[Relevant documents: Second Report from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee, Session 2007-08, HC 202, and the Government’s response, Cm 7346.]
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—[Liz Blackman.]
I am pleased that we have the opportunity to debate the Select Committee report on ticket touting. It is one of the most interesting subjects that the Committee has considered, particularly as it provokes extremely strong views on both sides of the argument. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has been wrestling with the problem for some time, and the Government have organised several summits on the topic. It is fair to say that they have so far failed to achieve a meeting of minds among the various competing interests, and it was with that objective that the Committee embarked on its inquiry.
It was not only among our witnesses that we found a polarisation of views; different viewpoints were also represented in the Committee. I was sad that we were not quite able to achieve a unanimous report. All Committee members signed up to the report, with the exception of my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who will doubtless explain his position in due course.
As I said, there are two viewpoints. The first is that the secondary ticketing market is a perfect example of the free market in operation.
That is obviously my hon. Friend’s view.
That market functions because it puts people who own a commodity that they are willing to sell together with others who wish to purchase it at an agreed price. In doing so, there is a maximisation of utility; and there is no loss to the original vendor of the tickets, as he has already achieved the price that he set. So, what is the problem?
I sympathise with you, Mr. Weir, as I frequently have to reprimand the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly) in Committee.
The opposite view was expressed by Harvey Goldsmith, in his usual forceful manner, when he took me out to breakfast. Mr. Goldsmith takes the view that those running the secondary market are essentially parasites who feed off the creative efforts of artists and sporting organisations, make obscene profits, put nothing back into the industry, and prevent legitimate and genuine fans from being able to buy tickets. That view is held by a number of people in the sporting world and concert promoters. The Committee started its inquiry to find a solution that would go some way towards satisfying both viewpoints.
There have been ticket touts for as long as events have been held for which tickets have been sold. I recall going to the Hammersmith Odeon as a youth and frequently taking advantage of touts to sell tickets that I did not need, and sometimes to buy tickets if I had been unable to do so earlier. That sort of activity has a slightly bad reputation. It conjures up a vision of rather shady individuals in mackintoshes lurking on street corners. However, the entire secondary ticketing market has been transformed by the advent of the internet, which has made it far easier for fans to obtain tickets for extremely popular events. It has resulted in greater equality; no longer does one have to queue outside a venue for hours before tickets go on sale, although that might be easier in London than elsewhere in the country. It is now a race as to who can press the website button first.
The internet has also made it far easier for touts to snap up the majority of tickets, sometimes with no intention of using them but to sell them on, often within no more than 15 or 20 minutes of them first going on sale. Tickets can frequently be found for sale on sites such as eBay, or specific ticket sites like Seatwave or viagogo, within a very short time of their going on sale. I heard from one concert promoter a few weeks ago that tickets for a particular concert had sold out rapidly. On investigation, it was found that 2,000 separate purchases of tickets to that event had emanated from one IP address; one computer had been used for those transactions, although different credit cards had been used. The fact that such things are possible with the internet is clearly fuelling the secondary market.
The secondary market exists only because the primary market does not operate as a market-clearing mechanism. It would be very easy to get rid of the secondary market; one would simply need to set a market-clearing price. As a result of doing so, all those who were willing to pay that sum would be able to obtain tickets; and those who were not so willing should not expect to be able to purchase tickets.
However, concert promoters and sports bodies take the deliberate decision not to set the price of tickets at the market-clearing level. As a result of setting it below that level, demand inevitably outstrips supply. They do that for perfectly valid reasons—indeed, for admirable reasons. They explained to the Committee that they want live performances and games to remain within reach of the ordinary grass-roots fan. In the sports world, it is obviously important to sustain the supporter base and to reward those who show consistent loyalty to teams. Equally, in the music world, people want to sustain a fan base. They want to ensure that fans who buy records are able to see their favourite performers give concerts, and they can made additional revenue, which might have been lost by not setting a market-clearing price, through the sale of merchandise and other associated products at concerts.
The hon. Gentleman rightly gives a long list of organisers and their reasons for wanting a maintained ticket price. Would he add to his list the ability, particularly regarding sporting activities, to reward volunteers who provide a range of forms of support—for instance, by acting as stewards at events?
The hon. Gentleman is undoubtedly right. That is another valuable opportunity for sporting bodies to demonstrate that volunteers who act out of love for the game can gain some benefit. Equally, sports bodies often allocate blocks of tickets for particular clubs as a reward for their efforts. It is all the more regrettable, in their eyes at least, when clubs that receive tickets decide not to use them, but to sell them on the internet.
To address the problem of the secondary market, as they see it, sporting bodies and concert promoters have tried to impose conditions on the sale of tickets—most tickets say “not for resale” on the back. Clearly, that has proved singularly ineffective in preventing the secondary market from operating, but there is also a question mark over its legality. There is a view that a situation in which no legitimate refund mechanism is available for people who purchase tickets and, for perfectly legitimate reasons, find themselves unable to use them, breaches of the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999. There is a question mark against whether it is legal to attempt to ban the secondary market if people cannot obtain a refund through a mechanism that has been approved by the sporting body, for example. The Committee examined that and expressed disappointment that the precise state of the law had not been established and that there had not been a test case. The hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme felt strongly that what the Office of Fair Trading did to establish a clear legal position regarding the status of the banks could have been done equally for the secondary market. I hope that there is now some possibility that we will soon achieve agreement between the OFT and the ticketing agencies on that point.
We considered the possibility of instituting a blanket refund policy, but we fully recognise that there are several drawbacks. If, a week before a major event such as the Glastonbury or Reading festivals, the weather forecast showed that we were going to be hit by thunderstorms, it would be likely that a large number of people who had purchased tickets would decide that they wanted refunds. I remember going to the Reading festival and emerging covered in mud from head to toe, but many will not relish that prospect. A refund mechanism would make it difficult for a concert promoter organising such a major event to bear the risk, given the uncertainty of the British weather. The whole thing might prove to be a financial disaster because three quarters of tickets sold might be returned if the forecast was bad.
Equally, it was put to us that providing a right to a refund would provide the touts with a one-way bet. They could buy up tickets in the hope that demand would exceed supply, which would mean that they would make large profits. However, they would also have the knowledge that if that did not happen, they could get their money back by returning the tickets. There are problems with a blanket refund policy, but the Committee believes that more should be done by the ticket vendors and organisers of concerts and sporting events to allow refunds for legitimate reasons. There is a refund mechanism for some events, and we welcome the fact that some of the sporting bodies are working with ticketing agencies to try to provide such mechanisms.
The Committee concluded that even if such mechanisms were in place, the secondary market, in the main, provided benefit to consumers. It is interesting that other countries have legislated to prevent the secondary market from operating but, in the United States, a number of states are repealing what are known as anti-scalping laws, because they believe that a secondary market serves the consumer.
The one matter on which there is almost complete agreement in the primary and secondary markets is that certain practices are quite clearly unacceptable or, indeed, fraudulent. To some extent, that blurs the bigger argument about the desirability of the secondary market. Perhaps the most notorious example is an agency called Getmetickets that was closed down, but re-emerged shortly afterwards as the London Ticket Shop. That was in turn closed down only to re-emerge as London Ticket Express. All were operated by Mr. Michael Rangos, based in Hungary, who was selling tickets that he did not have. People who bought tickets actually never received them. Clearly, that was fraud, and the Department for Trade and Industry was correct to move swiftly to tackle the problem and to close him down, but that demonstrates that more needs to be done to stop such people simply starting up under a different name. Almost everybody in the industry would accept that that is a wholly unacceptable practice that brings into disrepute legitimate secondary agencies, or those that offer consumer guarantees, such as Seatwave or viagogo.
We felt that there were two other ways in which some agencies behaved in a fashion that should not be allowed and on which agreement was necessary, the first being the sale of tickets for free events. eBay agreed that it would not sell tickets to the Princess Diana concert, but the Minister’s predecessor, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn), had a long argument with the site about Radio 1’s Big Weekend festival. Again, tickets for that were distributed free, but they reappeared on eBay at a considerable price. Additionally, the promoter of a series of concerts to be given by Bryan Adams brought the matter to my attention a few weeks ago. Bryan Adams was going on tour to perform an acoustic set, which he had not done before, and the promoter decided that it was going to make tickets available free for the concerts, as an experiment to see how the fans reacted. The tickets were distributed to fans in each area. Even though the tickets did not really exist, they were appearing for sale in the secondary market. We felt strongly that free tickets should not be charged for in the secondary market.
Secondly, the Committee felt that there should be agreement for restraint on tickets for events that are set up to raise funds for charity. It is welcome that eBay has accepted that since the report was published. As I said, it is working to reach agreement with the organisers of charitable events, so that if tickets are resold on the site, the organiser of the event would benefit financially. Such a voluntary agreement is welcome.
We have seen a lot of progress on the establishment of a code of practice. As I said, bodies such as Seatwave and viagogo offer consumer guarantees, but a system whereby all secondary agents offer such guarantees is desirable. The Association of Secondary Ticket Agents has established a code of practice, and it would be desirable to encourage all those in the secondary market to sign up to it.
Before my hon. Friend finishes his point, the summary of the report mentions the production of model terms and conditions by the OFT, which might go some way to providing a sensible code of conduct, but it suggests that that is yet to come about. Can he provide more detail on where we are on that?
I spoke to John Fingleton from the OFT prior to the debate. He told me that discussions are ongoing and that he is hopeful for a solution and that an agreement will be reached very shortly.
I hope that “very shortly” will actually prove to mean shortly.
Up to this point, there has been general agreement in the conclusions reached by the Committee and the Government’s conclusions. However, when the Government recently published their response to the report, they suggested that there is a need to go further. Specifically, it referred to events that are unique and of national or international significance. It was proposed that they might well look similar to the events known colloquially as the crown jewels, the sale of broadcasting rights to which are restricted.
The crown jewels consist of the Olympics, the football World cup final, the FA cup final, the Scottish FA cup final, the grand national, the Derby, the Wimbledon tennis finals, the European football championship finals, the rugby league challenge cup final and the rugby world cup final. Obviously, there are already restrictions on some of those events—for instance, the secondary market for tickets for the Olympics will be banned as part of the International Olympic Committee’s conditions for London’s hosting of the games, and there are restrictions on the sale of tickets for designated football matches, which include the vast majority of matches in which professional clubs play. We are therefore talking about events such as the Wimbledon tennis tournament, tickets for which change hands at huge prices, the rugby league challenge cup final and the rugby world cup final.
To some extent, the rugby world cup final seems to be a good illustration of one of the problems. A rugby fan might put in a long time ahead to buy tickets for the rugby world cup final. A France fan might do so in a spirit of patriotism and the belief that their team was going to play in the final. Equally, a supporter of the All Blacks might think that they had a very good chance. I am not sure how many England fans put in for tickets for the rugby world cup final—they might have done so in a spirit of hope over realism—but as it turned out, despite all the predictions that we would be knocked out in the first round, England made it through to the final. As a result, a huge number of France and All Blacks fans held tickets that they no longer wanted, and lots of England fans wanted tickets. It seems completely wrong to say that a France fan should not be allowed to sell his ticket to an England fan. That applies not just to rugby but to other events.
The proposal would also create a two-tier system. It would essentially amount to saying that people could not sell their tickets for certain events—probably the most popular ones—but that it would be fine to do so for any other event. Although it might be reasonably easy to identify the kinds of sporting events to which such restrictions should apply, the Government suggest that they could also apply in the cultural field and to concerts and artistic events. There are one or two possibilities that I suppose are fairly obvious: the last night of the Proms, for instance, although one of the Minister’s colleagues might wish to impose other restrictions on the sale of tickets to that.
There are also other events, such as the one-off concert given by Led Zeppelin for which the huge demand for tickets way outstripped supply. Will the Government suddenly decide that Led Zeppelin is a crown jewel? If so, should Robbie Williams become one? How far would we go? Would the proposal include any major event where the artist can command a vast audience and the demand for tickets far outstrips supply? How would it be done? One has visions of the Government introducing orders and secondary legislation to designate Robbie Williams as an icon of national importance that needs protection.
That is interesting, because I do not think that the response quite says that. It says that
“some aspects of ticket resale may restrict access to sport or major cultural events; especially where these events are unique, of national or international significance and meet public interest objectives.”
If that means only cultural events to which tickets are free, that is drawing it more narrowly, but even if that is the Government’s view, the Government say rightly that they do not want to legislate and that they hope a solution can be achieved through agreement in the industry. I must say, however, that there is absolutely no sign that the secondary market will agree to it. Indeed, responses to the Government’s proposals from bodies such as Seatwave make it clear that they do not agree to them at all. It may be over-optimistic to think that agreement can be achieved.
However, I share the Government’s wish. The Minister said in his evidence to us that, if possible, there should be voluntary agreement rather than Government intervention. For that reason, the Committee was particularly interested and encouraged by the development of a proposal, first introduced by the Music Managers Forum, for the establishment of a resale rights society. The idea has attracted support from a number of different parties in the industry, and it seems to offer at least the possibility of achieving the voluntary approach that both the Committee and the Minister think is the most desirable outcome.
