My Bill to free grassroots arts from draconian leafleting licences

03/07/2013 – 11:43 am

By Lord Clement-Jones

After last year’s success with getting the Live Music Bill through Parliament and the deregulation of entertainment licensing,  I am promoting another Bill to free grassroots arts from burdensome red tape.
My Cultural and Community Distribution Deregulation Bill – which will have its second reading in the Lords on Friday – would exempt small cultural and community events from the requirement to buy a leafleting licence.
Currently many events – including amateur theatres, jazz festivals and fetes – have to buy a council licence in order to promote their event with leaflets. 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, while Wolverhampton charges £262 per distributor.
Leafleting is the primary way in which grassroots events can reach a local audience, but they simply cannot afford these high fees.
The Manifesto Club report Leafleting – A Liberty Lost? found that 27% of councils restrict leafleting, including Nottingham, Leicester, Brighton, Swindon, Wolverhampton, Oxford, Bournemouth and Birmingham. The report also found that leafleting licences have damaged the music and arts scenes in key British cities, reducing the grassroots scene and limiting opportunities for emerging artists to win themselves an audience.
The campaign is backed by comedians Al Murray and Simon Evans, musicians Stuart Murdoch (singer, Belle and Sebastian) and Rick Wakeman, as well as organisations including Equity and the Musicians Union.

Councils claim this is about litter but it is highly questionable whether leafleting licence schemes – which are expensive to set up – save any money on street cleaning, especially since they favour big commercial operations who tend to leaflet less responsibly. A few well placed litter bins would tackle the problem more cheaply, without infringing upon public freedoms and stifling local events. 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.

Political, religious and charitable events are exempt from the need to buy a leafleting licence, which means that small cultural events are 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 grassroots arts are fundamental to community life and the local economy, as well as producing talent of international renown. The deregulation of entertainment licensing is great but groups need to be able to promote themselves. Unless we act quickly there will be irreparable damage done to the grassroots arts across the UK.

As David Mullholland of the Soho Comedy Club says: “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 flyers to attract audiences until 1993. If flyering had been prohibited in 1979 there would be no alternative comedy scene in the UK.”
I hope that on Friday the Government will listen to these arguments and respond favourably so  we can mark another significant step towards deregulating grassroots arts event for the benefit of cultural and creative life in this country.

Here is the link to the Manifesto Club’s site with more information on the campaign and the Bill.

The Need for Détente and Bridge-Building in today’s world

Lord Hylton 02/07/2013 – 12:52 pm

I spoke in the House of Lords debate on Syria and the Middle East on 1st July at cols 107 – 109 of Hansard.  What I heard and said then convinced me that we need détente just as much now as during the worst   times   of the 20th century Cold War.

An obvious example is between India and Pakistan, both of whom are nuclear powers.  Trade between them could be greatly increased which would help indirectly the poorest people in both countries.

Iran and Western and Arab States are another.  For hundreds of years Iran has never attacked its neighbour though it suffered a terrible onslaught by Saddam Hussein.  The new Iranian President and the release of some prisoners give grounds for restoring at least basic diplomatic relations between Britain and Iran.

Israel and Palestine are perhaps the most obvious cases.  Because of the Wall and barrier, together with occupation of most of the West Bank and the blockade of Gaza, normal person to person contacts are almost impossible.  This has led to fear, mistrust, and demonization of the other.   Even when official relations are poor, everything possible should be done to multiply cultural, school, academic and sporting occasions.

When will an international train stop at “Stratford International”?

Baroness Valentine 28/06/2013 – 3:45 pm

I sit on the excitingly named “European Sub Committee B” which scrutinises European legislation to do with infrastructure. Currently we are looking at the “4th Railway Package” which is essentially about freeing up railway infrastructure so that it is easier for people to travel by train across Europe and easier for train companies of different nationalities to compete to run trains on other countries’ tracks.

The problem is that while countries support this in principle, once it is applied to their own country they would really rather their own train companies got preference over anyone else’s. As a result some countries have not yet got round to adopting the 1st railway package – let alone, the 2nd and 3rd.

This has interesting ramifications for the answer to my question. Michael Hesseltine had a vision about regenerating the East End after the closure of the Docks and helped get Stratford International Station (yes, next door to the Olympic Park) built, with the expectation that trains would run from Liverpool to London and on into France. However, at the moment, Eurostar, which is the only operator of trains from London to Paris, does not stop there.

The reason? The majority of people want to get as quickly as possible from central London to central Paris. Now, if there were some competition (there is plenty of room on the tracks), maybe a train would stop there.

Why is there no competition? Partly it is alleged because the fees for access to the Channel Tunnel are so high (the European Commission has threatened Court action on France and Britain if they don’t lower charges). But also, Deutsche Bahn has been waiting for three years for a licence (a German company trying to use a French/UK tunnel). Separately, Germany itself has been threatened with court action if Deutsche Bahn is not more transparent about subsidies.

So, I believe an international train will one day stop at Stratford, but not any day soon.


Action on Drugs

Lord Hylton 28/06/2013 – 11:16 am

This week I went to a joint meeting of the Inter-Parliamentary Union, and the Parliamentary All-Party Group on Illegal Drugs. It was attended by several central and South American ambassadors, together with MPs, peers, and other well-informed people.

The meeting heard reports from the Pan American Conference to discuss drug-related issues.  This was held in May 2013 in Guatemala, attended by 28 foreign ministers, with the approval of all the presidents of America. There was unanimous agreement that the use and abuse of illegal drugs is a health issue more than a criminal one.  All options should be considered to reduce the serious harm and the cost, both to users and to all involved in the production, trafficking and distribution of drugs, both natural and synthetic.

This is linked to paramilitary violence, civil wars in several states, corruption , and problems of law enforcement.

There will be follow up meetings in London and in the Americas, all with the object of agreeing better and more effective policies.

A confusion of titles

Lord Norton 22/06/2013 – 6:49 pm

Sometimes a peer has to add a territorial title to their name if there is already a peer using the same surname.   When I received my peerage, there was already a Lord Norton, a hereditary peer.  As I wanted to retain my surname, I had to add a territorial title.  There is thus a difference between Lord Norton and Lord Norton of Louth.   Lord Norton sat in the House until 1999, when he became one of the excluded hereditaries.  We thus overlapped by a year, and variously received one another’s correspondence.

At times, the difference between peers with the same family name can be a notable problem.  How often, for example, do the media refer to the Conservative Party co-chair as Lord Feldman, mentioning that he was a contemporary of David Cameron at Oxford and one of his tennis partners?  Lord Feldman (Basil Feldman) is 86 and was not at Oxford with David Cameron.  Lord Feldman of Elstree (Andrew Feldman) on the other hand…

And how often do the media refer to Lord Patten as Chair of the BBC Trust?  Lord Patten (Johh Patten, a Cabinet minister under John Major) does not hold that post.  Lord Patten of Barnes (Chris Patten, a Cabinet minister under Margaret Thatcher and John Major) does.

There are similar difficulties with a range of other titles where two or more peers share the same family name, though possibly not as high profile at the moment as in these two cases.  Unless there is someone I have overlooked….