Disclaimer on the Environmental Protection Act 1990
The Clean Neighbourhoods and Environmental Act 2005 (CNEA) gives power to local authorities to control distribution of free literature in places such as town centres. This legislation only applies to England and Wales. The new council powers aim to prevent litter caused by large numbers of handbills handed out by nightclubs and other businesses. Sometimes the police work with local councils to ensure that the law is enforced.
The CNEA 2005 amends Schedule 3A of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 (EPA). Section 1 (1) of schedule 3A states :
A person commits an offense if he distributes any free printed matter without the consent of a principle litter authority on any land which is designated by the authority under this schedule where the person knows that the land is so designated.
However, section 1 (4) of schedule 3A provides a very clear exemption for the distribution of religious or political literature and for charities. It says;
(4) nothing in this paragraph applies to the distribution of printed matter:
a. by or on behalf of a charity within the meaning of the Charity Act 1993, where the printed matter relates to or is intended for the benefit of the charity;
b. where the distribution is for political purposes or for the purpose of a religion or a belief.
The CNEA 2005 cannot be used to impose restrictions on giving out Christian literature in public. Christians can distribute tracts, Bibles and Christian literature in their town centres without having to seek permission from the local authority.
Any attempt by a council to limit this activity would appear, in our view, to be an unlawful breach of the right to freedom of speech and freedom of religion, as enshrined in the Human Rights Act 1998.
If the Police or local authority attempt to rely on the CNEA 2005 to impose restrictions on handing out Christian literature in the open air on public land, give them a copy of section 1 (4). (you could print out this page.) They should be asked for an official apology, in writing. They should also be asked to confirm that section 1 (4) of Schedule 3 will be brought to the attention of other police officers or council officials so the mistake will not be repeated.