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Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Will a local authority's decision to designate an area as a problem area, thus requiring the licensing regime for buskers, be reviewed at a future date?

Ms Buck: If the provisions are not applied properly and are not based on a genuine complaint or concern about nuisance, it will be possible to take the local authority to court and to challenge the decision. That is the bottom line, but no doubt local authorities will want to keep the situation under general review. I cannot tell the hon. Gentleman whether the legislation contains other provisions, but there is that legal provision as a bottom line safeguard.

Evidence was given to the Select Committee by officers from Westminster city council and from the council of the royal borough of Kingston upon Thames about the number of complaints that have been received. There are more than 900 a year in Westminster--there are residents in Leicester square and in a large number of properties in Covent Garden. Thoroughfares such as Leicester square can become extremely crowded, and the problem is often exacerbated by the presence of buskers, and more so by their audiences.

It is important to note that in areas where part V does not apply--that is, the majority of areas--a licence will not be required for busking. That does not mean that buskers outside the licensing area can make as much noise as they like, because they will still be subject to the general law on nuisance and obstruction of the highway.

Mr. John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington): If there is already legislation in force that enables local authorities and others to take action against noise nuisance, why is the Bill required?

Ms Buck: The difficulty is enforcement. The powers exist, but there are complications with regard to enforcement, which the provisions of the Bill will make easier. It will reduce the pressure on local authorities.

Mr. McDonnell: Could my hon. Friend describe those complications?

Ms Buck: I was coming to that. Part of the problem is that local authorities will have to serve an abatement notice on the person responsible for the noise, and later on prosecute the same person for a breach of the abatement notice in exactly the same location. That is impractical and difficult for a local authority to implement. I hope that that satisfies my hon. Friend.

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Two buskers in particular--Mike Kay and Jeremy Helm--have opposed the Bill and continue to oppose it. Both petitioned against the Bill. They deposited their petition outside the time limits imposed by Standing Orders, but the Select Committee on Standing Orders allowed it to stand. Once their petition was allowed to stand, it gave Mr. Kay and Mr. Helm the right to appear before a Select Committee, which they did using their performing names of, respectively, Bongo Mike and Extremely Frank Jeremy.

The Select Committee sat for over a day and examined in detail the promoters' case in favour of part V and the two petitioners' case against the Bill. The Select Committee decided that the Bill should be amended in favour of the petitioners to tighten up the wording on the circumstances under which the council can decide whether to apply part V to one of its areas, and the way in which the councils advertise meetings at which they resolve to make individual streets subject to the licensing requirements.

It should perhaps be noted that no other petitions were presented against the Bill by buskers, and there appears to have been no other adverse comment made by buskers about the Bill. In fact, Westminster city council has received a petition signed by a number of buskers supporting the provisions of the Bill.

Part V should not be seen as an attempt by the councils to ban busking. They recognise that buskers contribute to the environment and wish to encourage them. Part V is merely an attempt to control some of the problems that are caused by a few buskers in specific areas.

Part VI contains a few miscellaneous clauses that cannot be categorised in parts I to V, and includes provisions amending the current law on dangerous structures and the service of certain notices under the Highways Act 1980. Local authorities whose area includes royal parks will be able to make a charge to the Crown for any advice given on health and safety and crowd control measures required for open air concerts.

The Bill also contains amendments to certain provisions of the London Local Authorities Act 1995, which provide councils with the power to enforce bus lane controls. For the past year, four London boroughs and the City of London have been using CCTV cameras to enforce bus lane offences as part of a pilot project. However, it has very recently become apparent that the existing legislation does not make it clear who should pay a penalty charge notice when the owner and the driver of the vehicle are not the same person. Any motorist who has already paid his ticket has admitted his liability and no refund will be made.

However, given that ambiguity, any motorist who from now on challenges his liability will automatically win his case. In order to resolve the problem, the main thrust of the amendments in the Bill is to ensure that the owner of the vehicle is liable for a bus lane infringement, not the driver.

Mr. Robert Syms (Poole): Am I to understand that if the 50,000 people in London who have been given tickets that they have paid applied, they could get the fine paid back by the local authority?

Ms Buck: That is not the situation. An offence has clearly been committed, and people have accepted

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liability by paying. The problem is that local authorities do not have the enforcement powers under current legislation to deal with people who dispute their liability to pay. I hope that the amendment will close that loophole, which arose from a drafting error, and will clarify the situation.

Mr. Edward Davey: Will the hon. Lady give way?

Ms Buck: I have almost finished, but I shall give way to the hon. Gentleman.

Mr. Davey: I want to support what the hon. Lady said in reply to the hon. Member for Poole (Mr. Syms). Surely the motorists were admitting guilt when they paid their fine. Does she agree that Conservative Councillor Daniel Moylan, the vice-chairman of the Association of London Government transport and environment committee, was misleading people and being irresponsible when he suggested that councils should not have been able to collect these fines?

Ms Buck: Yes, I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman. It is slightly perverse for a member of the Conservative party to endorse the actions of people who park illegally in bus lanes. All of us have a common interest in ensuring that the bus lane system operates properly, and that those people who are clearly in breach of the law have to face the penalties available under the legislation.

I urge the House to support the Bill, which the London boroughs and the Association of London Government believe is in the interests of London and Londoners. The Bill has been subjected to a great deal of scrutiny by both Houses. It first commenced its parliamentary stages in 1996, and I ask that it now be passed.

6.57 pm

Mr. McDonnell: I shall be relatively brief. A number of hon. Members have blocked this Bill in the past, but they are on other parliamentary duties this evening--I mention my hon. Friends the Members for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and for Leyton and Wanstead (Mr. Cohen).

Anxieties were caused by the part of the Bill that refers to busking. However, I shall first deal with the issue of bus lanes. I feel culpable, as I was the secretary of the Association of London Authorities during that period, and then the chief executive of the Association of London Government. In mitigation, I must point out that when the legislation was proposed in 1996 I proposed that the ALG, and not the London borough of Westminster, should lead on it. Unfortunately, the leaders of the London boroughs defeated me, and Westminster led. If it had been the ALG, I am sure that we would not be in this mess, but that is an aside.

I want to deal with some of the detail of the legislation as regards busking. I shall not vote against the Bill, but some hon. Members want a message to be sent to the local authorities to ensure that they are not over-zealous in the prosecution of this legislation, so that we do not undermine people's basic human right to sing in the street.

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I am interested in the detail of the legislation, especially clause 32, which exempts

I take it that that is the Salvation Army clause. Does that mean that if a busker is singing "Abide with me" he or she will not be prosecuted? If it relates to demonstrations of a processional nature, such as the May day rallies of the London Labour party and the trade union movement, when music is performed and donations are collected for various striking causes, I hope that they will also be exempted under the legislation.

How is the existence of "a nuisance" to be determined under the legislation? I am not sure that previous private legislation can guide us on that. What type of evidence will have to be collected to establish the existence of a nuisance? Clause 35 provides not only that a council may license a person, but that it may impose

Obviously, those impositions may relate to the nature of "a nuisance". However, is it reasonable to impose terms, conditions and restrictions in relation to, for example, the nature of the music? Is clause 35 the Des O'Connor clause? Can we have busking without Des O'Connor? If that is the Bill's effect, we may well support it as we have never done before.

Clause 36 states that there will be a fee to cover administrative and other costs. How will that fee be determined? Will it be decided in a vote of a particular committee or of the full council? Will it be checked for reasonableness by someone who is independent of the local authority?

Clause 37 provides that the applicant can be refused a licence if he is

In other licensing legislation, such as that regulating the sale of alcohol, "a fit and proper person" is a clearly defined term.

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