I think that everyone supports the first part of the proposals, which concerns the general need for a code of conduct, but I found the second part attractive. It states that there should be an agreement that, where a ticket is sold for a large amount in the secondary market, the owner of the original intellectual property right—the performing artist or the sporting body organising the event—should get some benefit. It has certainly been a great cause of resentment that artists see tickets for their performances being sold for hundreds if not thousands of pounds and get absolutely no benefit from it.
There is a precedent in artists’ resale rights, which were introduced a few years ago, mainly as a result of European Union intervention. Those rights require that, if a work of visual art is sold at auction, a payment should be made to the artist if they are still alive or to their estate if they died within the past 70 years. The rights have established a precedent that artists are entitled to some reward for their efforts not just the first time their work changes hands but on subsequent sales. Applying that precedent to secondary ticketing seems to have the same logic, and it is encouraging that the proposal is achieving widespread support.
I understand that the proposal is supported by artist management organisations representing more than 300 artists, including Mr. Williams, whom I have mentioned, the Arctic Monkeys, Franz Ferdinand, Girls Aloud and a vast number of well-known artists. It is also supported by the Performing Right Society and the Concert Promoters Association. The Association of Secondary Ticket Agents supports it as well, or at least accepts the principle, so at least some members of each component part of the industry are willing to sign up to such an agreement.
Since the Committee produced its report, there has been some movement. It appears that what was, in our view, an almost intractable problem when we set off on the inquiry might have a solution that everybody can support. We are optimistic that the voluntary arrangement that all of us want might be within reach, but I am not necessarily persuaded by the Government’s proposal that additional restrictions should be placed on the so-called crown jewels. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s further comments on that in due course.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr. Weir. I congratulate the Select Committee and its Chairman on the report. Although I do not necessarily agree with everything in it, it is a report on a subject of some importance.
The report poses the question, “What is ticket touting?” I think it is fairly clear that a tout buys tickets and exploits demand to resell them at a profit. In my view, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport was absolutely right when he said that touting
“doesn’t add anything to the cultural life of the country, but instead leeches off it and denies access to those who are least able to afford tickets”.
As chair of both the all-party group on music and the all-party group on communications, I am disappointed that neither the Select Committee’s report nor the Government’s response reflected that. Although I welcome the attention given to ticket touting and much of the discussion in the report, I feel that the recommendations give a green light to touts and will ultimately prove counter-productive and lead the industry down a dubious path.
There are two main classes of victim of touting: first, the fans and consumers and, secondly, the primary sellers and the entertainment industry itself. I have little doubt that everyone here will know someone who has attempted to buy tickets, but missed out and then seen them on sale on auction websites going for vast multiples of the face value. In fact, last year, my daughter found tickets for a Take That concert on sale on a site before they went on sale officially—so the 20 minutes that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) was talking about did not exist. They were actually on sale on sites before being released to the public. How is that possible?
With every ticket sold in that way, those who missed out originally, those whose bid was insufficient and the person who eventually bought the ticket at a vastly inflated price are all victims of this exploitation. The Select Committee’s final recommendations failed to bear that in mind. One reason for that was perhaps a lack of evidence from individual consumers, but then, it should hardly surprise anyone in Parliament that so few individuals submitted evidence to the Committee’s inquiry. I wonder whether a more proactive approach is required.
We can all reflect on this sentence from the report’s conclusion:
“it is not realistic to expect to find solutions in a forum where that market is virtually unrepresented.”
The majority of constituents and music fans to whom I speak are overwhelmingly against ticket touting. On the consumer side, the Committee mentioned conflicts of opinion in a number of polls. That could be summed up by Pink Floyd’s lyric:
“Money, it’s a crime. Share it fairly but don’t take a slice of my pie.”
It is interesting to note that both opinions cited in favour of touting came from eBay and viagogo—internet auction sites. Against that, a poll by the New Musical Express, a magazine for music fans, showed seven out of 10 people against touting; that was backed up by a poll from YouGov.
I do not discount what the hon. Gentleman says about polls showing that the public are against ticket touting. However, the public tend also to get depressed about corporate hospitality, particularly when there is a scarcity of tickets. They say that genuine fans cannot get tickets because they have all been snapped up by big multinationals, employees of which then give them out to their friends. Would he consider banning that as well, or does he treat that differently?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point, but I must confess that I had not thought about it. I shall ponder on it and perhaps slip something in at the end of my speech. I understand what he says, but the ordinary, everyday punter usually cannot afford £200 or £300 for corporate hospitality. I also understand why football clubs provide corporate hospitality to bring in extra revenue and why, when they build new stadiums, they build in the relevant facilities while—hopefully—still leaving plenty of room for other fans. After all, some of these are big stadiums, such as Arsenal’s Emirates stadium. The old Highbury had a capacity of about 37,000 to 38,000, compared with the over 60,000 capacity of the Emirates. They have probably tried to cater for everyone there. However, that cannot be said of ticket touting.
An interesting phenomenon a few years ago, which the Committee did not mention, was people putting in unenforceable bids of hundreds of millions of pounds. Glastonbury was one such example of ticket bids being made to scupper the auction. On that occasion, nobody won—nobody got a ticket—so the situation had to be looked at again. However, those things can happen.
The industry is the other key victim of touting. As the report usefully highlights, there is a practice of selling below the clearing price, particularly on the basis of the long-term commercial interest of the whole industry. That is why touts are able to prosper, exploiting the fact that the tickets have been sold at a cut price. Music fans spending hundreds of pounds on one ticket are unlikely to be able to afford to attend many of the smaller events in the industry; that would lead us to believe that the money being spent on the big events will affect the small ones, which might not be as well attended. That, in turn, will affect the future richness of talent, of which this country has an abundance coming through. Will that talent still find a way through if the only people being attended are those with a big name and big advertisers behind them?
The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford mentioned Robbie Williams, who of course did not come up through the clubs and pubs—he emerged on the scene because he was manufactured, along with a few other boys. As it turned out, they had talent, but he managed to bypass the kind of events that I am talking about, which we must support.
There are many clubs and pubs in my hon. Friend’s constituency, as well. I used to be a BT engineer, and it had a training centre there, which took me away from home for many weeks, so I know that area very well. I must say that I enjoyed it. It is a great area and an excellent place to live—and I have now lost my place.
The report usefully highlighted the practice of selling below the clearing price, which we must remember. The industry also looks at ways in which to cultivate long-term fans, which is why the first response of the primary sellers was not simply to increase prices on their auctions, although they now seem to be going down that road. Pictures for identification have been introduced on to some tickets. Why would the primary sellers want to do that if they were happy with secondary selling? We must consider that, as well. Later, I shall go into more detail about where the industry is going. The Committee’s final recommendation, for the profits of touting to be shared with the primary market, does not recognise the additional, new ticketing costs aimed at beating off touting. We need to consider how recompense can be provided. Indeed, if the recommendation were supported, the added legitimacy of the industry’s involvement would be likely to increase the secondary market. That is unrealistic in the light of current trends.
Yesterday, Geoff Ellis, the director of T in the Park, told me that artists are now beginning to ask for tickets to events to be auctioned on their behalf, so that the profits go to them, rather than to the ticket touts. He also informed me that the Concert Promoters Association is looking to set up its own auction site and allocate a certain percentage of tickets to it from the primary market. Ticketmaster, another recent development, has formally called for regulation. It has purchased Get Me In!, which is another ticket auction site. So the primary market is now looking to make a greater share of its profits from providing a secondary market itself.
The report points out that the market has a moral right to receive what the consumer would like to pay. Where I think that it fell into error was in failing to question the moral right of a tout to share in the profits. The report also recognises that it would be wrong for someone to profit from the sale of a free ticket. I have difficulty seeing why, given that the industry deliberately sells below the clearing price, that principle should not apply to all tickets.
Another question that I would put to the Government is this. If someone deliberately exploits demand for an event that has deliberately been made more open to the public, what difference will it make if the ticket costs £20 or nothing?
On the middle-way solution recommended by the Committee, the secondary market undoubtedly has several benefits for the consumer, but I find it difficult to understand why such benefits should be seen as exclusive to touting, where profits are involved. There is an imperative for a better system of refunding and reselling that involves primary sellers. A ban on reselling tickets for vast profits, as the industry urges, would be a sensible trade-off in return for a number of measures. Such measures could include more guarantees on refunds, an industry-endorsed internet marketplace for resale and selling a percentage of tickets in batches over time. To take just one individual measure, Queensland’s ban on selling tickets for more than 110 per cent. of their face value would be a more equitable path for the UK.
My point, essentially, is that the benefits of the secondary market are not a persuasive reason to preserve it in its current state. When tickets can be provided more fairly and securely, and prices can be kept down, we could perhaps look at the issue again.
I have a lot of sympathy for the direction in which the hon. Gentleman is travelling, but would he acknowledge that operators in the legitimate secondary market—the ones with appropriate conditions and guarantees to the consumer—are providing a valuable service, as has been suggested? It is perhaps worth reflecting on the fact that more than 50 per cent. of the hundreds of thousands of tickets sold on viagogo in the past 12 months were sold at below face value, not above it.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that, but the primary sellers are going down that road themselves and, given support, they will take on that roll. I would much rather see the primary sellers doing the reselling than see a secondary person come in, because although 50 per cent. of tickets might be sold at below their face value, 50 per cent. are not. Of those, some are sold for not just one or two pounds above face value, but for far more.
I always cite the example of the pair of tickets for disabled spaces at Wimbledon that went on sale on eBay for £7,000. That is obscene, and the chances are that the person who got them was able bodied, so a disabled person would not have got a seat. Such problems outweigh the hon. Gentleman’s point, which is why I would like the primary sellers to do the reselling.
My hon. Friend is absolutely correct, and it is hoped that that happened in this case. Unfortunately, although such people might be refused in one or two cases, the vast majority slip through the net. That is why it is important that the primary seller, not the secondary seller, should do the reselling.
The hon. Gentleman suggests that there is an obligation on the primary seller to take responsibility for any resale. What happens if they do not want that responsibility and want to outsource it to one of the legitimate organisations that we are talking about? Furthermore, what happens if a disabled person has a ticket to Wimbledon but cannot go and wants deliberately to sell it? I am curious to know whether the Wimbledon ticket sold in the hon. Gentleman’s example was from an able-bodied person or a disabled person.
The hon. Gentleman misunderstood what I was saying about primary sellers. I am saying that they are going down that road now, not that they are obliged to do so or that an obligation should be put on them. They are doing that now and looking into the fact that obscene profits can be made that could not have been made when the tickets were sold at their old face value. In other words, there would not be a face value on these tickets; they would just be auctioned, and whoever bid the most money would get the ticket. Of course, the chances of tickets going to a secondary seller would be remote, because the person selling them would want to sell them at a profit. If I got what would normally have been a £50 ticket for £300, I would be unlikely to get more than £300 if I tried to sell it, although that is always possible.
On the question about the disabled person’s ticket, such tickets are usually put aside for disabled groups and usually sold through them. I would hazard a guess that the person who originally had the ticket was disabled. They might or might not have been able to go, but if one disabled person cannot go, another should. Whether the person was disabled or not, what I object to is the fact that they were trying to make an obscene profit—in this case, £7,000 for a ticket that probably cost about £120. I would like to see such tickets go to other disabled people.
The hon. Gentleman has raised this example, and it is worth work-shopping it a little, if I can use that term. If the ticket is sold, it is surely the responsibility of Wimbledon, in this case, to ensure that it is accompanied by a blue card, for example. In that way, the operator can ensure that the disabled place goes to a disabled person. I do not understand why the Government should be involved. There is a responsibility and a duty on the operator to ensure that disabled tickets are taken up by disabled people.
I will come to the Government’s place in this a few pages further on in my speech. I hope that I can answer the hon. Gentleman’s question then, but if I do not, he should feel free to ask it again.
I gave one example, but there are plenty of others. Tickets for the Bon Jovi concerts, which are starting soon, were going for more than £400 on eBay. It was not disabled people, but ordinary people who were selling their £70 or £80 tickets for £400. The most expensive ticket for Take That came in at about £2,500, while the tickets for the Police concerts hit a record of about £3,500. There are lots of examples of people grossly and obscenely making money. My objection is that they are deliberately selling tickets to make money on the back of fans who probably should have got the tickets at the proper price in the first place.
I accept that the Government have tried to grasp the nettle to some extent. We have the proposed agreement on crown jewel events, but there is little detail, and I know from talking to people in the industry that they want some detail about what constitutes a crown jewel event.
One argument that I hear against banning ticket touting—I am sure that it has been made in the debate in certain ways—is that it is simply not enforceable. I wonder whether it would not be more of a problem if we had a voluntary agreement on a limited number of events—if we say that we cannot have ticket touting for the crown jewel events, but that we can have it for other events. Concerts would come into that, because fewer people would be involved—perhaps only 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 or 10,000 people go to a concert. However, the new Wembley can hold about 80,000 for a cup final, so it would be much more difficult to deal with that.
