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House of Lords

Friday, 5 July 2013.

10 am

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.

Extension of Franchise (House of Lords) Bill [HL]

Second Reading

10.06 am

Moved By Lord Dubs

That the Bill be read a second time.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, this is not a new issue. It has been going for several hundred years. But what surprises me—perhaps it should not—is how many members of the public are not aware that we cannot vote in general elections. They say, “I am surprised, I thought you could vote”. I know that the public are not generally excited by this issue and there are no demonstrations in Parliament Square supporting my Bill—or even opposing it. Nevertheless, it is a matter of some importance.

Many eminent people in history have argued that Members of this House should be able to vote in parliamentary elections. I will take just one: Benjamin Disraeli. In 1868, during the debate on the Electoral Petitions and Corrupt Practices at Elections Bill, the Hansard record—which was not verbatim at the time—said:

“The Members of that House were now taxed by the Votes of the House of Commons, and therefore he could not understand why a Peer of the Realm should not have a right of voting for Members of Parliament and taking part just as another individual in the general business of a free country like this, with the view of protecting his property and guarding his own interests”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/07/1868; col. 1383.]

Perhaps there is not much more to be said. I am indebted to the House of Lords Library for its note on this issue, which saved me hours of research.

Let me say at the outset that this measure has nothing at all to do with Lords reform as we normally speak of it. It is an entirely separate matter and it is quite wrong to link the two. It is a single issue and does not represent the beginning of a slippery slope. I can assure your Lordships of that and I made sure that in the Long Title of the Bill that is the case.

Over my years in this House, I have often heard three arguments against change. One is, “We have always done it this way so why alter it? It has been good enough for the past 150 years so why change it?”. Secondly, there is the argument that this is the thin end of the wedge and dreadful things will inevitably follow if we take such a dangerous step. The third argument is that we should not make haste on an important issue. Of course, I reject all these arguments and I think that most of your Lordships will do so as well.

During the debates in October 2011 on the Steel Bill, one Member of this House—he is present today but I shall spare his blushes—urged caution in moving

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too quickly on a very important matter. I realise that 1868 is only yesterday but even so, we can be too cautious when it comes to change.

After talking informally to Members of this House, the argument against being able to vote at parliamentary elections appears to be that we are in such a privileged position in being able to amend and influence legislation that we have no need to vote at general elections. I find this a very strange argument. We are the only second Chamber in the world whose Members are not entitled to vote in elections for the first Chamber. About 190 countries have a second Chamber, according to the records. Even in Washington there is no problem: members of the Senate have the right to vote and it has caused no problems whatever.

In any case, logic ought to play some part in this. We try to argue logically. We can vote in local elections, in European elections and indeed in referenda. Surely it is only sensible and logical that we should be allowed to vote in parliamentary elections.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: Is my noble friend aware that we are also able to vote in elections to the Scottish Parliament if we reside in Scotland?

Lord Dubs: I thank my noble friend for that very helpful intervention.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: And referendums.

Lord Dubs: I have said we can vote in referenda. Indeed, of course, Members of the House of Commons are entitled to vote in parliamentary elections. Furthermore, the prohibition on voting in parliamentary elections does not even apply to all Members of this House—I think we all know who I am talking about. The Lords spiritual have the right to vote, though they sometimes do not avail themselves of it. It would not be compulsory to vote; all I am saying is that we should be on the same basis as the Lords spiritual. The present position lacks logic and is unsustainable.

I have heard a further argument against the change, which has been used in previous debates, that legislation concerning the House of Lords should not be introduced in small packages; in other words, do not change anything until you can change everything. Until recently that was the position of the Deputy Prime Minister but I think he has moved away from that. It is absurd to say that we can only change everything—a sort of big bang theory. In practice, and we know this, it is usually better to argue for changes on an incremental basis rather than adopt an all or nothing approach. In any case, the only change I am suggesting is a vote. I repeat that this is not linked to any other suggestions about reform of the House of Lords.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: Is my noble friend not missing the main argument, that it is easy to distinguish the Scottish Parliament, local elections and so on because we in the House of Lords have no say in those, whereas we do have a say in this House in national decisions?

Lord Dubs: Of course, that would also apply to the Commons but the point is surely this: it is not a matter of influencing legislation, which we do and are very

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privileged to be able to do, but of being able to have some small voice in deciding who will be the next Government of this country.

Baroness O'Cathain: Surely the point the noble Lord made earlier about this not being the beginning of the slippery slope is counteracted by his other statement that it should be incremental, bit by bit. So is it a slippery slope or is it incremental?

Lord Dubs: I understand what the noble Baroness is saying, but my point is not illogical. People have argued in this House that we should not make this change without changing a lot of other things. I have argued that that is not right; I have argued that we need to change only this one thing in order to achieve the aim that I am talking about. I should repeat that this proposal is not linked to any other reforms of the House. A single change should not be conditional on changing everything else.

I admit that I feel emotional about the issue; perhaps that is an unusual sentiment to express here. To me, the right to vote is an enormous privilege, but it is also a crucial aspect of democracy. People have died for the right to vote in our history—the Suffragettes. This is not on a level with the right to vote for women, but it is still a point of principle.

In most general elections, I have campaigned actively in a number of constituencies. It is quite frustrating that, having spent my days knocking on doors and trying to get Labour colleagues elected to the House of Commons, when it comes to vote, I cannot take part. Sometimes, if the general election coincides with local elections, I can get one ballot paper but not the other.

Lord Cormack: Was the noble Lord not aware of this when he accepted his peerage?

Lord Dubs: Yes, my Lords, I was aware of it, but one has to arrive at a balance. Should I have said, “No, I am not prepared to accept the privilege of being here because I cannot vote in general elections”? My feeling is that it is better to get here and try to achieve the changes by using the arguments. I think that that applies to many of us. Even the noble Lord, I am sure, is not ecstatically happy about every aspect of our procedures here, but that did not stop him coming here and he is a very welcome Member of this House, even though I occasionally disagree with him.

Lord Davies of Oldham: How solicitous does my noble friend think returning officers and clerks in polling stations are about enforcing this position? Every time I have gone to vote in a local election that has coincided with a parliamentary vote, the returning officer has seemed oblivious to the fact and I have had to tell them, “Please don’t give me a vote for the parliamentary election because it is illegal”.

Lord Dubs: Well, I think that there is something in that, but, in the course of history, Members of this House have voted in general elections and that vote has been challenged.

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Lord Hughes of Woodside: The other side of the story is that when I go to vote in local elections that are on the same day as a parliamentary election, I am frequently told that I cannot vote in either.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I did not realise that a debate about a simple matter was going to be quite so wide, but I welcome the contributions that have been made. No, it is not easy for returning officers. Sometimes, when we fill in our form to register to vote, it is not easy to indicate that one is a Member of this House and therefore one is limited. One can indicate that one is from a Commonwealth country, from Ireland or whatever it is, and one’s age, but one cannot indicate that one is a Member of this House. When I have been to vote either they have known somehow, or I have not tried to cheat the system, so I felt that the best way is to change the law rather than to put myself on the wrong side of it.

The issue is very simple, and I do not want to take up more time. Of course, it is an enormous privilege to serve in this House and to influence legislation—that is why I was very honoured when I became a Member of this House—but I still find it sad not to be able to influence, just in a small way, who will be our Government after the election. I believe that the change that I am arguing for is inevitable in the longer term, but I would like to see it happen now. I put this Bill forward not as an idle gesture or a bit of political rhetoric; I put it forward because I seriously believe that it has a chance of becoming law. Of course, there will be difficulties in the Commons about getting this Bill through, but I shall do some lobbying there if this House passes it. I believe that it has a chance of becoming law and I beg to move.

10.17 am

Lord Shutt of Greetland: My Lords, I support the Bill. I do so with just a degree of reluctance. Reference has been made already to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Truro, who spoke so clearly at Prayers. I listened, as I always do, and he said to us, “Laying aside all private interests, prejudices and partial affections”. I have to say, I have a partial affection for voting.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I do not want to overegg this pudding, but there are three features to this issue. First, there have been 10 general elections that I have been able to vote in, between 1964 and 1997, and I voted in them all—I voted for myself in half of them. There have been three general elections since then that I have not been able to vote in. Many of us in this House get thoroughly involved in elections. In our campaigning, we come across many people who say that they will not waste their time by voting because it does no good—all that sort of thing. It really goes against the grain that those folk have this precious vote and will not use it but we are denied that opportunity.

Secondly, I could have seen the point 102 years ago that perhaps we should not have the vote. But, of course, before 1911, the House had the full panoply of powers. Therefore, it could have been argued that, if you were in Parliament, you should not have a vote because you were there of right. But then in 1911,

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those who served before us were stopped and we have continued not having influence on money Bills—and we know how cross people in this House get when they cannot take part in debates on money Bills. Therefore, the very serious point is that we should be able to influence those who are able to take part in money Bills, which we are not able so to do.

Thirdly and finally, if this Bill were passed, there would be a good dividend, because I think that the 739 Peers who would get the vote in addition to the Bishops would use it. Therefore, the Bill would be well worth passing and I thoroughly support it.

10.20 am

Lord Wills: My Lords, I admire my noble friend Lord Dubs for many reasons, and one of them is his persistence in bringing this issue to your Lordships’ House. I also congratulate him on the pithiness of the drafting of the Bill. Successive Governments could have learnt a lot from him on that.

