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.

London Evening Standard: Best Buskers Row Over Arrest Rages On

London Evening Standard: Best Buskers Row Over Arrest Rages On

Published by Rachel Blundy at the London Evening Standard on 02/06/2014

A row over the decision to arrest a band hailed as London’s best buskers by Mayor Boris Johnson is raging on today after a community leader voiced his support for a police crackdown on busking.

Colin Bennett, chairman of the Leicester Square Association, has come out in support of police after last week’s arrest of the King’s Parade in Leicester Square.

The four-piece from Cricklewood were led away by officers last Wednesday as they came to the end of their set in front of a bewildered crowd.

They did not require a permit to perform but police arrested them under the terms of an archaic Metropolitan Police Act from 1839, claiming they were performing in order to earn cash from passers-by.

Mr Bennett has said that police were right to detain the musicians, adding that the authorities’ approach to buskers in the capital needed “managing”.

He said: “Entertainment is fine but it needs managing. At present it isn’t.

“Nobody wants draconian action, but without a clear policy in place, there is little left.”

Speaking about Mr Johnson’s ‘Back busking’ campaign, which aims to prevent parts of the city becoming ‘no-go areas’ for buskers, he said: “The Mayor’s busking campaign may be headline grabbing, but it lacks forethought, resulting in places like Leicester Square becoming unregulated free for all with the potential to project a poor image – not the world class destinations I’m sure he and we wish to convey.”

In response, band member Olly Corpe challenged Mr Bennett’s stance on the issue.

He told the Standard: “It seems Colin agrees with the Met’s decision to arrest us but wants busking to be managed – surely arresting buskers isn’t a good way of managing it?”

He continued: “He obviously hasn’t read up on the ‘Back busking’ campaign because the whole idea of it is to regulate and unify the busking rules around London, which is exactly what Colin is asking for.

“If he agrees with our arrest then he believes that all buskers in Leicester Square should be arrested as well. Considering our arrest took more than five hours, I’m wondering if Colin has considered the time and resources needed to do so.”

The band were released without charge but could still face a court summons.

Defending the arrest earlier this week, a spokesman for Scotland Yard said that “unlicensed street performing” contributed to “anti-social behaviour and is a driver of crime”.

In a statement, the Greater London Authority (GLA) said it was involved in discussions with police over the band’s arrest.

It said: “We were made aware of the arrests of the Kings Parade and note that they were released with no further action being taken. Since then we have been liaising with the Metropolitan Police to review what happened.

It added that representatives for the Mayor’s pro-busking campaign are set to meet next week.

It said: “The Mayor announced a high level taskforce in April, aimed at making London the most busking friendly city in the world. This is bringing together the police, boroughs and other organisations to develop a pan-London approach.”

Email Exchange: KSL & Deputy Council

Email Exchange: KSL & Deputy Council

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Below is an email exchange between Jonny Walker of Keep Streets Live Campaign to Camden Council Councillors, a sharp response from the Deputy Mayor, and then Ben Van Der Velde back to the Deputy. The latest correspondence is at the top of this chain.
Reply from Ben Van Der Velde, Green Party Candidate for Camden Town/Primrose Hill, Stand Up Comic on 28th March 2014:

Dear Lazzaro,

I hope this finds you well. I thought I’d send you a quick email in praise of busking and spontaneous, peripatetic street culture, since it appears your inbox has been somewhat lacking in these of late. Happily I can say that I am emphatically in favour of busking remaining free and unlicensed within Camden.

I’ve been a proud resident of Camden Town for almost four years and before that a constant visitor for a further twelve. Like many people around the world I have visited Camden based on its reputation as a worldwide hub for music and musicians – chief amongst these the many talented buskers who play on the streets. Whether these are professional performers or talented amateurs learning their trade, they have been a key part of giving Camden a heart, soul and voice. When I first arrived in London at the age of 14 with a rucksack on my back and battered guitar case by my side I found myself at a loose end and so sat down outside the tube station, took out my guitar and played. Not in hope of financial reward – just to entertain myself, get better at an instrument which I loved and raise a smile or two from passers-by. It was a harmless, creative act which I remember fondly. And an act which now, thanks to some of the most bizarre and blinkered legislating I’ve encountered, would have been criminal.