The other problem is that ticket touting goes on. A gentleman from Ticketmaster told me that he had been to the England-Croatia game. Walking up to the ground, he passed ticket touts selling tickets while policemen were standing nearby. That is just not on. There is a law against ticket touting, and if the police see it, they should do something about it. That is why we have got ourselves into this state—we have not done anything about it in years gone by, and people do not see touting as a criminal act.
The key point that the chief executive of Get Me In!, Andrew Blachman, made to me was that he would not allow the sale of Olympic games tickets on his site, and I must assume that eBay, viagogo and all the big sites will do the same. If we can bring in a law that makes ticket touting illegal for an event such as the Olympic games, and if we have said that we shall do the same for the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, why will we not do it for any other event that just happens to be smaller? Does that mean that it is okay to do something about a big event with worldwide coverage, at which we do not want ticket touting, but that it is not okay to protect the people—young people, in particular—who go to pop concerts, from ticket touting? We must think seriously about that.
The House of Commons agreed on the ban, and we voted on it. I am glad to say that we managed to secure it for Glasgow as well; I look forward to the Commonwealth games there. What I cannot understand is the inconsistency. Is it any wonder that we do not do anything about ticket touting? Our stance on the practice does not enable people to say, “These are the rules; this is the law; and this is what should happen.” That is what we should think about.
I have talked to people involved with big events, and in particular to Geoff Ellis of T in the Park, who has worked tirelessly to stop ticket touts selling tickets at his event, and who has taken people to court for stealing his logo to enable them to sell tickets. He should not have to pay for all that. He should have the help of the law to ensure that the young people who come to the events pay the minimum—they pay a lot of money anyway—and do not need to worry about being ripped off by crooks.
The heart of the question is the need to sort out what kind of country we want to live in. I cannot subscribe to a solution that allows exploitation and brings everything back to a bidding war. Having spoken to people involved, I know that there is a real worry; by permitting sales by ticket touts we spurn the industry’s consumer-friendly pricing policy. My great fear is that they will start to do the primary selling, prices will go through the roof for big events, and small events will not take place because there will not be enough money in them and no one will be able to afford to buy tickets.
The musical talent that we have amassed over the years is second to none in the world, and we have begun to invest more in sporting events. I fear that if we put all our money into events such as the Olympic and Commonwealth games, and forget support for grass roots athletes, and if, because of lack of money, people cannot pay to go to those events, we shall go down a road we do not want to go down.
I shall finish with another statement by Pink Floyd—from “Dark Side of the Moon”, if anyone is interested. Pink Floyd said:
“Get a good job with more pay and you’re okay”.
It might be a good lyric, but it is not the mantra that I want our cultural events to live by.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson). I disagree with him on virtually every point, and shall come to that in a minute, but it is always beneficial to a debate to have his insight. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who chairs the Select Committee with great panache; he is an outstanding Select Committee Chairman. I think that most hon. Members present know of his background, working for Lady Thatcher, and I sometimes feel that the purpose that I serve on the Select Committee is to remind him of some of the free market principles that she held so dear, and on which I sometimes feel he lacks the consistency of his esteemed former employer. However, I commend him on trying so hard to get a consensus in the Committee on the issue in question. Anyone who observed the discussions about the report’s recommendations would realise what a challenge it was to do that. We did a reasonably good job of reaching a largely settled view. There were, as my hon. Friend pointed out, some specific areas on which I could not support the rest of the Committee, but on the whole the majority of the report was unanimously agreed. That was largely down to my hon. Friend’s skill.
There are two issues concerning ticket touting; one is a matter of principle and one is a matter of practicality. The matter of principle is that if I buy something—whether it is a book, something from the supermarket, a house or a ticket—I have bought it and it is mine; if I choose to sell it on to someone else, that is no business of anyone else, least of all the Government of the day. They should not interfere. There are many examples of things that appear in limited editions that sell out rapidly. Often there are limited editions of handbags, which sell out in five minutes in the shops. Within five minutes they are all on eBay being sold at a hugely marked-up price. No hon. Member here is arguing, as far as I am aware, that that should be made illegal. I should be very concerned if Parliament decided to make such activity illegal. It is exactly the same when tickets for events are sold out rapidly, and soon afterwards go on eBay or other websites at a marked-up price. That happens not just with tickets but with many other things.
As the Select Committee Chairman made clear at the start of the debate, many events do make such specifications on their tickets, but few have confidence that those conditions would stand up in court or are prepared to defend the claim in a court of law. I suspect that that is because they fear a judge would rule the placing of such conditions on the purchase of a ticket to be unfair.
No, I certainly do not. I shall deal with this in more detail later, but I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point now. It is not a question of whether we allow ticket touting or not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, ticket touting has always taken place and always will, whatever rules and laws the Government pass. It is a bit like prostitution, in that, whatever people may think of it, it will always happen, and no matter how many laws are passed to stamp it out, it will always take place. The issue that we are debating is whether ticket touting—the sale of tickets in the secondary market—is allowed to be done only by people outside grounds, on a rather shadowy basis with a nod and a wink down a dark alley, or by respectable companies on websites, which give lots of consumer protection to the people who buy the tickets. Whether ticket touting takes place is not and will never be an issue. It will always take place. People involved in football will confirm that, even though there is a law banning the sale of tickets at premiership football games, it still happens. It just does not take place on some of the more reputable sites involved in the secondary market. Let no one be in any doubt that such touting still takes place; it is just under, rather than over, the counter.
The analogy that I would give is buying a house. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford quoted my friend Harvey Goldsmith’s comment about ticket touts being like parasites, living off the abilities and intellectual property of others, and denying ordinary folk access to the events in question. It seems to me that there is a close analogy with buying houses. People buy houses off the ability—the intellectual property—of house builders and the construction industry. Those are the people who are capable of building houses, which the ordinary punter would not be able to build. However, those punters buy them, and then sell them on at a profit. I am sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West would agree that selling them on at a profit is one of the things that prevents first-time buyers from getting on to the housing ladder. If the Government are so obsessed with access to people’s intellectual property, and not abusing it, presumably we should have a law to stop people selling their houses at a profit, to allow first-time buyers access to the housing ladder.
Often a house is purchased with conditions attached, particularly with respect to leasehold. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to buy my current house, he would have to agree that there would be no rowdy behaviour in it. Conditions are attached, and that is important in any sale.
We have traded many hypothetical examples in our discussions on economic philosophy in Committee sittings. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that—unless we are talking about a very bad builder from Shipley—a house, unlike an FA cup final, is not a one-off event?
That is self-evident, but I do not see that it detracts from the main point. The point is whether or not people should be allowed to buy something and sell it on at a profit, even if it might deny somebody else access to that particular ticket or property. The Government do not want to interfere in any other form of buying something and selling it on at a profit. Why they want to get involved in regulating tickets in that way is beyond me. I will come to the Government’s position in a moment.
The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. I understand where he is coming from with his house analogy; however, I return to the example of football grounds and football supporters. Clubs are put under pressure because they are supposed to look after their fans. They are deliberately made to keep parts of the ground open for ticket sales, and not to sell season tickets. My own club keeps one part of the ground open and it has deliberately kept the prices down, so that ordinary fans can take their children and buy them a top and all the other stuff. What the hon. Gentleman proposes will prevent that from happening and allow all the tickets to be bought up before they even go on sale, which is what happened with the Take That tickets. That will prevent the ordinary fans from getting tickets to see a football team, or to a pop concert.
I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, and in a few moments I will explain why. There are some myths surrounding the practicalities of what ticket touting does. One argument often given—less so now because it is such a palpably stupid argument—is that it takes away money from grass-roots sports. That is clearly not true because the people who sell the tickets in the first place have already got the income that they intended to get by selling them. If someone decides to sell on the tickets at a profit, it makes no difference to the income received by the sporting body or event promoter. Ticket touting, therefore, does not take away any money from grass-roots sports, so the argument that is sometimes trotted out is a red herring.
The other argument—this is where the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West comes in—is that ticket touts prevent the ordinary fans from gaining access to particular events. That is wrong for a number of reasons. I am not sure where the huge amount of evidence is to suggest that that happens. One of the points that we made in the Committee was that the evidence for the scale of the problem is very difficult to pin down. It is often given on an anecdotal basis. For example, one finds that only a very small proportion of tickets for an event, either sporting or musical, goes on sale on eBay. I am not entirely sure where we have built up the idea that ticket touting is such a huge issue, and that nobody can gain access to an event because of it. There is no evidence to suggest that it is a massive problem.
Another point is that ticket touting can give the ordinary fan the only opportunity that they will ever get to go to a particular event. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford mentioned Led Zeppelin. I will take his word that the concert was heavily over-subscribed and very popular. If I was an ordinary hard-working person interested in Led Zeppelin and I was not sure whether I could go to the concert when the tickets went on sale—my work might not allow me to go on that day—I would not be in a position to buy a ticket there and then. It might become evident later on, much nearer the time of the event, that I could get the time off work to go. Under the regime that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West was advocating, I would ring up the event organiser and find that I could not go because all the tickets had sold out.
Stopping touting will not prevent certain events from being over-subscribed and far more popular than the available number of tickets can cope with. In the situation that I described, I would be unable to go and there would be nothing that I could do about it. The secondary market gives me the opportunity to go to that event. I can go on to eBay to see if a ticket is available and how much it is. It may well be that I decide that I am not prepared to pay the price being asked. It may be that I cannot afford to pay the price. However, at least it has offered me an opportunity that I would otherwise not have had.
On a point of information, I had the privilege of attending the Led Zeppelin concert, and I should put on the record my thanks to News Corporation for inviting me. That concert was promoted by Harvey Goldsmith, who insisted that the tickets would not be available until 24 hours before the concert and only on production of the credit card used to purchase the ticket, so he attempted to block the secondary market in that way.
My hon. Friend’s intervention is incredibly helpful. I will come to the points that he makes in a bit more detail later. He is absolutely right. The solution to the perceived problem of ticket touting is often in the hands of the event organisers and promoters themselves. They should not be looking to the Government to take action that they could reasonably take themselves if they put their mind to it. The imaginative solution that my hon. Friend describes is one such way in which it can be done.
I am sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West is a great believer in the redistribution of wealth. I think that he would agree with me when I say that, if somebody buys a ticket for £25 and it is sold on for £7,000, the likelihood is that the person who bought it for £25 will be much poorer than the person who bought it for £7,000. Therefore, if one believes in the redistribution of wealth, it strikes me that ticket touting is a particularly good way for somebody who is less well off to get a lot of income from a wealthy person who is prepared to pay over the odds. I am rather curious to know why he wants to stop that kind of redistribution of wealth.
The other point that is made is that, if I buy a ticket and sell it on to somebody else, that has prevented the next person down the line from purchasing that ticket. Let us say that Mrs. Bloggs is one place behind me in the queue. I snap up the last ticket and sell it on to someone else. That prevented Mrs. Bloggs from getting a ticket and access to an event that she would otherwise have been able to go to. It might be that I am buying a ticket for the Test match—I am a big cricket fan and quite happy to go to the Test match—and as far as I am concerned, I am going. Lo and behold, in the pub a week before the game, somebody comes along and says, “I have always wanted to go to a Test match. I am only here for a few weeks and I have never had the opportunity to go. I would love to go but I cannot get a ticket. I am prepared to pay £1,000 for that ticket.” It may be that I think to myself, “I would like to go to the Test match, but this is an opportunity that I cannot give up. If it means that much to him and he is prepared to give £1,000 for that ticket and I am quite happy not to go on that basis, I will happily sell my ticket to him.”
Now, Mrs. Bloggs, who was one place behind me in the queue, is not going to the Test match one way or the other. If the person who is offering me £1,000 for the ticket does not go, I am going to go. Mrs. Bloggs is not missing out at all. This is a private matter between me and the person who wants to pay a fantastic amount of money for the ticket. No one else is involved; it does not affect anyone else.
The hon. Gentleman misses the point. If we have a blanket ban on the secondary market and on ticket touting generally, everybody will be caught up. All those who buy a ticket with the genuine intention of going but do not go, for whatever reason—because they subsequently find that they cannot go due to illness or a work commitment; or because they want to sell the ticket on to somebody at a profit later on and had not realised that such an opportunity would arise at the time—would be caught up in this blanket ban of ticket touting. That is the problem with the legislation on this issue.
The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West said that people want a ban on ticket touting, but I think that it depends on the question they are asked. I am sure that if one asks, “Do you think that dirty, nasty, parasitical ticket touts should be able to make a huge profit from selling on tickets, which will prevent other people from going?”, the answer will probably be, “That is outrageous and we should stop it at once.” But if one asks, “Do you think that, if you buy a ticket for an event, but then find that you can’t go, you should be allowed to sell your ticket to someone else?”, one would get a different answer altogether. That has already happened: those surveys have taken place, and the most agreed with statement in opinion polls was:
“If I had a ticket to a sporting event, concert or other event that I could no longer use, then I should be allowed to re-sell it.”