I am sympathetic to the democratic instincts that lie behind the Bill—so well articulated by my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt. I understand the frustrations that they both feel, after lifetimes of distinguished campaigning, that they now cannot use their votes in parliamentary elections. The Government’s defence of the current position does not seem to be coherent, as articulated by the Deputy Prime Minister in his letter to Hywel Francis of 25 January 2011. He states that there is no case for the Lords to elect representatives as they are able to sit in Parliament any way. If that is a coherent argument, it is not clear to me why it does not apply equally to Members of the other place because, in the Deputy Prime Minister's words, they too “sit in Parliament anyway”. As the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, said, the argument about money Bills is archaic now. The Deputy Prime Minister’s words suggest an after-the-fact justification of an archaic provision which has little place in a modern democracy.

Your Lordships’ House, unreformed as it remains, also has, in my view, no place in a modern democracy. It is for that reason that, with considerable regret, I feel unable to support my noble friend’s Bill at this time. It seems to me that this is the wrong time to bring forward such a measure when there are so many more compelling reforms that still need to be made to your Lordships’ House. Some, including me, still want to see the membership of your Lordships’ House determined by election, but I recognise that I am in a minority in this place on that issue. However, there is far more widespread support in your Lordships’ House for reforms which fall short of election but which are still important and urgently needed. I think that most Members of your Lordships’ House would agree, for example, that there should be provisions for expulsion after conviction for criminal offences, and for retirement and resignation, among other things.

Such measures are needed to enhance the democratic credibility of your Lordships’ House but, regrettably, there is still no sign of them being implemented. I think that they should take priority over this Bill. I think that the public would find it hard to understand why we are giving greater priority to something which

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primarily benefits the Members of this House rather than measures which improve the democratic credibility of your Lordships’ House and the way that it serves the public.

I am not opposed to incremental change, and I agree with all the arguments in favour of it that my noble friend put forward. It is not an argument against incremental change. It is an argument about the order in which such incremental change should take place. If my noble friend were to bring forward this proposal again in the context of further reforms of your Lordships’ House, I would then be happy to support it.

10.23 am

Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood: My Lords, since universal suffrage was introduced, I thought, pace the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, that everybody knew that the only adults barred from voting in general elections were, as they used to be known, convicts, lunatics and Peers—in modern parlance, prisoners, mental patients and the Members, Peers temporal, of this House. Mental patients, unless also convicted offenders, in fact obtained the vote in 2000—subject, theoretically, to having the requisite mental capacity. Some prisoners, at least, will, I hope—assuming that Her Majesty’s Government sufficiently respect the rule of law and their now clearly established obligations under international law—shortly get the vote.

I take this opportunity to say that, personally, I would give all prisoners the vote by post, regardless of their crimes and regardless of the length of their sentences. It is surely in all our interests as part of the process of their rehabilitation to instil in them, so far as may be, a sense of civic responsibility—to give them a stake in the lawful governance of this country. I should perhaps point out that even those with the longest sentences may well have children or other dependants whose education and general well-being they have a legitimate interest in promoting. I speak as the judge who, in 2001, was responsible for bringing a final end to the attempts by Mr Hirst and other prisoners to establish in our domestic courts the right to vote. Refusing them leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal, I said that it was for Parliament, if Parliament thought fit, to abolish or narrow the ban on prisoner voting. I ended my very brief judgment in that case thus. I said:

“Politically I am not unsympathetic to the applicants’ cause. Jurisprudentially, however, I regard it as doomed”.

That ruling opened the prisoners’ way to Strasbourg, where the court eventually showed that I was wrong jurisprudentially. A few years later, Strasbourg held a blanket ban to be impermissible and, twice since, the Grand Chamber has confirmed that position.

In the present context, that may be thought to be something of a digression. I return, therefore, to the Members of this House, because we remain disenfranchised. It is perhaps difficult to suppose that Strasbourg will too readily be coming to our help. The rationale for our becoming disenfranchised is, I have always understood—I think this in common with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson—that even when Parliament is prorogued, Members of this House remain members of a central legislative body, unlike Members of

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Parliament, who have to submit themselves to re-election if they wish to continue. I share with other noble Lords real scepticism as to whether that actually provides any sound or sufficient basis on which to deny us the chance to influence by our vote the composition of the House of Commons as the primary legislative Chamber. Others will no doubt make that argument more effectively than I can.

Rather, I want to focus on a narrower but, I suggest, altogether more obvious grievance that a few of us—admittedly, only a very few—have with regard to the present arrangements. Here I speak as someone who, for two and a half years, was, electorally speaking, in an even worse position than any other noble Lord participating in this debate. Not only was I, in common with all temporal Members of the House, disqualified by virtue of that post from voting at elections for the House of Commons, but, in addition, by virtue of my appointment as a justice of the Supreme Court, as long as I continued in that office, I was disqualified even from speaking or voting in your Lordships’ House. Accordingly, from October 2009 when, as Law Lords, we were banished across the square and recreated there as a new Supreme Court, until my retirement in April last year, on age grounds at 75 when I reached, in the words of the late Lord Bridge of Harwich, “statutory senility”—fortunately not a concept which applies in my present surroundings—I had no vote and no voice in national political life at all.

I well recall, at the time of the Constitutional Reform Act in 2005, pointing that out to the then Permanent Secretary of the Lord Chancellor’s Department. I said that, having lost our say in Parliament, we should now have the vote restored to us at general elections. I was assured that a team of lawyers would immediately be put on the case to overcome that obvious legislative oversight. It never was corrected and there remain five members of the Supreme Court who are still totally disenfranchised. The other seven members of the court are of course not yet Members of this House, although I hope that they will become so when, one by one, they eventually come to retire. They presently enjoy courtesy titles only and therefore can vote at general elections whereas the five most senior members of the court, including the president and vice-president, cannot. That, I suggest, is a bizarre situation indeed.

Whatever the outcome of the wider issue today, that anomaly surely must now be corrected. I wonder whether that possibly provides a peg upon which to hang a wider benefit for all Members of the House, because surely that requires legislative change. Certainly, my preference, in common with most, although I recognise not all, of your Lordships, would be that the wider grievance, too, should now be corrected.

10.31 am

Lord Parekh: My Lords, I support the Bill introduced by my noble friend Lord Dubs. Ever since I became a Member of your Lordships’ House, I have asked myself why we are not allowed to vote in parliamentary elections. In fact, the first Question that I asked, on 17 January 2001, was precisely this: that on the grounds

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of human rights and equality of treatment, we ought to be able to vote. The debate that took place following that Question makes interesting reading, because many of the points being made today seem to rehearse some of those made at that time.

Generally, there seem to be two arguments as to why we cannot vote. One is that it is an established practice, reference being made to immemorial law and common-law practice. The other has to do with the fact that we are already here, present and in person, and therefore do not need to be represented. I find both arguments somewhat flimsy. Let me take them one by one.

On the first argument, how did this become an established practice? It is not a law or something to which the House of Lords ever consented. It was a House of Commons resolution passed in 1699. If one looks at the debate surrounding the passage of that resolution, it is clear that in those days of rotten boroughs the Commons were very concerned that the Lords should not be able to influence local elections. It was designed to stop us interfering in the election. The Lords never agreed, were never consulted and were never involved. That resolution is not sacrosanct because it has been amended, first in the Peerage Act 1963 and then in the House of Lords Act 1999. Under the resolution of 1699, no Peer could vote. That was changed in 1963 so that Peers could vote, provided that they were not Members of the House of Lords—and for years, hereditary Peers have been able to vote without any kind of objection, legal or otherwise, so that practice is not sacrosanct. It has been changed and if it could be changed once, it could be changed again provided we are convinced that there is a reason to do so.

I want to argue that there is a reason to do so. That leads me to the second defence of this practice, which is that we are here in person. When I asked that question on 17 January 2001, I was told by my noble friend Lord Bassam that, since we are already here in person and are entitled to voice our feelings and express our views, to allow us to vote in the election would be to give us a unique privilege which is not given to others. I found that argument unpersuasive but during Question Time we are not at liberty to pursue the debate any further. I want to do that now.

Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords—

Lord Parekh: I am sorry. May I just finish this argument? When we are told that we are here in person and therefore need not be represented by the parliamentary election, we are making an important assumption: that the two Houses have equal powers. If they do not have equal powers, that argument collapses. If the Commons could do certain things that this House cannot do, then the fact that we are here in person does not give me a unique privilege if I should be entitled to vote for the other place. For example, the Commons can make and unmake Governments. It has the power to impose taxes and deal with money Bills, which we do not have. Equally importantly, under the Salisbury convention, if a particular measure of a Government or political party has been approved by the majority, the party concerned has a right to enact it—irrespective of what we think.

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I am suggesting that the Commons has far greater power, and rightly so as it is the pre-eminent body. If it is the pre-eminent body then our simply being here in person but unable to vote deprives us of the opportunity to do many of the things that the Commons does and which we cannot. I therefore suggest that not being allowed to vote deprives us of the equality of treatment to which all citizens are entitled. I will give way. I just wanted to make sure that I made that point straight.

Lord McFall of Alcluith: As a Member of the other place for 23 years, I was both here in person and proud to vote for myself in every general election. Is it not the case that House of Lords Members are disadvantaged, and would be allowed to vote in future for someone other than themselves?

Lord Parekh: If we were allowed to stand, we could certainly vote for ourselves too. Logically, the argument that we are here in person and therefore should not be allowed to vote because we do not need to be represented is a flawed one. Once you undermine that argument, there seems to be no logical basis for us not being allowed to vote.