For reasons best known to yourself and some other members of Camden Council you have reacted to the complaints of a tiny minority of residents by making it an illegal act to play ‘unlicensed music’ in the streets. Whilst it appears you have the best interests of the residents at heart I really don’t think you have acted as responsible politicians – balancing the needs of various parties and coming to a fair compromise. Instead you have grossly punished a majority of sensitive, thoughtful, law-abiding buskers for the actions of a rogue few who – as I’m sure you’re tired of hearing by now – could easily be dealt with using current Environmental Protection Act 1990 and Control of Pollution Act 1974. In addition, sixteen years of visiting Camden have shown me that even with amplification, buskers have to work pretty hard to overcome the noises of traffic, roadworks, music from shops and stalls, people talking and shouting in the street and the general hubbub of daily life in NW1. If you’re going to single out buskers then I think you might have to ask everyone else I’ve just listed to keep it down a bit too.

I’m sure there are genuine concerns about the use of amplification for instruments or backing tracks for rappers and beatboxers. Equally I share your concern about repetitive busking, or people playing music at anti-social hours. But that simply is no justification for making a young musician wait a few weeks for their application to be approved when they pluck up the courage to take to the streets for the first time and play a song. Instead it should be a clear indicator that buskers, residents and businesses need to engage in greater dialogue to come to an agreement on a best practice guide. If it can happen in Liverpool, York and countless other parts of the country, then why not in Camden, a place that many people consider to be the nation’s home of live music?

Your comparison to licensing smoking in bars or driving cars (and I have to admit at this point to having a had a cheeky look at your reply to my new mate Jonny Walker’s email) is hilariously wide of the mark. One is the licensing of an unhealthy activity in a private space, the other the necessary precaution needed when putting an adult in control of a potentially dangerous vehicle. Unless you take the words on Woody Guthrie’s guitar – “This machine kills fascists” – a little bit too literally, I don’t think you can club musical instruments along with the first two.

Busking is an impromptu and life-giving art form which creates an immediate and unique connection between performer and audience/passers-by in a way that few other ways of self-expression do. If you spent an afternoon out with a couple of buskers (and maybe you did – it would seem the sensible thing to do when concocting a policy such as this one) I strongly doubt you would have seen much antipathy towards them. Whenever I have seen Camden’s buskers impact on the public I’ve witnessed either the classic London “I’m blocking out all external stimuli” walk, or a little smile and swing in the step. To say that you have had few letters of support from Camden residents is tad disingenuous I feel – the very nature of busking means that buskers are getting tens or even hundreds of messages of support a day in the form of coppers, silvers and even the odd note dropped for them by happy visitors to and residents of Camden, rather than formal letters.

Still, you did say you were lacking some of those letters, so here’s one for you. I hope you like it. Also – and you might be aware of this already – I feel so passionately about this that I’ve decided to stand for the Green Party on this issue in Camden Town and Primrose Hill ward. This is my first foray into any form of politics in my life, so there’s always the chance that I’ve got this horribly wrong. But from what I understand and what I have witnessed, the council and the courts have got this horribly wrong in almost every way and I look forward to the policy being reversed and a more honest, genuine dialogue occurring with the busking community in the future.

All the best,

Ben Van der Velde

Response from Lazzaro Pietragnoli, Camden Labour Councillor, Deputy Mayor and Board Member of Camden Town Unlimited on 27th March 2014:

Dear Mr Walker,I do not share our criticism about the new entertainment policy, but I perfectly understand your frustration.

You have tried to stop this policy both before and after its approval, with the same exact arguments that you repeat in your letter, and you failed.

You failed to organise a big negative response to the public consultation.

You failed to persuade Councillors with your deputations at the different meetings (Committee, Cabinet, Council) that approved the policy.

You failed to challenge the new policy in Court.

And, last but not least, you are now failing in your attempt to attack the local Labour Councillors for the leaflet we delivered to residents.
Despite the organised campaign asking people to write to us (see for instance the blog by Hamish Birchall onhttp://livemusicexchange.org/blog/camden-labour-councillors-target-buskers-hamish-birchall/), I’ve only received 3 (three!) e-mails of complains, all using your arguments (sometimes even verbatim!). And none of them was from a resident in the Borough.
You are the first resident of Camden to contact me AGAINST this issue since we delivered that leaflet (and -can I say it?- you do not live in, or close to, an area interested by “extreme busking”!)