More than 80 per cent. of the public agreed with that statement. I am not surprised by that, as it is a perfectly reasonable statement to agree with. People’s attitude to ticket touting depends very much on how the question is framed; one can get the answer that one wants.
It is worth pointing out that more than half the people polled had tried to get tickets to an event but had found that it was sold out before they could buy one. The secondary market therefore gives them the only opportunity to attend. Half of people who wanted to go to an event before it was sold out did not know where to go or how to purchase a ticket from that moment in time. The secondary market provides a great service to members of the general public who are trying to access events, and it works to the benefit of consumers, on the whole, rather than against them.
The hon. Gentleman totally misses the point. When someone buys a ticket for an event, but suddenly finds that they cannot go, they are not then looking to make a profit on their ticket. They want to get their money back or to pass the ticket on to someone else. No one is saying that it is illegal to pass on a ticket, and no one would begrudge them passing on the price of the ticket plus the booking fee. I want something done about the practice of people buying up tickets at multiple call centres, or using an IP address in the way that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford described earlier, and deliberately setting out to defraud the general public. Those are the people we have to have a go at, and we must have something in law that stops them from doing that. We are not looking at people who want to give their ticket to a member of their family or to sell it to a friend in the pub because they cannot go. We are looking at people who deliberately go out of their way to break the law, and who are breaking the law, because they are defrauding people.
The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong to say that such people are defrauding the public. They are offering tickets at transparent prices, and people are making conscious decisions about whether to pay those prices. That is not defrauding people; it is opening up opportunities that people can choose to take up. It is entirely a matter of choice.
The hon. Gentleman talked about the police, but who will enforce the laws that have been suggested? In my constituency, the police are already run off their feet trying to deal with more bread-and-butter crime. I am not sure that many of my constituents would want acres of police time to be taken up by seeing whether someone is selling on a ticket at a profit, rather than with maintaining law and order on the streets. In the scheme of things, there is worse criminal activity in the country than people trying to sell on tickets at a profit.
I want to discuss sporting events because it seems, from what the Minister has indicated and from the Government response, that they have been nobbled by the sporting bodies on this issue. They should be aware of the motivations behind that and other aspects of certain sporting events. Access to such events, it is said, should be kept open to the ordinary, decent punter, but the Government were quite happy for the cricket to go to Sky. They were happy to deprive millions of people of the opportunity to watch cricket, so I am not sure where their great, high commitment to access to sport comes in, because far more people access sport via television than will ever get the opportunity to go to an event. I am thus not entirely sure that the Government are so much on the side of access, and the same applies to the England and Wales Cricket Board.
Rugby union provides us with a good example, and the powerful point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford about the rugby world cup is worth repeating. Suppose that someone from a particular country buys a ticket for an event thinking that their team is going to get to the final. Indeed, the event does not even have to be international; a Chelsea supporter could buy a ticket for the FA cup final in the expectation that their team is going to get there. For example, an All Blacks supporter might expect their team to get to the final and buy a ticket on that basis. If the policy promoted by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West were implemented, thousands of England fans would have been deprived from watching last year’s rugby world cup final because he would have disallowed New Zealand supporters from selling on their tickets to England supporters. That would be a rather perverse outcome of a policy.
Organisations such as the Rugby Football Union say that they are concerned about the ordinary decent rugby supporter gaining access to their events, but let us consider the ticket allocations for the six nations international games of 2006-07. Can hon. Members guess how many tickets for the England v. Scotland and England v. France matches at Twickenham went on sale to the general public? The answer is a big, fat zero—not one ticket to those two internationals went on sale to the general public. If I were a genuine rugby union fan who wanted to go to one of those internationals, I would have had no opportunity whatever of purchasing tickets for them. The allocations were given to RFU member clubs, debenture holders, other RFU people, visitors, commercial people and sponsors. No tickets were on open sale for the general public. It is no wonder that tickets are happily sold at below cost price, given that they are bringing in such little income; nobody is buying them, because very few are on sale. Most of them are given away to other people.
Saying that tickets are “given away to other people” demeans the efforts of the RFU and other sporting organisations to make it a priority to allocate tickets at a reasonable price to rugby clubs around the country. That practice gives members of rugby clubs—people at grass-roots level who play the sport week in, week out—the opportunity to watch internationals.
That is perfectly laudable, but if I happen to be a genuine rugby union fan who does not fall into the category that the RFU has identified, I have no opportunity to go to a big international match at Twickenham without the secondary market. Why should I be deprived of that opportunity even though I am a genuine rugby union fan? Let us not be mistaken into thinking that all those tickets are available to ordinary fans and that nasty ticket touts snap them all up to deprive the ordinary fan the chance to go. Often, the ordinary fan has no opportunity to go to those sporting events.
Indeed, but we are being told that the aim is to protect the ordinary supporter who wants to buy a ticket and go to a match, and my point is that, for some sporting events, those opportunities simply do not exist to ordinary supporters without the secondary ticket market.
If we are so concerned about the ordinary punter’s access, as we keep being told is the case, why are not we preventing so many tickets being given away to corporate sponsors? What chance does the average punter have of accessing those tickets? Virtually zero. The majority of people who turn up to those things might have only a fleeting interest in the sport that they are going to see. Indeed, they might have no interest in it whatever, and simply think that it might be a decent bash with a bit of free drink. If we are so bothered about opening up access to the ordinary punter, I am surprised that people have not pointed out that sporting organisations and event promoters could use those tickets to give access to ordinary, decent punters.
Saying that someone who buys a ticket for £7,000 is not a genuine fan strikes me as perverse. I should think that, if someone is prepared to splash out so much for a ticket to an event, the chances are that they are about as passionate a supporter of that event as one could find, so I do not see how ticket touting stops genuine fans from going. Some of the amounts that people are prepared to pay indicate that there are some very genuine fans making use of the secondary market to go to such events.
I come back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford raised about what should be done to deal with ticket touting. If ticket touting is such a big problem for concert promoters and organisers of sporting events, much of the solution is in their own hands. There are many things that they could do to remove the secondary market from their events. My hon. Friend himself gave an example of what they could do. Promoters could also have ticket lines open 24 hours a day. Often, some people are not able to get tickets during working hours because they have no opportunity to ring up and buy a ticket when they are at work. If there were 24-hour ticket lines to allow people to ring up at any point and get a ticket, that might open up access to tickets for ordinary, decent people.
Also, promoters could stop selling all the tickets in one go at the start of an event’s promotion. Often, every single ticket for an event or international sporting match will go on sale on day one, which encourages ticket touts to buy up tickets and sell them on when they have all been sold. If sporting bodies and event promoters are so concerned about touts, why do they not sell a few tickets at a time so that tickets are still available to buy on the open market even in the last week or few days before the event? That would take away the secondary market, because why on earth would someone pay thousands of pounds for a ticket from a tout on the secondary market if there were still tickets available at face value from the event organiser?
Of course, the key point is refunds. If the organisers of sporting events and other events will not agree to give people refunds, I do not see any option but a secondary market. If somebody buys a ticket for an event and they cannot go, they should be entitled, one way or another, to retrieve their money, whether that is through a refund or by selling it on the secondary market. It is perverse that we would stop the secondary market without forcing event organisers to give refunds. Many event organisers have clearly said that they will not agree to give refunds to people under any circumstances whatsoever, which is ridiculous.
The point about the secondary market is that, if someone does not know whether they can turn up to an event or not, they can still buy a ticket in confidence. If somebody wants to go to a big sporting event, they can buy a ticket in confidence knowing that, if they cannot go for some reason, they will be able to sell it on. Restricting the secondary market and stopping so-called ticket touting would stop those ordinary people from being able to buy a ticket for something with confidence; they would simply have to pass the opportunity by, even if they found at a later date that they would have been able to go to that event.
Where are the Government on this issue? To be honest, they are all over the place. I await the Minister’s comments with interest to find out how far down this ridiculous route they are prepared to go. If they try to restrict the secondary market, I assure the Minister that they will come to regret it.
The Minister ought to have a close word with the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), who very helpfully gave our Committee lots of evidence—I might add that she gave us some very sensible evidence. It is worth reminding hon. Members of some of the points that she made. She was subjected to ferocious questioning by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), and I am sorry that he is not here today because I am sure that he would have been interested in the Under-Secretary’s response.
When the hon. Member for Torbay suggested that the Government should introduce some kind of restriction on the secondary market and ticket sales, the Minister of State said:
“I am somewhat astounded by the direction of your questioning. And what we need to do is ensure that they get the appropriate and full information and transparency so that they can make an informed choice and that there should not be a mechanism imposed by the state which would restrict their choice on the basis of a false definition of consumer protection.”
It strikes me that was a pretty clear statement from the Minister of State, who is in the Under-Secretary’s own Department.
That is true, of course, but it is a novel concept that a Minister should have a particular view one day, because they are working in one Department, and an entirely different view the next day, when they move to another Department. If that is the way in which the Government conduct their business, it strikes me as rather perverse.
The Minister of State’s evidence was not in any way equivocal—it was very unequivocal—that the secondary market works in the best interests of the consumer and that the Government do not want to go down the route of regulating the sector, for very good reasons. Equally, the Office of Fair Trading concluded that the market worked broadly for the benefit of consumers, rather than against their interests. Also, in the Government’s response to the Committee’s report, they acknowledge that the OFT made it clear that it received very few complaints from people about ticket touting. Of course, the OFT does not receive many complaints of that kind because people enter into this area voluntarily. No one forces anybody to pay any particular price for a ticket, whether it is in the primary or secondary markets.
The event organisers and promoters want to have and maintain a monopoly on selling tickets in the primary and secondary markets. That is good old-fashioned self-interest. I believe in the free market and that a plurality of supply works to the benefit of consumers, rather than against them, and that monopolies work against the interest of consumers.
That is why I very much hope that the Minister will not pander to the kind of simplistic arguments that we hear—the instinctive opposition to people making a profit by selling on tickets—that he will look at the evidence and the whole issue seriously, and that he will understand the huge pitfalls in which the Government will get themselves by restricting this market. Instead, they should abide by the Select Committee report, which concluded that the secondary market was very legitimate.
I shall take my reprimands like a boy.
When it came to this report, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee, really should be sitting with Government Members despite his impeccable Thatcherite past. He was practically a socialist compared to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).
I think that you, Mr. Weir, already have an idea why, of all our inquiries, this was the longest drawn-out, even though it was supposed to be a one-day inquiry. I think that we have had more drafting sessions on this report than on any other.
If we get away from the hyperbole of the hon. Member for Shipley, the essence of this debate is about the example of Harvey Goldsmith, which was given by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford. Was Harvey right or wrong to try to restrict sales and enforce those restrictions in the way that he did and, if he was right, should the Government, by the introduction of a voluntary code or legislation, give him a bit of a helping hand in future? That is the essential question and the hon. Member for Shipley did not pronounce on it, because his opposition is much more fundamental. He does not really want the state involved in anything, which raises a further question about whether organisations such as the OFT, which has today won a case against the banks on overdraft charges, should exist in the first place. However, that is a much wider question than the issue covered by this debate.
We had a Committee that was composed of genuine music fans. We had a Chairman, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, whose bedroom is, I imagine, a veritable shrine to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath; I am not so close to him that I have been to his bedroom, so I can only imagine that that is the case. We had the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), who runs his own Friday night radio music programme for the elderly down there in his constituency and I do not imagine that it just consists of easy listening. I myself hope to go and see Bruce Springsteen, in a marriage of sport and music at the Emirates stadium, at the end of May, Harvey Goldsmith permitting; that is if he does not bar me from the ground and the event because we did not meet his expectations in the report.
Of course, other members of the Committee are heavily involved in sport. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), who is the chair of the all-party group on football, cannot be here today, but he is still playing at the age of 70 in the same parliamentary football team as myself, the Minister and the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I will declare other interests: I am the secretary of both the all-party group on rugby union and the parliamentary rugby team. The hon. Member for Shipley is also on the Committee. He is a cricketer, who largely believes in an untrammelled free market, where everyone has a God-given right either to make a profit or, as some would say, a fast buck.
Every report is a compromise; not everyone gets what they want. As a result, for instance, Mr. Goldsmith, who gave so much helpful evidence to the Committee, has actually taken the view that it is “a plague on all your houses, and you are all a waste of space”. However, I assure him that, had he been here today and sampled the flavour of this debate, or had he been in all the sittings of our Committee and seen the exchanges, he might differ from that view and feel that some people were more on his side than not.
We could have constructed a doctoral thesis out of our sittings—on perfect and imperfect markets. However, we agreed on some things, including that there were valid concerns in some areas about ticket touts and ordinary fans’ access to tickets for high-profile events at fair prices. The reason was not because of the activities of the traditional ticket touts outside venues, as described by the Chairman of the Select Committee, but because of the rise of the internet, which helps the industry in terms of its marketing reach and facilities, and also gives sophisticated individuals and groups the opportunity instantaneously to snap up great swathes of tickets and then pass them on, with collusion or otherwise, to so-called secondary sellers such as eBay, Seatwave, Get Me In! and viagogo, to mention some of the bigger names, who then sell them on at highly marked-up prices.