There are of course other arguments: that one should not make a piecemeal change, as it should be part of a larger change. Well, larger changes are made up of small changes and unless you start by taking the first step somewhere, you would not be able to cover the journey. We are also being told that this is not the time. When is the right time? Who decides that and by what criteria? If, for the past 250 years, we have been saying “Let’s change this”, given that I asked that Question in 2001 and my noble friend Lord Dubs has introduced this Bill, there is already a feeling of momentum—a groundswell of opinion—that if citizenship consists in being able to have a say in shaping the Government of the country, we are not citizens if we do not have that say. Symbolic as it is, that simple point is of great significance and I strongly urge the House, as and when the time comes, to vote for the Bill.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, does the noble Lord not accept that Parliament consists of two Houses: a House of Lords where Peers are appointed for life and a House of Commons where Members are elected until the next election, which is up to five years ahead? Does he not accept that we are already Members of Parliament? That is the difference between us and Members of the House of Commons.

Lord Parekh: The noble Baroness makes a fascinating point but there are two simple answers. She says that we are already Members of Parliament. Technically, I am but I cannot say that I am an MP. “Parliament” is used in two senses, one in the narrow sense of the House of Commons and one in the wider sense of both Houses. More importantly, if we say that we are Members of Parliament the point I would make is that membership seems to be a matter of degree. To be a Member of the House of Commons means that one can do lots of things, whereas a Member of the House of Lords cannot do certain things, such as censuring

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or removing the Government, or dealing with matters of taxation and so on. Therefore this abstract equality that is being emphasised—that we are all Members of Parliament alike—conceals a fallacy.

10.39 am

Lord Cormack: My Lords, I am speaking in the gap, with permission. My noble friend made a significant point: we in this House are indeed all Members of Parliament. We are Members of the second Chamber and we have our own particular role and responsibilities. If we are allowed to vote, should we be allowed to stand for election to another place? I do not believe that we should. While I have the greatest possible personal admiration for the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and while I disagree profoundly with the noble Lord, Lord Wills, for whom of course I also have admiration, I agree with him on this point. This measure should not commend itself to your Lordships’ House. We are an undying House—the current situation is that we are here for life—so we are part of Parliament. Although the next general election will be the first in my adult lifetime that I have not voted in, or indeed voted for myself in, I will still accept the privilege, look with reluctance at those going to the polling booths and with little reluctance at those who are knocking at doors, and know full well that, God willing, I will come back at the beginning of the new Parliament.

I understand the motivation of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I also understand the frustration of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, although I must say that I was moved by his touching faith that a team of lawyers could come to a speedy conclusion on anything, but I find myself in disagreement with someone else for whom I have great regard. The essence of debate is that one can disagree, and I disagree profoundly with this minor measure. I will certainly seek to move amendments at future stages if the Bill is given a Second Reading today.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, has the noble Lord taken on board the very strong argument that has been put before the House today that we are clearly not Members of Parliament pari passu with the other place? To take the most obvious point, at the next general election a great deal will revolve around the conduct and direction of the economy, the comprehensive spending review and the proposals that affect our citizens so grievously in this time of great austerity, and yet this House has no power to affect that position. We will have influence, perhaps, and will debate the issue to a limited extent, but power we do not have. Yet that is the most cardinal of election decisions on which the nation will vote. That inequality is why there is a strong argument that we should have the right to vote in general elections.

Lord Cormack: There might be, according to the noble Lord, but I just do not agree with him. I could argue that Members of Parliament in the other place also have very little power. We need a rebalancing of the powers within our parliamentary system so that we do not have an overweening Executive. To paraphrase Dunning’s Motion, “The power of the Executive has

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increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished”. We can play our part in that by the influence that we wield in this place. Influence can be tantamount to power when we have the sort of people that we have in this place, with their great knowledge of economic affairs. I rest my case.

10.43 am

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I think we owe my noble friend Lord Dubs thanks not just for his Bill but, I have to say, for this educational and entertaining Friday morning. I congratulate him on the Bill. I am somewhat aghast that my very dear long-standing noble friend is so keen to add nearly 300 government supporters to the electoral roll as against a mere 217 from the Labour side, which is a 3:2 majority. That just goes to show what a very fair-minded and honourable man he is. As the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, suggested, his proposal would no doubt help national turnout and raise the batting average, because we as a group tend to be rather dutiful and have an excellent record on voting.

Before turning to the Bill, I will take 20 seconds somewhat belatedly to wish the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, a happy 75th birthday. I also wish the NHS a happy 65th birthday. It was 5 July 1948 when that great institution came into existence, which for mining families like mine in south Wales made an enormous difference to their lives.

The Labour Party has traditionally held the view that Peers are stopped from voting in general elections because, as a number of noble Lords have mentioned, they are very well represented in Parliament, albeit by themselves, and that any such change should take place within the context of a proper and fully reformed form of your Lordships’ House. That, of course, is something that we still await. The Government’s clumsy attempt to reform this House without proper consultation—no proper thought about the role of the House, the respective powers of the two Houses, the 15-year term of office or the ban for those who had political aspirations in another place—means that serious reform has been put not on to the back burner but into a rather deep, cold fridge. Worse, in a way, is that the truculence of Mr Clegg over the burying of his half-baked ideas means that he and the Government will not countenance some necessary, albeit more gradual but we believe essential, modernisation of your Lordships’ House. I speak of course of the excellent work undertaken by the noble Lord, Lord Steel, and now by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in her House of Lords Reform Bill, which she presented in May.

Surely the priority, as my noble friend Lord Wills has said, and which even Mr Clegg should be able to understand, is some rather immediate changes. The first, which I had been completely unaware of until about 15 minutes ago, is to give five Supreme Court judges their vote. The second is to enable erring Peers to be waved off from your Lordships’ House and to find a sensible way of fostering the retirement of those who have served their country well but now wish to

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step aside. Perhaps offering them the opportunity to vote in the general election is the carrot that we have been seeking.

Of course, if we were granted a vote at a general election and a Peer were subsequently imprisoned and thus lost their seat here, and if the amendment of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, had not come through, they would get their vote and immediately lose it as the prison doors swung shut behind them. Still, that seems to be a matter for another day.

My noble friend Lord Dubs is of course not without friends. Some of them are here today, some of them are in the past, as he mentioned. Benjamin Disraeli in 1868 is an example, although whether that was just to dish the Whigs is not recorded in the history books. In 1936 there was Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, the grandfather of today’s Member of your Lordships’ House and father of my former and much missed boss. Prior to joining your Lordships’ House, the Hon. Tom Pon, as he was known, including to the noble Lord, Lord Roper, was general secretary of the Fabian Society when I was assistant general secretary. That Lord Ponsonby, remembered, I am sure, by many in your Lordships’ House today, succeeded in his other wish, which was for hereditary Peers to be able to forgo their seat here and thus to be able to stand for the Commons. However, voting in general elections remains on the to-do list.

We are going to be very interested to hear the Minister’s views today on this matter. It was of course raised by my noble friend during consideration of the Parliamentary Voting System and constituencies Bill on 8 December 2010. The other Lib Dem Minister, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, responding on that occasion to my noble friend Lord Dubs, said:

“I encouraged the noble Lord keep on with his campaign. As they say where I come from, a nod is as good as a wink”.—[Official Report, 8/12/10; col. 290.]

We know where the noble Lord, Lord McNally, comes from, other than Blackpool. He was of course assistant general section secretary of the Fabian Society, again when Lord Ponsonby was general secretary. Presumably it remains his policy, along with that of the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, and the Liberal Democrat party, that all Members of your Lordships’ House and not simply the spiritual Members should be able to vote in general elections, just as they can in the elections for the Scottish and European Parliaments, as we have been reminded, the London and Welsh Assemblies and local government and in various referendums, although I have yet to hear from the other place whether we are to have an in/out referendum on Europe.

For our part, we are very content for this Bill to get its Second Reading today, but we would much prefer action on the composition of the House—by which I do not mean the Government stuffing it more—that deals with its size and retirements or expulsions. Alas we must await government action on that. Perhaps in responding, the Minister could give us some indication of his Government’s current thinking about this House, apart from any immediate enlargement. We await his words with interest.

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10.51 am

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said to me in the corridor the other day, “I hope you won’t disappoint me”. I am very sorry to say that I have to disappoint him on a number of grounds. In his opening speech, he said that this measure has nothing to do with Lords reform, so it is a non-Lords-reform Lords reform, if I understand what he is putting forward. Of course it has a great deal to do with Lords reform. It is one of many small items that we might consider if we go to a smaller package of Lords reform in what is being discussed within Her Majesty’s Government and outside as “a number of housekeeping measures” for both Houses that might be introduced next Session.

For the best of reasons, the noble Lord wishes to cherry-pick one of the changes that would carry through on Lords reform without accepting some of the others. I say this particularly because he remarked that Bishops in the House of Lords can vote without remarking that that is because they do not have permanent membership of your Lordships’ House. They retire at 70, well before the onset of statutory senility. Had the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, linked regaining the right to vote with a statutory retirement age, the Government might perhaps, I think, have looked on this rather more, although it would be very interesting to know what retirement age noble Lords would have accepted—whether it would have been 70, 75, 80, 85 or perhaps 95.

The argument for noble Lords not having the right to vote has partly been that we are permanent Members of your Lordships’ House. I recall that when we were discussing the major House of Lords Reform Bill last year a number of Labour Peers—and I am looking at one or two of them—were arguing in the corridors that they sit in the Lords by royal summons and by right of the sovereign’s appointment and that means that they are not entitled to retire. That is part of our medieval, fundamentally illogical constitution, which is part of what we are here for.

The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, talked about citizenship. Of course, in the British constitution under which we all sit here in this wonderfully illogical House, we are subjects of the Crown. It is the Crown that appoints us, so it is as subjects that we sit here. That is one of the many reasons why the citizenship debates in Britain still have a degree of weakness because we have not quite worked out what that splendidly republican concept “citizenship” should mean for all of us.