On the contrary, I keep meeting local residents and business owners that express their support for what we did.
You don’t need to see any big conspiracy theory behind Simon Pitkeathley’s statement: businesses in Camden are supportive of the policy! And consequently their organisation expressed the support (and you should appreciate they did it at the end of a legal challenge between the Copuncil and your organisation, in order not to interfere with the legal process)
As for the allegation that the three Councillors members of the board where able to steer the position of CTU, it is such a ridiculous thing! You must have a great opinion of myself (and Theo and Chris) if you really think that three local politicians are able to force businesses to approve something that is against their own interest…

Despite your misleading campaign, local residents and businesses understand that the new policy is not a “criminalisation” – do you consider a criminalisation” asking people to have a licence when they drive their car? The maximum punishment can be a prison sentence: isn’t this an attack on the freedom of movement?!
And what about the “draconian” ban on smoking in pubs? Does it mean that is a criminal offence to smoke? Or that you will be fined for entering a pub with a pack of cigarettes in your pocket?

People and businesses understand that the new policy is not a brutal limitation of your freedom of expression – what would you think will happen if tomorrow at 3 in the night I would walk the streets of Pimlico, with my megaphone in one hand, shouting messages of protest against the Russian aggression against Ukraine?
The Police would stop me -and rightly!
Of course, it would be different f I organise a silent candlelight vigil outside the Russian Embassy.
So, yes, there are different degrees of freedom of expression, as my individual rights cannot be in contrast with other people’s rights, and should be exert in a balanced way!

Since we had this conversation several times before, it seems to me that you do not listen to other people’s arguments, being them the local residents, the Councillors, or even Mrs Justice Patterson!, and carry on “singing your tune” (on criminalisation and freedom of expression) that has nothing to do with the aim and the contents of our new Street Entertainment Policy.

Best regards

Lazzaro Pietragnoli
Councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli
Camden Town with Primrose Hill ward

From Jonny Walker sent to Camden’s Councillors on 27 March 2014:
Dear elected members of Camden Borough Council (Particularly those of you who voted in favour of the busking law), Simon Pitkeathley of Camden Town Unlimited and Penny Mills of the Metropolitan Police,

On Monday, in the company of around forty other people, I played my acoustic guitar, sang songs and made a joyful sound on a cheap kazoo in the shared public spaces of Camden Town as part of a protest against Camden’s contentious new busking laws which sees all ‘unlicensed’ performances of live music in Camden’s streets cast as a CRIMINAL offences, punishable by fines up to £1000, the seizure of instruments and their sale to pay the fine if unpaid after 28 days.  The Old Bill were strangely absent from our musical protest, which even included some Spanish tourists dancing to the sound of kazoos in a rousing rendition of Blake’s magnificent surrealist opus ‘Jerusalem’. Later on that evening, when the crowds had long since dispersed, I took out my guitar once more on the streets of Camden and accompanied myself on the kazoo in an extremely moving rendition (to me at least) of ‘Amazing Grace’. The appreciative smiles of the passersby only served to sadden me because I realised most of them had no idea of the grave threat that now hangs over the future of Camden’s vibrant and diverse street culture scene.

Writing as a Labour Party member, I was shocked and saddened to hear of an election leaflet recently placed into circulation by the ruling Labour Group in Camden which grandiosely (not to say also erroneously) proclaimed to have effected ‘an end to sleepless nights in Camden’ on account of the High Court’s recent decision to rule the new street entertainment policy as lawful. In 2012-2013 it stated that there was a tenfold increase in the number of complaints made about busking in the Borough of Camden compared to the year before. Leaving aside the once-in-a-generation event of the London Olympics in 2012, this ‘ten fold’ increase saw busking complaints rise from 0.2 % of the total complaints about noise in the Borough to just over 2% of total noise complaints in the borough (And this in exceptional and unrepeatable circumstances). 98% of noise complaints in Camden did not relate to busking and yet, by some strange alchemy election leaflets have appeared claiming to have eliminated ‘sleepless nights’ in Camden because of the unprecedented clamp down upon street culture on the part of the ruling Labour Group. Have you eliminated noise from traffic, road works, noisy neighbours, dogs barking, licensed venues, shops blaring out loud music? Of course not, yet these are the sources of around 98% of noise complaints in Camden. You will forgive me, and many others, for remaining distinctly unimpressed at this sleight of the statistical hand and brazen attempt to play crude electoral politics with an unprecedented assault upon cultural freedoms in Camden.