The real concern, given the rise of the internet, is that if I apply for a ticket for an event, do I have a realistic chance—one in four, one in 10—of actually getting one, or, with time and the activities of people who have no intention of going to the event, do my odds become diminishingly small? I hope that the hon. Member for Shipley understands that concern, as he used to be a bookie.
Before dealing with the Government response, I wish to highlight a couple of areas where I wanted our report to be a little stronger. In paragraphs 35 and 37, we address the fundamental issue of whether a ticket is a commodity like a house—that was one of the examples that was used—or whether it is different, and whether it confers rights and responsibilities after the sale. I take the latter view. The example is followed in respect of transport tickets, such as those for airlines and rail and even down to the tube travelcard.
In the end, the Committee did not favour that view. We had a vote, and it was the one occasion when the hon. Member for Shipley won. Some of the Members were so tired that they wanted to throw him a bone or two, and the result was four to three. However, had the Chairman voted—he was itching to do so—I suspect that the vote would have been a draw. I shall not invite the hon. Member for Shipley to call me a bad loser, but I think that the jury is still out on that.
I would have liked much more protection for major events, on the basis of the crown jewels list. I am very glad that, in the Government response, there is an inching towards recognition that there are significant events of national importance for which some protections might be more in order. I recognise the problems that that would present for the music industry. The list would be dominated by sports events, and it would be guaranteed to drive Mr. Goldsmith apoplectic with rage, but the sports industry is rather different: it does not have the latitude to stage another cup final to cope with demand, whereas it is possible to stage another Bruce Springsteen concert. That frequently happens in the music industry.
There is a qualitative difference that might give some justification for a crown jewels list, even though it may be dominated by sporting fixtures. There is a basis for that. Football has its own regulations, which were designed to address crowd disorder. When we were conducting the inquiry, we did not have people from the football industry clamouring for a great change to make tickets more freely available through internet secondary sellers, so that more people could get hold of them. That situation seems to work.
Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) said, we now have the Olympics 2012 legislation, which was extended from legislation for the Commonwealth games. The justification for it is to stop profiteering, and we will face further demands for such legislation in the future. How many times can the sporting industry come back to the House of Commons? It may be a precondition, for example, of our successfully winning the 2015 rugby world cup or future world cups. As it was, I decided not to advance an amendment because I preferred a 0-0 draw and to leave the question open. I am glad that the Government have filled the void to a certain extent in their response.
Despite all the divisions, the Committee found that certain practices of secondary sellers were distasteful. They are not the angels that the hon. Member for Shipley portrays. Indeed, he agreed that we should urge the Government to look at three particular areas. One was the selling of free tickets, often for charity events. The second was the selling on of reserved tickets for particular groups such as the disabled and children. The third was the selling on of tickets that were reserved in allocations for ordinary grass roots members of amateur sports clubs. That is explicitly reflected in the report, and I shall address it towards the end of my remarks.
I worked for The Observer before I came into the House. When I looked at the news pages on the weekend and saw a piece written by a former colleague, Gaby Hinsliff, who is the political editor, my heart jumped. I knew that the Minister was sympathetic—probably much more sympathetic than his colleague, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, was when she was in the Department of Trade and Industry—to a tougher line and to more help for the crown jewels, for example. I knew that the Secretary of State, who is a keen footballer, was more sympathetic as well, so I thought that, with the article, I would be 4-3 down at the end of our report, but that it was only half-time. I had the Chairman, potentially, and two Ministers, so the final score would be 6-4, and I had visions of the hon. Member for Shipley mounting the rostrum to collect his loser’s medal. However, I worked on Sunday newspapers long enough to recognise an overwritten article when I see one, so I waited for the Government response the following day.
I welcome the Government response. It does more than inch in the right direction. It recognises the concerns, but, based on some of the evidence that was given to us, I suspect that Ministers are up against a brick wall, given the attitudes of some civil servants, not least those in the former DTI, where I suspect some Ministers are simply captured, but I shall not name names. The Minister used to be a consumer affairs Minister, so he will know very well what I am talking about.
In many respects, much as I welcome the tone of the Government response, I would like more substance, and I hope that the Minister will be able to provide more later. Like The Observer article, there is a lot of great wrapping, but I want to see the present from the Minister underneath.
I would like to make a few remarks on some aspects of our report and the Government response. First, on the voluntary code, I agree that legislation should be the last resort. I agree with the hon. Member for Shipley that legislation has to be well thought through, as it can often have unforeseen outcomes, particularly if there is a blanket approach to specific abuses. However, as I said, we do have legislation to protect the 2012 Olympics. It is an irony to many people in the sporting sector in particular, and to people such as Mr. Goldsmith, that we will have protection for events such as handball, volleyball and synchronised swimming, which are far less popular than the six nations, a cup final or the Wimbledon final.
The Government say that they will discuss the development of a voluntary code of principles with key stakeholders. The response states that
the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers—
and the OFT are close to agreement on the draft model terms and conditions.”
That does not really take us any further than we were when we conducted the inquiry. In fact, the draft code was due to be produced by the Office of Fair Trading last August, so I would like to get a feel from the Minister on progress. If it is not possible to agree a draft code—I understand that the secondary ticketers are completely in opposition—what will be the next step? The Government have made some noises that there may need to be action down the line if they cannot get a voluntary code. I welcome that, but I would like to get a better feel for what might be intended in substance.
The Chairman mentioned that one way the regulators might show some teeth is to threaten a test case if the secondary ticketers do not come to the table and properly agree a voluntary code. When I was talking to John Fingleton, the chief executive of the OFT, in front of the Committee, I used the example of the banking industry. The OFT had already taken a test case on credit card charges, and people were crying out for it to move on the banking sector on overdraft charges. There was a precedent for doing so. Paradoxically, a couple of weeks after our session, the OFT opened a test case against the banks on overdraft charges, which it won today. I will obviously claim credit for that, but as far as the OFT is concerned we have got to the position where, as the Government’s response says:
“If in the event a voluntary agreement within the ticketing industry is not reached, the OFT would need to consider the appropriateness of any court action at that time, according to the principles of proportionality and”—
here’s a new one—
The OFT is saying publicly, “Actually, this is not at the top of our agenda. We’ve got far more important things to do, what with the banks and the construction industry.” That is all very well, but it does not actually say that because it would be signalling that it has no teeth, and would not use them anyway, and has no willingness to bite. That is a mistake, in terms of encouraging the industry to sign up to a code.
The hon. Gentleman used banking as an analogy, but would he not agree that a better analogy is the net book agreement? When I worked for Asda, we challenged the net book agreement, under which publishers set the price of a book and retailers had to sell it at that price, with a restriction being placed on their selling it at any other price. We at Asda challenged that in the courts and the net book agreement consequently collapsed, with the effect that people can sell a book at whatever price they want to, irrespective of what the publisher states, even though the book is their intellectual property. Would it not be strange, in respect of tickets, for us to go in the opposite direction to the net book agreement, which collapsed a number of years ago?
I shall answer that head-on by saying that there were issues for small booksellers then. But if the hon. Gentleman looks at the Competition Commission’s investigations, there are ongoing concerns about whether supermarkets, such as the hon. Gentleman’s former employer, are anti-competitive when selling things below the cost of production simply as loss-leaders to invite people in. So there may yet be an issue there. But what the OFT has succeeded in doing now, finally, with the bank charges is at least the first step.
I wonder whether the hon. Member for Shipley, with his “all’s fair in love and war, the state should stay out of it” attitude, thinks that the OFT should have taken that case in the first place and should have stood up for consumers in the way that some of us would like the Government or the OFT to stand up for consumers of sports and music events.
The OFT will stand up for consumers, and thank goodness it does. That is why it has concluded that ticket touting—the secondary market—works more in the interests of consumers than against them. The OFT is doing exactly what it wanted and standing up for consumers.
I hope that hon. Members will bear with me in this game of table tennis across the Chamber.
The OFT’s seeking of a voluntary code shows that there is an issue to be addressed. Clearly, had it got more staff and resources, this issue might be higher up the agenda compared with other items. The Government’s response to some of the criticism of the OFT has missed the point. During the various sessions and in the report, I was criticising the OFT for the amount of time it was taking to reach a decision, not for not addressing the issue at all. I urge more speed.
I should like to address what might be covered by the voluntary code. We are at a disadvantage because we still do not have a draft to comment on, either in the Government’s response or in this debate. The Committee focused on three instances of abuse: free tickets; allocation for the disabled and children; and the situation regarding amateur sports clubs. Clearly, with regard to free tickets, the Government could not be clearer, because their response says:
“The Government agrees with the Committee’s views about the sale of free tickets”.
However, I am afraid that they are silent on the other categories. I should like to hear a little bit more from the Minister about whether other categories of concern might be included in the draft code.
In respect of amateur sports clubs, which are close to my heart through my involvement in rugby union, the Rugby Football Union distributes tickets to amateur clubs by allocation. Most of the clubs are scrupulous and give their members a fair chance, often by ballot, to get those tickets, but a small minority are unscrupulous. A small minority of clubs, officers or lucky recipients will simply sell their tickets on the black market. That denies ordinary members who want to go to a fixture a chance of doing so, be it Mrs. Bloggs or not. It also places a disproportionate cost for policing fixtures on the Rugby Football Union and all the administrative bodies. In 2006, for example, 157 RFU clubs, schools and universities, and some debenture holders had their allocations reduced because they sold their tickets on the black market, in breach of the terms and conditions. The cost of that is high for the administrative body, which takes out resources that could otherwise be ploughed into developing the game and grass-roots sport.
I accept some of the points that have been made. The industry should do more to identify certain tickets and, by making them appear different, highlight the risk to those buying them and those willing to sell them of people with such tickets being refused entry. I also accept that there must be much better mechanisms for authorised reselling. For example, during the rugby world cup in Paris—this has nothing to do with the home unions—there was not a reselling mechanism. Frankly, most of the Kiwis and Aussies, whose teams were knocked out earlier, were still in Paris against their will. It was a great joy to see rows of miserable faces outside the pubs and cafés of Paris, but they should not have been in that situation and there should have been an authorised reselling mechanism. I hope that, when we win the world cup in 2015, those arrangements will be far better administered by the home unions here or the English RFU than they were by the French and the International Rugby Board. I would still like to see some protection in the code, when it emerges, for ordinary members receiving allocations from amateur sports clubs.
I want to touch on the practice, which was criticised in the report, of so-called futures selling, whereby tickets are advertised for sale by secondary sellers before they have even been marketed. The likes of eBay, Seatwave and viagogo have definitely been selling tickets that they could not possibly have. There are clear consumer protection issues. Hon. Members only have to look at the evidence provided by Harvey Goldsmith about eBay’s attitude to people who offer tickets fraudulently: people pay up and the tickets never appear, but eBay effectively does not want to know. Now, eBay is a big corporation and the buyers are small individuals, so what can they do? The Department for Culture, Media and Sport and the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform might want to look at wider issues of protection regarding buying on the internet.
The hon. Gentleman ought to qualify his remarks slightly. Internet companies such as Seatwave, eBay and viagogo have excellent refund policies—far better, I might add, than those of the primary ticket sellers. So, as he well knows, people who buy a ticket that does not materialise would definitely get their money back from those websites. I hope that he will make that clear. This is not a question of consumer protection. The consumer is often better protected by these websites than they are by primary sellers.
I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look carefully at some of Mr. Goldsmith’s evidence about eBay. The other resellers that the hon. Gentleman mentioned have refund mechanisms, but there is a practice within the industry—so that the policy can be underwritten—whereby the agreement that they make with sellers is tantamount to collusion to receiving tickets from sources that will breach terms and conditions. That is another area about which I am concerned, because the practices of the secondary sellers certainly encourage clubs and members to breach those terms and conditions.
The hon. Member for Shipley mentioned one company. We heard from Seatwave—Mr. Joe Cohen, its chief executive gave evidence to the Committee—which denied that such a thing happened. Yet we had evidence that Seatwave was offering tickets for the rugby six nations championship in 2008 that were not yet designed or printed. His evidence was contrary to what we were seeing. Following the Committee’s report, we received what I can only call an ill-advised letter from Seatwave making serious allegations and questioning the report. I shall read a relevant passage in which it justifies its practice of advertising allocations that clubs knew that they would get. Joe Cohen’s letter stated:
“It was, however, perfectly valid for ‘tickets’ to be offered for sale as the seller’s entitlement to the entrance to the event was secure. The entitlement to attend an event was legitimately being offered for sale on Seatwave, not the actual purchase of a paper ticket—a point that the RFU misled the committee on.”
That was a serious charge against the Rugby Football Union, so we invited the RFU to respond. Nick Bunting is its Government relations director, and Paul Vaughan, its business operations director, wrote to me stating:
“Seatwave make the point that it is perfectly valid for future tickets to be sold on the basis that the seller’s entitlement to the entrance to the event is secure. This is not correct…Entrance to a major international at Twickenham is only secure if the ticket holder is entitled to that allocation. If a buyer purchases a ticket from the black market, or secondary market, as Seatwave refer to it, the RFU reserves the right to deny entry to the ground.”
