Consideration of Lords amendments
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is involved in Lords amendments 24, 38, 39 and 77. If the House agrees to any of these amendments, I shall ensure that an appropriate entry is made in the Journal.
Secondary Ticketing Platforms
I beg to move amendment (a) to Lords amendment 12.
With this it will be convenient to consider the Government motion to disagree with the Lords amendment.
Amendment (a) was tabled by the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and me. It gives me great pleasure to speak in support of the new clause as inserted in the other place; it follows on from new clauses 18 to 21, which I, the hon. Member for Hove and others tried to add to the Bill on Report. Those new clauses were based on the report produced by the all-party group on ticket abuse after our inquiry into the secondary market and what needs to change within it.
It is worth pointing out that all these interventions—the all-party group’s report, the new clauses in the Commons and, latterly, the new clause passed in the other place—have been completely cross-party. I would like to place on the record my thanks not only to Opposition Members, but to other hon. Members—in particular the right hon. Member for Bath (Mr Foster) and the hon. Members for Hove, for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) and for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay). They have been big supporters in the all-party group and in working on the Bill during its passage through the House.
In the other place, the push was very ably led by former sports Minister Lord Moynihan and by Baroness Heyhoe Flint, both Conservative Members, as well as by Lord Clement-Jones, the Minister’s party colleague, who has been one of Parliament’s foremost campaigners for our live music sector. It was also strongly supported by my noble Friend Lord Stevenson and by many others from all parties and none, including Baroness Grey-Thompson. It is safe to say that the Minister’s counterpart in the Lords had a pretty rough time in those debates. If the Government had any doubt in their mind that they were on the wrong side of the argument when they rejected these amendments in the Commons last summer, their defeat in the Lords should have confirmed that for them.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
I certainly will not give way to the hon. Gentleman at this stage. I am sure that he plans to speak, and we have debated this so often that I cannot think that there is anything he would add to the argument today that I have not heard already. He will get his chance and I will listen to him then.
This is supposed to be a debate.
The hon. Gentleman can debate when his time comes.
The concession that the Minister offered in this place—tweaking the guidance to a set of regulations to make it clear that secondary ticketing platforms should abide by them—has proved completely ineffective. Those regulations have been in place for more than six months, and the secondary websites have completely ignored them. It is time for real action, and that is what proposed new clause 33 would provide.
What we are asking for is not exactly radical. Any consumer in any market would expect to know who they were buying from, exactly what they were buying and whether a product came with a risk that they would not be able or allowed to enjoy it.
Will the hon. Lady give way?
Not at the moment.
What we are asking for would not put secondary ticketing platforms out of business; if anything, it would increase consumer confidence in them. What we are asking for would not drive legitimate resale underground, but it might drive some illegitimate resale underground. Why would the Government and this House want to take decisions that benefited illegitimate enterprise? If that part of touting is driven underground, then it will be nowhere near as successful as it is now, given that it is able to hide behind the legitimate veneer of platforms that are supposed to be about fans selling unusable tickets to fellow fans. What we are asking for would not leave consumers who bought a ticket they can no longer use out of pocket if the event organiser does not allow refunds; there are sometimes very good reasons for many of them not doing so.
Let me make this extra clear, because that might clear up some of the points that Members are trying to make—if not, I will let them intervene. We have tabled a small amendment to the clause that the Government could easily adopt today to allay their own fears. This is simply about transparency—that is all. Who could argue against creating a more transparent marketplace other than those who benefit from the murkiness and muddiness that we have at the moment?
I want to clarify the hon. Lady’s point about the event organiser’s right to cancel tickets. Under her amendment, in which conditions could the event organiser cancel a ticket if it had been resold?
If the ticket clearly states that it is not for resale—that it is non-transferable—then that is part of the terms and conditions that it was sold under. In the new model that we are hoping to create, with a new level of transparency, there would be less need for that.
The reason event holders put it on their tickets is to try to do something about the murkiness and market failure that we see at the moment with the resale of tickets on the secondary market. Under our proposal, that need would not be there because there would be full transparency and people would be able to see who was reselling the tickets. There would be fewer abuses of the system so there would be less need to put “Not for resale” on tickets, because genuine fans would be able to resell to other genuine fans tickets for events they could no longer attend.
Does the hon. Lady agree with me and the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, who has said that, when a person wants to sell something, terms and conditions should be respected?
I agree that people should abide by terms and conditions. The fact that the lack of transparency allows platforms to resell against terms and conditions is certainly not in the interest of consumers.
If the Minister does not want to take my word or that of Members in the other place on why we need transparency, perhaps she will listen to those who are actually involved in our crucial cultural and live sector. As she may know, more than 85 prominent organisations and individuals signed a letter to The Independent on Sunday yesterday calling on her and the Government to adopt the proposal. Those signatories included UK Music, the voice of the live and recorded industry; the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the voice of sporting governing bodies in the UK; the Rugby Football Union; the Lawn Tennis Association; and the England and Wales Cricket Board. They have all gone to great lengths over the years to try to ensure that tickets reach the hands of grass-roots fans.
May I congratulate the hon. Lady on the diligent way in which she has approached the issue and her determination to get justice for music fans, which is what we are talking about? UK Music’s music tourism forum found that live music generates £2.2 billion. Surely we have a right to expect that live music fans are protected and not ripped off.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman and thank him for that valuable contribution. He is not only a creator of music—he remains one to this day—but a huge supporter of the music industry.
Other signatories to the letter included probably the world’s most pre-eminent promoter, Harvey Goldsmith CBE; the operators of west end and regional theatres; a host of individual music managers who look after some the country’s leading performers, including Iron Maiden, Muse, Arctic Monkeys and even One Direction; and most other industry umbrella bodies, which represent countless businesses contributing to the vitality of our creative sector, such as the Association of Independent Festivals and the Event Services Association.
All those bodies, and more, joined together to call on the Government to make one simple change. Would the Government rather listen to that collective call from the live event sector: the people whose hard work, talents and investment create the demand that the touts exploit? Alternatively, would they rather listen to the four companies that have been lobbying so intensely—I have with me reams of letters they have been sending out lately—against opening themselves and their relationships with big-time touts up to scrutiny?
May I also praise my hon. Friend’s leadership? She has done a cracking job raising this important point. Does she agree that we need to get at the touts? Those internet spivs are ripping off fans across the country, rigging the market and preventing real fans from going to gigs by exploiting them through the hugely overpriced tickets that they have harvested.
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point. If the Minister does not want to listen to him, me, Members from both Houses or the creative industry, she should at the very least listen to the police.
The “Ticket Crime: Problem Profile” report by Operation Podium has, of course, been quoted in this place before—several times by me, in fact—but it bears repeating. This was, after all, the unit that was set up to tackle organised crime affecting the Olympic games, and it spent about seven years looking at the workings of the ticket market. In particular, it looked at the major ticket touts—the very people my hon. Friend the Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) spoke about—because of the links that many of them have to serious and organised crime and money laundering, and because it was likely that the same people would try to tout Olympic tickets.
After spending so much time looking at the ecosystem that exists behind the veneer of legitimacy provided by the secondary platforms, the Metropolitan police’s Operation Podium unit produced a final report on ticket crime in February 2013. It found that:
“Due to the surreptitious way that large numbers of ‘primary’ tickets are diverted straight onto secondary ticket websites, members of the public have little choice but to try to source tickets on the secondary ticket market.”
It concluded that:
“The lack of legislation outlawing the unauthorised resale of tickets and the absence of regulation of the primary and secondary ticket market encourages unscrupulous practices, a lack of transparency and fraud.”
It made the following recommendations:
“Consideration must be given to introducing legislation to govern the unauthorised sale of event tickets. The lack of legislation in this area enables fraud and places the public at risk of economic crime.
The primary and secondary ticket market require regulation to ensure transparency, allowing consumers to understand who they are buying from and affording them better protection from ticket crime.”
Will the Government listen to the police, who have nothing to gain either way, or to those who have gained and continue to gain from the lack of the regulation that the police say is needed?
One public agency that might have something to gain from the change is Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. One effect of the new clause proposed in Lords amendment 12 is that it would be possible to see which individuals were reselling tickets as a commercial enterprise, and therefore who should be paying tax on the sales made through the websites.
At the moment, when somebody buys a ticket on such platforms, they are led to believe that they are buying from another fan, and the only VAT that they see on the final statement is the VAT on the service charge levied by the platform. If they are, in fact, buying from a third party business—or even from the event organiser, or, as in some cases, the performers themselves—VAT should be paid on the ticket price, as well as, obviously, on its profits as a company. That point was raised last weekend with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport in an e-mail from a live music agent that I was copied into. They made the point that PRS for Music, which collects royalties to distribute to artists and music publishers, is also being deprived of its lawful entitlement.
I wrote to HMRC following the “Dispatches” documentary, “The Great Ticket Scandal”, in 2012; I have also referred to that in the House countless times. That programme clearly showed how tickets were being bought up and resold in huge quantities—indeed, channelled directly but surreptitiously to the secondary market by promoters and managers. The response that I received from HMRC was that no investigation could be made unless there were specific questions about specific individuals or businesses. Of course, we did not have those then and we do not have them now, precisely because we cannot see which individuals or businesses are selling the tickets and in what quantities. If that transparency is brought into the market through the proposed new clause, perhaps the Treasury’s coffers will see a much bigger slice of a market that is estimated to be worth between £1 billion and £1.5 billion a year—that is the secondary market alone and does not include the primary market.
The same principle could be applied to the problem of botnets, which GET ME IN! has been saying is the biggest problem and should be the focus of any legislation. There is certainly a case for keeping the law on the misuse of computers under review. The hon. Member for Hove and I have met the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, the hon. Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), who has responsibility for organised crime, to discuss this matter.
It is welcome that primary ticketing companies, such as GET ME IN!’s parent company Ticketmaster, invest in their own software to try to stop people scooping up large quantities of tickets automatically. However, let us be clear that touts use botnets only because they know that they can shift all the tickets they manage to buy from the primary market through the secondary market with the benefit of complete anonymity, with no questions asked by the platforms about how they got them. The secondary platforms are best placed to detect ticket crime at the moment, but they do nothing, because that is to their benefit. If we make the market transparent, it will be clear for everyone to see who has an abnormally large number of tickets, and I bet that the use of botnets would drop off sharply as a result.
This entire debate boils down to a simple divide: it is about whose side we are on as legislators. Are we here to pass laws to protect and enhance the rights of ordinary consumers, or are we here to block laws that might make individuals and companies more open and accountable to those consumers? It is about whose interests we are here to serve. Are we here to serve those who elect us, or are we here to be spin doctors for those exploiting them and apologists for those who know full well that they are lucky to be getting away with what they are doing? It is about whose opinions we value most highly. Do we listen to our constituents, the police and those in the live events sector, who all tell us that there is a problem and a gap in the law that needs to be closed, or do we listen to the few who benefit from that gap in the law? I know whose side I would rather be on, whose interests I am here to serve and whose opinions I value most.