The noble Lord also advanced the argument that logic should play some part in this. If we were to redesign the British constitution on logical grounds, we would have a very different British constitution. Some noble Lords will have noted that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and other noble Lords signed a letter in the Times the other day which was a passionate defence of the tradition of common law and its conventions and traditions against the threat of logical, rational, Roman law from across the channel, institutionalised in Brussels and Strasbourg. There is a sense that there is an existential threat to our tradition of Englishness through the logical, rational principles of Roman law which come from across the channel, although many

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people do not recognise that they are also there in Scotland. So many people who talk about the defence of distinctive British institutions appear to forget that Scotland is a central part of the United Kingdom.

If we are to introduce common sense rather than common law, we are moving into a fairly radical change in the way the British constitution works.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: The Minister referred to the fact that we are already Members of Parliament. Does he accept that in certain areas defined by law this is a unicameral system in that we are excluded from areas of activity that are for the Commons? Throughout history, there have been quite a lot of battles about no taxation without representation. That is an area in this House that could be looked at. I suspect that if my noble friend began the argument a different way, your Lordships’ Chamber would be packed and the Press Gallery would be full, because he could have argued that given that we have no say on taxation, and therefore do not have representation, we should not be taxed. I think that would incite the public much more.

My noble friend could instead argue that we regain equality of powers with the House of Commons. That would have Members of the House of Commons up in the Gallery. The noble Lord is, I think, being a little less clear than is his usual practice.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I do not accept that we are in any sense a unicameral Parliament. This is one of the more influential second Chambers around the world. The fact that we are now definitely the second Chamber and that there are areas in which we have very much less influence than the House of Commons is one of the things that makes this clearly a second Chamber, but some of the other second Chambers, as I note, very definitely have less influence over the breadth of legislation.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: I would be grateful if after the debate on the Second Reading, which I hope will be granted, the Minister would write to me giving examples of where this Chamber has insisted to the point of the House of Commons backing down on legislation over the past few years.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I am happy to promise to write to the noble Baroness on that. I think the record is that a full 40% of amendments moved in this House are accepted by the Government, but I will check the figure and come back to her.

I do not wish to detain the House for too long. I have made the point that the permanence of Lords membership has to be linked with the right to vote. On Lords reform, we have to look at a package. Last year, we presented a large-scale package to the House, and the House, for many diverse reasons, did not like it. The Government are considering whether to present a more modest housekeeping package.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: As far as I recall, this House was never asked to give any opinion on the Bill. It was simply ditched before it got here.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Having sat through several two-day debates, I think the House has made its opinion relatively clear. I am looking at the noble Lord, Lord Richard, who laboured extremely conscientiously and at considerable length to produce a package which this House would like. Certainly, the sense of the House was, I think, not particularly favourable towards the Government’s proposals. I will leave it at that.

Again, I am sorry to have to disappoint the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. We will of course be returning to this issue. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that as she was speaking I thought of the noble Baroness, Lady Symons. The noble Baroness, Lady Symons, has on many occasions used the doctrine of mandate against me: that once a party has in its manifesto a clear commitment, it has the right and duty to carry it through. I think the Labour Party’s manifestos over the past three or four elections have called for an elected second Chamber. I was disappointed that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, went a little behind that.

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: I was actually quoting the Minister’s noble friend from a very recent debate in your Lordships’ House. I made no mention of Labour Party policy.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, will come back but, unfortunately, the Government resist this small, partial proposal for reform of the Lords.

Lord Dubs: Before the noble Lord sits down, perhaps I may ask him one question. Given what he has said—and I will deal with that in more detail when I wind up—will he give one small undertaking? Assuming that the Bill gets through this House and goes to the Commons, will he undertake that the Government will not use their strength to block the Bill but will give it free passage and let the Commons decide on its merits?

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I cannot give that commitment immediately. We would clearly have to consider that. Private Members’ Bills make their way, sometimes with the Government’s blessing and occasionally without, first through one House and then the other. Let us see how we go on this.

11.02 am

Lord Dubs: My Lords, it has been an interesting Friday morning. The debate has been good tempered, but has extended well beyond the very narrow purpose of the Bill. I suppose, if one says anything about the future of the House, one can get into a debate about everything to do with the future of this House, which is something I have tried to resist.

I will comment briefly on one or two of the contributions. My noble friend Lord Wills argued that this change should be part of a wider package of changes, and that I should add it to another Bill. That is, of course, exactly what I did when the Steel Bill went through. I did precisely what he said before I had

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the benefit of his advice and it was rejected on the grounds that it would make the passage of the Steel Bill too difficult and my proposal should stand on its own. I am getting conflicting advice on that. I did what he suggested some time ago and it did not work, which is why I am doing it this way.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, rightly put forward an argument of which I was not aware, about members of the Supreme Court. It is yet another instance of where we are in an entirely illogical position. In arguing for a little bit of logic, I do not think that I am being out of order. My noble friend Lord Parekh gave us a good historical sweep and was the first—apart from Disraeli—to talk about money Bills.

I have very high regard indeed for the noble Lord, Lord Cormack—I have known him for a long time—but I am not sure that the slippery-slope argument is a good one. It has been used by opponents of change since the beginning of time.

Lord Cormack: I just point out that if that argument has been used, it was not used by me.

Lord Dubs: In that case, I misunderstood; I thought that the noble Lord was using the argument himself. However, I very much agree about the power of the Executive and that it is up to both Houses to contain the power of the Executive—so I am with him on that, even if we have a difference of opinion about the Bill itself.

I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Hayter was supportive of the Bill. I pay tribute to her long political experience, with the Fabian Society and elsewhere. She said something about the 5 July anniversary of the start of the National Health Service. If I may trespass on the time of the House, I was in hospital on that day, in Stockport Royal Infirmary. I was quite ill, and I was the only child in the ward. In those days, when the consultant came around, one had either to stand or lie to attention because that was the discipline. A consultant and his big team came along and looked at me, and I asked, “Are we having a party?”. He looked at me as if to say, “How dare you speak before I have spoken to you?”, and then said, “Why?”. I said, “Well the hospital is ours today. We should have a party”. He gave me a dirty look and walked on. I felt that I had made my contribution to the health service at that time. I apologise for digressing a little but, but other noble Lords have digressed as well.

Finally, I did not think that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, would disappoint me quite as much as he did. Without wishing to be impertinent in any way, I feel that his heart was not in it. I think that, in his heart, he knows that I am right and he is wrong. It showed. I know what it is like being a government Minister. One has to defend things that are sometimes difficult; I have done it myself, although never quite to the extent that the noble Lord has done it today.

On the cherry-picking argument, and this is nothing to do with the Bill, I understand that if we were to move to an elected second Chamber, of course we would have to deal with issues like the primacy of the Commons, methods of election and so on. It would be a whole package of measures, as was evidenced in the

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Government’s Bill that did not get anywhere. However, if we had the vote in parliamentary elections, nothing would change in this House except that we would have the right to vote. It would not affect the way in which we operate, it would not affect our legitimacy and it would not affect our debates or anything else. It stands entirely on its own, so as to the argument that I was cherry-picking: if there are only cherries on the tree, that is all that one can do. That is not a valid argument.

This issue stands entirely on its own. It need not, should not and does not have any connection with any other aspects of Lords reform. We might throw it into a wider Bill on Lords reform, as I have tried to do, but I would argue that we should get on with it. Let us make this change. I believe that there is overwhelming support in this House and in the Commons for this. Of course, the difficulty is that it only takes one government whip to say, “Object” on a Friday, and that has killed the Bill. That is the problem in the Commons. If the Commons was allowed by the Government to have a go at this, I believe it would overwhelmingly support it, as I believe that this House would overwhelmingly support it. However, the difficulty with Private Members’ Bills is that they can be too easily blocked in an undemocratic manner.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord is not responding to my suggestion that if he perhaps linked the introduction of voting to a limitation of tenure and a retirement age, this might be more acceptable. He is not rising to that particular float.

Lord Dubs: Give me time. I have got it down here to comment on. If I had put forward a Bill saying the statutory retirement age from this House is 75 or 80, of course many Members of this House would have got incredibly excited about it, which would have diverted attention away from my purpose. It would have made it, as a Private Member’s Bill, totally unmanageable. The Minister knows that; I know that; we all know that. It just would not have got through. The point about a Private Member’s Bill is to keep it very simple if it is to have any chance of getting through. Once it gets complicated it has no chance. That is why I have brought it forward in this way.

Finally, the Minister disparaged the idea of logic. The position at the moment is inherently illogical. It is illogical by any standard, and I urge the House to give the Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Cultural and Community Distribution Deregulation Bill [HL]

Second Reading

11.09 am

Moved By Lord Clement-Jones

That the Bill be now read a second time.

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Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, up and down the country, local authorities, using powers granted by the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which amended the Environmental Protection Act 1990, have been restricting leafleting for cultural events, including performances at comedy clubs, theatres, music venues, art galleries and even village halls. Under powers introduced by the 2005 Act, local authorities can designate areas within which people must buy a licence if they want to hand out leaflets. The Act gives local authorities powers to designate land on which people require a licence to distribute free printed matter, makes it an offence to distribute leaflets on this land without obtaining the consent of the local authority, and permits the local authority to refuse consent or to give or limit consent, for example with reference to the time and place of distribution or the material distributed. It requires a person distributing leaflets to produce, on demand, written evidence of the local authority’s consent, and permits authorities to charge a fee for the issuing of licences.

