Friday 20 April 2012

Outrage as Brent Council plan to charge citizens for free speech

I thought a speaker at the Willesden Area Consultative Forum might have been rather exaggerating when she likened living under Brent Council rule to  living in the Soviet Union but then we read of Brent's plans to include community groups in plans to licence (and charge) distributors of free literature.  I wrote in my blog breaking news of the plans that the definition of 'political purposes' would be open to interpretation LINK. Campaigns around cuts and libraries etc are 'political' but not representing a political party. It now appears that Brent's interpretation is that exempt activities are those of political parties campaigning at election time. See Brent and Kilburn Times story LINK

So if we want to campaign against Council policies in designated areas we must seek their permission and pay a fee to do so!

Veteran activist Sarah Cox has expressed the outrage that many Brent people feel in a letter to Councillors Gladbaum, Long and Beswick:
Dear Councillors Beswick, Long and Gladbaum,
I am writing to you as my ward councillors and copying this email to Cllr Ann John as leader of the Council because I learned from the local paper that you intend to discuss on Monday a proposal to charge £175 for a license to give out leaflets in the main shopping areas of the borough with a further charge of £75 a day. This proposal, if passed, would represent an outrageous curtailment of human rights. Maybe you have been taking lessons from Uzbekistan or China. You may have been irritated by the distribution of leaflets and collection of signatures from people opposed to cuts and closures of services in the borough, but surely that is an essential part of democracy?
According to the paper, political parties, charities and religious groups will be exempted, but I often give out leaflets for bodies which do not fit any of these categories like Unite Against Fascism, the Stop the War Coalition or Brent Fightback. The cost of leaflets I am likely to give out on any day is probably twenty pounds or less, to charge £175 plus £75 a day (for each person?) is to gag all protest and free speech.
The editor of the Kilburn and Brent Times recognises the threat to democracy posed by you proposal, I am shocked and surprised that you do not. I hope someone will be allowed to speak at Monday's Council meeting to oppose this outrageous idea. I hate litter as much as anyone, but the litter I see on the streets is plastic bags, food wrappings, old clothes and mattresses, not leaflets asking people to protest against library closures, fascism and war.
I hope to hear from you that you will be voting against this proposal.


Anonymous said...

This is insane! I can understand trying to cut down on litter, and curbing commercial businesses leafletting for financial gain. But there's a clear curb on democratic rights here. And why are religious groups more entitled to promoting their opinions than the rest of us?!

Martin Francis said...

After I pressed the Council for clarification they have now said that anti-cuts leaflets, library campaigning leaflets etc would be exempt from the licence requirements as they would come under 'political purposes'. (See later blog). Apparently the Council press office interpreted political purpose as being limited to political parties. Brent's arses and elbows remain confused. Meanwhile with so much open to interpretation and people advertising gigs, small businesses etc requiring a licence I still think it should be opposed.

The Local Don. said...

Councillors Beswick, Long and Gladbaum don't have a clue.

The Local Don.

The Local Don. said...

Free speech? Democracy?

The 49% of people against, have to do everything the 51% want. If they refuse their "free speech" is taken away by the use of fines and so on.

The Local Don.

Trevor said...

I can't help thinking that rather than this Idea being about reducing litter, it sounds more like a desperate attempt during desperate times to use leaflets distributors as a means of making extra revenue for the council that is already struggling.
and as they can see their Idea hasn't been warmly welcomed for obvious reasons.