Nobody operating honestly in the secondary market has anything to fear from transparency, and no consumer will be left out of pocket. If anything, the secondary platforms should be embracing the opportunity to build confidence in their sector and limit their exposure to criminal activity. I hope that Members of all parties will think on those points when they go through the Division Lobby later tonight; I am minded that the amendment will have to be pressed to a Division. Let us finally do the right thing and put fans first.
It is always a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). Her arguments have not got any better in all the years we have been going around the houses on this matter, but I admire her for persistence in flogging this particular dead horse.
There have been a number of reports on secondary ticketing, and the hon. Lady said that the Government have listened to no one apart from certain companies. Perhaps they have listened to the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, on which I serve, which looked into the issue and came up with a report that was unanimous, including among Opposition Members, showing that the market was legitimate and worked in the best interests of consumers. When a former Labour Minister, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), came to give evidence to the Committee, she made it abundantly clear that she believed that as well, so I will be interested to see how she votes on the amendment. When the Office of Fair Trading looked into the matter, it reached the same conclusion. I am afraid that when the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West says that only a few big companies say that the market works in the best interests of consumers, she knows full well that she is talking absolute cobblers.
Can my hon. Friend throw some light on when that Culture, Media and Sport Committee investigation took place? I have a sneaky feeling that it might have been six, seven or eight years ago, and the market has moved on a bit since then.
It was during the last Parliament that the Committee and the Office of Fair Trading produced their reports and the right hon. Member for Barking made her recommendations. Of course time has moved on, but principles do not, and I will come on to the basic principle of the matter. I do not blame the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West for making the point that she does—after all, she is a socialist, so of course she wants to stop the free market and does not believe in it. If I was a socialist, I would not believe in the free market either. I would want to interfere in every single nook and cranny of how the free market operates. That is what the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy), who is on the Opposition Front Bench, wants to do, because she is a socialist as well and that is what socialists do. What astonishes me is that anybody who can call themselves a Conservative in any shape or form would want to interfere in the free market in this ridiculous way. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) wants to intervene, I am happy for him to do so.
Let us take the Rugby Football Union, for example. Tickets are sold at a discount to promote the game of rugby, so it is not the operation of the free market as my hon. Friend and I would traditionally refer to it. Tickets are sold to promote the game and are resold in breach of the terms and conditions. It is Government policy to ask the RFU to take enforcement action, but it cannot do that without transparency about which tickets are being resold.
I fear that by using the RFU as an example my hon. Friend is rather leading with his chin. The RFU makes very few, if any, tickets available to genuine fans for rugby internationals. The tickets go all round the houses to rugby clubs and so on, but a genuine fan who wants to go and watch rugby finds it difficult to get their hands on one. The secondary market is one of the prime reasons why—[Interruption.] I will not give way again. My hon. Friend has made his point—
Order. Just because we are talking about rugby does not mean we have to behave as if we are on a rugby field.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. For a genuine fan who does not belong to a rugby union club but wants to watch a rugby international, the secondary ticketing market is one of the best ways of indulging their interest.
The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) found that every report on the secondary ticketing market went against them, so they decided in the all-party group on ticket abuse to produce their own report, because they knew that it could come to a conclusion with which they agreed. It was a sort of desperate measure—no one else would agree with them, so they produced their own report. As I understand it, in their report they argued against capping prices, yet the amendment is in effect a price cap. The amendment states that tickets can be resold, as long as they are not resold above their face value, and that is a price cap—[Interruption.] Of course it is. If someone can resell a ticket but that resale is limited to its price value, there is a price cap on that ticket. We have the extraordinary situation where the hon. Lady and my hon. Friend have come up with their own report, and now they have tabled an amendment that argues against that report. They argued against price caps, but the amendment would introduce one.
There are many arguments against a price cap. First, we do not have price caps on other things. If I buy a ticket to an event, as far as I am concerned that is my ticket and if I want to sell it on to somebody else—for whatever price I can command—that should be my choice. Similarly, if I buy a house and want to sell it on at a later date to somebody at a much higher price, and someone is prepared to pay that price, why should the Government interfere in that legitimate transaction between a willing seller and a willing buyer?
People say that the market in tickets does not work properly because there is a dearth of supply and a lot of demand, and it is the same with houses. There are currently few houses for sale and a lot of people want to buy one, and the price of houses has rocketed as a consequence. Exactly the same arguments apply to housing as to tickets, yet who argues that we should have a price cap on houses and that someone cannot sell their house for more than they paid for it? It would be ridiculous for anybody to argue that, but it is exactly the same principle.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
In a moment, if the hon. Gentleman calms himself down. The only difference is that people think it is populist to say that we should have a cap on tickets, and they know that it would be grotesquely unpopular to say we should have a cap on house prices.
To take the hon. Gentleman’s analogy to its logical conclusion, it would be like someone coming to a street, buying all the houses in that street, and selling them back at an inflated price. Would he be happy with that?
As far as I understand, that is exactly what the son of John Prescott, the former Deputy Prime Minister, did in Hull. As I recall, he bought a whole street of houses in Hull for a ridiculously low price and sold them on at a higher price afterwards. That is what happens. I know the hon. Gentleman is a socialist too, so I would not expect him to believe in the free market. However, Members on the Conservative Benches are supposed at least to consider themselves believers in the free market. If they agree with the Lords, and in particular with the hon. Lady’s amendment, I do not really see how they can justify that.
As usual, the hon. Gentleman is making an entertaining speech. One thing that has moved on since the date of some of the reports he mentions is IT. A constituent of mine told me last night that he tried to get a ticket for a Mark Knopfler concert in Newcastle. Even though he logged on to the website from the first second, he simply could not get a ticket. He ended up seeing one on the secondary market that he could not afford. He then found some tickets on the primary market that were being sold physically at half the price. Does he agree that IT is part of the problem?
I am not saying that IT is part of the problem or part of the solution. IT is part of the real world. That is what we deal with and IT can benefit people. For example, people can put bids on things on eBay and then go to bed. This is what happens with technology: people make the best use of it.
Event promoters have many of the solutions in their own hands. Selling all their tickets in five minutes flat creates a secondary market. If promoters are so bothered about the secondary market and ticket touting for a popular event, it may be more sensible for them to start selling tickets in dribs and drabs. There would then still be tickets available to genuine people right up to the day of the event. They do not do that, of course. For cash-flow reasons, they want to get all the money in on day one. It is no good them saying that they want to get all the money in on day one—there is no doubt that the people buying up the tickets to sell on are helping them to get all the money in on day one and therefore helping their cash flow—and then complaining about the very same people they have sold the tickets to in the first place. They are creating the problem they are complaining about and I am afraid I have absolutely no sympathy with them. If they are serious about tackling this problem, the solutions are in their own hands: they should sell tickets in dribs and drabs so that people can go on the day and buy a ticket at face value. That would, at a stroke, make a massive difference to the secondary market.
There are lots of things that people sell that are at a premium. I have mentioned them in the past and I do not want to go through a long list again, but we have seen it with Christmas toys. People have a bun fight to try to get a particular toy at Christmas, buying up as many as they can. Five minutes later, the toys are on eBay at an inflated price. Are the Government going to start stopping people buying up any precious and valuable commodity that has a limited supply? Of course not; that would be nonsense. So why are tickets any different?
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is another problem, which is that there is nothing to stop a seller wanting to sell a ticket in combination with another item? It would be impossible to know which item was being inflated.
My hon. Friend makes a very good point, which drives a coach and horses through the hon. Lady’s amendment. People could sell a ticket to an event along with a scarf or a hat and say that they are charging x amount for the hat and the face value for the price of the ticket. That would get around the hon. Lady’s amendment quite easily and make the whole thing complete nonsense.
There is a more serious problem than the one my hon. Friend has just described. I do not think people will be selling houses or hats with tickets, but there are hospitality packages. Companies that offer hospitality with an event normally have to pre-buy tickets so that they can get the person into the ground before they can provide the hospitality. There is a cross-pricing issue.
My right hon. Friend is absolutely right. The point is that people could easily get round the law by selling other things with the ticket to ensure they do not breach the terms of the amendment. They could charge different amounts for the various things being sold as a package. It would be complete nonsense.
As I mentioned, the OFT decided that the current regime worked in the consumer’s best interest. [Interruption.] My hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay) keeps chuntering from the sidelines. If he wants to make a speech, I am sure that you, Mr Deputy Speaker, will look on him favourably.
My hon. Friend will not take my intervention.
I have already taken an intervention from my hon. Friend. It was not a very good one, if I remember rightly.
Not only did the OFT make it clear that the current regime worked in the best interests of the customer, but we have practical arguments from the US showing that the kind of price cap the hon. Lady wants to introduce does not work. In fact, when America introduced the price cap, it led to higher prices on both the primary and secondary markets. A study by the university of California found that by focusing on penalties for those who engage in prohibited transactions, anti-ticket scalping —as they call it—regulations seemed to lead to higher prices in the resale market. If a seller is taking more of a risk, they will want to command a higher price—that is what happens with the free market, supply and demand and the rest of it. I am surprised my hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire is not aware of that. The university of Texas found that such regulation increased prices not only in the secondary market, but in the primary market. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West says she wants to stand up for consumers, but by rejecting the amendment, we will do just that.
If I buy a ticket to the opening day of the test match at Lords and walk into the pub and say, “I’ve got a ticket for the opening day of the test match at Lords”, and a chap comes up to me and says, “You know what? It’s my lifetime’s ambition to go to the opening day of the test match at Lords. It’s the one thing I’ve wanted to do all my life. I will give you £500 for that ticket”, and if I decide to sell him the ticket at that price, who loses out? I do not lose out—because I am happy to sell it at that price; the other person does not lose out—they have left absolutely delighted at having paid a price they are happy to pay to fulfil their lifetime’s dream; and Lords has not lost out—because it has already sold the ticket and the England and Wales Cricket Board has got the income it was hoping for when it put the ticket up for sale. Nobody loses out. Why on earth should the Government intervene to make that transaction illegal? It would be absolute nonsense if the Government were to make that transaction illegal.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. When he buys that ticket, he becomes the owner of that ticket, and it becomes his to do with as he wishes. He can sell it for £500 or give it away to the gentleman whose lifetime’s ambition it is to go to Lords. It is his ticket to do with as he pleases. It is called living in a free society.
The hon. Gentleman has hit the nail on the head, although he is obviously much more generous than me, because he said he would give the ticket away—but of course he is from Lancashire and I am from Yorkshire, where we are a bit more careful about these matters. In Yorkshire, the idea of giving away a valuable commodity brings us out in a rash—we would at least want to get a good deal—but I take his point. Whether he wants to give it away or sell it, it should be no business of the Government to tell him he cannot.
The law would quickly become an ass. Does anybody really think that in the utopia the hon. Lady seems to think would result, if somebody could not sell their ticket for £500, they would sell it at cost price or less on eBay? Of course they would not. If anybody thinks that would happen, they need to get out more, to be perfectly honest. That person would be out on the streets, outside the event, touting the ticket to whomever they could find—all the spivs and Arthur Daley types, with their hats and their Mackintoshes and the rest of it. The idea that they would be selling at cost price or less is for the birds. It is an absolute load of nonsense, to be perfectly honest. Anybody who thinks that all sales would go at cost price or less is living in cloud cuckoo land.
