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Opposition To Busking Licence Based On Misinformation And Lies
by Hamish Birchall

*Camden Labour councillors blame misinformation and lies for opposition to their busking licence, and put their faith in Mrs Justice Patterson.**

*The controversial licensing regime was pronounced lawful on 11th March. The judge, Mrs Justice Patterson, appeared uncritically to accept Camden's assertion that the panoply of nuisance and public order statute was either ineffective or too resource-intensive to cope with buskers in Camden.

Read the full judgment here:

No explanation is advanced to account for other councils' effective use of noise abatement notices under the Environmental Protection Act against problem buskers. Cambridge Council's 2-page 'Guide to Busking in Cambridge', for example, warns of the potential consequences of being too noisy:

'... the law requires the Council to take action to abate a noise which deemed to be a nuisance and this could involve the service of a legal notice, even the seizure of instruments or amplifiers, in some cases.'

Contrast that simplicity with Camden's new busking licence policy, now published on their website and which runs to 20 pages:

Buskers or indeed anyone can decide for themselves whether Mrs Justice Patterson was right to suggest that Camden's policy is sufficiently clear.

More problematic for Camden is the fact that the judge did not address the licensing exemption under the Live Music Act 2012 for unamplified performance anywhere, 8am-11pm, to audiences of up to 200.

As a result we now have two separate licensing regimes - the London Local Authorities Act 2000 and the Licensing Act 2003 as amended by the Live Music Act 2012 - purporting to regulate live music for essentially the same reasons, arriving at entirely different positions where unamplified performance is concerned. The question inevitably arises: which should take precedence in Camden?

Faced with mounting opposition from musicians and music lovers, Camden Labour councillors now invoke Mrs Justice Patterson's ruling at every opportunity, as if the matter was settled, which it is not.

On 14th March, Camden resident and musician Les Levidow last week wrote to his Labour councillor, Meric Apak. The reply included this edgy rebuttal:

'To clarify, we have not banned busking in Camden. To suggest that people singing to their partners in our parks will be arrested is simply a barefaced lie. Yet this is what some campaigners would want us to believe.'

He concludes: 'In the recent high court case brought against the
Council, the Judge agreed with the Council on all counts, confirming that our policy was "both necessary and a proportionate response to the issue of busking"'.

A similar and very patronising response was sent to an experienced busker by Labour councillor Lazzaro Pietragnoli:

'You clearly don't know what you are talking about in relation to both the problem and the solution we implemented to address that problem,' he wrote. Again citing Mrs Justice Patterson's ruling, he added towards the end of his email:

'It seems to me that your objections to the new regulation have been influences by a recent campaign based on a mix of misunderstanding, misinformation and misplaced fears about the effect of such a limited policy.'

Neither Mr Levidow nor the busker had suggested that busking was banned, used singing in the park as an example or indeed any other hypothetical scenario. Mr Levidow simply wrote that he was 'outraged' by the council's decision to impose a busking licence requirement, noted that noise nuisance was addressed by other legislation, and urged reversal of the policy.

The tone of Mr Apak's response particularly is reminiscent of former Labour culture minister Kim Howells' near-hysterical defence of the Licensing Bill in 2003:

'Dr Howells stood by earlier comments that the [Musicians] union was spreading a "pernicious lying campaign". He said: ".... what it [the union] is saying is nonsense. It thinks that a postman walking down a street and whistling will need a licence".' [Music Bill attack "pure fantasy", The Times, 23 January 2003. See:
http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/uk/article1955999.ece ]

The Musicians Union had not claimed whistling postmen or any other outlandish examples were caught by the Licensing Bill, now the Licensing Act 2003. It did warn correctly, however, that carol singing and wedding events could be licensable. Rather like Camden's busking licence, the Bill made it a potential criminal offence for even one unamplified musician to entertain spectators unless the event or venue was first licensed by a local authority.

Despite the backing of the music industry, arts organisations, tens of thousands of musicians, Liberal Democrats and Conservatives in Parliament, in 2003 Labour rejected a small gigs licensing exemption on the grounds that the Association of Chief Police Officers believed live music was linked to crime and disorder. No evidence was put forward to support that assertion. Only years later was it quietly withdrawn.

As recently as 2009 then Labour licensing minister Gerry Sutcliffe
justified the criminalisation of pub pianos, unless separately licensed as an 'entertainment facility' under the Licensing Act 2003, on the grounds that they were only 'theoretically innocuous'. [Letter, September 2009, to Labour MP Roger Berry (Kingswood, south Gloucestershire), responding to a constituent's concerns about the Licensing Act and live music]

The requirement to licence the provision of entertainment facilities, from instruments to amplifiers or dance floors, was abolished by the Live Music Act in 2012.

What is it about Labour and the micromanagement of live music?