Lord Clement-Jones asks the government if they will review restrictions on leafleting in public.
Up and down the country local authorities using powers granted by the Clean neighbourhoods and Environment act 2005 have been restricting leafleting for cultural events, including performances at comedy clubs, theatres, music venues art galleries and even village halls.
Under the 2005 Act, councils can designate areas within which people must buy a licence to hand out leaflets. Nearly a third of councils now restrict leafleting, and licences are prohibitively expensive - £350 for a Saturday in Basildon; £50 per person per day in Oldham and Rugby; £262 per distributor in Wolverhampton.
These rules have been catastrophic for local organisations which rely on leafleting to build an audience, but cannot afford such fees.
A flyer ban in Leicester Square caused the collapse of several comedy nights and a dramatic reduction of audiences. One Women’s Institute was threatened with a fine for handing out leaflets about their art exhibition. Oxford student societies and arts events have to pay £100 a month for leafleting. The leafleting licence system in Brighton caused the decline of smaller, more experimental music nights, who cannot afford the fee.
All the while of course professional leaflet companies can afford to carry on distributing literature.
The problem could be solved by an amendment to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, to allow exemption for cultural and community events. The Act already provides exemption for political and religious leafleting, or leafleting on behalf of a charity. A wider exemption would avoid the unnecessary penalisation of informal events that are so valuable to community life.
Leafleting is a key civic freedom, with a long tradition in this country going back at least to the late 17th century when the requirement for for printers to be licenced was lifted, and should not be restricted without very good reason.
Problems with litter should be dealt with through provision of litter bins and other common-sense measures not by placing restrictions on our civil rights. Leaflets advertising cultural events, an important expression of our community activity, should not be treated in the same way as a burger wrapper or crisp packet.
I am supporting the personal freedom campaigners the Manifesto Club in their campaign with an oral question in the Lords this Monday and I very much hope that the government will be sympathetic.