I do not know whether my hon. Friend has looked online recently to try to buy a ticket for the first day of the Ashes, but I think he would find that £500 would not buy one. I believe that £545 is the going price. I have some sympathy with what my hon. Friend says about the amendment placing a cap on what tickets could be sold for—at face value, for example. Surely, however, transparency is crucial so people know that they will not get stitched up by buying a ticket that is behind a pillar, reserved for children or whatever. I know he is a great Conservative, so he should believe in transparency.
The point is this. Places such as viagogo guarantee the tickets. If someone enters into a transaction on a viagogo site and anything untoward or amiss takes place, viagogo will stand behind the transaction and ensure that no consumer loses out. When it comes to selling something that is fraudulent or counterfeit or selling a ticket that does not exist, there are already laws in place to stop that. We cannot create another law to make something that is already illegal more illegal. If the ticket exists and is genuine, I could not care less who is selling it, as long as it guarantees me my place in the grounds to watch the game I want to watch. I do not care who the original owner was, particularly when the secondary market exists and respectable companies such as viagogo are there, guaranteeing to the buyer that nothing untoward will happen.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am going to press on because others want to speak.
If we stop this legitimate market, all the protections that the secondary market has introduced into it will disappear. What will happen is that it will not be possible to go to a legitimate company such as viagogo to buy a ticket and have it guaranteed that nothing can go wrong; rather, everyone will be competing outside with the Arthur Daley types with the mackintosh jackets and trilby hats trying to buy a ticket. Then people are taking their lives into their hands, as some of those tickets might not be what they seem.
If we want to protect the interest of consumers, it is essential to allow the legitimate secondary ticketing market to flourish. An event that I want to go to might come along, but I am not sure whether I can go to it because of my work commitments. All the tickets are sold out. I then find out that I am free to go to the event. Here the secondary market is the only one that allows me the opportunity to go to it. It will ask for a certain price, and if I do not want to pay it, I will not have to pay it. Nobody is fleecing anyone, because I will not pay the price if I do not want to. At least I would have had the opportunity to choose in a way that would not arise if no secondary market was available. That is why the secondary market works in the best interests of consumers. It also means that if someone has a ticket but cannot go, they can get rid of it. Some events do not even accept refunds when a ticket is bought, so it is possible to be left with a ticket and not be able to get shot of it.
The secondary market is good and a price cap does not work. Anybody who believes in the free market could not possibly agree with the amendment to the Lords amendment. I hope that common sense will prevail. I have no doubt that the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West will keep trying to peddle her socialist ideal outcome, with the Government interfering in every single market going just because she thinks certain things are too expensive. When she starts arguing that house prices should be capped because there are too few of them and too many people want to buy them, I will at that point have a little more respect for her. In the meantime, this is just pure political opportunism, which she thinks is populist but it is not in the best interests of anybody.
It is always entertaining to follow the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who puts his case firmly and securely before the House, but I am rather more taken with the arguments of my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), so I shall speak in favour of amendment (a), tabled by her and the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley).
I approach this issue merely from the perspective of the constituents who got in touch with me after Paul Weller tickets went on sale at Scunthorpe’s magnificent Baths Hall. There have has been some fantastic programming at the Baths Hall in recent years, featuring a rich variety of events. Great comedians such as Jimmy Carr, Paul Merton and Alan Davies have appeared there, as have the Moscow City Ballet and the Royal Philharmonic orchestra. We in Scunthorpe are very proud of the Baths Hall, and when someone like Paul Weller is due to appear locally, many of my constituents want to go along and enjoy the act.
The tickets for the Paul Weller event sold out pretty quickly, at £38 each. Within hours of their ceasing to be available at that price on the Baths Hall site, a large number popped up for sale at significantly higher prices on secondary ticket sites.
Does the hon. Gentleman not agree that when Paul Weller or his management team first put those tickets on the market, they must have known that the tickets were underpriced and that a great many people would be prepared to pay a much higher price?
Other Members know far more about this than I do, but I suspect that promoters want to promote events to their real fans at fair prices, and that that is their motivation.
I will take further interventions later. Let me first describe my constituents’ experiences in relation to the Paul Weller concert, which is to take place on 17 March 2015. Some arrived early to join the queue at the Baths Hall ticket office, while others applied by telephone and via the website, but many failed to obtain tickets. Shortly afterwards, tickets cropped up on secondary sites. Today I looked into where I could buy a ticket for the event, and how much it would cost me. I discovered that it would cost me £102 to obtain one through a secondary site. According to my maths, that is a mark-up of £64 for someone in the system. It would be better to allow more of my constituents to have access to the tickets locally, or to put money into the local community via the venue, or to give more to the performers.
What that example demonstrates—Conservative Members refuse to see this for some reason—is complete market failure. A Select Committee and the Office of Fair Trading looked into the matter, but what Conservative Members fail to mention is that they did so 10 years ago, and because they did not act then, the market is now skewed to the extent that my hon. Friend has described. Is that not exactly why, 10 years later, we need to do something, and would not the amendment solve the problem that he has highlighted?
With the benefit of her knowledge of this matter, my hon. Friend has made her point extremely well. As she says, what we are seeing is market failure, and it is interesting to note that the main evidence base that was drawn on by the hon. Member for Shipley is many years old.
I must move on, as other Members want to speak.
Points made by Members on both sides of the House have reinforced what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). We should be focusing on market failure, and the need to make the market operate well in the interests of performers, venues and consumers. I did not expect to speak in this debate, but I am doing so because constituents have knocked on my door and said that they consider the present system to be unfair and not in their interests, and I tend to agree with them. However, it is not only my constituents and me—and other Members—who take that view. In a letter that it sent to Members, UK Music says:
“UK Music's position is that we would prefer there was no secondary ticketing market as it is often understood as it does a disservice to our customers. Profiteering undermines the enterprise, endeavours and investment of those whose livelihoods depend on the future sustainability of the music industry.”
We should focus on customers and on those whose livelihoods depend on the music industry, and the same applies to sporting and other events.
I agreed with my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West when she said, in simple terms, that at the heart of the debate, the amendment and consideration of the Lords amendment was the question of whose side we were on. Are we on the side of consumers, or are we on the side of ticket touts? That is the choice before the House, and I hope that we bear it in mind later when we vote.
While the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) was thoroughly entertaining, the “facts” in it were totally wrong. I hope that both he and my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) will listen to my speech, because it will address many of the points that they made.
I thank the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for her contributions, which were very good. I shall try not to duplicate the points that she made, and to make additional points. I also thank the Minister for telephoning me earlier today to talk about the issue. I appreciate that. It was the right approach to the debate, unlike some of the references to trilby hats and so forth that we have heard from other speakers. Let us debate this in a serious manner, because it is a serious matter.
Live events, whether they consist of sport, music or theatre, are essential not only to the British economy, but to British society. Each year our creative industries generate more than £36 billion, and employ 1.5 million people. If they are to continue to be so successful, we need to ensure that performers and fans are given a fair deal through a transparent ticket market. Otherwise, inflated prices will mean that fans continue to pay more for tickets, and performers will lose revenue.
I will explain that to my hon. Friend in a moment, and I shall be happy to take interventions later.
Society has moved on from the time when there were a few cheeky-chappie touts outside venues selling tickets at marked-up prices. There are some who would reasonably argue that the small scale “street” touts provided a reasonable free-market service. The new issue with which the ticketing industry is dealing is the use of computer programmes, known as botnets, which buy up tens of thousands of tickets only seconds after they have gone on sale, so genuine fans are unable to purchase them at source. That is happening on an industrial scale, and the tickets are then sold on the secondary market. Some botnets in themselves are illegal because they have been used through hacked computers. They are immensely useful to touts, who are able to conceal their identity while purchasing large volumes of tickets with minimal questions asked. Botnets allow touts to seize control of the market, thereby increasing ticket prices.
Part of the reluctance of some to consider allowing the proposed measures to be implemented is based on the mistaken premise that those who are buying and reselling are in some way “classic entrepreneurs”. If that were the case, I would be on their side. I am a Conservative because of Sir Keith Joseph and his principles of the free market. In this instance, however, the free-market scenario has been broken owing to severe supply shortage and unequal purchasing ability. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley wishes to intervene to tell me the five principles of the free market and explain why they apply to secondary ticketing, I shall be glad to debate the point. However, the free market has clearly collapsed because the principles of the free market do not apply in this instance.
There is another important dimension, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. A ticket is not a commodity like a car; it is a licence to view, owned by the artist. The performances are not a commodity, but a licence to experience. There is the principle of allowing artists to remain in control of their performances. Let me give an example. A football club could sell all its family and juvenile ticket allocations for much more, but it recognises the importance of building a fan base. If all under-16 tickets were bought by “classic entrepreneurs” and sold to adults, tourists or the highest bidder, football clubs would not be developing their long- term fan base. The football clubs know that making a short-term price profit is not in their long-term interests, and it is surely right for the provider of the entertainment to be able to make a commercial decision not to sell at top dollar but to invest in the future fan base. It is the same for live bands and many other events. What the free market does do, which I support, is allow football clubs, bands and theatres to choose how much to charge for their event.
Let me expand on why inflated ticket prices are bad for all of us. Some say the artists have got what they wanted for a show, so they should not be concerned as they have got their full profit from the ticket sales.
My hon. Friends are nodding away, which is great, but that is a mistaken point of view. On taking money away from the artists and putting it in the pockets of these “classic entrepreneurs” and others in the entertainment industry, let us just say—[Interruption.] Let me explain to my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North, who is shouting from a sedentary position—
May I ask a question on an intervention? My hon. Friend has said they are taking money away, but how can that be as the vendor has received full price for the ticket? They have not lost a penny.
That is a very good intervention as I have the answer in the very next sentence of my speech.
Let us say that my hon. Friend has decided that he has £200 to spend on his entertainment budget for the year and he would like to go to four concerts at £50 a throw. If he has to pay his entire annual budget on buying just one ticket, he is going to go to only one concert, not four concerts. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley mentioned the cricket. If someone has paid £500 to go to the cricket game, he will not be buying the T-shirts, the food and all the other things the promoters and artists rely on. Almost more money is paid for merchandise than for tickets. Promoters and artists want people to buy things at the concerts, not for that to be taken away. [Interruption.] If my hon. Friend will not listen, there is no point in his coming to the debate.
The bands will make it clear that it is not just the ticket price for the gig that gets them the money that allows them to tour; it is also merchandising and other things. If my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North has spent his whole annual budget getting to one gig, he is not going to buy the T-shirt and the other things. That is how bands lose out. It is not possible to argue with the economics of that; it is entirely right.
I want to reiterate that point. Most bands nowadays have to sell merchandise to survive because very few people are paying full price, as they once used to, for the music itself. They therefore rely on selling merchandise on the evening; otherwise, they are not able to survive and produce the fantastic music that British bands do.