I’m also extremely concerned that Camden Town Unlimited, having remained strangely silent on the busking initiative throughout the controversy leading up to the High Court challenge, chose the aftermath of that decision to issue a public statement welcoming the new policy uncritically, with Simon Pitkeathley the Chief Executive saying,

“We welcome this initiative. Busking has always been a part of Camden Town and this will allow it to continue in a way that works for businesses and residents alike”
How will introducing the second most restrictive busking law in modern UK history serve Camden Town Unlimited’s stated aim of, “Positioning Camden Town a global centre for Creative Industries”? What kind of message do you think welcoming this policy sends to the creative and musical communities of Camden? How exactly will the threat of a criminal record, and instrument confiscations “allow” busking to continue? Which residents and businesses is Simon Pitkeathley speaking on behalf of? Is it the policy of Camden Town Unlimited to support the criminalisation of grassroots culture whilst at the same time building its identity on Camden’s deserved international reputation as a culture-led economy? I am also concerned that three elected politicians who strongly supported the new busking law (Councillors Blackwell, Naylor and Pietragnoli) sit on the board of this organization as does Penny Mills, the Chief Inspector of Police whose completely unsubstantiated claim that busking causes ‘opportunities for organized criminal networks’ to congregate in Camden Town was a centerpiece of the evidential case for the new legislation. With a visitor and cultural economy strongly based upon Camden’s reputation as a prime destination for live music and the arts, why does Camden Town Unlimited adopt a position of antagonism towards the grassroots cultural communities that directly contribute towards its colour and vibrancy? With a tag line like ‘Run By Business for Business’ those who value Camden’s ability to sustain cultural diversity are entitled to ask serious questions about precisely whose interests Camden Town Unlimited, and the elected members that sit on its board, are serving.
In an hysterical rhetorical whirlpool which can see prospective parliamentary Labour candidates compare buskers in Council Meetings to oligarchical press barons in their resistance to the ‘light touch’ regulation of the state, I admit it can be hard to maintain a sense of proportion and perspective. Nonetheless, I submit to you, that, the judgment of Mrs Justice Patterson notwithstanding, your street entertainment policy is an unwarranted intrusion into the vibrant and diverse cultural life of the Borough of Camden. In your policy, you grant blanket exemptions for music that is part of religious services or processions, which is a welcome recognition of the importance of music as an expression of people’s most deeply held beliefs. Yet we live in an age where many people don’t hold formal religious beliefs. For many, music itself is an expression of their desire to be understood and to understand. Music making is a communal activity with a psychological, social and cultural dimension which is just as important for non-believers as religious services are to followers of organised religion. Yet Camden protects religious freedoms and completely disregards (and hugely undervalues) cultural freedoms which are just as important. In the recent High Court hearing Camden’s Barrister argued that the Article 10 rights of buskers were engaged at a ‘low level’ implying that there was something trivial about freedom of expression in relation to playing music on the streets. Whilst Mrs Justice Patterson seemingly agreed with Camden’s assessment, many found her judgment highly troubling in its implications,

Robin Bynoe, a flautist, lawyer and consultant with M Law LLP commented:

‘What an extraordinary idea that musical performance, because it is “not akin to political speech”, is apparently of much less significance in the great scheme of things and therefore protected by Article 10 only “at a low level”. This seems to reflect nothing more than the cultural priorities of the judge; and I would disagree. Buskers do more to enhance the even flow of outdoor social life than political speakers (who unlike buskers are better kept indoors; even the good ones). It is no accident that after six hundred and thirty eight years we still celebrate the Pied Piper of Hamlin but the Town Clerk is forgotten.’

