Should it be a potential criminal offence merely to sing in public, even
if no-one complains? Despite government advice, some councils still believe
the answer is 'yes'.
Uncharitable souls might agree, but the government is quite sensitive
on this issue. Over the years it has gone to some lengths to deny that
this is one effect of the Licensing Act 2003.
As early as 18 February 2003, at the height of public controversy about
entertainment licensing reform, it published 'The answer to 20 myths about
public entertainment and the Licensing Bill'. Assurances included 'Spontaneous
pub sing-alongs will NOT be licensable' and 'Busking will NOT be licensable':
But when the Act came into force in 2005 many councils ignored
the busking advice. Their websites warned that busking required
a Temporary Event Notice or Premises Licence. Manchester City Council,
for example, included this statement by Councillor Richard Cowell:
'... under the Licensing Act 2003, which came into force on 24 November
2005, busking is classed as regulated entertainment. To undertake regulated
entertainment, the premises concerned (which can include a street or other
open space) must be licensed. This applies to all areas so includes both
the city centre and Chorlton.'
Alarmed by council rebellion, on 11 November 2006 DCMS announced that
it would '... make clear in legislation that the policy intention is to
exclude e.g. carol singers, buskers, puppet shows for children and poetry
readings from requiring a licence. This measure would most likely be delivered
via regulation / and or Guidance.'
'Lifting the burden - Improving and realising community capacity', DCMS
December 2006, 'Areas to be explored to achieve further reductions in
administrative burdens', p23, para H.
On 28 June 2007 this intention was partially implemented with the publication
of revised Licensing Guidance, secondary legislation that accompanies
the Act. Busking was not explicitly cited, but the redraft strongly implied
that buskers should qualify for the 'incidental music' exemption:
(p31, para 3.20 and following)
As a result, some councils revised their busking advice, making clear
that they do not licence busking and that noise problems, if they occur,
can be regulated under the Environmental Protection Act. Bath, for example:
St Albans, however, seems to think that the Licensing Act can be applied
to buskers. In a statement published yesterday, 2nd July 2009, Lesley
Cameron, Principal Licensing Officer for St Albans, announced the council's
intention to licence the central market. The idea, at least in part, is
to control buskers in that area:
'....the licence, if granted, would mean that buskers would have to apply
to the markets manager for permission to perform in the market place.
Currently, buskers can perform when and where they want. The aim is to
control and encourage street entertainment on market days, during day-time
Interestingly, this announcement was published on the website of Chris
White, Lib Dem councillor for St Albans, member of the Local Government
Association Executive, and chair of the LGA Culture, Tourism and Sport
Mr White gave evidence last year on behalf of the LGA at the public inquiry
into the Licensing Act by the Parliamentary Culture, Media and Sport Committee.
He opened with this response about live music:
'Live music is, like anything else which is an attraction in licensed
premises, potentially a public order problem,' he began. 'If you start
from that point of view, then it becomes clear what you must do...'