Absolutely, and there is no doubt that merchandising plays a significant part in allowing bands to continue touring.
The hon. Gentleman is making a very powerful point, which I recognise from my experience of touring with a band. It is uneconomic to go out with two trucks and all the equipment to play in front of fans. Bands rely on their merchandise and on being able to sell other products to enable them to continue to work and make the fantastic records they do, and ensure that people of any age group can watch them play live. Distortion caused by these appalling ticket prices threatens the industry.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, and I would like to thank him for his contributions over the years; we have had good debates in this Chamber.
It is probably true that my hon. Friends the Members for Bury North and for Shipley have unlimited budgets, but most people have a finite budget and they have to make decisions on how to spend their money. If they spend it all on ticketing, they will not spend it on other things.
As has been mentioned, different methods have been tried to control secondary ticketing and to protect purchasers, such as named ticketing. It has been proved, however, that this will not work for every event. It works in some situations, but not others. The industry would like to take other steps to control these abuses but it cannot do so. It has been argued by the ticketing organisations that the measures already in place are enough. If that was the case, why are we still seeing cases where fans or performers are not protected from exploitation and revenue loss?
These amendments do not restrict the buying and resale of tickets. All they ask is that the process is transparent so that buyers have information such as where the seat is, who the seller is, and what the original price of the ticket was, and whether the resale of the ticket is against the terms and conditions of the original purchase. It does not expose the seller to data protection problems. Only those sellers whose job is related to the live entertainment sector will need to provide employment details. This means that an informed decision can be made whether or not to buy a ticket. Similarly, it would mean that in cases where tickets were resold by industry insiders for a profit, it was out in the open.
Creating such transparency means that it will be easier to prevent and detect ticket fraud, expose and reduce insider dealing of tickets, and assist event-holders in protecting their customers from the worst excesses of ticket touting. It will also assist the artists in ensuring that they are able to deliver tickets to the intended market at the intended price. In my view, these amendments provide the right balance to avoid full legislation criminalising the activity by implementing sensible, reasonable information requests. To quote Steve Parker, managing editor of Audience and Live UK:
“The proposed amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill simply requires transparency and the restoration of fairness to the market. It is not a threat, restriction or burden to anyone operating honestly in this sector—it is a threat to those that seek to secretly manipulate the market for their own greedy ends.”
Only the operators who want to hide this information could possibly object to a request for the system to be transparent. The proposed measures have been formally supported by a wide range of stakeholders from the live event sector, promoters including Harvey Goldsmith, the Lawn Tennis Association, the National Theatre, the Musicians Union, the England and Wales Cricket Board, UK Music, the premier music booking agencies, managers of major British bands like One Direction, Iron Maiden, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Radiohead and Mumford and Sons, and over 50 more in a letter issued over the weekend. These amendments are only opposed by those profiteering from the confusion and technological shortcomings of event ticketing.
The list of those that support this which my hon. Friend rattled off were, from what I could tell, all big businesses in the entertainment world, but has he looked at opinion polls which show that when people are asked, “If you have a ticket, should you be able to sell it on to somebody else at a price you determine yourself?”, an overwhelming majority say yes? The idea that only a few people are against this flies in the face of all the opinion poll evidence.
I am so glad my hon. Friend intervened because I would like to quote back to him some things he said in the previous debate we had on the Consumer Rights Bill, on Report on 13 May 2014:
“I think that one of the fundamental rights of the consumer is to know what they are purchasing.”
That is what this measure proposes. [Interruption.] If I may continue, he went on to say that
“legislation requiring labelling is essential for consumers to exercise their right to make an informed decision.”—[Official Report, 13 May 2014; Vol. 580, c. 672-73.]
My goodness, he could be giving this speech for me, Mr Deputy Speaker!
On mobile phone internet usage coverage, which is important, my hon. Friend said on 16 June 2014:
“The lack of transparency and clarity that has persisted in the market has allowed consumers to be deceived.”
That is amazing; it could apply to the area under discussion now. He went on to say:
“It seems like the voluntary ways of ensuring greater transparency...have failed.”—[Official Report, 16 June 2014; Vol. 582, c. 896.]
He said that about mobile phones, but why should it not apply to this debate?
Will my hon. Friend give way?
I have one more quote, but I will give way.
I am sorry to urinate on my hon. Friend’s bonfire, but the point is that if I buy a ticket for the Lords test match, I know what I have got. There is no transparency issue; it is a ticket for the test match at Lords. The quotes he is giving on halal meat and all the rest of it are completely different from a ticket to a Lords test match, where it is perfectly clear what I have bought.
Order. We should be more gracious to each other. I am frightened that we might undermine that, and that this whole debate is going to descend, which I do not want.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I was just trying to point out that we ask for transparency in almost every other aspect of our society, and we should be asking for it on tickets. We are only asking for the name, the seat location and so on to be given. I think I have made that point crystal clear.
It should also be noted that the police are generally supportive of the suggested changes to the secondary ticketing markets. Ticketing legislation was recommended in the final report from Operation Podium, the Metropolitan police unit set up to monitor crime around the Olympic games. The police said the Government should intervene in the ticketing market because, among other things, certain aspects of it are funding criminal activity. We cannot argue against that; the police are saying it.
There is one more thing: many ticketing companies argue that should a ticket be invalid, counterfeit or fraudulent, a full refund will be given. We heard that earlier. That is very laudable, but it does not address the full problem. Refunding the price of a ticket will not make up for the travel expenses and accommodation costs of going to the concert, show or event; nor will it make up for the time spent acquiring the ticket.
Refunds look like a fair deal on paper, but even though the buyer will get their money back, the process actually sets up losses across the board. The seller of the ticket does not make any money, the company loses money by having to pay a refund and the buyer does not get the satisfaction of going to the event. The buyer is deprived of the experience that he or she worked hard for and spent money to secure. With the proposed transparent system, that would not be the case.
There is another quirk to the existing system that affects not only the artists but the taxpayer. Some venues, such as the National Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse, are subsidised by the state in order to ensure that opportunities to see productions are available to the widest possible audience. When ticket prices are vastly inflated—as in one case, from £20 to more than £2,000 for a Shakespeare production at the Donmar Warehouse—not only are potential purchasers priced out of the market but the Government’s programme of subsidising the arts is undermined and money that could be ploughed back into new productions is lost. Why would we, as taxpayers, want to subsidise theatre to make it more available to people while at the same time allowing others to make £2,000 on a ticket? That is absolutely bonkers.
The Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has told me that he supports the right of ticket providers to have terms and conditions and for those terms and conditions to be respected, and that any buyer should be aware of and adhere to them. Others who have spoken today have said that there should be terms and conditions, and that they should be respected, just as any other contractual arrangement is respected. That is how purchasing works. If I go on a train, I buy a ticket that is not transferrable. That applies in many other areas of society, too, so it seems bizarre that it does not apply to ticketing. These measures would enable those terms and conditions to be respected, and the Secretary of State should therefore fully support the amendment. I find it bizarre that he does not.
What we are asking for would give artists and venues the opportunity to regain control of ticket pricing and of the terms and conditions that they put on tickets. This would ensure that genuine fans had access to the events they wanted to attend. It would also hinder the ability of those using new methods of mass ticket-buying to artificially inflate the market in such a way as to creative negative impacts on the UK’s creative and sporting industries. If a band, artist or promoter wants to sell tickets at an inflated price, they are absolutely at liberty to use the secondary market to do so, but our proposals would mean that they would need to print on the ticket the fact that they had done so. I see nothing wrong with that. If we can make a small step in supporting the artists and fans, as we can with these amendments, we will have taken a very large step forward.
It is a pleasure to follow my fellow co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on music, the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), and it will be difficult to follow such an excellent speech. I agree with every point he made. I shall make my contribution a little more personal.
I got involved in ticket touting—in the sense of complaining about it, not actually doing it—many years ago. I became an MP 14 years ago and about a year later, Take That got back together. My three daughters were desperate to get tickets to see them, but I am sad to say that they did not, although they have seen the band since. After a lot of shouting and ear-bashing and being told that I should do something about the problem because I was an MP, I looked into the situation and found it to be nearly as bad as it is today. Things were not so technically advanced back then, but they were certainly shaping up that way.
It was tickets for the Take That reunion tour that garnered my interest in this topic. I want to place on the record my gratitude to my hon. Friend for the leadership that he showed on this issue before anyone else in the House did. Others have picked up the reins now that he has led the way in getting us to where we are today.
I think my hon. Friend might be over-egging the pudding a bit, but I am always grateful when people recognise that someone has done something, particularly in this place.
I am very keen on music; at the moment, I am really keen on a band called Foo Fighters. I was trying to get tickets to see them at Wembley and I went on to what I thought was the Ticketmaster website. I cannot remember the exact price of the tickets—about £60, I think. I was quite happy to pay that to see a band that I really wanted to see. Suddenly, however, I got kicked on to another website, where the ticket prices started at £90-odd. Only when I looked into the matter did I notice that this website was run by Ticketmaster.
I was a touch upset that—probably because I had said that I accepted the cookies, or whatever—I was pushed on to a website owned by the company from which I was going to buy a ticket for £68 and informed that a ticket for the same concert would now cost me £90-odd. It was really difficult to get back to the first website. For me, as for most Members of Parliament, time was of the essence and I needed to move on. I still have not bought the ticket, but I will try again. I found it incredible that, without doing anything, I ended up on a secondary ticketing site on which the ticket prices started at £90-odd. That was the price per ticket if I was buying two; a single ticket was more than £100.
I had exactly the same experience, albeit not with Foo Fighters. I was trying to get tickets for the Jesus and Mary Chain recently, and there seemed to be a lot of sites advertising the tickets as being available. Those sites lure us in, but eventually we get transferred to other sites. By that time, we have wasted a huge amount of time and end up buying the more expensive tickets. Sometimes we try to hunt for the original tickets, but I suspect that that offer no longer exists by that stage.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right.
This is not a free market; it is what I call a con market. I believe in a fair market. I believe that people should be treated fairly and given a chance to buy something at the advertised price. If 100,000 people want to go to a concert and they get to the tickets before I do, that is fine, as long as there are really 100,000 people. I do not expect the machines that the hon. Member for Hove mentioned to buy up all those tickets in a matter of seconds so that I cannot get one. That is not a free market, and it is certainly not a fair one.
The previous Labour Government, with whom I had lots of arguments, could not quite see this my way. I hope that the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson), will listen to these points, because she now has a chance to do something that my Government never did—put the situation right. Things are getting worse and as technology becomes more advanced, people use it for the wrong ends. They used it to prevent my kids from getting those Take That tickets all those years ago—my kids are still looking for those tickets, even though they are parents themselves now—and they are preventing me from getting the tickets I want.
We just want to be treated fairly. I do not mind paying the going rate of £68 or whatever, but I do mind someone buying up 100,000 tickets at £68 each and then selling them for £100 each. That is not right, and it should be against the law—it is taking ticket touting to an extreme. I am not talking about the happy chappie who sells tickets for a game of football before the match, although that used to upset me as well. We cannot allow people to do this on a large scale.