A survey by the Manifesto Club, the organisation that first identified the issue, found that 27% of local authorities restrict leafleting, including Nottingham, Leicester, Brighton, Swindon, Wolverhampton, Oxford, Bournemouth, Newcastle, Middlesbrough, Manchester, Leeds, Derby, Doncaster, East Hertfordshire, Colchester, Basildon, North West Leicestershire, Sheffield, Rushmoor, Oldham, Kirklees, Birmingham and seven London councils. This means that leafleting restrictions cover the country’s key metropolitan centres and many smaller towns.

Licence fees are prohibitively expensive for small groups. In Basildon, a licence costs £150 for one day, £350 for a Saturday or Sunday and £800 for one week. Oldham charges £50 and Brent £55 per day. Wolverhampton charges £262 per distributor. Some boroughs, such as Hammersmith and Fulham, and Kensington and Chelsea, have a number of separate leafleting zones, each of which requires a separate licence. Hammersmith and Fulham charges £250 for each of its eight zones, so it costs £2,000 to leaflet freely throughout the borough. The Manifesto Club’s research found that these leafleting restrictions fall most heavily on grass-roots art and community events, including comedy clubs, theatres, music performances and art exhibitions. Larger-scale events have the option of more commercial advertising channels, and can afford leafleting licences if they so choose.

However, there is a paradox here. The Local Government Association, as recently as March, extolled the benefits of the contribution of the arts to local communities. Its press release stated:

“Arts investment can bring in £4 for every £1 spent ... From international festivals and museums that attract hundreds of thousands of visitors, to street entertainment revitalising high streets and theatres supporting young people to gain new skills, thriving arts create great destinations, vibrant places to live and have many valuable economic spin-offs. A theatre, museum or festival draws visitors who do not simply spend money on their ticket or entrance fee, but also buy meals in local restaurants, go to local shops, or perhaps stay in hotels as part of their visit. These people might never have visited that location without the pull of its cultural attractions. Businesses also choose to invest in places with a vibrant arts scene because they offer their employees a high quality of life”.

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Quite contrary to this enlightened statement, leafleting licence rules have been catastrophic to grass-roots arts organisations, local theatres, jazz nights, comedy nights and arts shows in venues such as theatres, village halls, comedy clubs and small nightclubs, which rely on leafleting to build an audience but cannot afford the high licence fees. In Leicester, a one-off licence application fee is £103, on top of which an organisation must pay £26 per distributor per day. The Leicester Comedy Festival has 200 small comedy acts. It would cost an unaffordable £5,200 per day to allow them all to leaflet. These rules in effect mean that only the most commercial operations are able to freely leaflet in Leicester.

Oxford student societies were asked to pay £100 per month to hand out leaflets, as was the Oxford Jazz Festival. A flyer ban in Leicester Square, London, caused the collapse of several comedy nights and the reduction of many audiences from 75 to 25. A Newcastle jazz club owner said that leafleting restrictions reduced his audiences by 50%. The Sawbridgeworth Evening Women’s Institute was threatened with a fine for handing out leaflets about its annual art exhibition. It no longer leaflets for the event.

Leafleting licence schemes have had a widely recognised adverse effect on the music and arts scene in key British cities, reducing the grass-roots scene and limiting opportunities for emerging artists to win themselves an audience. Leafleting restrictions have had a severe effect on the music and experimental arts scenes in cities such as Leeds, Manchester, Nottingham and Brighton, and on the fringe comedy scene in Brighton and Leicester.

One unintended consequence of leafleting licence schemes has been the commercialisation of the leafleting of the arts scene. In Brighton, for example, the leafleting licence led to the decline of smaller, experimental music nights, and the growth of bigger mainstream club nights. Several comedy festivals, including those in Brighton and Leicester, now have a diminished number of fringe acts, because only those who can afford to take out brochure adverts or pay the leafleting fee are able to reach an audience. Perversely, the more commercial operations, which employ full-time leafleters, tend to leaflet more indiscriminately and create most litter.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend’s flow. If a number of small acts get together and put out a single leaflet, will they be charged separate licence fees or a single licence fee?

Lord Clement-Jones: If it is a single leaflet, the fee will be for a single licence, but these acts are small organisations with very different timings for their events during a festival, and they all have different audiences, so they want to put out their own material and find the target audience most appropriate to them.

As I said, commercial operations that employ full-time leafleters tend to leaflet more indiscriminately and create the most litter. Small groups leafleting on their own behalf will leaflet more selectively and responsibly and create very little litter. The leafleting licence scheme

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punishes the small events and organisations that leaflet most responsibly and cause minimal litter. McDonald’s can leaflet freely, but the local arts centre cannot.

The importance of flyering for grass-roots arts was summed up by David Mulholland, a comedian and promoter for the Soho Comedy Club. He said:

“Flyering is a life and death issue for small clubs that are just starting up. The birthplace of alternative comedy in the UK, the Comedy Store, started above a strip club in 1979 and relied heavily on flyerers to attract audiences until 1993. If flyering had been prohibited in 1979 there would be no alternative comedy scene in the UK”.

Supporters of the Bill have received testimonies from a variety of organisations, stating that leafleting is the primary way in which they can reach a local audience. They include folk music societies, theatre groups, chamber music and early music groups, church choirs, amateur orchestras, amateur dramatics societies, village halls, experimental DJs, unsigned bands who play in pubs, and small comedy clubs.

The Cultural and Community Distribution Deregulation Bill 2013 would exempt small-scale cultural and neighbourhood events from leafleting restrictions. It would reform the Environmental Protection Act 1990 to allow a greater exemption from leafleting restrictions for grass-roots arts and community events. Currently, leafleting for religious, political or charitable purposes is exempt from legislation. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 states:

“Nothing in this paragraph applies to the distribution of printed matter … by or on behalf of a charity within the meaning of the Charities Act 1993, where the printed matter relates to or is intended for the benefit of the charity”,


“where the distribution is for political purposes or for the purposes of a religion or belief”.

This means that religious, charitable and political groups do not have to buy a leafleting licence. A wide exemption would avoid the unnecessary penalisation of the informal events that are so valuable to community life.

The Bill would introduce a further exemption that would exclude leafleting restrictions,

“where the distribution is for the purposes of an event which consists wholly or mainly of live entertainment and takes place in the presence of an audience of no more than 600 persons”.

Live entertainment is defined as arts and music events and other cultural, social or recreational events of a similar nature, so the exemption would cover arts, music and theatrical events, as well as local events, such as talks, shows, fetes or coffee mornings. This reform would be compatible with the current regulation on street advertising, which exempts events of this nature from regulations. The Town and Country Planning (Control of Advertisements) (England) Regulations 2007 state that posters will have deemed consent and exemption from planning laws if they announce a local event of religious, educational, cultural, political, social or recreational character.

This reform of leafleting restrictions would recognise the value of local events and free up the arts and music scenes in key British cities from this unnecessary restraint. The strength of British comedy, music and the arts ultimately depends on the health of the grass roots, which allows new talent to emerge and win an audience.

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This reform would also recognise the importance of free speech in public places, a liberty that has existed for several hundred years in this country, embodied in our strong tradition of pamphleteers. 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 printers to be licensed was lifted, and should not be restricted without very good reason.

Problems with litter should be dealt with through the 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 a crisp packet.

The campaign to change the law is supported by a great range of artists across the spectrum, comedians such as Al Murray and Simon Evans, the directors of the Oxford Jazz Festival, the Leicester Comedy Festival, Rick Wakeman and Radiohead’s manager, all of whom recognise the importance of the grass-roots scene to producing new talent. A whole host of organisations are in support, including Equity. The Musicians’ Union says that it has supported the campaign against leafleting bans from its inception and that it is vital to musicians that events where they perform can be advertised and promoted through unhindered and responsible leafleting.

UK Music, the organisation that represents the music industry in the UK, supports the Bill, as do the Association of Independent Festivals, the Association of British Orchestras and the Association of Festival Organisers, which says that this Bill is too modest. It says that the amendment to get free leafleting for up to 600 people works fantastically well for clubs and societies, small concerts and even fund-raising events, but does not do much for a festival that is trying to attract 2,000 people. If I thought that I would get support for going further than I have, I would have done.

The Concert Promoters Association supports the Bill, as does the Agents’ Association. The English Folk Dance and Song Society says that it fully supports the Bill and that a large majority of folk events are presented by amateur and community groups, as well as small folk clubs and local festivals, which are not in a position to pay their local authorities for permission to distribute leaflets about their activities. Their activities should be encouraged, as they bring people together and encourage community cohesion, and they should not be hampered or discouraged in their efforts. The International Association for the Study of Popular Music supports the Bill, as do the Stand Comedy Club and Jazz Services.

In conclusion, I have a few quotes from individuals, which I think are telling. Alison Honour, the head of the School of Arts at Oxford Brookes University says:

“I am writing in support of the campaign against leafleting bans. Arts organisations and artists of all disciplines rely on self-promotion in order to publicise their practice, whether it be exhibitions, performances or events. These activities contribute to communities’ coherence, well-being and positive engagement, and bring a cultural landscape often reaching out to the most remote places and spaces”.

Liam Gardiner Webber, a band and youth theatre member in Nottingham says:

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“I’m a member of a small, unsigned band. If we were able to leaflet for our gigs, it would make a huge difference to the numbers who would come and see us. The lack of ability for small venues to leaflet has meant that, as a member of a band and youth orchestra, being able to expand the audience of either beyond family and friends is very difficult. Leafleting would allow for much greater presence for such activities and would in turn boost the culture side of the city”.

An independent promoter said:

“It has been difficult to promote small events, as it seems only the larger companies can afford such licences and therefore get more business, which does affect independent promoters”.