He then cites some of eBay’s practices, and states that individual tickets on Seatwave
“for the England v Ireland match on 15th March 2008 were being offered to buyers…at up to £1400 each.”
The highest face value was £70. Mr. Vaughan continued:
“In all cases of RFU tickets Seatwave are inducing a breach of the ticket terms and conditions.”
On the so-called robust consumer protection system to which the hon. Member for Shipley referred, Mr. Vaughan said:
“Seatwave have no right to purchase tickets for major internationals at Twickenham either through an allocation process or an entitlement…Seatwave purport to have a ‘right to purchase alternative tickets’ but this translates into the reality which is a contract between the seller and Seatwave allowing Seatwave to use the seller’s money to acquire tickets in the black market. The RFU is obviously not party to this agreement…If Seatwave buy on the black market they are encouraging the seller to break the ticket terms and conditions…The RFU reserve the right to cancel”
those tickets. There are clear consumer protection issues here. The practice is unacceptable, and I want that to be included in the draft code. Seatwave’s response was too clever by half.
I shall come to a conclusion because I know that other hon. Members want to speak. Another consumer protection issue that we address in the report is that in trying to protect people against fraud and denial of entry, it would be helpful if tickets advertised on exchanges had block, row and seat numbers printed on them, so that people could be sure that they existed and check them out.
I welcome the sympathetic tone of the response, the direction of travel, and the Government’s approach to the crown jewels list, but I would like to hear a little more detail in the Minister’s response about some of the issues that we raised in the report.
It is a great privilege to take part in a parliamentary debate with a ringside seat as a spectator of the inside workings of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. All parliamentarians want to see how well our Select Committees are not only scrutinising what the Government are doing, but contributing to future policy and guiding the direction of travel. Stoke-on-Trent is the birthplace of Robbie Williams, and it is good to hear in this debate that he is recognised as a national icon. So many people in Stoke-on-Trent and the borough of Newcastle-under-Lyme want ringside seats at his concerts.
The debate has shown that the Government’s response to the Committee’s detailed report on ticket touting sets out the importance of ensuring that major sporting and music events should not go ahead if they exploit fans. In taking the report forward—whatever differences of opinion there may be, or votes against the majority view—the thrust of the Government’s policy should be to be fair to fans and to ensure that ticket touting does not undermine the integrity of our sporting organisations. They must ensure that ticket touting does not result in concerts that only those with a lot of money can afford to attend.
The Government must ensure that in the cultural life of our cities and towns—the Axis festival is starting this evening in Stoke-on-Trent, and I hope that we shall complete our proceedings in time to enable me to get home to attend its launch—we have the equivalent of grass roots music, so that we have the big, showcase, crown jewel concerts. They must deal with ticket touting and ensure that fans, concert-goers and followers can be there at every step along the way when they want to. I hope that the report will inform the Minister’s general direction of travel.
At this stage of the debate, almost everything that can be said has been said, and I want to broaden it. I congratulate the Chairman of the Select Committee on the way in which he spoke about its conclusions this afternoon and clearly set out the role of secondary ticketing and whether there is a third way of dealing with it. I very much hope that the Minister will find that third way. In the environmental area, I do a lot of work on my Select Committee and voluntary action has been a much more forceful route than regulation or law enforcement. I hope that the Minister will be able to adopt that approach.
To use an analogy with environmental issues, prevention is often the best cure. Having read the report and given thought to the evidence, I wonder whether in its inquiry, the Select Committee was slightly narrow in terms of the bigger picture. I suggest to the Committee and the Minister that, when they consider cultural diversity in music and sport, and fairness for everyone, they should also consider what can be done to prevent ticket touting.
I made a special point of being here today because I want to draw the Minister’s attention to a scheme that Port Vale football club in my constituency is launching. It wants to invite 5,000 people to become season ticket holders. The scheme is innovative and in the vanguard of bringing sport back to its grass roots—I hope that the Minister will refer to that—and follows on from the work at Bradford City football club. Faced with ticket prices that people could not afford, Bradford City aimed for a figure of 7,000 people, and if it is successful, next year it can double the number of spectators. Will the Minister commend and congratulate Port Vale football club on the scheme that it is introducing? It has until the end of May to find those 5,000 people.
Football ticket touting is centred on a small number of premiership glamour clubs. The cost of tickets at such grounds is high, but not many times higher than those for most normal matches at most lower league grounds. If we can make football affordable and accessible to most people at most clubs, we will go further on the way to alleviating the compulsion to attend a few super-clubs. In doing so, we will both nourish struggling local clubs and remove the demand bottlenecks on which the tickets touts depend. Dealing with the problem in that way is the way forward.
Despite what the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said, the flow of television money to the top of the game effectively subsidises the admission prices of the top clubs. In turn, that makes admission prices at lower league clubs, which do not benefit from such bountiful windfalls, appear prohibitively expensive. Developments at Port Vale football club, in my constituency, attempt to make league football available to adults for under £8 a game. I hope that at some stage, we might have a Robbie Williams concert there, in which case we will need the issue of ticket touting to have been dealt with. The radical scheme to secure 5,000 season ticket holders is a positive move to prevent live football from becoming a luxury item, and to make it a regular part of the lives of many people.
Port Vale is already very much a family club: mums, dads, grandmas, granddads, children, sons, daughters, granddaughters, grandsons—all go to the club together. Like many other clubs, such as Telford United, it is establishing itself as the hub of the local community. If the launch of the season ticket programme for 5,000 people is successful, following on from the brave steps taken by Bradford City last season, it will mark the beginning of a trend to reduce prices in the interest of encouraging greater attendance. If more football fans felt intimately connected to their local clubs and attended the local ground weekly, the pressure caused by the seemingly inexorable cycle of popular interest and wealth experienced by only a handful of top clubs would be alleviated. The excessive demand currently directed at top clubs and exploited by touts would be spread more evenly throughout football, to the benefit of everyone concerned.
When the Minister replies, I would be grateful if he referred to the wonderful, groundbreaking work of Port Vale football club and shared with other parliamentarians how dealing with ticket touting can help diversity in grass-roots football.
I am delighted to follow the hon. Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley). Earlier in the debate, questions were asked by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) about the cultural life in and around her constituency. I have no recent experience of the cultural life of her constituency, but many years ago, I spent four years at university near Stoke-on-Trent, and it certainly had a vibrant cultural life then. As she said, it also has some excellent pubs and clubs, although my favourite, the Bridge Inn, has recently been knocked down.
The hon. Lady began her remarks by, in a sense, praising the Committee. I shall go a stage further and praise the Chairman of the Committee, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale). From the debate so far, it is clear that he has done an excellent job in holding the ring between some divergent views, and he has done so by dealing with colleagues who have very differing views with excellent and continuing good humour. I suggest to the Committee Chairman in particular that, as well as differences of opinion between members of the Committee, many Committee members themselves hold somewhat conflicting views. That has been reflected in many of the speeches so far and it will also be reflected in my contribution. I, too, have some difficulty in coming to terms with how to marry the belief in the benefit of a free market and the market finding solutions to the problems with the need for further legislation and regulation. It would be dishonest if we did not admit that there was a very clear tension.
I genuinely believe that there is an important role for a well-organised secondary market that has proper consumer protection built into it. As has been discussed, that would enable the genuine fan with a genuine reason for not being able to go to an event, concert or sporting activity to recoup the cost of their ticket and allow someone else, who is perhaps prepared to pay more than the face value of the ticket, to go to that event. Anyone who says that there is not a legitimate need for such a market is deluding themselves and disadvantaging many members of the public.
What are the problems to which we are seeking to find solutions? All sorts of quotes have been taken from the report, but I would like to read a quote from the report that has not been given. The report states:
“More work needs to be done on quantifying the core problem…The case for intervention would be strengthened if it were demonstrated that there were real problems affecting more than a small minority of events.”
We have not yet been entirely clear about the nature of the problems that we are seeking to overcome. After listening to the debate, the problems seem to fall into three categories, which perhaps need to be articulated more clearly than we have done today.
First, a series of problems surround the issue of what we might call illegal activity. We know that there is a problem with street trading, which is illegal under street trading legislation, but we also know that the ticket touts are getting cleverer. Only yesterday, I heard about a particular case in which, to avoid the relevant legislation, street traders hired a youth club just off the street and operated from within the premises that they had hired. There are lots of issues in relation to rogue traders, many of which have already been referred to. The hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford mentioned the 6,500 people who were out of pocket as a result of the activities of Ticket Touts Ltd, which was selling tickets that it did not have. There are many other examples of such activities.
Illegal activity is the problem, and we should surely be considering proper enforcement of the law in relation to that. We know that that is what the Government are also saying. Over a year ago, in a debate on ticket touting introduced by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West, the then Under-Secretary, who is now the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, said that the first problem is
“when people outside venues, who probably are not licensed, try to sell tickets at hugely inflated prices. There is legislation to deal with that problem, but the issue is enforcement. How do we ensure that legislation is being effectively enforced? That needs to be addressed.”—[Official Report, Westminster Hall, 27 March 2007; Vol. 458, c. 409WH.]
That was said more than a year ago, and I am now repeating it. The real question is what are we doing about the issue of enforcement?
Government figures provided as a result of parliamentary questions that I have tabled show that, between 2001-07, there were fewer than 150 convictions for ticket touting offences. Research done by my office alone shows that hundreds of tickets for international football and the football friendly between England and Switzerland were readily available at the click of a button. Being concerned about enforcement, I contacted the relevant authorities to ask what they were doing about it. I then produced a dossier of all of my concerns, which included clear evidence of many examples of people quite clearly behaving illegally.
I sent my dossier to the UK Football Policing Unit. A reply I received from the director of the unit admitted that resources simply are not targeted at touts, even when their illegal activity is clear for all to see. I shall quote from the reply I received:
“It is a decision for the Police Match Commander of each operation as to whether it is appropriate to direct resources to deal with ticket touts. It is however a fact that the majority of Police Match Commanders do not deem it appropriate or necessary for police resources to be deployed to deal with tickets touts where no risk is present. After discussing this matter with the Crown Prosecution Service neither would it be in the public interest to pursue such a prosecution.”
That is one of the biggest problems of all. We already have quite a lot of legislation to deal with many of the problems that concern our constituents, yet there is no proper enforcement. I have talked to many of the sporting bodies that have reported cases to the relevant organisations, but action is simply not being taken.
I tabled a parliamentary question to discover the size of the organisation that is meant to be dealing with this important issue. The answer was that there are just
“six police officers seconded to the unit in addition to a British Transport police liaison officer.”—[Official Report, 19 February 2008; Vol. 472, c. 590W.]
One of the biggest issues is the enforcement of existing legislation. For those who want to go down the route of existing legislation, it is critical that we are clear about how that legislation will be pursued in the future.
The second problem is questionable behaviour, of which we have heard many examples, including selling tickets without precise and clear information about what they entail—restricted views, children-only areas or areas for wheelchairs. Clearly, that issue needs to be addressed to provide transparency, so that if we are to use largely a market-based solution, people can make informed choices when they decide to purchase a ticket.
I have a lot of sympathy with that view, but will the hon. Gentleman recognise that if some sporting bodies cancel tickets that are advertised on the internet through eBay or by Seatwave or viagogo, for example, there is no chance at all of the person selling the ticket advertising the seat or row number, because the ticket will be cancelled? Transparency can work only if the event organiser will agree not to cancel the ticket when it is purchased over the internet.
Given that time is tight, I do not want to go too far down that road, but if I had more time, I would have said that the reason it is so important to get the code of practice correct and agreed is so that that issue and many others can form part of it. I say to the Minister that it is slightly odd—the Select Committee picks this up in the report—that although there has been wide consultation of the primary market, there has been little consultation of the secondary market, even though the greatest concerns are about the operation of the secondary market. I therefore hope that we will move more rapidly to involve the secondary market in further consultation.
We learned, though evidence given to us, that representatives of the secondary market, apart from eBay, participated in one of the summits, but either their presence was so disruptive that it was not felt constructive to have them along again, or they walked out.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the secondary market is an important part of the market. There were 46 different organisations at the last count. They need to be drawn into the process and effective ways of working with them found. We also have to recognise that, even since the Committee started examining this issue, the whole market—the secondary market in particular—has changed quite dramatically with the advent of many of the new websites developing their own ways of working. We have heard reference to Seatwave, viagogo, Get Me In! and the like.
In addition, the primary market and the secondary market are increasingly coming together, as the purchase by Ticketmaster of Get Me In! illustrates. That is why it is so important to bring these bodies together. I hope that it will be possible to consider ways of getting all those bodies to develop a trade body that has, for the whole lot, agreed terms and conditions. We could then examine the possibility of allowing only organisations that had membership of that body to be involved in the legitimate secondary sales market.