We can allow someone who has bought a ticket to pass it on to a family member or a friend, and I do not have a problem with them making a profit on it, provided it is not too much. However, I do have a problem with the guy with £500 getting ripped off by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) with his Lord’s ticket. Why anybody would want to pay that kind of money to watch a game of cricket I do not know! Having said that, if someone really wanted to see the event, I can understand them paying it, but I do not understand why some people should be able to corner the market and then resell tickets to others at a vast profit. That undermines our music industry. At the end of the day, the issue comes back to the people who are trying to give us a service and the benefit of their life’s work.
Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to the discussions about the ticket from Lord’s. I am torn on this issue: I am sympathetic to the amendments, but I am also sympathetic to some of the remarks made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley. If someone is prepared to, and can afford to, pay £500 a ticket to go to the test match, that is their choice. However, that individual should be able to find out and know where that ticket is located—where in the ground they are going to be sat—and whether or not it is legitimate. That is where the transparency angle of these amendments is correct.
Therein lies a problem, because sometimes the tickets being sold are not even proper tickets—someone might just have made a very good copy. The person with the £500 would be taking that chance. I do not believe that is right—that is probably why the hon. Gentleman is sat on the other side of the Chamber and I am sat here. If the ticket says £25, £60 or £100—whatever the figure is—I expect to pay that. I do not have a problem if I have to pay a wee bit extra, but I would not be paying £500 or £1,000. The worst case I ever heard of was when two tickets for Wimbledon finals day, which were for disabled people, were being sold on eBay for £2,000 each, and the buyer had to buy the pair. That is not right, and I am talking about only a couple of tickets.
Would my hon. Friend like to say something about venues? I understand that millions of pounds are being taken out of the music industry, in particular. I support small venues in my constituency. They really do struggle. I do not mind paying top dollar for a ticket for a band I want to see, but I want to know that that money goes to the person who bought the ticket at a fair price, the venue or the artist.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. I like to think that the small venues are for new bands—people who are up and coming and do not have a great following. I have bought a ticket to see AC/DC at Hampden Park, which I had no problem doing because it holds 50,000 people. That was easy, but there is a genuine problem in respect of the small venues. We have a new venue in Glasgow called the Hydro, which holds 13,000 people. I have been there and it is fantastic, but even there, depending on who is coming, the ticket touts are out selling the tickets.
The hon. Gentleman is making a fine speech and covering a range of new issues. One thing we have not thought about is that because the Government have failed to do anything about this, it has been left to the big festivals such as Glastonbury and T in the Park to try to put in place some sort of inventive, creative measure to protect their own audience. Why should it be left up to large festivals to deal with the problem? Surely it is the Government’s responsibility to protect fans.
The hon. Gentleman is right about that. I have met various promoters for T in the Park and they have done their level best to try to stop the touts, but even they admit that they cannot do it completely. If we make this illegal, that puts a different front on it. If we tell everybody it is illegal to do something and someone does it, they know it is illegal. If we do not tell them it is illegal, they will continue to do it. As we have already said, they will continue to use all the new technologies that are coming online and they will rip people off. There will be people who are so desperate to buy a ticket to see somebody that they will pay these prices, and as long as somebody is willing to pay them, the problem will continue and prices will keep increasing.
The hon. Gentleman is right that some things should be illegal, but I can reassure him that where someone creates an artificial ticket and it is not a proper ticket, that is either fraud or theft. We have already made that an illegal situation.
I appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman is saying, but what is the difference between that person making a forgery and other people having a machine that can buy up 100,000 tickets for a venue? Is that not illegal? Is it not outrageous? Would you not want to do something about it? I am not talking about you, Mr Speaker; I am talking about the right hon. Gentleman.
I feel very strongly about this issue, as you can probably tell, Mr Speaker. Sometimes it is difficult to put things into words, but as politicians and Members of Parliament we should be putting our constituents first, not big business. We should not be hindering big business, but we should not be putting it before our constituents. Some in the Chamber tonight would rather put big business before their constituents.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson). He makes his points passionately, but I disagree with them all. I am unashamedly on the side of the free market on this one. The whole problem with the Lords amendment is that it simply strikes at the heart of the free market—no more, no less. This is not really an issue about consumer protection, although it is dressed up as that—it is about the free market. If this measure were passed, it is likely to have the consequence—I accept this might be unintended —of providing less protection for the consumer.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North West seemed to suggest that my hon. Friend and I were arguing on the side of big business and that he was arguing in favour of the consumer, but does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Gentleman is actually arguing in favour of the big music business? Does anyone think Harvey Goldsmith is not big business? I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman would take that as an insult or a compliment, but arguing on the side of those big music businesses is not arguing in favour of the small consumer, is it?
No, it is not. Let us be clear that a lot of these organisations are quite capable of looking after themselves and, if they put their minds to it, of achieving the aims they say they want to achieve. That applies whether we are talking about the Harvey Goldsmiths of this world, the Rugby Football Union or the England and Wales Cricket Board. These organisations put forward their arguments about wanting to help the grass roots of sport and so on, but if they really wanted to do that, they could do so in many ways without going down the road of trying to interfere in the free market.
Let us be clear about how much personal information will have to be placed on the internet for everyone to see under the regulations that have been passed by the other place. The seller has to provide details of
“(a) the face value of the ticket;
(b) any age or other restrictions on the user of the ticket;
(c) the designated location of the ticket including the stand, the block, the row and the seat number of the ticket, where applicable; and
(d) the ticket booking identification or reference number.”
That information could easily be used by criminals and those who are less scrupulous in order to ring up the vendor of the ticket and arrange for the ticket to be sent to an alternative address. It could also be used to set up an alternative listing, as so much information is being provided.
The information that the hon. Gentleman has just read out would surely be available at the point of sale, so if anyone wanted to use it in the way he is suggesting, they would merely need to go on the website originally offering the tickets or ring up the venue in order to get it. It is at the point of resale in the secondary ticketing market that we are asking for that same information to be made available. What can be wrong with that?
The difference is the name of the vendor, the booking reference and all that, which are not there on the original sale. At the heart of the argument is the fact that, by placing all this extra regulation on the secondary market and making it more difficult to sell tickets, fewer people will choose to sell their ticket through what will eventually become a regulated market. That will result in people, or spivs as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) called them, choosing to sell their tickets on the unregulated market—or the black market as it is known outside this place. That is likely to happen, and the result will be less, not more, consumer protection.
It was mentioned a moment or so ago in the context of the Paul Weller concert that someone was being asked to pay £101 for a ticket that had a face value of £38 and that somehow the “real” fans were being denied access to the concert. But no one has been able to explain why someone who is prepared to pay £100 for the right to attend and listen to a concert is any less of a real fan than someone who is prepared to pay £38. It just does not make any sense. Surely if a person is prepared to pay £100, they are equally likely to be a real fan as someone who is paying £38.
The hon. Member for Glasgow North West, who is leaving his place, talked about someone making false tickets in their bedroom or their office. That is already a criminal offence; it is fraud. We cannot make it any more of a criminal offence by passing more legislation. Those matters are already covered by criminal law, and the amendment before us will do nothing whatever to sort out criminal behaviour—those who set out deliberately to con and defraud members of the public. We have plenty of laws to deal with those people. The market is working well. To all those who say that they are standing up for the consumer, let me say that I am not inundated with lots of e-mails on this matter. I get hundreds of thousands of e-mails a year complaining about all sorts of things, but I do not get many from people saying, “Oh, I tried to get a ticket for this concert and I could not get it because they were all bought up.”
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, but he seems to be slightly behind the current argument. The proponents of the Lords amendment and the amendment to it are no longer arguing that this is in the best interests of the consumer; they appear to have abandoned that idea. They are now saying that the measure is absolutely crucial to pop groups such as One Direction as they can sell expensively priced merchandise to their supporters. They will not be able to do that under the status quo. Will my hon. Friend keep up with the argument? This is not about consumer rights but about big groups such as One Direction selling overpriced merchandise to their supporters. I am not sure why that is necessarily in the best interests of consumers.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. When those arguments were put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) earlier, we were taken into a whole new area. We are now arguing that the tickets themselves may have been underpriced to allow people to pay over the odds for the merchandise. That seems to be the argument, does it not?
That is absolutely right.
So we have to sell the tickets cheap so that people can be conned into paying over the odds for the T-shirts and the CDs. That is the reality.
The other argument is that this is all about transparency; that a person needs to be able to see that they are in a certain row, seat and place in the stadium. Well, people are not stupid. They know that if they buy a ticket without that detailed information, there is a risk that they might end up sitting behind a pillar and have a restricted view. People do not need any further legislation to help them make up their minds about the risks involved in buying tickets. They know that if they buy on the secondary market, there might be risks, but there will be much greater risks if they go underground. Under the current market, we have operators who run professional businesses, which have been going for a number of years without any problems. Everybody uses them every day of the week. Okay, so a person might pay more than the face value of the ticket, but that is the operation of the free market. I come back to the central point: such operators would not even exist if the vendors sold the tickets at a higher price in the first place. They know when they sell those tickets on day one that they will be swept up and sold at a higher price. In most cases, they turn a blind eye to it because all they are interested in is selling the tickets, getting the money in the bank, and forgetting about the problem.
That is utter rubbish and so not true. People involved in cricket, rugby, tennis and music have written to the Minister and made this case. It is not the case that they are not bothered as long as they are sold out. They set the price for a variety of reasons, including making it affordable for the genuine fan. It is so disingenuous of the hon. Gentleman to say that the clubs do not care as long as the tickets are sold out.
Interestingly, I was happy to give way to the hon. Lady, but she did not give way when I wanted to intervene, but we will leave that aside. If the large organisations that run these sporting bodies put half a mind to it, there would be many ways in which they could ensure—[Interruption.]
Order. All Members are doing is holding up the debate.
If those organisations want to ensure that the tickets are being used by the clubs, that is for them to deal with. We have seen what happened with the Rugby Football Union. The tickets are sent to the clubs, supposedly for use by the grass roots, and they are then sold on by the clubs. The tickets get leaked out into the open market. We cannot interfere with the free market; that is a fact of life. No matter how we dress it up or what legislation we introduce, tickets will find a way to be sold at the market price—what somebody is prepared to pay for it.
My experience of the RFU at Twickenham is that rugby tickets are given out on allocation and request to local clubs—the grass roots of rugby—at a certain price. Were those to be sold on the black market at a higher price and the RFU were to discover it, that club would then get no allocation of tickets for several years. That was a reasonable protection that was placed on the sport.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point. He has just described one way in which these sporting bodies can control the allocation of tickets. I am sure that there are many other ways. Much has been said about the use of botnets and modern technology to scoop up tickets.