All this is powerful testimony and very powerful support for the Bill. There is no doubt that this legislative change would boost the arts and local economy at no significant cost to national or local government. Political, religious and charitable events are exempt from the need to buy a leafleting licence, which means that small cultural events are being unfairly penalised. It is unjust that the Church of England and political parties can leaflet for free but the village fete or local theatre group must pay. The grass-roots arts are fundamental to community life and the local economy as well as producing talent of international renown. The deregulation of entertainment licensing was, of course, of great benefit, but groups need to be able to promote themselves. Unless we act quickly, irreparable damage will be done to the grass roots across the UK.

I very much hope that the Government will heed these calls for reform and back the Bill. I beg to move.

11.25 am

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, I support this Bill, the arguments for which the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has set out so expertly and comprehensively. This is a modest and reasonable Bill, yet one significant for those who will be directly affected by this change, as well as for local communities and the public at large. The Bill is reasonable in that, in one sense, it does no more than iron out an inconsistency that exists in the current legislation.

Like the noble Lord, this problem came to my attention via the campaigning group, the Manifesto Club, which has a particular sensitivity towards how the loss of civil liberties affects the arts. The arts are as much a valid means of expression as the expression of political and religious views which, with regards to leafleting, are exempted by the 2005 legislation. Indeed, as the Minister will no doubt be aware, there is often in practice considerable overlap between all three of these areas. At heart, this is a civil liberties issue before anything else, and it is worth emphasising that the present exemptions for leafleting are already the recognition of the principle of free speech and free expression. With the addition of cultural purposes, the noble Lord’s Bill correctly positions the missing part of the jigsaw puzzle.

By excluding arts and entertainment from the exemptions, the current law has in effect discriminated against the arts, and in a very real way. It is perhaps all too easy, in this age of the internet and social media, to greatly underestimate the continuing importance of leafleting for local and community events, which for many events is the prime means of advertising. It is

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perhaps gratifying proof of the vibrancy, or potential vibrancy, of our public places and spaces that this is as true of the big city as of the village or small town.

As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, has outlined, there are clearly big problems everywhere that restrictions have been introduced. Cindy Oswin, a London-based writer and director, says:

“I have worked for many years in small-scale theatre productions where the advertising budget is limited, so hands-on leafleting is necessary to reach a potential audience”.

Martha Littlehailes, chair of a music society in Hackney says:

“We are a tiny organisation and need the publicity that flyering brings”.

Outside London, Daniel James, conductor of an amateur orchestra in Manchester says that,

“publicising our concerts has been hampered by being unable to obtain a flyer licence”.

Elspeth Barnett of Eastbourne, who sings in a local choir, says that they leaflet people as they leave other concerts, or at farmers’ markets. Folk singer Derek Gifford leaflets events organised by local folk clubs in the north-west, all of which, he says,

“have limited budgets and would find difficulty in affording to pay licensing fees for such an activity”.

Independent music promoters have been particularly hard hit by the need for licences. Others make the point that it is a vicious circle in that you need the leafleting to build the audience, but you cannot afford the licence until you do so.

The fact is that leaflets or flyers are a low-cost alternative, which ought in straitened times to be an ideal solution for emerging artists and performers. There are also, of course, the instances of blanket bans on flyering, such as has happened controversially in Leicester Square in London, and in Liverpool, in some cases where the legal basis for such bans is more than dubious. Comedian Nick Doody has said of the Leicester Square ban that it,

“had an immediate, tangible and devastating effect on small and medium-sized comedy clubs in central London”.

Comedian Stuart Goldsmith has said that it,

“makes it impossible for smaller clubs to thrive, and penalises enterprise”.

I suggest to the Minister that the DCMS should be as much aware of this debate as Defra, and that he might pass that message on. Last month, we had a significant debate on the arts led by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, in which a recurring theme was innovation and support for the arts at the grass-roots level, so this debate is germane to that. The other point that the DCMS should be aware of is that we need to keep as much of an economic edge as possible in music, theatre and other areas. Any help that can be given at the grass-roots level will in the long run be hugely important to the economy.

The events most affected by these restrictions are those most integral to the local community and cultural scene, whereas the more commercial operations are able to pay for the licences but often have fewer local loyalties. The Minister will perhaps recognise that there is a significant distinction to be made between the highly commercial advertising of a high street chain and a leaflet telling you about events as varied as the

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village fête, local choir event or folk or jazz night, which is often handed to you by one of the performers themselves. Additionally, the informality and spontaneity of many local cultural events also make them unsuitable for licences which may have complicated tariffs as well as being prohibitively expensive—an expense whose payment has to be decided upon well in advance. These licences are overkill. We are not talking about major pop concerts. The modest audience cap of 600 included in the Bill ensures that this is so. These events are often run on a not-for-profit basis or on a tight budget which may help artists, comedians, musicians, writers and others at the beginning of their careers. As Josie Appleton, director of the Manifesto Club, says:

“We have a strong tradition of pamphleteers in this country who would be turning in their graves if they could see theatre groups charged hundreds of pounds to hand out a few flyers”.

It should be borne in mind that leaflets are not litter until they are discarded, and strategically placed bins ought to do that job. Indeed, far from being mere pieces of litter, flyers can also be an extension of an event aesthetically. This can be particularly true of music events, just as CD covers are for CDs. Emma Webster, expert on live music promotion, states:

“As well as being portable information carriers … flyers form part of the promoter’s ‘branding’ of an event through their design and distribution. The design of flyers … can be an important signifier as to the nature of the event, and is an opportunity for the promoter to creatively market their event”.

Anyone who has attended any of the music memorabilia auctions in recent years will know how much the promotional material for now famous bands will go for, and often by designers such as Jamie Reid who have themselves become well known through this work, all of which started at local venues. Flyer and poster design is an industry in this country in its own right and public spaces are their gallery. It is ironic that at a time when this work is being shown in museums, its contemporary practitioners are effectively being banned by so many local authorities.

Finally, within the larger context surrounding this Bill, the long-term crucial question which needs to be asked is: what should we be now be expecting and demanding of our urban centres? Clare Fischer, artistic director of The Red Hedgehog arts centre at Highgate, makes the point:

“Arts and local events provide a kind of cultural and social ‘glue’ which is vitally important in providing and maintaining a shared identity in the community”.

Do we want our public places to become increasingly prohibitive in character, or do we facilitate them as properly shared spaces? For that to happen, of course, they must also remain publicly owned and within a local authority control that is dedicated to the public good above all else. In an era of council sell-offs and partnerships, a question mark hangs over this. However, that is going beyond the scope of this Bill, being a debate for another time, although one that is urgently required.

I do not believe that the previous Administration intended to penalise either the arts or local communities when they passed the 2005 legislation. I think rather that it was an oversight which all sides of the House can now easily work together to rectify. I hope very much that that is what will happen.

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11.33 am

Viscount Colville of Culross: I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for introducing the Bill and for bringing this issue to the attention of the House in a number of Questions for Short Debate.

It seems to me that there is a really pressing need to amend the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005 to regenerate our town centres. We have all seen the headlines and know from our own experience the dire state of our town centres across the country. As the Government in their policy document setting up the Portas pilot regeneration schemes, point out,

“our high streets and town centres are facing serious challenges from out-of-town shopping centres”.

The document goes on to offer a way forward for the high streets. It says:

“They need to offer an experience that goes beyond retail—the high street should be a destination for socialising”,

and culture—a sentiment expressed by my noble friend Lord Clancarty.

It seems strange that just as the Government are spending taxpayers’ money to create this buzz, local councils across the country are thwarting their work by strictly controlling leafleting advertising cultural events in city centres. According to the Manifesto report, mentioned by the two previous speakers, councils are regulating spaces where you can leaflet and levying a variety of charges. As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, in some cases licences are extremely expensive and fines for breaking the code can be up to £2,500, which, frankly, would break a small venue. Of course, local authorities want to stop litter and need to charge a small sum from distributors to pay for leaflets to be cleared up and for the scheme to be administered. However, too many councils charge exorbitant fees to license leafleting.

I should like to draw the attention of your Lordships’ House to a particularly blighted town, the centre of which is going through a hard time, part of which I believe is due to the council’s policy on leafleting. Wolverhampton is one of the town centres highlighted in the Department for Communities and Local Government document as being in need of special attention from the television retail guru Mary Portas, who has chosen it as one of the initial 12 town centres to benefit from her help. I am very glad that she has done so as the city centre is in crisis. Thirty years ago it was prosperous, but now one in four retail shops are empty and some streets look like scenes from a post-apocalypse movie. Much of the damage was done several years ago when compulsory purchase orders were put on a third of the town centre commercial properties to make way for a £300 million shopping centre. Guess what happened. Of course, the shopping centre was never built and the properties were all blighted. Now there is not much shopping and no shopping mall. Since then, the council has made strenuous attempts to improve the situation. It has one of the fastest turnaround times for planning applications and has announced a big regeneration scheme for the town centre. However, as I have already pointed out, many councils charge high prices for leaflet distribution licences—much higher than the cost of clearing up the litter. By doing so, I am sure they hope to raise revenue

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from the scheme. However, Wolverhampton has one of the most expensive leaflet distribution licences in the country. It used to cost £250 per person. However—I would like to correct the noble Lord—it has gone up to £300 per person for a year and a one-off licence for one person for one evening costs £50. Frankly, that is an absurd cost for a small venue which may want to dish out only about 150 leaflets as that is all it can afford, and yet that is the cost of the licence. This seems to be having a deleterious effect on the city’s cultural venues and places for socialising.