As you will be aware, the Keep Streets Live Campaign profoundly disagreed with the judgment of the High Court and has sought leave to appeal from the Court of Appeal. We asked Camden to delay the implementation of their policy pending the outcome of the legal process but they declined which leaves us in a position where the situation on the ground for would be buskers is highly uncertain and problematic. We don’t believe that music-makers should face criminal sanctions on account of the instrument they are playing or whether they hold the correct ‘license’. Therefore we have publicly advised all buskers and musicians NOT to sign up to Camden’s scheme, but to join us in protesting against it.

Meanwhile we have been watching the HS2 debate with some interest. The disruption to Camden that would be caused by this infrastructure project would dwarf that of even the most ‘extreme’ unlicensed busker and all who care about the well-being of Camden are united in their opposition to these plans in their current form. Decisions have been made by a central authority and imposed upon an area with inadequate consultation and participation amongst the people it affects the most. When Sarah Hayward warned HS2 not to ‘’impose” a design for Euston Station without giving local authorities a say and expressed disappointment that HS2 were not going to be involved in the working group set up to influence policy, the Keep Streets Live Campaign had every sympathy with her plight, and yet Camden fail to see that this is exactly what they themselves have done with their buskers. Despite our frequent entreaties to the Council to work with us in a collaborative approach as we are doing in Liverpool to design a policy based upon consent and mutuality they have seen fit to impose a regime upon buskers which has no support from any bodies that represent musicians and the wider cultural community, and in fact is backed by only 55 residents who answered the consultation, a consultation where the majority of the 155 people who answered (55%) were actually against the policy Camden have introduced.

Camden Council have held the entire busking community responsible for the irresponsible actions of a small minority whose behaviour was already illegal under existing powers. It is also unclear whether they have exercised the full extent of their existing powers to deal with genuine noise nuisance caused by busking. Members concerned about the spiralling cost of the street entertainment policy would do well to ask Helen Masterton your principal Environmental Health Officer how many noise abatement notices Camden issued against buskers in the time leading up to the introduction of this policy particularly given that is likely that many complaints about noise related to the same buskers who could have been dealt with using a noise abatement notice? Ms Masterton presented evidence in the High Court suggesting that the Environmental Protection Act 1990 was inadequate for the management of noise caused from busking, despite the fact that this act allows pre-emptive noise abatement notices to be served where noise nuisance is believed to be likely, as well as making provision for the seizure of musical instruments IF a statutory nuisance has been demonstrated. The Environmental Protection Act is used by local authorities across the UK to deal with noise complaints about busking with well-publicized noise abatement notices have been issued to performers in Oxford and Cardiff where the ensuing publicity leaves performers in no doubt that councils have the powers they need to respond to noise complaints. In addition, the Control of Pollution Act 1974 makes it an offence to use loudspeakers in the street after 9pm. Given that Camden’s main concern is the use of amplifiers late in the evening it must be asked why they have not been using their existing powers to manage ‘extreme’ busking? Why does Camden feel the need to license unamplified singing by claiming, as Tony Hawke’s Witness Statement maintained that the human voice box itself is a form of amplification? Whilst I understand that the sweeping pre-emptive powers of Camden’s busking law might be, on paper, more convenient than the judicious use of existing laws, that is in no way to imply that they are justified or desirable.

The Keep Streets Live Campaign has a genuine desire to work alongside the local authority to design a policy that enables the council to take appropriate action against those individuals that cause genuine issues whilst enabling a spontaneous and flourishing street culture scene to continue. In Liverpool we are actually working alongside the Council, Merseyside Police and the City BID to design and implement a policy that has the consent and input of all whom it affects. We strongly support the right (indeed the responsibility) of Councils to take enforcement action against individuals who cause genuine issues. However we will not, and cannot support a catch-all policy that pre-emptively criminalises anybody who wishes to share their music in the public spaces of Camden without subjecting themselves to a highly intrusive and bureaucratic process of licensing that discriminates wholesale against entire classes of instruments as well as individuals without the means to pay for such a license.


Camden Council, the message from the Keep Streets Live Campaign is simple:

Camden’s vibrant and diverse street culture scene is one of the things that gives it its unique zest and vitality. It needs to preserved and cherished and not stamped out. We want to work with you to, so, please, stop working against us! Until you take up our offer of collaboration we will continue our principled and steadfast opposition to your damaging and coercive busking law,


With kind regards,

Jonny Walker

Founding Director of the Keep Streets Live Campaign