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Government defends 1839 busker arrest powers
by Hamish Birchall - 12th November 2014

The Government yesterday defended the 1839 Metropolitan Police Act as a means to arrest buskers - despite advice from former Deputy Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Paddick, that he could not think of any busking offence not covered by other legislation.

The Government position was articulated yesterday by Conservative Lord Gardiner of Kimble during the Committee Stage of the Deregulation Bill.
It came in response to an amendment proposed by Lib Dem Lord Stoneham on behalf of Lord Clement-Jones to remove both the 1839 power, and busking licensing powers under Part V of the London Local Authorities Act 2000, on the basis that any noise nuisance or antisocial behaviour is adequately addressed by separate legislation:

Lord Gardiner's defence of the 1839 and 2000 powers effectively amounts to support for summary powers of arrest merely for busking.

It may surprise some that the Met should arrest and detain buskers
for several hours in a London police station merely for offering a free CD while performing. No noise complaints; no obstruction. Just buskers doing what buskers do. But that is what happened on Wednesday 14 May in Leicester Square to award-winning busking group The King's Parade:

The police defended their action under Section 54(14) of the Metropolitan Police Act 1839, wrongly implying that the group needed a licence. In fact Westminster council does not licence buskers.

Some guidance discouraging heavy-handed used of this power has since been issued by the Met, but the Government seems happy to support its retention where it is '... the only available tactical option'. What those circumstances might be was not explained.

Last year, Camden Council voted in a draconian busking licence scheme that makes playing without a licence on almost any Camden street a potential criminal offence, using Part V of the London Local Authorities Act 2000. A judicial review brought by Keep Streets Live failed, but noise nuisance legislation was not examined in that hearing. Assertions made by Camden about its inadequacy in dealing with busking complaints were uncritically accepted by the judge. A High Court appeal by Keep Streets Live is due later this week.

A petition calling on the Home Secretary to repeal anti-busking legislation is available here: