Public Order: Busking and Live Music — Question

– in the House of Lords at 2:46 pm on 21 January 2014.

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Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat 2:46, 21 January 2014

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the consistency of proposed legislation on public order with existing policy on busking and live music.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the new anti-social behaviour powers are designed to protect the activities of the law-abiding majority. The Government are certainly not seeking to restrict reasonable behaviour and activity, and we do not believe that these powers do. Live music and street entertainment play an important role in community life and can generate a positive atmosphere that is enjoyed by all. As a result, these reforms are completely consistent with our policies on busking and live music.

Photo of Lord Clement-Jones Lord Clement-Jones Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I welcome that statement from my noble friend but there appears to be a considerable difference between the approach of the DCMS and that of the Home Office to busking. The DCMS has been enthusiastic about deregulating live music. The Home Office, by contrast, is enthusiastic about its new public spaces protection order, which creates new dispersal powers and which could be used disproportionately and pre-emptively by local authorities, if the existing behaviour of some London borough councils such as Camden is typical, by contrast to that of the mayor and the GLA. Can my noble friend confirm that the statutory guidance to be issued to local authorities will ensure that these powers are exercised with proper consideration of the balance between freedom of expression and respect for private and family life, and will also point out the considerable existing body of nuisance and noise-abatement powers which local authorities already have to hand? Should we not be encouraging rather than discouraging busking, which is such an important part of our urban culture?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I can certainly give my noble friend the assurance that the guidance will achieve what he and the Government wish to see from it. I do not think that there is a difference across government on this issue. We believe that the tests and safeguards set out in the new anti-social behaviour powers will ensure that they will be used only where reasonable. Where behaviour is having a positive effect on a community, and I see busking as having that effect, it would not meet the tests for the new powers. Instead, the powers are directed against the anti-social minority who give street performers a bad name; I might illustrate them as being aggressive beggars and drunken louts.

Photo of The Earl of Clancarty The Earl of Clancarty Crossbench

My Lords, does not the Minister think that Part V of the London Local Authorities Act 2000, which specifically targets busking as being effectively a potential criminal activity and which has allowed Camden Council to impose its draconian policy, should be repealed?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I do not intend to comment on the Camden case because it is subject to judicial review, as the noble Earl will understand. However, perhaps I can convey to the House the sentiments of the Mayor of London, who clearly believes that busking is an important part of street life in London. He is keen to encourage street entertainment and live music, not least because of the positive aspect it brings to the life of the city. As I have made clear, the Government believe that live music and street entertainment can play an important part in community life. The Government support the mayor’s position.

Photo of Baroness Smith of Basildon Baroness Smith of Basildon Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s responses and I think that the intention of the legislation is clear, but the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is on to something about the guidance. We all know that overzealous implementation of legislation can cause problems. Will the Minister respond to the noble Lord’s specific point about making things clear in guidance? When looking at the public spaces protection order, will he also consider guidance for community protection notices and dispersal powers because, with this whole new architecture of arrangements for dealing with anti-social behaviour in the Bill, guidance will be important to ensure that we do not have overzealous implementation?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I hope I gave my noble friend a positive response to his request. The Government do not start from the position that busking requires regulation and control. Busking can brighten our lives; local action is necessary only to curb any excesses. I think that noble Lords will understand that that can occur. It is not about top-down government; it is about local authorities using the powers available to them. The guidance will certainly make clear the Government’s position on busking and street entertainment.

Photo of Lord Colwyn Lord Colwyn Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, local authorities and private landowners take different approaches to busking, which can mean that licences are required in some places but not in others. Will my noble friend work closely with local government to clarify the current laws that apply to busking in different areas? I declare an interest as an occasional busker.

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

We have a diversity of talent in this House, and occasionally we have to draw on it. My noble friend makes a very important point: the Government have a role in helping local government to use and interpret its powers properly. The noble Baroness referred in her question to the same issue: making it clear what is considered to be sensible use of powers is a responsibility that the Government can usefully carry out.

Photo of Lord Storey Lord Storey Liberal Democrat

My Lords, the Minister may have heard of an historic music venue in Manchester called Night & Day which, as a result of one complaint, is in danger of being closed down, which would mean that that opportunity for music would be lost. Is not the Minister right when he says that in these cases a proportionate approach should be considered?

Photo of Lord Taylor of Holbeach Lord Taylor of Holbeach The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Yes. My noble friend who asked the original Question introduced the Live Music Act. I pay tribute to him for securing that Private Member’s Bill through this House. It is designed to ease the licensing burden on popular venues. However, we have to allow local democracy to work and people should be entitled, if they find activity to be disruptive, to make that point and have it established whether or not it is disruptive. I cannot comment at all on the detail of the Night & Day case. I have never been to the place myself; I have obviously missed out in my sheltered life. None the less, I will listen with interest to the outcome.