It is important to recognise that the situation has changed. We have moved away from the people in flasher macs referred to by the Chairman of the Select Committee, although at big games that I go to there are still far too many of them selling tickets, as others have said, right in front of the police. Quite a lot of changes are also being made by the organisers of events themselves. I praise the work that many of them have been doing to develop their own terms and conditions and to consider some of the problems. The Rugby Football Union has been considering the fact that some of the tickets that went to clubs were being sold to packaged event organisers and is now finding a legitimate way for clubs to be able to do that and make a bit of money while at the same time ensuring that fans can go. A great deal of work has been done by the organisers, who increasingly are willing to spend their own money in taking prosecutions against people who are in breach of their terms and conditions. We should welcome the work that they do in that area.
Let me describe the third problem that we have failed to grapple with. The Committee does not have a real solution to it and the Government have not got there yet, either. How do we deal with event organisers who legitimately, for whatever reason, want to have their own pricing structure, so that ticket prices can be kept reasonable in order to allow legitimate fans to come? That is about providing a reward to people from the grass roots of the sport, who keep it flourishing—providing some recompense to people who have volunteered their services to protect the sport. The most obvious example that we have heard about relates to major sporting events. Protection of such a pricing policy is where we have to find a way forward.
That is why, although I am uncomfortable with thinking in detail about the operation of such a scheme, we could at least consider the possibility of a crown jewels approach. I would not necessarily agree with what is included in the list and I take the point about England World cup games and so on, but that may have to be the way forward. For me, it is critical that we are not considering the issue from the point of view of a legislative approach. I hope very much that we will adhere to what both the Committee and the Government have said and that legislation will be introduced only as a last resort. We have to get the members of the industry working effectively together to find solutions to the problems.
I end where I began—with legislation. Many of the fears and concerns of people outside the House are about people who are breaking the law. We must have much better and tougher enforcement of existing legislation before we start looking for new legislation.
It is a pleasure to participate in the debate. I begin, as others have done, by congratulating the Chairman of the Select Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), on what seems to have been the Herculean task of reaching some form of consensus. For some of us here who are observers, this has been an education in how Parliament and democracy work and how consensus can be achieved. I wonder whether the Labour party would like to employ him to debate the 10p tax rate issues with which it is dealing—perhaps he could achieve consensus on that. He certainly needs to be congratulated, as do other members of the Committee, on scrutinising these important issues and bringing them to our attention today. It is also good to see that the Gallery is packed with interested people. I do not know how much they paid for their tickets, how they purchased them and whether they had to pay over the odds, but it is good to see that there is huge and genuine interest in this issue.
I hope that this is not the end of the discussion. I do not wish to put more of a burden on the Chairman, but there are some outstanding questions. I know that the Minister will be talking about some ideas, but with the advent of the Office of Fair Trading report, it might be an idea for the Select Committee to consider the guidelines that everyone wants to push towards, and for a wider debate to take place on that, so that we can see whether that is exactly where we want to go.
A good starting point is a definition of touting, because people have chosen various angles, depending on the argument that they are advancing and where they are coming from. We have heard the flasher mac argument about the dodgy person who is trying to sell a ticket as people are going towards a football ground. We have also heard about the perhaps more legitimate systems, such as those on the internet, whether that involves Seatwave, viagogo or eBay. We need to distinguish between the two. The secondary market can certainly work legitimately, and it seems to work well, but in other ways it can be very much like the black market at work. We need legislation or guidance to tackle both aspects.
The secondary market is invaluable to some, and perhaps the only way for people to secure tickets that they are not able to purchase when they first come on to the market. Others, however, see it as parasitic and questionable to profit from the entertainment industry and to deny it much needed revenue. From a parliamentary perspective, our objective is to ensure that tickets reach genuine fans at sensible prices. However, I go further. Once they have reached genuine fans, it is up to them to decide whether they want to go to that event or to sell the ticket—because they cannot go or for any other reason.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, the internet has changed how tickets are distributed. The pace at which tickets are sold is astonishing. We heard today that they can be sold out even before they are due to be launched, so perhaps the Minister will comment on that. My hon. Friend mentioned Getmetickets, the organisation that came and went—it also came in other forms—but that is a particularly negative aspect of the internet. Although guidance is required, Seatwave, viagogo and eBay are certainly heading in the right direction for a secondary market. However, even with the advent of the internet, Parliament’s role has not changed. We must ensure that the consumer is protected and that funding for arts and entertainment is not challenged. We must also be aware of the trends and changes taking place in the £1 billion industry.
The Opposition are generally supportive of the Committee’s report, and believe that an all-out ban on the resale of tickets would not be beneficial to the consumer, nor practical or workable for promoters. However, many people argue that such a ban already exists. There are already outright bans in specific cases, such as for football matches and the Olympics. We should deal with those one at a time.
In football, there are security reasons for such a ban regarding the division of fans and so forth. However, the examples given today show that the system does not work, and that it is not properly scrutinised. It is easy to pick up tickets from touts. Not all clubs provide a resale opportunity, so once someone has a ticket, there is no legitimate way of handing it back to the club for it to be sold on. The football industry needs to consider that problem.
When Seb Coe put forward the idea that London should host the Olympics, one condition was that tickets could not be resold. Then there are the crown jewel events, with which I shall deal in a moment. However, we agree that attempting to ban the secondary market would be wrong.
It is worth considering where tickets go. For instance, just over 3 million tickets were sold for the 2006 World cup in Germany. Only 1 million were for global public sale, and the other 2 million or so went to a variety of other places, such as sponsors, and for hospitality. Some went to the German football family—I do not know whether that was for Franz Beckenbauer, or a larger group—and the international football family. It must be possible for the organisations themselves to do more to ensure that tickets get to genuine fans. That should not involve Parliament or the Government; it should be a corporate responsibility, and a corporate duty, for those organisations to ensure the wider distribution of tickets.
I was interested to read the report produced by Campbell and Keen Ltd. I do not know whether the company was working for the Government, but its recommendations were clear. It believes that there is no role for further legislation, but it makes clear that more can be done, and better, to co-ordinate certain aspects.
I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) say that there is no association or body to knock heads together, so that a collective view can be taken. I shall leave it to the hon. Gentleman to recommend the formation of a union to get action. However, Ticketmaster has made its views clear, as have viagogo and eBay. They all say that they do not want legislation, but they all put up their hands to say that there should be much better co-operation and that there is a demand for guidelines. The Government have a responsibility for leadership to ensure that such guidelines are produced.
I now turn to the crown jewels—the key national events in which we take such pride. Because we have no guidelines, I cannot see the situation coming to fruition immediately, but I would encourage that to happen. The view has been expressed that such events are of national importance and that they should be given some protection. However, we are concerned about spreading that out to other events. Another concern is that some events—particularly a cricket event, I think—want to remove themselves from that status because they believe that they might gain more money by doing so. The Government should be aware of the desire to opt out.
The Government’s response to the Committee’s report said that they would introduce a limit on the number of tickets sold to each person, with clear refund policies, improved distribution, allocation exchange arrangements, and fair terms and conditions. We agree that that is going in the right direction, but we want more detail on how it will be achieved. A series of examples has been given today showing that that will be hard to police. As I said earlier, making changes was a Labour manifesto commitment in 1997. I thought that the sale of the Tote was the longest uncompleted Labour commitment, but improvements to the guidelines on ticket touting is another.
I was slightly confused by the Government’s press release. It first said:
“These improvements can happen without the burden of new regulation, by criminalising fans who want to buy tickets for sold-out events or sell tickets that they cannot use”,
but it was quickly changed to say:
“These improvements can happen without the burden of new regulation, or criminalising fans”.
I am pleased to say that the Conservative press office came to the Government’s aid to ensure that the right message was sent out.
I am concerned about the number of convictions relating to ticket touting. Over the last seven years, there have been 150, which is scandalous. It suggests that, although we have legislation, it is not effectively implemented. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—he knows more about handbags and prostitution than I gave him credit for—said that the police have other things to do at football matches. I agree in part, but we have moved into a different world. I would like to see a policeman walk up to a ticket tout and say, “Move along, please”, and not have to spend seven minutes filling out a form, with all the attendant problems. The police should simply do their duty and push those people away, rather than turning a blind eye to their activities. That would be a step in the right direction. If we make touting illegal, the law will have to be enforced, because otherwise what is the point? The Minister should recognise that there is a lack of enforcement. Indeed, I hope that he will comment on the matter.
My first intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford was to ask about the Office of Fair Trading report and model terms and conditions. I was pleased that the Minister jumped up immediately to say that they are about to be published.
How often have we heard that? I hope that we will see the voluntary code shortly.
I started by talking about the corporate responsibility of the secondary market, and I feel passionately about the subject. There is much that the primary and secondary markets can do to ensure that the consumer is protected. I had a meeting with some of the organisers involved in the secondary market. It was good to hear about the ban on the sale of tickets for the Diana memorial concert, and they were right to make that decision. However, one could still pick up a ticket originally priced at £50 if one was willing to pay £400 on the black market. I understand that 20 per cent. of the resale value of charity tickets goes back to the original charity if one purchases tickets off one of the recognised internet sites, which, again, is a way in which the secondary market can work responsibly.
The debacle over the disabled seat at Wimbledon was interesting. I would put the onus on Wimbledon to ensure that any disabled seat is used by a disabled person—it would be completely wrong for that seat to be given to somebody else—but the price of the seat and who ends up with it is a separate debate.
We have heard some original thinking and creative marketing ideas about how to prevent the wholesale purchase of tickets, and the Government might want to consider the scrutiny of IP addresses. On the sale of tickets, one of the most enjoyable times that I have had at Wimbledon was on the middle Sunday. Most of the week had been rained off, so there was an extra day of play, and people had to queue, which itself was an event—it was good fun. People say that the crowd that day was more loyal, British and energetic than on any other day. There are means other than the internet to sell tickets.
I can confirm that I did not attend the Led Zeppelin concert, but I am pleased that some of my hon. Friends were able to get tickets. I was interested to learn that people had to provide credit card details to ensure that they were the tickets’ original purchaser.
I am concerned about the growth of the black market as an alternative if we try to legislate completely against the secondary market. That is exactly what would happen—it happens to a small degree at the moment—and the consumer really would lose out. That would also develop the growth of the numbers of fraudulent tickets.
We welcome the report and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I have suggested that a further parliamentary debate might be in order to allow us to scrutinise the position and to gain more feedback from the various organisations that are involved in the primary and secondary markets. I am slightly concerned about the comments made by the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), in the Committee’s hearing on 26 June 2007. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was a little shy in coming forward to talk about the exchanges. My hon. Friend again was talking about his favourite subject—handbags—and said during the hearing that a person who purchases a handbag—I am paraphrasing—can sell it on eBay for a profit in 10 minutes flat, and asked why tickets should be any different when, in both cases, a person bought something that they felt could be sold for a profit. The Minister replied:
“I have got a lot of sympathy with that view, and again I think one would have to justify the intervention either because there is a consumer detriment, which is why I have always looked to see what we can do around transparency”.
She went on to say:
“I share a lot of your concern that if we start intervening, we would be distorting the market and actually then impeding consumer freedoms and it is information that matters, it is informed choice, it is getting that transparency that is vital”.
However, it seems that if one transfers from one Department to another, everything that one has said in the past suddenly disappears, if I understood the Under-Secretary earlier. I am sure that what he said was tongue in cheek, but some clarification would be welcome.
The Conservatives welcome the voluntary code of conduct and will be encouraging further research on the matter and better information sharing. When we get into government—I am sure that it will not be too long—will set up our own commission to look at the ethics of sport, which I am sure will include a look at the issue that we are debating.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford and the rest of the Committee’s members for their hard and diligent work, and I look forward to hearing the Under-Secretary’s response.
I welcome you to the Chair this afternoon, Mr. Weir, and add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) on his work and chairmanship of the Committee, and on producing the report. It is obvious from today’s debate that bringing together the disparate views of members of the Committee was a Herculean task, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) said.
I was interested to learn that there was supposed to be a quick, one-day hearing to discuss the issues that we face. However, in the light of the contributions of the witnesses that came before the Committee, it unearthed an issue that we must look at. That is why the Government are interested in the Committee’s recommendations, and why we are having today’s debate. As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, this debate is not the end of the process. Indeed, we need further clarity and further discussion of how we take matters forward.
As was mentioned, I formerly had ministerial responsibility for consumer affairs and competition. Putting the consumer’s interests at the heart of the matter is paramount, whether that consumer wants to go to a pop music concert or is a sports fan. The consumer’s interests must be looked at directly.
All hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) and for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), put clearly their views and thoughts on how things should develop. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who has a view contrary to most members of the Committee, gave his honest view of the position. That established the problem and set the tone for the rest of the debate, in that there are diverse viewpoints.
The point that I made earlier about the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), was that different Departments have different views on how things should progress.
I shall finish my point and then give way.
I can reassure the House and the Committee that the Government now have one voice on the issue. We have had discussions with our colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and believe that the voluntary code is the way forward. However, there must always be the back-stop of legislation if the industry is not prepared to move forward. Is the hon. Gentleman okay with that?