I have heard nothing about how big businesses, which run these venues, have tried to use technology to deal with the problem—if they think it is a problem. I put it to the Chamber that they do not think it is a problem, as they are getting the money that they expected to get. They do not see it as a problem and the consumers do not see it as a problem. The reason why I have not been inundated with complaints is that people are, by and large, happy with the system. They know that tickets for popular events will probably be sold at a price that is greater than that for which they were originally sold. If people are lucky enough to get a ticket in the first allocation, that is exactly how they regard themselves—lucky. They know that they have got a valuable commodity, in just the same way as someone who acquires any other article that goes up in value thinks themselves lucky. Someone may buy something for a fiver at a car boot sale on a Sunday morning, and find out a few months or years later, when they take it on “Antiques Roadshow”, that it is worth 10, 100 or 1,000 times more than they paid. That is how the free market works.
It does not matter how much we try to legislate or to cap ticket prices, the fact is that ultimately the free market will out: tickets will change hands, whether through an organised website or on the black market outside stadiums and venues, for whatever someone else is prepared to pay for them.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for her campaign on secondary ticketing and the need to protect consumers, and to the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) for his consistency on this issue and, as someone who comes from the entertainment industry, for his very well-informed speech.
I must also pay tribute to Statler and Waldorf at the back of the Government Benches—if it was not unparliamentary, I would suggest that the hon. Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) were a couple of muppets. My question for them is: what kind of market would object to consumers being fully informed about a commodity at the time of purchase? Even if we applied the principles of the free market, we would not want to restrict information to consumers when they buy products.
The hon. Member for Shipley used the example of selling houses, but we would not sell someone a house without letting them look around it or without giving them all its specifications. Similarly, we would not sell someone a car saying, “We’ll only let you look at its left side,” or “We won’t let you look inside”; we have to give people all the information. There cannot be any objection to ensuring that consumers are fully informed.
The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) intervened to ask about the resale of rugby tickets. He said that if tickets allocated within the rugby family were offered for resale on the secondary market, the rugby club found doing so would be banned from receiving any future allocation. The RFU went to court to obtain the information it needed in order to regulate the sale of tickets in exactly that way. I therefore agree that such rules should apply, but rugby needs such information to make its own regulations stick. In seemingly agreeing with his colleague, the hon. Member for Bury North, the hon. Member for North West Leicestershire is actually agreeing with us.
The Olympics restricted the resale of tickets, which had to go back through the arrangements set up by London Organising Committee of the Olympic Games and Paralympic Games and be resold by Ticketmaster at face value. In the early stages, people complained about the fact that there were a lot of empty seats, but such tickets had to be recycled to ensure there was an atmosphere in the stadium. The process of making sure that the tickets went to family members or genuine fans successfully and memorably created a unique atmosphere within the Olympic stadium. That is remembered, particularly by the athletes who performed there, because we made sure that such tickets were made available at face value to genuine fans.
The RFU wanted to do exactly the same with its tickets for this year’s rugby world cup, but even before the tickets were made available, they could be bought for several thousands of pounds on secondary ticketing websites. The cheapest child’s ticket is £7 and the most expensive ticket is £700, but I saw—I will not name the website, because there are lots of them and it is wrong to single out one of them—five tickets on sale for £8,000 each, with a £3,000 handling charge.
I asked the secondary ticketing company how it could sell tickets for £8,000, given that they were not yet available and that the ballot for them had not even happened. It could not really answer the question, but in my opinion someone in the rugby family who was going to get the tickets had put them up for resale. That underlines why people need information at the point of resale. The company told me, “Look, we provide a service. We stop those dodgy guys hanging around outside stadiums selling tickets in their camel hair coats. They look at the cut of your shoes to determine how much they reckon they can charge you for a ticket.” I asked what the £3,000 handling charge was for, and it said, “If you can pay £8,000 for a ticket, we think you can afford a £3,000 handling charge.” That is the equivalent of looking at someone’s shoes: the company looks at the amount on someone’s credit card and says, “You can pay £8,000, so you can bung us £3,000 for handling the tickets.” That is a complete and utter disgrace.
The point is that sports in particular, like the entertainment industry, want to ensure that tickets are available to core fans and that, within reason, no one is excluded on the grounds of price. Someone can be a genuine fan and not be able to afford £500 for test match tickets—they would be lucky to get a test match ticket for £500 on the secondary market—so it is vital for sports to make their matches accessible to fans and families to build their next generation of supporters.
The hon. Members for Shipley and for Bury North are apparently arguing that people should be priced out of going to matches. The sports of rugby, cricket and tennis wrote to the Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, the hon. Member for Maidstone and The Weald (Mrs Grant), to express their concern that if the practice continued, they would be forced to put up their prices. They say that they charge reasonable prices for tickets to make them accessible to all fans who support their sports, but that if money continues to be made on the secondary ticketing market, they might as well make that money by selling tickets at top prices and then put it into their sports. However, they are genuinely concerned about what that might mean for the future of their sports, because they will not be able to build a fan base among the whole community of those who want to support them and to go to matches, and their sport may dwindle as a result.
When the people who run sports set ticket prices, they have the future of their sport at heart. We cannot just say that the secondary ticketing market offers some sort of guarantee if there is something wrong with the ticket. For someone who has paid to go to a major international at a venue across the country, such arrangements will not pay back the cost of their travel or of staying overnight at a hotel, and they will certainly not get the experience that has been paid for in buying the ticket. People must have the information they need to make an informed decision about whether such tickets should be on sale in the first place, and whether they will actually get what they are promised when the ticket is offered for sale. We have heard the arguments against that and for letting the free market reign, but the market absolutely is not free.
I want to take the hon. Gentleman back to his point about the website selling tickets for £8,000 with a £3,000 handling charge. Did it actually sell any tickets at that price, and if so, is he concerned or sorry for the people who decided to pay £11,000 for a ticket of their own free will and does he believe that they need to be protected?
If they can afford £8,000 for a ticket, I do not think they need my sympathy. The point is that we put pressure on people such as the organisers of the rugby world cup to make tickets affordable through a progressive ticketing policy so that people who genuinely love the sport but might not have the funds to pay that price for the ticket can go to the games.
I am answering the hon. Gentleman’s point and he can come back to me on it in a minute, although I am going to shut up quite soon.
Some of the people purchasing these tickets are clearly involved in criminal gangs, as shown in the report on Operation Podium from the Metropolitan police. That report was given to the Government and they were warned that it was not just a question of people making a few bob on the secondary ticketing market. The people who set up these botnets to swamp the market when tickets are first offered for sale are often involved in criminal gangs associated with drugs and firearms. The Metropolitan police have raised serious concerns about this and we ignore them at our peril. What kind of free market wants to perpetuate such activity? I am interested in that.
We have heard a lot about the £500 tickets to go to a particular day of the Lord’s test against Australia, but as a cricket lover who wants more people to be able to go to test matches does the hon. Gentleman agree that an awful lot of tickets are on offer from the original vendor at very sensible prices for Headingley, Durham, Old Trafford and so on and that people could go to those?
I am delighted that those tickets are on sale at very sensible prices, which is why I am in the Chamber to support the ECB, the RFU, the FA and others in asking for the sensible ticketing policies they apply to be protected. All they are asking is to have the information available when a ticket is offered for resale so that they can see whether that ticket is being sold according to the original terms and conditions for the sale. We should not be allowing organised gangs to exploit the consumer by hoovering up these tickets and forcing people to pay much higher prices on the secondary ticketing market.
To return to the question of the RFU, it is well known by the local grass-roots rugby clubs that these tickets are on allocation and should not be resold at a higher value. All it needs to say on the ticket is, “If this ticket is resold at a higher value, ring this number.” Everyone will then know that the club will not get an allocation for three or five years.
The point is that the governing body of the sport wants that information so that it can police it. It went to court to try to get the information, so we should be saying that it is not unreasonable for the information available at the original time of purchase of the tickets to be made available when the tickets are being resold—
I am not going to give way again, because I want to end my remarks.
I have one question for the Minister before I sit down. She wrote on 8 January to the Trading Standards Institute and to the Society of Chief Officers of Trading Standards in Scotland. Our argument is clearly getting through, because she has raised concerns about consumer protection and has asked for the organisations’ advice. When she responds, will she say whether she has had that advice? We have been debating the issue for a very long time and for the Minister to be writing on 8 January to find out this information is a little like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, but we still have time, because the Bill will obviously go back to the Lords where there will be an opportunity for common sense to prevail with the Government, even if they will not concede the point tonight. I hope that the Minister can tell us how she got on with her letter.
I came late to this debate and picked up on some interesting arguments being put by Members on both sides of the House. At first glance, my one concern about the amendments is that they do not seem to address some of the valid points about robots that have been raised by Members on both sides. I am sure that the Minister will want to address that point when she answers the debate.
One point that has not been raised about the nature of the free market and how it operates for secondary ticketing is that there is not an absolute property right to a ticket when it is sold, because it is not like any other good. The hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) mentioned second-hand cars, which someone might buy and then sell at a later date, but of course the ticket is merely a promise to provide a service or a piece of entertainment in a given period of time, and therefore the original vendor must retain some sort of property right. If the original vendor wishes to sell a ticket to someone at one price, perhaps because they are a certain age, come from a particular area or belong to a particular club, that vendor might still have some property rights that enable them to enforce the terms of that sale. I am sure that the Minister will want to address that issue as it pertains to the secondary market, because those people who sell tickets should be able to have some control at some point, if they wish, over who they sell those tickets to.
It has been a year since we started to scrutinise the Bill, time during which much has changed, not least the Minister leading on it. As she can tell from today’s debate, she missed many treats during our debates, although I am not sure whether a repeat performance of the arguments made by the hon. Members for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Shipley (Philip Davies) was what she intended to generate.
It has been a long journey and I pay tribute to all those Members who have sought to scrutinise and improve the legislation. Many debates have taken place to meet the test we set, as this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to create a nation that is on top of its rights and can play a full and active part in the market in both the public and private sectors. Labour certainly recognises that helping people to make the most of their money is vital in a country that is drowning in personal debt—£1.43 trillion of it. Little wonder that StepChange Debt Charity says that six out of 10 people in this country believe that politicians must do more in the next five years to help them stay out of financial difficulty. Making sure that they do not get ripped off should therefore be absolutely paramount in the work we do and in this Bill.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) for tabling the amendment and for their perseverance on ticket touting, which is a clear example of people being ripped off. I also want to pay tribute to the hon. Members for Bury North and for Shipley for their persistence in making their arguments and possibly making Friedrich Hayek spin in his grave through their interpretation of a free market. Let me deal with their arguments, because I think we will have to come back to them otherwise.
Few other markets would be characterised as free in which a limited number of sellers hoard a product, buying it up in bulk using underhand methods and then colluding to sell at hyped prices. Just because this is happening on the internet does not make it any different. One of the golden rules of the free market is that people should deal with each other honestly and require honesty in return, and that is clearly not what is happening in this industry. It is clearly not a free market. I am also delighted that both hon. Gentlemen outed themselves as fans of St Trinian’s, because that can be the only explanation of why they believe that this is about spivs in pork-pie hats looking at the types of shoes people are wearing rather than a billion-pound ticket-touting industry that is damaging the pockets of fans of sport and music.
