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Volume 759: debated on Thursday 12 February 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what use has been made of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 to prevent or control busking.

The Government have not carried out an evaluation of the use of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 against buskers. We have made it clear in the statutory guidance for front-line professionals that they should not use the new powers to stop reasonable activities such as busking or other forms of street entertainment that are not causing anti-social behaviour.

I thank my noble friend for that welcome reply, but signs are already emerging of potential blanket use of these powers against buskers—for example, in Canterbury.

I thought that the mention of Canterbury might raise some interest, my Lords. The information note that the Home Office published was very explicit about the fact that the powers should not be used to stop or prevent appropriate busking. The statutory guidance is not quite so clear. If further evidence emerges of the inappropriate use of these powers, will the Government amend the statutory guidance?

My Lords, I never realised that Canterbury was such a hotbed of anti-social behaviour, or indeed busking. The community protection notices to which, I think, my noble friend refers are there to deal with anti-social behaviour issues and not the busking itself.

My Lords, does not the Minister believe that there should be a national set of busking guidelines, based perhaps on the guidelines currently being developed by the GLA and elsewhere, with legislation that deals with specific offences incorporated into such guidelines, which would not then include catch-all legislation such as the anti-social behaviour Act?

My Lords, the busking task force has been set up in London—it is not about national busking guidelines—by the GLA, London boroughs and the Metropolitan Police together with the Musicians’ Union. The aim is to set up a voluntary code of practice so that busking can be enjoyed and not some of the effects of busking, which can be a detriment to people’s peaceful lives.

My Lords, speaking as an old busker myself, may I ask the Minister whether she would not regret it if in, say, Eastgate Street in Chester, the heart and hub of a historic city, there were not the often wonderful sounds and noises of people busking and entertaining the crowds who are buying lots of things in Chester, which is the most senior shopping centre outside London?

My Lords, Chester is a wonderful place; I have been there myself. I am sure that many people enjoy the sounds of buskers there and elsewhere, and I hope that they continue to do so.

My noble friend may know that, a few months ago, services in Bath Abbey had to be abandoned because of busking close to the church during service time. There is a real point here: it is important that good manners are exercised on all sides.

My noble friend is right. Good manners are at the heart of this—people’s right to enjoy the wonderful sounds of busking, but also people’s right to engage in their church service without being disturbed by noise.

My Lords, of course busking is entertaining in many senses, as we have borne witness to this morning, but there is a serious point behind this. Frequently, young musicians are engaged in very long periods of training, during which they are often short of money. It is often a pleasure to hear very talented people playing on the streets for money that they undoubtedly need. There is a difference between that kind of busking and the sort that does occasionally cause upset, when people use very loud amplified sound.

The noble Baroness has got to the nub of the point. I often enjoy listening to some of the buskers in Underground stations. They really enhance the journey, and calm people down on their way to and from work; I find that they do. It is nice to hear people singing and playing music, and that should not be mixed up with people who genuinely cause distress and disturbance to others.

My Lords, may I encourage the rest of the Government Front Bench to follow the noble Baroness’s example and make the best of their present opportunities to busk at the Dispatch Box? They are not going to last much longer.

I am not aware of my noble friends’ abilities at singing or dancing, so I do not know whether I would want to put them at the Dispatch Box in front of your Lordships.

One organisation that has done a lot to allow and promote busking is London Underground. The House may not be aware that my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe was largely responsible for that when he was in charge of London Underground. He can indeed be described as the buskers’ friend. I would like to follow up on one point, because I was not quite clear what the Minister’s response was to the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, when he said that the statutory guidance was not as clear as it might be. I think that he asked for an assurance that it would be looked at again if it was shown not to be adequate, and he referred to the situation in Canterbury. What was the Minister’s response to that? Did she say that the statutory guidance would be reconsidered if it proved inadequate, as the noble Lord suggested that it was?

My Lords, we have no plans to issue guidance in relation to how the two existing Acts are applied to buskers. I am sure that the guidance would be looked at if a problem were found. The task force wants to develop a voluntary code of practice, and that will be very helpful both to buskers and to local authorities, not just in London but around the country.

My Lords, I am not clear: is the busking task force a group that monitors buskers, or is it a group of British buskers ready to deploy globally at a moment’s notice to cheer us up?

My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones is a member of that task force and I am sure that he could be deployed at a minute’s notice.