My Lords, the Environmental Protection Act 1990 was amended in 2005 to enable local authorities to control litter from free literature. If a litter problem exists, authorities may introduce controls in designated areas to make it an offence to distribute material without consent. Exemptions exist for political, charitable or religious purposes. Defra has no plans to amend this legislation. Authorities should work with the community and local businesses to minimise litter problems before imposing restrictions.
My Lords, over a third of councils now restrict leafleting and some charge exorbitant amounts for a licence. The Minister will be aware that many local theatres and clubs have been very badly affected by these restrictions, with dramatic reductions in their audiences. Should this traditional civic freedom not be protected? Will the Government consider introducing a new exemption for cultural and creative activities, and not treat these leaflets as no more important than a crisp packet or burger wrapper?
I understand the noble Lord’s interest in seeking to preserve community arts and activities but I emphasise that this is a discretionary power that I would expect local authorities to apply in any way they wish, even within a particular zone. Local authorities can give their consent to any group or any event at any time.
My Lords, will the Minister accept that even in this age of social networking, as the evidence suggests, there is no substitute for person-to-person contact with the public that leafleting affords for neighbourhood arts and community events, and that the need to obtain a licence is simply too costly for many venues and small organisations, as well as being ludicrous red tape?
I cannot agree with the noble Earl. This is up to local communities to decide. They can determine the balance between propagandising events and social activities and their own interest in trying to prevent litter and, to some extent, being bothered by people handing out leaflets.
My Lords, has the Minister seen the increase of small posters advertising functions dotting our roadside, which many of us regard as litter, and has he had any consultations with the police as to the road safety aspects of these many small posters?
My Lords, while I imagine the House has sympathy with my noble friend’s overall answer, nevertheless, the last review was 2009. Since then a great deal has happened locally on the ground, and in some parts of the country there are substantial restrictions. Maybe the time is coming for another review.
I think my noble friend has to come to terms with the localism issue. In the end this is up to local authorities to determine. I believe in localism and local decision-making. Local communities elect their local authorities to take care of such matters. It is not for central government or Parliament to determine.
It might be stretching it just a little to call it a cultural and community event, but there was a very important event in south-west London yesterday and I know that all the litter has been cleared up since then. I wondered whether it would be appropriate for the Minister to take this opportunity to congratulate Andy Murray on a tremendous effort—an effort of which everyone in the United Kingdom, not just Scotland, should be really proud—and to wish him one better next time round.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware of the irony towards which he is leading us whereby local authorities will be castigated as being philistine because they intervene on cultural leaflets when recent archaeology demonstrates that the philistines were actually very civilised people?
I am pleased to say to my noble friend that I am having a meeting with Wrigley this afternoon. If I had had it last week, I could give my noble friend an answer to his question—none the less, I hope that he is reassured that this matter is under control and I will stick to the solution.