One reason we support the amendment tabled by the all-party group on ticket abuse and reject the Government’s call to reject the cross-party call from the Lords to address this issue is that we do not agree with the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that this is classic entrepreneurship, precisely because we know that it is not an open market. We know that botnets are hoovering up tickets the second they go on sale. Fans simply do not stand a chance.
Some estimates put the figure at 60% of tickets being taken up in this way. One expert looking at the sporting industry in the past year has identified around 30% of tickets being bought up in this way, so fans cannot click fast enough to beat the botnets. The Secretary of State challenged my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West and said:
“The interests that the hon. Lady is representing are probably those of the chattering middle classes and champagne socialists”—
I noted that the hon. Member for Shipley called me a socialist earlier; I have amended my Twitter biography accordingly, with his praise—
“who have no interest in helping the common working man earn a decent living by acting as a middleman in the sale of a proper service.”—[Official Report, 21 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 1187.]
This is no Flash Harry and this is no decent living.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) pointed out, ticket touting is connected to serious organised crime in this country, making around £40 million a year. The Metropolitan police said:
“The lack of legislation outlawing the unauthorised resale of tickets and the absence of regulation of the primary and secondary ticket market”
encourages this situation. Before the Deputy Speaker calls me to order and says that this is a debate not about the Serious Crime Bill but about consumer rights, let us look at the damage caused to consumers.
The hon. Member for Shipley quoted the Office of Fair Trading report, which is more than 10 years old. He was rather selective in what he quoted—perhaps we should say the primary marketing rather than secondary marketing of this report—so let us look again at the report. It did indeed say that
“secondary agents can provide a useful function”
for consumers, but it also
“found evidence of a number of secondary agents who deliberately mis-sell or defraud consumers”
and do not follow the golden rule of the free market.
That is why it is not uncommon to see tickets with a face value of £70 being sold for up to £1,200 on sites such as StubHub. All 20,000 tickets for Monty Python’s reunion performance—I am sure the hon. Member for Shipley would love to have gone and seen the Knights Who Say “Ni!”, as he says it so often himself—sold out in three quarters of a minute, only to reappear on the secondary market at more than 15 times their face value. Tickets for the reunion gig of the Stone Roses at Heaton Park, something that many of us had only dreamed of for many years, were advertised at more than £1,000 only minutes after they had sold out. Their original face value was £55.
For the avoidance of doubt, nobody is saying that there should not be a secondary ticket market. All of us have experienced the frustration of buying tickets, only to find at the last minute that we could not go. I freely admit that the first time I ever pleaded with the Whips to have the night off was when I had bought tickets for the Wedding Present at KOKO and feared that I would not be able to go and see them. I was not able to go and see the Wonder Stuff because of a last-minute change to sitting hours in this place. We all recognise that a secondary ticket market is necessary in such circumstances, because it is difficult for fans to get a refund at short notice. That does not mean that we should give the commercial touts a free ride, especially when they distort the prices.
It takes a lot for us in the House to say that Russell Brand’s management is getting something right, but they were among the signatories to the letter that we saw this weekend from event organisers and people across the political spectrum and across the industry, saying that we needed to take on the issue and introduce transparency. [Interruption]. The hon. Member for Shipley says from a sedentary position that we are talking about more money for Russell Brand. We on the Opposition Benches are absolutely not committed to that. What we are committed to is people not paying over the odds to see Russell Brand, were they that way inclined—[Interruption.] That seems to have the unanimous support of the House.
The proposals before us are a sensible way of addressing the problem. The amendment may look long, but its purpose is simple—to let fans who are buying from a secondary site know what they are buying, such as whether the ticket includes a hospitality package or not. Let us look at the egregious information that the hon. Members for Shipley and for Bury North think we should not have: the name and address of the seller of the ticket, the location of the ticket being sold, so that they are not sold a ticket for a seat behind a pillar, the face value of the seat, and the terms and conditions.
We have been trying to make progress on this issue for a number of months. We tabled amendments similar to the Lords amendment. The Government did not support these amendments because they argued that the scale of the problem was only 10% of the market and that it was a matter for trading standards or the Advertising Standards Authority. They also said that the information in the amendment should already be available to consumers and that it was part of the consumer contracts regulations—the replacement for the distance selling regulations.
That is why I was surprised to see the letter that appeared in my inbox today at 4.30 from the Minister, saying that she had written to trading standards, asking them to look into the issue. It was her colleague, the right hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), who first raised the point on 13 February last year. It seems a curious timing to say that there might be an answer in existing legislation. I was also interested to see the letters that the Minister put forward from the companies, offering to uphold the existing regulations, as though it was a great concession to do what the law currently requires. They have said before that they would do so. One suggestion was that specifying the face value on the ticket would be the way forward. Fans buying from secondary sites would then know by how much they were being ripped off—what a wonderful concession to make in this market!
If the Government are committed to transparency and if they say that consumers should already have the information as a result of the distance selling regulations, I do not understand why they oppose a cross-party proposal for transparency in pricing. I hope they will at least support the proposal from the all-party group to enhance that protection and to ensure that there is a secondary ticket sales market by making sure that it is not possible to cancel a ticket just because it is offered for resale at face value. We know that the amendment will improve the legislation. Tackling ticket touting has been discussed for a year. We are in the year of the rugby world cup. Fans cannot wait any longer for the Government to see what is in their interest, make progress on this issue and ensure a freer market with informed consumers, not consumer capture, which I am sure Friedrich Hayek would have been concerned about.
It comes down to this: is the Minister on the side of organisations such as the England and Wales Cricket Board, UK Music and—dare I say—Mumford & Sons? Or is she on the side of Waldorf and Statler and the hon. Members for Shipley and for Bury North? I know which way my constituents would like the Minister to vote. I hope that others across the House who recognise that it is time to tackle the problem of ticket touting will vote with us.
I am delighted to speak on the Bill for the first time—a Bill whose development and gestation took far longer than my pregnancy. Although the hon. Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) says that I missed many a treat, she does not know that I did watch Second Reading on BBC Parliament during my maternity leave, although I had to use the pause function occasionally. It seemed to have a fairly soporific effect on my son. Perhaps that is a tip for all new parents—the delights of BBC Parliament.
The debate often seems polarised, with on the one hand the advocacy of very prescriptive primary legislation to deal with the issues, and on the other, the speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), who argue that the free market is working perfectly and no intervention is required. I recognise that there are issues and difficulties. We have to find the best way forward to deal with those so that the interests of consumers are well looked after.
A careful balancing act is needed. We want to make sure that as many people as possible can access events, whatever their means. We want sports and entertainment in the UK to flourish. We have some of the best events and tournaments in the world, which bring in large numbers of international visitors and businesses. We also, of course, want to protect consumers and allow the ticket resale market to work as well as it can.
There has been an encouraging trend in recent years towards safer and more tailored online ticket marketplaces and away from the touts outside venues. These websites can offer much more consumer protection than was available before, often in excess of what the law requires. The sites have processes in place to try to prevent, discourage and punish fraud. Although no market is perfect, we know how much time, money and emotion fans invest in attending events, so we want fans, as consumers, to be able to operate safely in this market.
There are already protections in place for consumers. The consumer contracts regulations came into force just six months ago to ensure that consumers are fully informed before they buy from a trader. At the time, the Government announced guidance specifically on internet ticket sales to accompany those regulations, which build on existing law such as the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008, which protect consumers from being misled by practices such as claiming that a seat is on the front row when it patently is not.
The regulations complement the Fraud Act 2006 and the Computer Misuse Act 1998, which list a range of offences available to law enforcement to tackle the fraudulent sale of tickets and the criminal harvesting of tickets from online ticket sales. Botnets and hacking into sites have been mentioned, but these proposals would not only cover cases of hacking. Botnets could also be illegal if, for example, they were being used to gain unauthorised access to a website that clearly states that it deals with real individuals.
We are absolutely committed to ensuring that the law is properly enforced. We have a powerful economic crime command within the National Crime Agency to drive forward this work. We have invested about £86 million to build law enforcement capabilities to respond to cyber-crime, including online fraud. We have strengthened the reporting and intelligence arrangements for fraud. Action Fraud is now the single national reporting centre for fraud and financially motivated cyber-crime. Since 1 April last year, responsibility for Action Fraud rests with the City of London police, bringing it closer to the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau.
The City of London police are also working with the organisation behind the rugby world cup to exclude participants in the ticketing lottery who have links with previous reports of fraud. In October last year, the police reported that they had foiled “hundreds” of fraudulent attempts to gain tickets via the official ballot. The Competition and Markets Authority and trading standards bodies lead consumer law enforcement in this area. Through their hard work, trading standards officers have successfully enforced consumer law—for example, right here in Westminster in reducing the number of consumers being caught out by bogus theatre tickets.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott) and Baroness Neville-Rolfe have previously set out the Government’s position. We do not think that there are no problems in this market, but we have to find the best way to tackle them.
In that context, I will set out the difficulties involved in Lords amendment 12. Although it purports to add further transparency requirements to protect consumers, it could have the opposite effect. It would mean that all sellers, whether as a business or as one friend selling to another, would have to provide detailed information about themselves and the ticket they were selling, including the seat number and the booking reference number. That would enable the event organisers to cancel tickets put up for resale, as is intended by the amendment. That would mean that a fan with a spare ticket, perhaps because their friend is ill, could not resell it without risking having all their tickets cancelled. Someone who had bought a resold ticket could arrive at the venue only to be refused entry on that basis. That does not seem very fair or proportionate.
Will the Minister clarify two things? First, does she think that the amendment applies to individual-to-individual sales? It is actually aimed at the marketplace that secondary ticket sites create. Secondly, if she is worried about resales and tickets being cancelled, will she accept the amendment proposed by the all-party group, which would specifically deal with that to ensure that it does not happen?
I recognise the attempts made in that amendment, although they do not address all the difficulties that I have outlined. Many people who are unable to attend an event at short notice will find that they have another friend who is happy to go along to it with them, but others will not, so they will use online marketplaces, in which case these issues will apply.
One of the main difficulties with the Lords amendment is that it would require sellers to provide their name. That should raise concerns, because it would include private individuals who could be young people or vulnerable consumers. Perhaps a 14-year-old One Direction fan who is unable to attend the concert she has bought tickets for will want to resell them, and in doing so would have to provide her name online. This is a concern not about ticket sales but about things such as identity theft and the difficulties involved when private individuals have to place their names online. There were over 100,000 reports of ID fraud in 2013, and we do not want to support proposals that could—albeit inadvertently —push that number higher.
When I asked the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) in what circumstances a ticket could be cancelled—a crucial point, because there might be legitimate circumstances but also circumstances where it would be unreasonable—I did not feel that I got a sensible answer. The Minister is right to be worried about that lack of precision.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for making that point.
This proposal is in no way about making 14-year-olds vulnerable online if they want to sell their ticket. On eBay, people who buy and sell have an identity: we know who we are buying from in the sense of whether they have sold one of something or 1,000 of something. All sorts of mechanisms could be in place to keep the person who is selling on the ticket safe. The Minister is wrong to suggest that this is about allowing event organisers to cancel tickets—that is not the intention at all. It is about transparency. Very few event organisers put “Not for resale” or “Non-transferable” on their tickets. The reason why some do is to try to protect the tickets, but they would not need to if we had this transparency.
