Busking Laws and the Lords

Lib Dem Peer Lord Clement-Jones, a well-known supporter of live music who brought in the Live Music Act in 2012 as a private member’s bill, has proposed the effective repeal of the law underpinning Camden’s draconian busking legislation.

(Report by Hamish Birchall with additional input from Jonny Walker)

During yesterday’s 2nd Reading of the Deregulation Bill in the House of Lords, he said:

‘The Mayor of London has rightly been fulsome about the place of busking in London life. In the Bill we should explicitly remove Part 5 of the London Local Authorities Act 2000, which provides for busking licensing schemes at individual London councils’ discretion. We should also remove Section 54(14) of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, which was recently used against buskers in Leicester Square.’

If implemented, these measures would pull the plug on Camden’s controversial borough-wide and extremely costly licence scheme (about £70k so far), and prevent buskers being arrested and detained by the police merely for doing what buskers do.

Lord Clement-Jones continued: ‘As I explained to the House [on 30th June], the King’s Parade, the winners of the mayor’s busking competition, were interrupted by the police mid-song as they performed in Leicester Square and informed that they were in breach of Section 54 of the archaic 1839 Metropolitan Police Act. They were bundled into a van by eight officers and held at Paddington police station for more than six hours. This 174-year-old piece of legislation, which also – I think the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, would be pleased by this – prohibits kite flying, sleigh riding and doorbell ringing, was used to justify the arrest.’

According to licensing lawyers, a potential criminal offence is committed by buskers under the 1839 legislation if they accept a donation or even hand out a free CD. Moreover, the police can use these powers against any busker in London – even if they are among the select few now licensed to busk in Camden (7, at the last count).

The Leicester Square day-time arrest, widely reported in the national press, took place on 14th May. It was filmed by a member of the public and posted on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wjFLNjtA6uc.  No-one had complained about the band.  This particularly draconian enforcement appears to have been part of a purge of Leicester Square buskers, backed and part-funded by the Heart of London Business Improvement District. See:http://bit.ly/1xL0yd7 and note the use of noise abatement notices.

Lord Clement-Jones went on to explain the rationale for his proposals, at the same time strongly criticising Camden’s regime:

‘There are more than adequate powers under separate legislation to deal with noise nuisance and anti-social behaviour. For example, there is the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or the Control of Pollution Act 1974. There are also powers to make by-laws available to local authorities with respect to street nuisance. Camden, under the London Local Authorities Act, has banned street music at any time, amplified or unamplified, except through a special busking licence. Camden’s approach runs completely counter to the arguments heard and accepted by government and Parliament during the Live Music Act debates.’

Busking deregulation will now be formalised as amendments to the Deregulation Bill for consideration at the Lords Committee stage, for which a date has yet to be fixed but could be by October. If the amendments are approved, the Commons would then consider them.

Another important October date is the 6th when there will be a ‘permission hearing’ at the Court of Appeal for the Keep Streets Live Campaign against the High Court ruling in support of Camden’s busking licence scheme.  The Keep Streets Live Campaign is also part of a London Mayoral busking taskforce set up by Boris Johnson to make London more busker friendly.

The campaign to keep music live on the streets of Camden and protect cultural freedoms is very much on!

With love,


Founding Director of Keep Streets Live Campaign




Key links:

Greater London Authority and Mayor of London launches #Backbusking campaign 9th April:
Boris Johnson warns ‘Don’t let London become a no-go area for buskers’.

Hansard transcript of Deregulation Bill 2nd reading, 7th July:
http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/ld201415/ldhansrd/text/140707-0002.htm [search on page for ‘busk’]

Lord Clement-Jones’ question about busking and 1839 Metropolitan Police Act in the House of Lords, 30th June:
Support of Mayor of London for busking quoted. Concerns about over-regulation of busking also raised by Viscount Clancarty, Baroness Hamwee and others. Government spokesperson, Baroness Williams of Trafford, is broadly supportive of busking, but mistakenly suggests it is not ‘criminalised’ when for all practical purposes it is under the 1839 MPA.

This post was written by
Singer-Songwriter/Professional Street Performer/Campaigner/Wandering Minstrel

9 Comments on "Busking Laws and the Lords"

  • First Liverpool, now London, yes it’s time to catch up with elsewhere!

  • Jonny one important point I’d like to make in relation to comments elsewhere, and yes a related relevant point of justice is firstly by stating clearly here that the ‘historical’ personages that I most identify with as a Busker today ( & contrary to yourself ) are not Medieval Minstrels, Wayfarers, Troubadors and the like but the historically more recent Commoners that ‘freely’ roamed 17th Century England.

    You see I ( and other Street Performers like me ) are not so much motivated by the desire to woo courtly Ladies with lavish French poetry but by the visercal urge not to find ourselves ‘ working for the Man ‘ i.e. to at all costs avoid being todays mis-aligned ‘slaves’ to the system, stuck in dead end jobs where we don’t fit, where we’re not really wanted.

    I’m well aware ( a point that has been glaringly missing in this discussion ) that from the historcial perspective the ‘new’ Public Order Laws being introduced in our towns and cities in October could very well represent the final ‘acts of enclosure’.

    *Up until the 1700s commonly owned land which had in the past enabled a portion of the population to survive by growing food for themselves and letting their animals, a cow or goose, roam free. From the eighteenth century onwards, the majority of ‘open’ English fields were enclosed behind walls and hedges by powerful Landowners.

