The Manifesto Club Campaign Against Leafleting Bans has achieved significant protections for small groups and events, in new statutory guidance published today by Defra.
In our report, Leafleting – A liberty lost? we showed how large numbers of city centres were now leafleting zones, within which people needed to buy a council licence to hand out leaflets.
We supported Lib Dem peer Tim Clement-Jones’ private members bill for the deregulation of leafleting, which would have exempted small cultural and community events from the requirement to buy a licence.
Defra didn’t support the bill, but did recognise that there was a problem, and today has published new guidance for councils, introducing certain important protections for leafleteers.
These protections include :
- Councils are required to ‘Consider the cause of the problem’ before they restrict leafleting: ‘Your approach must be in proportion to the litter problem’. It is notable that many existing leafleting zones – including Leicester, Oxford – have no significant litter problem related to leaflets.
- The guidance says that councils should ‘Try to work with the community and set up a voluntary scheme before imposing restrictions.’ This means that simple agreements such as leafleting near bins, could remove the need for restrictive measures.
- It also suggests that councils introduce an exemption scheme for small-scale events: ‘You may want to treat leaflets promoting community or small-scale cultural or music events differently from leaflets that promote commercial or for-profit events as any restrictions can have a greater impact on small or voluntary groups.’
The guidance may not be perfect, but it does introduce significant restraints on councils bringing through leafleting licence zones. It also provides a point of appeal for cultural and community groups, who are worst affected by the requirement to buy a council licence in order to let fellow citizens know about their local event.
Many of the leafleting zones currently in existence could have been appealed on the basis of this guidance. This is a positive step, and will give a potential to challenge zones in the future, as well as to restrict the scope of zones currently in existence.