2,512 of them in Westminster.

In December 2018, a 43-year-old known as Gyula Remes became the second homeless man that year to die near the entrance to Parliament used by passholders including MPs and peers.

Ms Moran is part of a campaign calling for the Government to scrap the Vagrancy Act, which makes rough sleeping and begging illegal in England and Wales.