21 Apr 2012

Control of Distribution of Free Literature on Designated Land: Brent Council's Dangerous Nonsense


Brent Council is currently considering the following proposal, to be debated at the Executive on Monday 23 April. The title of the proposal should ring alarm bells, and already has elsewhere, notably on my colleague, Martin Francis' blog, here and here. You couldn't make it up and I'm trying to work out whether the proposal is ill-motivated (ie. money-grabbing fees schedule even to apply for a licence to leaflet) or cack-handed or both.

One thing is absolutely sure, this is a nonsense proposal, and dangerous nonsense at that, which would seek to curtail the free exercise of speech and shift the presumption of its enjoyment by citizens to have the Council vet it instead, for a fee and after expenditure of effort on the part of the potential leafleter.

Martin's correspondence with the Council has focussed on the important question of what forms of literature would be exempt from the requirement for a licenced approval in the designated areas of Brent in question. Section 3.4 of the proposal states:

"These powers do not apply to materials promoting charities, for religious purposes or for political purposes." (Control of distribution of literature on Designated Land, 3.4)

Does "political purposes" extend to political campaigns that do not have any formal party political affiliation to speak of? The current reply of the Council spokesperson is that the exemption would apply to political campaigns of a non-party political sort.

However, this clarification, welcome though it might be, is hardly cause for finding confidence in the remainder of the proposal. The Council pretext that special restrictions may be required to control litter in the run up to the Olympic Games hardly explains the reach of the restrictions, either in terms of:

1. The neighbourhoods that would be affected include Harlesden, Willesden, Cricklewood and Kilburn, nowhere near the Wembley Stadium Protective parking zone (in so far as proximity could be a criterion).

2. The expiry date of these proposals is not carried.

3. The negative impact upon local businesses who might otherwise have leafleted, through lack of a licence or penalty for not soliciting approval, is disproportionate to the harm supposedly mitigated, that of litter.

To the contrary, this proposal leaves one feeling incredulous that a Council could be both so incompetent and ill-motivated. I guess the answer to my earlier question was both all along.

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