Rights and democracy groups are urging the government to rethink its ban on political leafleting during England’s current coronavirus restrictions.
Cabinet Office minister Chloe Smith said in a letter to members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel that leafleting and door-to-door campaigning was “not considered (an) essential or necessary activity” in lockdown.
But rights and democracy groups, including Big Brother Watch, claim there is no leafleting ban in the coronavirus regulations and raised concerns it could interfere with the right to free expression and the functioning of democracy.
A number of elections are due to be held in May, including those for the Mayor of London, the Welsh and Scottish parliaments as well as local authorities in England.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said that different rules would apply in the upcoming elections but said that door-to-door campaigning was currently not considered an “essential or necessary activity”.
In a letter to Smith, the groups said their concerns were only over leafleting and stressed that some restrictions are necessary due to the public health risk.
But it said that political leafleting was a “key part of the democratic process” and that any suggestion of a ban on this would “contradict” postal and delivery services being allowed to continue.
“The government’s view, as described in your letter, is “that these (lockdown) restrictions do not support door-to-door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists,” they wrote.
“However, the lockdown restrictions have not impeded delivery services including Royal Mail, couriers, food delivery services or others that have continued throughout lockdowns.”
Their letter claims that delivering campaign material, as an employee of a political party or as a volunteer, falls under the list of reasonable excuses a person may leave their home.
It urged the Cabinet Office minister to withdraw the previous guidance and “affirm that political leafleting is lawful under the current regulations”.
In a letter to members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel on January 22, Smith wrote: “The government’s view is that (the) restrictions do not support door-to-door campaigning or leafleting by individual political party activists.
“It is widely accepted that voters can continue to get campaigning information remotely.”
It is understood that the Cabinet Office has received the letter from the rights and democracy groups and will respond in due course.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said: “The current national lockdown restrictions are very clear: people should stay at home wherever possible.
“In order to reduce transmission of Covid infections, door-to-door campaigning by volunteers at this point in time is therefore not considered essential or necessary activity.
“In due course, we will be holding elections, where different rules will apply. Democracy will not be cancelled because of Covid.
“The government has committed to engaging with political parties on the guidelines that will be in place for these elections.”