I spoke to Steve Harrington, the owner of the Fixxion warehouse project, an arts, film and music venue in the town centre. Apparently, he advises bands coming to play at his venue not even to try to hand out leaflets. The cost of the licence is far too high and if they try to do so without a licence, the council is extremely zealous in prosecuting offenders and usually ends up fining the venue owners as they are the easiest ones to get to. Mr Harrington explained to me that you must do all you can to promote your event and advertise it but Facebook has limited value. To get through to the people who might come to the venue, you have to leaflet them face to face. He used to do that by going to nearby venues, finding queues of would-be customers who might want to come to his venue the following night and handing them leaflets. Now he cannot do that and says that the inability to leaflet is destroying the interaction between venues and the public. He says that, as a result, clubs are leaving the area. Revolution, a country-wide chain of music bars, has just left, saying that its branch in the city had the worst takings in the country. He himself is planning to shut up shop and go to nearby Birmingham, where apparently the city council has a much more enlightened view of how to promote small venues and the small bands coming to those venues. Of course, the expense of leafleting is not the only problem these venues face, but it is a definite problem all the same.

The only people who seem to be able to afford to leaflet in Wolverhampton city centre are the commercial leafleting companies acting on behalf of big businesses, which have the money. They obviously bring revenue to the council but at a heavy cost to regenerating the high street. However, even that stream of money will be threatened if there are no customers using the city centre for them to leaflet. I also spoke to Henry Carver, who runs a non-political business group that is trying to regenerate the city centre. He said:

“We vie with Hull as the unemployment capital of England. What we need to do is to do anything to encourage businesses in the city so that people can be employed”.

This Bill would be one way of doing so. He does not want the council to have to subsidise small businesses for leafleting but wants the cost to be covered in some way. All the same, he believes that the current rules are restrictive.

Wolverhampton is a bad case but, as the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, said, the situation is echoed in other city and town centres across the country, from Leicester to Basildon. Freeing up the ability of cultural centres to leaflet will certainly not solve all their problems. We have to do everything possible to regenerate our high streets. They are the centres of our communities

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and the cultural engines of our country. To lose them will be to lose an important part of our national life. I urge the Minister to help this Bill to become law.

11.41 am

Lord Stevenson of Balmacara: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, for introducing the Bill. He and I have been locked in closed rooms a number of times recently, dealing with intellectual property. It is nice to see that he is not a one-club golfer and has other strings to his bow. I am sorry about the mixed metaphors. I am reminded of the brilliant game that he played last Session when he brought the Live Music Bill before your Lordships’ House. He entranced us with his arguments there and attracted the attention and support of the Government. He is clearly trying to do the same again here. We wish him well with that.

I thank the other speakers in the debate, which has been of high quality. I am particularly grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, for bringing in the wider context, which is important to this issue. After all, it is about the way in which we want our city centres to operate, and they are in danger if the widest possible range of activities cannot take place there to bring people back to them and to use them.

It is clear that the very excellent speech of the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, which I thought was one of the best that I have heard since I joined your Lordships’ House, covered all the aspects that needed to be brought into play. He did so with passion and rigorous argument throughout. His point seems to be that the existing law is imperfectly achieving its objectives. It disadvantages good and valuable work in local areas, involving the arts, culture and social provision. As a result, we all lose. It encourages commercialisation of activities that depend on a more informal and relaxed use of space and the bringing in of new groups and activities to refresh and innovate. It also does not solve the litter problem that the legislation was intended to address. As other noble Lords have said, other measures would probably be more effective in that regard.

As was said, leaflets are not litter until they are discarded. Perhaps there is a thought there. It is surprising how widely the legislation has been used, and one did not perhaps realise that until it was brought up in debate. That seems to be counterintuitive in the age of the internet. One would think that most of the groups and activities that we are talking about might have used social media and others to attract their audiences. However, it is clear from the evidence that the way in which this activity operates involves a direct link with customers. There is a vicious circle whereby if you cannot make contact by direct leafleting you cannot grow the venue or activity to the extent that it would be able to pay for a licence when that was appropriate.

The argument, of course, is that it is not appropriate. The licences are not cheap and their costs vary across the country. It is not surprising to hear that Brighton is one of the most egregious examples. The Green Party would obviously leap on to such a proposal that

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could be dressed up as a way of trying to accentuate a green activity by banning litter. However, it is a brave Government who attempt to restrict the activities of the Women’s Institute. If that is their purpose, I wish them luck.

The Government have a responsibility to review the effectiveness of legislation that has been passed, even legislation passed by a previous Administration. It is clear that this law is causing difficulties in an area that we all hold dear. I look forward to hearing the views of the Minister in response.

11.44 am

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord De Mauley): My Lords, let me begin by thanking my noble friend, to whom I have listened carefully—as I have listened to other noble Lords—for bringing this issue to the attention of your Lordships.

I clearly understand that community events underpin many aspects of what creates the social cohesion of our society, and one should never underestimate how important they are in bringing people together. I strongly support such endeavours. However, my noble friend will understand that my ministerial interest stems from the potential by-product of littering caused by advertising leaflets being dropped in public area. While I agree that local authorities should not unduly interfere with the organisation and promotion of these kinds of community events, it would be wrong of me not to explain why I have some reservations about my noble friend’s proposition.

My noble friend’s Bill seeks to limit the restrictions that local authorities are presently able to impose on the distribution of free printed matter in their areas of responsibility. As your Lordships will be aware, local authorities have a statutory duty to keep their relevant land free of litter and refuse under the Environmental Protection Act 1990. The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act 2005, which the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, generously admitted was put in place by the previous Administration, subsequently gave local authorities the power to restrict the distribution of free printed matter such as leaflets and flyers in specified areas if the distribution of such material is causing a problem.

The Bill could constrain those same local authorities that previously could utilise this provision in the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. They could argue that the positive action they have taken to reduce littering will be undone because their resources will have to be diverted once again into dealing with the extra littering that my noble friend’s Bill could inadvertently cause.

On the other hand, and in line with my noble friend’s train of thought, I can say that the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, which is currently being considered in the other place, will make some changes to local authority powers in respect of litter which will require us to review our accompanying guidance. I am happy to make an offer to my noble friend that in the course of that review we will also look for opportunities to review the guidance to local authorities on their powers in respect of leafleting in

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exactly the situation that he contemplates. We are willing to work with the Manifesto Club and others to draw up best-practice guidelines. It would be easy to present the local authority powers as an unnecessary erosion of a citizens’ freedom. This is indeed the argument of the Manifesto Club in its report of last year,

Leafleting: A




, which argues that leaflets cause no more mess than burger wrappers or crisp packets and implies that there are far more compelling reasons for the restriction of leafleting.

Perhaps I may take your Lordships back to the 1990s, when trials of similar powers to limit leafleting were run in London and Newcastle. Westminster City Council had particular littering issues over the distribution of free magazines in the Oxford Street area and, more significantly, with the distribution of free material by language schools. This in turn encouraged a range of other businesses such as tattoo parlours, amusement arcades and nightclubs to do the same. Westminster put up notices to highlight this issue but also hit the problem at source by challenging those language schools that had not registered with Companies House. This approach was welcomed by other residents, businesses and visitors to the area.

The leafleting problem in Newcastle centred on a large build-up of litter in the early hours of the morning, consisting mostly of flyers advertising bars and nightclubs. Since May 2002, Newcastle’s licensing department, in consultation with local trade representatives, has issued consents to enable individuals to distribute flyers within the city, showing what I hope noble Lords will accept is a constructive and helpful approach. These consents undergo regular checks to ensure that individuals adhere to the conditions and, if they do not, distributors risks having their flyers confiscated.

These trials showed that the restriction of leafleting activity in specific problem areas had a marked effect in both reducing litter and helping local authorities to limit their street-cleansing costs. The evidence gathered through these trials led to an efficient piece of drafting as part of the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act. However, that does not mean that we have stood still.

My noble friend’s proposal would undermine local authorities’ ability to address a problem which they already know exists. With the best will in the world, not everyone who is handed a leaflet or flyer wants to keep it, and it is a sad fact that many people still think that it is acceptable simply to drop the unwanted flyer a few paces further down the street. Under current legislation, controls on leafleting can be introduced only where there is evidence of a pre-existing problem with leaflet litter. Without these controls, there is a risk of the level of littering rising again in these areas, thus increasing the costs to local authorities of complying with their statutory duty to keep the streets clean. These costs would come at a time when local authority budgets were already under pressure and so would be likely to have a knock-on effect on the ability of local authorities to deliver other local and community services.

The current arrangements enable local authorities to develop appropriate solutions to local issues. If a problem arises, local authorities have the flexibility to

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consider and consult on an approach which tackles the specific problem and which does not unreasonably inconvenience law-abiding citizens. I put it to your Lordships that the creation of a further exemption, as proposed by my noble friend, would serve only to reduce the flexibility that local authorities currently have to tailor their response to the problem, and this would be directly contrary to this Government’s commitment to localism.

As my noble friend mentioned, exemptions exist to the Clean Neighbourhoods and Environment Act to protect well understood and fundamental rights. A local authority cannot apply restrictions to leaflets distributed for political purposes or for purposes of religion or belief, or for or on behalf of a charity. Feedback from local authorities is that they welcome clear delineation regarding to whom these provisions apply.

However, my noble friend seeks to extend the proposed definition of the events to which the exemption would apply. My concern with extending the exemption is that it could open the floodgates to commercial operators putting on events that could potentially attract huge audiences from far beyond the local community. While my noble friend paints a picture of community events or performances by local amateur dramatic societies, in some areas there may be numerous events taking place—for example, in city centres—where the number of leaflets frequently being dropped could be significant. This in itself would create a problem for the local authority enforcement officers. There is certainly no way of policing that only 600 people will see the leaflet, especially now that information of this kind is able to go global at the click of a button.