The name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) has been taken in vain a couple of times. However, the quote read out by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) contained certain caveats on transparency and consumer interests. In fact, one problem is that we do not know how much the market is rigged against the ordinary consumer, because of the rise of the internet and the sophistication of people who can snap up tickets instantaneously by pressing a button.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Clearly, the marketplace is changing. As the Minister responsible for consumer affairs, I introduced Consumer Direct, which provided an opportunity for consumers to receive advice and support from trading standards officers about what was going on in the market and gave them confidence in it. My hon. Friend will be aware that unfair commercial practice legislation will come into effect in May 2008, and it will provide another opportunity to protect consumers. The Government have a proud record of protecting consumer interests, and that is the direction from which I approach the issue of ticket touting.
I was interested in the points made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on enforcement; I shall be looking at that issue. I heard what he said, and the response to his point, if it was as he described, is unacceptable. Existing legislation needs to be acted on—it is passed through the House through the democratic process. We need common sense and the police must prioritise, but clearly, if there is problem, we need to respond to it.
I can tell the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East that the Government will be looking to hold further discussions with all stakeholders. It is a critical issue, so we need consensus and understanding on the variety of questions that we face.
I politely draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the Committee hearings took place on 26 June 2007, and the report was released at the beginning of this year. It took some time for the Government to respond; I think that 60 days was the time required. We need to expedite the process; it cannot drag on. I should be grateful for the Minister’s assurances that we will be able to move the process forward at a slightly pacier rate than currently.
I apologise to the Select Committee Chairman for the time that it took the Government to respond to the report. Conventionally, the deadline for a Government response is two months, but as the hon. Gentleman will know, there was a change in the Department, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was new in post. However, as we have heard from his public utterances, my right hon. Friend is very concerned about the issue. I think that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Department takes it seriously. We need to move at a pace with colleagues throughout the process. My only word of caution is that we are talking about diverse issues. The hon. Member for Shipley says, “Don’t legislate in this area; don’t go anywhere near it,” and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West tells me that we must legislate with urgency. We must consider that point.
The live entertainment industry has experienced unprecedented growth and an increase in popularity over the past few years, as hon. Members have said. That is to be celebrated. The UK now has world-class live sporting and entertainment events whose value stretches beyond their contribution to our leisure economy and into improving the well-being of citizens through increased participation and engagement with those sectors. In parallel, how businesses and consumers use the internet has become increasingly sophisticated. New online markets have been created and significant changes made to how consumers shop for goods. Embracing those technological changes, event owners and promoters selling tickets for sporting and cultural events can now reach more customers more quickly than ever before, but that has brought its own challenges. We often hear about websites crashing due to the number of people trying to buy tickets at any one time, individuals missing out when tickets go on sale and concerns about additional fees on top of ticket prices.
Of course, online trading has also facilitated the growth of secondary ticket brokers and auction sites such as eBay, as has been mentioned, which provide platforms for consumers to resell tickets to each other. That has substantially changed the character of the secondary market, and both the Government and the Select Committee have focused largely on it. The debate has moved on. It is not just about ticket touting. There are fundamental questions about how ticketing markets are working for the consumer, especially given the recent changes in how some tickets are sold to fans. The Government believe that the marketplace should work better for fans—the people who actually want to go to the match or concert. All too often, fans find that they cannot secure the tickets that they want from the initial distribution, as they are snapped up by people whose only interest is reselling at a higher price.
I want to make it clear that we have no problem with the principle of a secondary market for most events. An honest and well-functioning secondary market provides valuable services for consumers. That market works for those who have surplus tickets because their plans have changed and for those prepared to pay higher prices for last-minute availability. We do not think that any general restraint on resale would be justified or in consumers’ interests, but we do have concerns about the impact of resale and some ticketing distribution practices on certain events, particularly events of national importance. I shall come to those in a moment. I think that we can all agree that whatever the event, the ticketing and events industry has a responsibility to get tickets to the fans—its customers. Ultimately, that is its business, and we want it to be delivered in innovative ways.
That brings me to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North and her plea for me to acknowledge the work of Port Vale football club, which I am happy to do. She kindly referred to Bradford City. I think that the only point on which the hon. Member for Shipley and I agree is that the effort that went into work on the season ticket prices for Bradford City made it a leader in the field. The average crowd at Bradford City is 14,000 as a result of that innovation. Next season, we hope that it will be 20,000, because tickets will be buy one, get one free.
I am happy to endorse Bradford City’s work, and if Port Vale can operate a similar scheme, of the sort suggested by my hon. Friend, it will be in its interests and those of its supporters. I acknowledge her point about football—you would not want me to get into a debate about the future of football, Mr. Weir, as I am sure that we can return to it at some other time—and I congratulate her on all the work that she does for Stoke-on-Trent, particularly her support for Port Vale. I wish the club every success in its venture.
I am happy to see that the Rugby Football Union is doing lots of innovative work. The hon. Member for Shipley is right that the primary market can and should be doing a lot more. He might be getting a letter from the RFU soon, though, about his comments on genuine fans’ opportunities to get to rugby union games.
I am pleased that the Minister is focusing on the issue of innovative approaches. Where there are problems, we should find a market-based solution. That is why it is important to praise organisations such as Ticketmaster, which has introduced systems to prevent simultaneous multiple purchases, and those organisations that have introduced effective return and refund programmes. Surely that must be a major part of the way forward.
I agree wholeheartedly that the focus should be on the consumer and what is to the consumer’s advantage. Yes, we must take into consideration the events and sports, but the consumer should be at the heart of it, and I congratulate the primary and secondary markets on ensuring that consumers’ interests are put to the fore. We do not want fans to be exploited. We want all consumers to have fair and equitable access to the chance to attend their chosen event, but our specific concern is ensuring that our key national and international sporting and cultural events remain widely accessible.
One central issue is how tickets for sport and entertainment events are released on to the market. Current practice seems too often to benefit those whose only interest is reselling at the expense of those who actually want to go to the event. Therefore, to help improve the market for fans, the Government want to work with the ticketing industry to establish a new code of principles that the market can sign up to. As a first step, we will look to the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, which will be particularly important in helping to take it forward. STAR is a well-established and recognised trade association with members across the events and ticketing industry. The STAR logo may be displayed by its member companies only on the condition that they abide by its code of practice and articles of association.
The Government will not dictate how tickets should reach fans, as we are not in the ticketing business, but clear principles underpinning the market should benefit all fans. We want consumers to be able to buy from agents signed up to the principles with trust and certainty. We believe that to be vital.
I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but will he explain why he is talking only of STAR and not of the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents, which predominantly represents the secondary market? Surely, if there is not to be a combined organisation, ASTA must be included, notwithstanding the problems with its behaviour described by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.
I agree wholeheartedly. I made the point about STAR because it is the organisation that the DCMS and the Government have been talking to, but I am not against meeting representatives of the secondary market. If, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East said, we can bring them together in one body, fine—we will need to include the secondary market in the principles—but STAR is the organisation that we have talked to. It is an association; it has a logo, and it is a recognised body, but my officials will be happy to speak to secondary bodies as well. Incidentally, STAR is calling together the industry for an event in June. I hope that that event will start to work through the discussions. I hope that I can attend, and I urge hon. Members to get involved in that process as well.
I do not think that I understand the Government’s position. They say, and I think the Minister has just reiterated this, that a well-functioning and honest secondary market has clear benefits for consumers. I agree with and endorse that wholeheartedly, but I do not understand why, if the secondary market has clear benefits for consumers generally, the Government have suddenly come to the view that it does not have clear benefits for consumers for a handful of sporting events.
Again, I shall come to why we think that it is important to protect many national sporting events in particular and free concerts.
I shall return to last year’s DCMS study that found that consumers often do not distinguish between primary and secondary ticket sellers and that, therefore, clearer information to consumers shopping for tickets is crucial. Robust ticketing principles would help, because people will know exactly what is expected from both the primary and secondary market.
What might be in this code of principles? We want the industries to work with each other to improve the systems needed to prevent exploitation of the ticket-buying public. They should counter bad practices, such as misleading information, erroneous and futures selling and preventing access. Such principles might also contain provisions on the exchanges, returns and refunds, and controls on tickets, such as identity requirements—the technology is there to have photos on tickets. Having said that, if someone cannot attend an event, they should be able to sell or pass that ticket on or get a refund from the primary market, particularly for sporting events. We also want greater control at venues, greater use of fan and sports clubs networks to ensure that people are not disadvantaged and innovative ticketing systems to increase access to events. We will discuss those principles with STAR and the industry to ensure that event owners can tell us what they believe will help us to build and sustain a loyal fan base with fairly priced tickets. We want the code to help eliminate some of the problems about which people feel aggrieved.
Access to sport and cultural events is hugely important. The fans are the lifeblood of live events. Without them, there is no event. Event organisers have every incentive to structure their distribution arrangements so as to support the loyalty of their fans. Pricing remains an important point of access or barrier to people attending and enjoying a live sporting or cultural event. The Government recognise that some events are so popular that they are almost institutions within themselves and contribute far more to their respective sector and the wider economy. In this instance, I am thinking of sporting gems such as the Wimbledon championships and the rugby and football world cups.
The Government’s response to the Committee makes clear our intention, built upon existing policy stemming from the Broadcasting Act 1996. A listed event is one that is generally felt to have special national resonance. It should contain an element that serves to unite the nation—a shared point on the national calendar, not solely of interest to those who follow the sport in question. The 1996 Act provides for listed events being offered to free-to-air broadcasters on the same terms as they are offered to pay-to-view television providers. Such events have more than commercial significance; they have wider benefits at community, national and international level. The Government are concerned that tickets for such events should be distributed on an equal basis enabling access at all levels.
In addition, ticketing controls for international sporting events would assist the UK in winning bids to host future international sporting tournaments, which would be in the public interest. What we have tried to do for sport in the decade that starts next year with the cricket Twenty20 world cup is clear. It is followed by a major international sporting event in the UK for every year of that decade, including the Olympics in 2012 and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014. So we believe that this is a crucial issue.
The Government take the view that access to some of our great sporting and cultural events should not be compromised by failings within the ticketing marketplace that might prevent that from happening. In addition to a functioning set of principles such as I have outlined, the Government intend to consider whether certain restrictions on resale should be implemented on a non-statutory basis to sustain broad access to these major events.
We will discuss this in the future, but live free concerts and major international cultural occasions come to mind. However, we need the support of stakeholders to identify those. The list was last looked at in 1998, but clearly the cricket Twenty20 world cup and other new events are not on that list. We must ensure that we give them consideration. Obviously, I would like to hear from hon. Members about events that they want us to consider. That is in the spirit of understanding other people’s opinions. In sport it is easy to agree on those events, although there might be disagreement and discussion on the details, but it is less easy with cultural events.
The hon. Member for Bath said that we did not need legislation for legislation’s sake and that we should proceed on a voluntary basis. I am very concerned about what has been said on enforcement. We need to look at that, because it sends out all the wrong messages if we cannot enforce legislation in areas of concern. We must be careful that we do not drive things underground, as the hon. Member for Shipley said, which exposes consumers to greater harm. Action has to be proportionate and the Government intend to establish new principles for the market to give clarity to the consumers.
Those will be complemented by fair and effective model terms and conditions on which the Office of Fair Trading has been advising STAR. I spoke to John Fingleton prior to this debate and he gave me the impression that those discussions were positive. So I hope that my definition of “very soon” is “very soon”.
It might help the Minister if I remind him that when Mr. Fingleton gave evidence to us in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), he said that he expected to agree final terms with STAR by August last year. That deadline was eight months ago, but he is still talking about it happening very soon.
They will consider the principles for both, which is what we asked the OFT to do. In addition, I shall speak to Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform—there are issues about how we develop this at the pace that the hon. Members would like.
Clearly, as the Select Committee found while considering the diversity of views, there is a problem that needs to be resolved. The secondary market seems to be saying, “There is no problem. We are here to benefit the consumer, so full steam ahead.” We do not see it that way. We believe that the primary market can and should do a lot more, and that we should be encouraging voluntary principles. Although the Committee Chairman is not convinced about what we are trying to do with the listed sporting events, the Committee highlighted a problem that needs to be resolved and has given us a good platform from which to continue discussions.
The Select Committee and Opposition politicians will monitor our progress. As I have being saying from the outset, we want the consumer to be at the heart of this. We do not want fans to be exploited. I can give my assurance, as a former Consumer Minister, that that will be at the heart of what we are trying to achieve with the industry.
I hope that the Minister will tread carefully and take note of one of the points that we made in the report: a number of American states, where there were restrictions on the secondary ticket market, have been easing, or getting rid of, their restrictions, because they were having problems with them. I hope that he will consider what has been happening in other parts of the world, before he makes any rash decisions.
I shall not make any rash decisions but look at what is going on in the world—in Australia and other such places. I know that I will be monitored on our progress by the hon. Gentleman, as I will be by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. I must congratulate the Select Committee on its work. This is a lively debate, not only in the House, but outside with fans and those who want to go to concerts. I believe that we can make progress at a reasonable pace and by putting consumer benefit to the fore.
Question put and agreed to.
Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Five o’clock.