Westminster Council, presumably short of things to do, have resuscitated their old plans to outlaw soup runs on the basis that it “encourages homelessness.” Quite apart from the manifest absurdity of this suggestion (of the many factors causing street-homelessness; the availability of the odd cup of soup doesn’t make the top ten) there is a political will to ban soup runs because they attract crowds of homeless people, many of whom might be prone to begging, drunkenness, drug abuse or simply cluttering the place up. Westminster values tourism more than the homeless, and to help (as opposed to hide) the homeless costs money.
And money is something they’re clearly very short of, because they couldn’t afford to pay someone to draft their proposed byelaw. They had to rely on the work experience kid who’d just begun a GCSE in law, with the assistance of the bloke who’d come in to unblock the bogs.
Or at least, that’s what I assume happened, from the quality of the draft.
Here’s the fail:
s.3(1) No person shall lie down or sleep in or on any public place.
Whoops, we’ve just abolished summer sunbathing in Hyde Park. Also, make sure you don’t fall asleep on the night bus.
s.4(1) No person shall distribute any free refreshment in or on any public place.
s.4(2) No person shall knowingly permit any person to distribute any free refreshment in or on any public place.
What constitutes free? According to s.1 of the draft byelaw, “refreshments are free if they are distributed without charge to the persons to whom they are distributed.”
But there is nothing to stop anybody from distributing 1p pieces while the soup run charges 1p per soup. The soup run could also “charge” a handshake. There’s no stipulation that the consideration must be financial.
Of course the other issue with this is the definition of “distribute” – s.1 helpfully clarifies: ““distribute free refreshments” means give them out or offer to make them available to, [sic] members of the public.”
If I buy a round of drinks at the Edge Bar and distribute them in Soho Square to my friends, am I breaking the byelaw? Technically, yes.
How about a parent who has a child plus that child’s friends and their parents out for a birthday treat, and hands round biscuits when they get crotchety? Impermissible. Level 2 fines all round.
Shops who give out samples of food or drink to passers-by? There is some exception made for them under s.5(c) which confirms an exception where “the distribution is of samples of refreshments and is carried out for marketing purposes on land adjacent to retail premises in which the same refreshments are available for sale.”
But it would penalise the Vegan Society who turn up in Covent Garden with delicious tasty vegantastic food to tempt people over to the green side, because they’re not always next to a retail premises.
It would stop the bottled water companies handing out free bottled water to tube passengers during a heatwave. Likewise the “Diet Coke girls” who hand out promotion mini-cans of cola. The carshare company who are currently handing out blue lollipops with their leaflets. Potentially, we’re talking about stopping the tea-and-biscuits in the vestibule after church, if you’re a Westminster churchgoer.
What a giant load of cobblers this is. Its broad brush approach criminalises people going about their legitimate business whilst leaving a nice big loophole for those it was aimed at. A plan thought up by those who lack compassion, drafted by those who lack comprehension, and no doubt to be implemented by agencies who lack cohesion.
- No promotional lollipops for Westminster