The focus on leafleting within this debate should not distract us from thinking about the overall issue of littering. In 2011-12, local authorities spent a staggering £840 million on street cleansing, and in the coalition we committed to working to reduce littering. Littering is a criminal offence which imposes unnecessary costs on the public purse and on society as a whole. Dealing with this supposedly victimless crime takes away from valuable services money which could otherwise be provided to the people who need them. We do not accept that more legislation is the only answer to the problem of littering, or even the best solution. If we are to tackle this problem effectively, we need to change people’s behaviour.

It would be remiss of me not to join the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, in drawing noble Lords’ attention to the role of digital technology. Let us remember that leaflets and flyers are not the only method of advertising events. The cultural and arts sector is often at the forefront of the innovative use of technology. We encourage such organisations to make full use of digital technology to promote their offer, and indeed to join forces with other, similar organisations to share marketing costs. Arts Council England has made money available for research and development in digital innovation, which could include promoting events through digital mobile technology. This approach has the additional benefit of reducing paper use, which is inevitably better for the environment.

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I am sure that even if my noble friend does not tweet himself, he will have dipped into his own party’s Twitter account and seen at first hand the speed at which a message can be conveyed via a digital platform. Many forward-thinking promoters are increasingly using media such as the quick response, or QR, code, in which interested parties use their smartphones to scan an advertised barcode to gain information about promotions or to book tickets for events. Surely these and other emerging and exciting digital tools are the way forward, and the old-fashioned paper leaflet or flyer will soon become an exhibit on the “Antiques Roadshow”.

My noble friend raised the issue of charging by local authorities. These powers are not about raising money for local authorities or placing barriers in the way of grass-roots arts organisations. The licensing fees that local councils can charge for permission to distribute leaflets must not exceed the cost of administering the licensing scheme. Not all councils charge a fee for a licence to distribute leaflets, and many councils have no restrictions at all. My noble friend mentioned some which, he suggested, were charging quite a lot of money. I am happy to look at those at the upper end of what he mentioned in case they exceed the cost of administering the power. To be clear, they can charge only the reasonable costs of enforcing the powers under Schedule 3A that do not extend to clean-up. Associated with that point, we have made informal soundings of councils across England. Pretty well all of them that responded expressed concern about the extra costs of cleaning up the litter generated and the damage to the environment.

The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, asked me to pass on the content of this debate and the Bill to the DCMS. I am happy to say to him that we have certainly been in touch about this debate, and he is quite right that we should do so. The noble Earl also referred to the possibility of more bins being put out to deal with the problem. Through the guidance that we have published for local authorities, we are encouraging them to look at their bin provision and to think about where they might want to provide additional facilities.

Therefore, I assure noble Lords that it is not the aim of the powers in the existing legislation to impose unintentional, unnecessary and burdensome restrictions on the organisation of community and cultural events, which we see as very important. We want to see vibrant, thriving communities with a strong arts and cultural scene, and we would certainly be concerned if we heard that local authorities were using these powers inappropriately or disproportionately.

I hope that my noble friend is pleased by my offer, in the course of the review of local authority guidance in the context of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, to look for opportunities to review guidance to local authorities, specifically on their powers in respect of leafleting, and that he is pleased that we are willing to work with the Manifesto Club and others to draw up best-practice guidelines.

I do not believe that the legislation as it stands places undue restrictions on civil liberties; rather, it enables local authorities to limit their exposure to

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unnecessary street-cleansing expenses and to develop controls which are appropriate to their local circumstances. I therefore express significant reservations about my noble friend’s Bill, which has the potential both to increase local authority costs and to make existing controls harder to enforce.

The Earl of Clancarty: My Lords, in terms of the exemptions, does the Minister believe that artistic expression is not as important as religious and political expression?

Lord De Mauley: I hoped I had made my position clear on that point. I see cultural and artistic expression as extremely important.


Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. In particular, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, who really got into the detail of the local arts scene, which he knows so much about, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, who has done extremely interesting research into the Wolverhampton situation, which is replicated up and down the country. Taking an example in that way becomes very powerful. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, for his support and his interrogation of why we have this legislation despite the fact that, as he acknowledged, these provisions were passed under the previous Government but have had these unintended consequences.

I thank the Minister for his reply. He had a pretty miserable hand to play in this debate. It had some positive elements but was broadly disappointing. One of his phrases, I think, was that he would be concerned to hear that the powers were being used disproportionately. There is a thick booklet from the Manifesto Club, which details in extenso all the ways in which these powers are being used disproportionately. There are ways of playing a miserable hand but I can tell the Minister that he did not turn it into a silk purse.

I cannot help feeling that if a different department were involved—if the DCLG or the DCMS, praise the Lord, were to have responsibility for this legislation—the response would have been very different, as it was, of course, in such a positive way to my Live Music Bill last year. We really have to lift our eyes from the pavement and noble Lords speaking in the debate made that very clear. I am really disappointed that Defra seems to regard the faint risk of extra litter as more important than our cultural and community life.

The Minister raised a number of objections, including the claim that it will lead to increased street-cleansing costs and divert resources for local government. It is probable that the width of definition of live entertainment underlies what the noble Lord said, as well as in terms of opening the floodgates to all the commercial operators and McDonald’s going mad all over our streets. Other objections in discussions have been made, including that it is difficult to say in advance what size an audience will be. But that is absolutely standard in health and safety, licensing and so on. It is not an issue.

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In the debate, the Minister set us the task of changing human behaviour. Let us start with small steps. I do not think that, in order to defend culture and community life at local level, I first have to change human behaviour to justify this very small but significant Private Member’s Bill. Then we all have to be beamed up in some way. I do not know whether we have any “Star Trek” enthusiasts around here, but let us all hang on a star and get digital. We can all use Twitter, e-mail and so on but physical bits of paper handed out to people who happen to be in the right place at the right time is extraordinarily important.

On the cost of litter collection, when the original leafleting restrictions were introduced, the Government’s impact assessment said that the leafleting licensing schemes might or might not save councils money because there would be costs to set it up. It is therefore highly moot whether in a particular case a licensing scheme is cost-effective and, therefore, whether its demise would cost anything in certain cases. The impact assessment said that,

“the total set-up cost to local authorities would be between £450,000 and £750,000; and taking account of the costs of enforcement and the cleaning costs saved, on an annual basis there would be somewhere between a net cost of £37,500 and a net cost saving of £525,000”.

We all know what impact assessments are like across government, which may sound particularly broad-brushed. I do not believe that those figures are any more reliable than the dire consequences the Minister has predicted in this case. It goes on to say:

“This illustrates that it is not certain whether there would be a net financial cost or benefit to this measure”.

If they were uncertain then, I am sure that they are uncertain now.

We then got into the nether regions of tattoo parlours, free magazines, night clubs, bars and so on. Let us throw the kitchen sink at this problem. I can assure the Minister that the Bill is not designed to deal with tattoo parlours. As the noble Viscount, Lord Colville, made plain, there are additional economic benefits which outweigh the disbenefits of a little bit of extra litter from a poetry club or a comedy store. The noble Viscount demonstrated exactly those points.

As a result of the Bill, local businesses and cultural activity would almost certainly thrive. As I have mentioned, Brighton audiences have plummeted. If the Brighton music scene, for instance, returned to its former size, more people would come to Brighton, spend more money, the council’s arts budget would go further and so on. Surely, in the light of the benefits of deregulation, is it not worth the candle?

As to the second objection—the question of the width of “live entertainment”—as I said, we can clearly work on the definition. Amendments could be agreed

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in Committee if there was the political will. As regards the size of audience issue, this works for licensing so why not for leafleting. If that does not find favour in terms of audience, it could find favour in terms of capacity. The term capacity is used in other forms of legislation, such as that on health and safety.

However, I am heartened by part of the Minister’s response. He seems to accept that there is a problem. He may not think that there is enough of a problem—I am sure he has not read the Manifesto Club’s report and I urge him to do so—but he has undertaken to sit down and talk about it with the Manifesto Club. I hope he will also sit down with DCLG and DCMS. I have seen a ministerial letter from the Creative Industries Minister to that effect in the DCMS and I welcome it. I hope that revised guidance will be agreed for the application of these provisions in the way that he said.

We need to make the Minister’s assurances concrete. Is it an absolutely firm commitment that the guidance will be changed? When will meetings take place? Can we expect to agree new draft guidance? When can we do that? When will this be consulted on? When can we expect it to be implemented? There are a number of concrete issues and I hope the Minister will follow that up in writing after the debate.

I wish to end by returning to the time when the 2005 Act went through and the actions of the Labour Minister, Alun Michael, for whom I had great respect as a Minister. His original outline of the religious, charitable and political exemptions emphasised that they were necessary to protect human rights and political expression. He said:

“The purpose of the exception is to ensure that the human rights of individuals and their legitimate political and democratic activities are not affected by the provisions. By allowing the exemptions, we protect the rights of freedom of expression and freedom of thought, conscience and religion”.—[Official Report, Commons, Clean Neighbourhoods and Environmental Bill Committee, 20/1/05; col. 143.]

This shows that, contrary to the localism argument used by Defra, exemptions are necessary to protect the rights of different groups. It was not all left to council’s discretion.

Surely grass-roots cultural expression needs to be similarly protected. It makes cultural, social and economic sense and I look forward to further discussions with the Minister. I ask the House to give this small but significant Bill a Second Reading.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 12.10 pm.