    The traditional Marxist analysis ( challenged by historians but revealing nontheless ) is that the ‘enclosure’ movement heralded the birth of a modern industrial proletariat, defined as a group of people unable to live on their own resources who hence have no option but to sell themselves to an employer at a rate and with conditions sharply weighted in the employers favour.*

    Like the Commoners of 17th century England we Buskers today face losing much of our Street Performing freedoms and performance habitat if these ‘new’ Public Order Laws are indeed acted out in ‘draconian’ fashion as some commentators fear they may. I don’t necessarily think that all retailors, big business interests, local authorities etc view eg Buskers as a problem per say and would like to see the back of us however I’m experienced enough to be aware that there are enough whingers and ‘malignant’ complainers out there who would like to see the demise of Street Performing in our public spaces motivated by nothing else but their own emotional ‘resentment’.

    As you can see now, I’m not naieve enought to believe that recent public attacks on Buskers freedoms are merely driven by civil concerns about noise nuisance, no its about these kind of ‘people’ factors, economic ‘control’ issues ( some just want us working in factories ! ) plus the possible ‘negative’ actions of misguided City Centre Management and ‘nuisance’ performers themselves that compounds the issue.

    If backed by the Police, the political reality is that in certain places, some of these neighsayers of course end up with a disproportionate amount of power and may well indeed cause the likes of us Buskers ‘serious’ damage. Yesterdays unemployment figures heralded the lowest rate of people out of work in 5 years, would’nt it be the ‘blackest’ irony if as the general population get back in work we Street Performers find ourselves out of it, and in my case for instance, back on the dole.

    The only way to protect ourselves from such events, to stop ourselves from ending up like the Commoners of England 300 years ago are to join together as Street Performers and fight back. Remembers its the office workers, retail workers, business professionals and the like who pay our wages so this is not meant to be an argument demeaning that social class and their form of employment, one that is purposeful and valuable to them.

    No!, rather its about, preserving and protecting our valuable social identity on the street and the social fact that History tells us eg. ‘female’ emancipation included, that that the only really meaningful form of Social Status assigned to any group is achieved through one thing and one thing alone, that is, political agitation!( * Abridged Extract from Status Anxiety by Alain De Bottain )

    • * Tag Comment – As for what you cite elsewhere as the connection between the Minstrel Tradition and busking, a tradition that you seem to think I should pay more respect too, well I have to say that as far as Minstrelsy goes you come across more as ‘Celtic Bard’ than Troubadour Jonny, what with your Liverpool connections and the like.

      In fact its an identifiable Irish ‘ Celtic ‘ strain that for me appears to run through your work, and ‘your’ community,
      to be precise 2nd/3rd generation Irish even, if we are to include the Leonard Cohen, Van Morrison influences and yes the ‘melodic’ pop of The Beatles. In fact the whole acoustic Pop thing to me is more an ‘Irish’ ( perhaps Scottish? ) thing than than anything else whether mainstream ‘ English ‘ folk, fingerstyle blues or anything.

      I’m meditating ( free associating ) right now on my ‘Bohemian’ Moseley days and smile at the cultural divide ( and ‘crossover’ ) back then in the 90s what with those with a tendency to listening to John Martin and the ‘Jazzers’ those with a proclivity towards listening to Miles Davies. With reference to the ‘outside’ social scene its interesting to note that it was jazz that generally won out eg it was funk, reggae, n’ jazz music that tended to dominate the sounds of the numerous garden parties, local ‘co-operative’ club set ups in the area. Yes, theres an interesting socio cultural fact for you!.

      • For evidence of the ‘reality’ of a Celtic/African crossover, and the ‘truthful’ expressive mixing of heritage communities check out the guy who many music critcs, folk musicologists and peers regard as the first ‘Acoustic’ Viruoso, his name being Davy Graham.

        Davey Graham folk pioneer & acoustic guitar master paved the way for cross cultural fusion by introducing Arab Oud Dadgad tuning into the Bristish Isles folk idiom. Dadgad is now the mainstay of Celtic Folk Guitar music at the beginning of the Uk’s folk revival ( See ‘folk’ triumpherate :Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Martin Carthy ) four decades ago now.

        Importantly remember Davey Graham was not English, Irish or Welsh he was of ‘duel heritage’ i.e. of Scottish/African parentage born in Leicester to a Guyanese ( South American Carribean ) Mother. He learned about the Oud and its tuning whilst travelling in North Africa way back in the early 1960s having been enticed and influenced back then by Morroccan music.

      • * Apologes ‘John Martyn ‘ ( See above )

      • *Note by ‘the blues’ I mean that distinctive ‘pioneering’ folk style aptly named ‘ The English Blues ‘ as invented and popularised by John Renbourn, Bert Jansch et al ( See Below Davey Graham )

  • “The real political task in a society such as ours is to criticize the workings of institutions that appear to be both neutral and independent, to criticize and attack them in such a manner that the political violence that has always exercised itself obscurely through them will be unmasked, so that one can fight against them.”
    ― Michel Foucault, The Chomsky – Foucault Debate: On Human Nature

    * The French Philosopher Michel Foulcault, ‘ the philospopher of power ‘, author of such books as Discipline and Punish, is renowned for his penetrating insights on the question of ‘power’ and Society. More controversially so, he’s also as notorious as Crowley, for what some see as the glaring moral disruption between his work and his private life.

    Anyway, being familiar with much of his work and in the context of our current busking issues I could’nt resist the above quote, its very relevant methinks. Check him out for yourself!

  • * Intellectual Health Warning

    Before getting off on the ideas of Foucault though, it could be worthwhile consulting the You Tube Video ‘Noam Chomsky On Intellectual French Culture & Post Modernism ( 3/8 ) ‘, for some interesting if not telling ‘inights’ on the Post War Paris Scene and its fascinating players.

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