I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. I appreciate that her intention might not be to force people to use their names, but unfortunately that is what the Lords amendment says. Many organisations would wish to cancel tickets if they knew exactly which tickets were being resold, and that would not be in consumers’ interests.
The amendment could result in the cancelling of tickets and potential ID theft, which would have the common impact of incentivising the movement of sales to other, less secure websites, perhaps overseas, or to the street touts of whom people already have experience. Having more safety in online marketplaces that behave more responsibly has to be better than pushing things on to foreign, unregulated websites or insecure websites. We want to make sure that consumers are protected. The touts we see outside venues do not offer that protection—not even close to it.
The Minister says that the amendment is too prescriptive. Does she not recognise that the internet spivs who use these botnets are rigging the market and putting up prices for consumers? What is she going to do about these internet spivs who are harvesting tickets against the interests of consumers?
I will come to enforcement, because I accept that there are issues that need to be looked at, but I want to complete my explanation of the difficulties with amendment 12.
There is a real risk that introducing these additional, more stringent information requirements would go beyond the provisions set out in the consumer rights directive, which EU law does not allow us to do. Compliance with EU law might be further harmed in relation to the technical standards and regulations directive. To comply with that directive, the amendment would have to be notified to the Commission at least three months before the Bill was due to finish its passage through Parliament, meaning that it remained in draft form during that standstill period. We have clearly run out of time for such steps to be taken now. The consequence, which I know the proposers of the amendment would not want, is that amendment 12 could end up being unenforceable if it were passed in its current form.
It is interesting that the Minister raises the EU directive, which talks about the importance of providing the characteristics of an item that is being sold. If the characteristics of a ticket are not to say where the event is, what time it is, and which seat it is, what does she think would be included under the directive?
Much of this information already has to be provided under the consumer contracts regulations, and that is absolutely fine. However, amendment 12 goes beyond that—for example, in requiring individuals to give their name. I do not think that people would wish to run the risk that it ended up being unenforceable, but unfortunately that is the legal situation.
The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) talks about stating the face value on the ticket. I understand what she is getting at, but this is not a particularly helpful concept to use in legislation because the face value is not clearly defined. A ticket does not necessarily have just one value—there may be delivery and administration charges, and the seller might not know which of those needed to be included in the face value. If the fan selling the ticket got that wrong, the ticket could end up being cancelled without their knowledge. The value stated on the ticket might not be what the fan paid because of the fan club or early-purchase discounts that have been discussed. People would not want consumers to lose money when they cannot attend an event, and the face value would not always cover what the consumer had actually paid.
There is a more substantive issue of principle. Is it right for Government to tell consumers that they cannot sell items that they have bought second-hand at above the price that they paid for them? If I buy a book for £4.99 and then a very popular film is made of it and a friend offers me £10 for the book, why should the Government get involved and say that it cannot be sold on?
Perhaps unintentionally, the amendment suggests that it is acceptable for an event organiser to cancel tickets that have been sold for above face value. Many hon. Members have addressed the issue of terms and conditions, and some have said that organisations should be able to cancel such tickets, but that would not necessarily always be a fair term. Under the Unfair Terms in Consumer Contracts Regulations 1999, it would be up to a court to decide on a case-by-case basis, but it may not always be a fair term.
There are problems in the market—as is the case in any market—which is why we have listened and are taking action. We agree on many of the issues relating to consumer information, including consumers not knowing where to go to get redress when they have a problem with a resold ticket. Consumers sometimes raise concerns with event organisers when they should approach the online marketplace where they bought the tickets. Of course, that can be inconvenient and frustrating for both the organiser and the fans.
There is also a problem with bulk selling and the people who have been referred to as bedroom touts. Like the organisers, I am not comfortable that there are people who buy tickets as if they were real fans, but with the sole intention of reselling for a profit. I am, therefore, pleased to announce various actions that we have taken. We have been working closely with the secondary ticket marketplaces and continue to have constructive discussions with them and the event organisers.
The online ticket marketplaces have made a range of commitments, as outlined in the letters that have been placed in the Library of the House and are available from the Vote Office in the Lobby. They have committed to providing further information and transparency, to make sure that consumers have appropriate information. The commitment covers much of the information that Lords amendment 12 would require, but it will not breach EU rules, result in unintended consequences for privacy and fraud, or give event organisers the opportunity to cancel tickets put up for resale.
Secondly, the marketplaces have confirmed their commitment to consumer protection. When consumers have a problem with a ticket they have bought on an online marketplace, they should have access to redress. The marketplaces have set out the guarantees they provide to users and how they work to protect consumers. Thirdly, the marketplaces have committed to ensuring that consumers know where to go to get redress by providing the information prominently on their websites. Alongside those common commitments, they have committed to a range of different improvements specific to their individual sites. They are all welcome commitments.
In addition to the action taken by industry at a practical level, we want to ensure that the Government address the issues with an evidence-based approach. The Department for Culture, Media and Sport has today launched an independent review of the effectiveness of the current law—and, indeed, what can be done to improve it. The review will survey enforcement of the current consumer law as it applies to online marketplaces as facilitators of transactions in tickets, and it will assess the challenges of enforcement of that law. We invite the review to suggest how that enforcement could be improved. That will include looking at how to tackle bulk selling, which has been raised by many Members today, and how to effectively enforce the law against traders impersonating consumers in order to evade consumer law.
I have written to trading standards to gather evidence on what more can be done to enforce consumer law as it applies to buyers and sellers of tickets. That will complement the DCMS review. To respond to the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), I have not yet received a response from trading standards, but I will, of course, keep the House informed.
Given the ongoing commitments to tackle the genuine issues, I urge the House to reject Lords amendment 12 and the amendment to it, and to welcome the package of measures that I have announced.
We have had a wide-ranging debate. If we were to apply the law of averages to the question of which side of the argument the coin would fall, I think it would fall on the side of the Opposition and the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) who tabled amendment (a). The debate has been strongly in favour of transparency, apart from the contributions of two hon. Gentleman in the back row—the hon. Members for Shipley (Philip Davies) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) —who have been the only Members to put up any argument against that, albeit unconvincingly.
I have listened to what the Minister has had to say and I have seen the lobbying from the four secondary marketing companies. They have obviously spent a fortune on lobbying and I am sad to say that I heard a lot of their arguments in the Minister’s speech. From their point of view, all the money they have spent on lobbying has worked, but the House is not convinced.
There is demonstrable market failure. When the House, the Select Committee and the then Minister looked at the issue 10 years ago, they said we would need to see such failure before requiring legislation. We have now demonstrated that that market failure exists. I know that the Minister has written, very late in the day, to trading standards. I wrote to trading standards years ago and the response I received was that there was no evidence. Transparency would provide the evidence of what is happening.
The four letters from the secondary marketing companies say, at long last, that they will abide by the regulations that the Minister’s colleague, the right hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), announced last year, but they have already had more than six months to abide by those regulations. I wrote to them to point out that the regulations are now on the statute book, but they have carried on regardless. I have no faith that they will do anything different. That is why we need to legislate. There is cross-party support for that and I hope that Members on both sides of the House will support us in the Lobby. I know that when the Bill goes back to the House of Lords our proposal will have cross-party support, ably led by Lord Moynihan, Lord Clement-Jones and Baroness Grey-Thompson, as well as our own Lord Stevenson. I will push the amendment to the vote.
12 January 2015
The House divided:
Question accordingly negatived.View Details
Motion made, and Question put, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 12.—(Jo Swinson.)
12 January 2015
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Lords amendment 12 disagreed to.
Contracts covered by this Chapter
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
With this we may take Lords amendments 2 to 11 and 13 to 78.
I am delighted that we are bringing the Bill back to the House in such good shape. There was a good debate in the other place and a number of amendments build on and improve the Bill. We listened to concerns in both Houses about consumers being out of pocket if they have to pay to return rejected goods, and as a result we agree that it is sensible to make it clear in the Bill that the trader bears responsibility for the reasonable costs of returning goods that have been rejected by the consumer. That provides clarity and sets a sensible balance between the parties, without causing significant burden to business.
The Bill has always contained a provision that if a consumer exercises the final right to reject, the trader may reduce the refund to take account of the use that the consumer has had of the goods, unless the goods are rejected in the first six months, in which case the general rule is that no deduction may be applied. That is intended to balance the interests of consumers and traders, and for that reason the Bill provides a limited exception to the general six-month rule. However, we understand the concern that that exception could be interpreted too broadly, and in response we have narrowed the exception to address specifically the impact on the motor industry.
The particular nature of motor vehicles may affect the balance between traders’ and consumers’ interests because cars are high-cost items that lose value quickly. They are also complex, so it is more likely that a car will develop two faults in the first six months than, for example, a piece of furniture. The option to make a deduction for use in the first six months is therefore particularly significant for traders in motor vehicles.
The amendments include a power to increase the scope of the exception if appropriate in future. We think that is important, as it is not possible to predict the goods and technologies that may develop. We are conscious of the need to reflect the dynamic nature of digital content. Many forms of digital content are not static products and change over time with updates to software and apps. The Bill provides that the digital content must meet the quality rights—satisfactory quality, being fit for a particular purpose and as described—following an update. We listened to concerns raised in the other place that as originally drafted the requirement could prevent traders from improving digital content or offering flexible products. That outcome would not be good for consumers, so we have clarified that the requirement does not prevent traders from adding new features or enhancing existing features, as long as the original description is still met.
We have amended the provision on digital content that causes damage to a consumer’s device or other digital content. That will allow traders to exclude or restrict their liability under the Bill for damage to the consumer’s device or other digital content, to the extent that it would be fair under the unfair terms provisions in part 2 of the Bill. That provision will apply even to free digital content, specifically when it causes damage and the consumer can show that the trader failed to use reasonable care and skill to prevent the damage occurring. We have clarified the maximum fining penalty that the regulator of premium rate services can impose on non-compliant and rogue operators, and we are making clear that where appropriate and proportionate, the regulator can impose the maximum fine for each contravention of the code. That maximum is £250,000, so in the event of a company making two serious contraventions of the code, the regulator could impose a fine of up to £500,000 if that was considered appropriate and proportionate.
We are determined to tackle the minority of rogue letting agents who offer poor service, and in Committee we added provisions to ensure transparency of letting agent fees, to give consumers the information they want while supporting good letting agents. It is important that that requirement comes into effect as soon as possible to ensure that tenants have certainty over the payments that they make, and for that reason we are putting the enforcement details in the Bill. We are also applying the duty on letting agents to publicise fees in Wales as well as England. That was requested by the Welsh Government and has the added advantage of minimising any cross-border enforcement problems.
Existing legislation requires landlords and letting agents acting on their behalf to protect the tenant’s security deposit. That is the most significant money likely to be held by an agent, but they might hold other money on their client’s behalf, which is why the Government already encourage agents to join client money protection schemes. Public awareness of that is not as high as we would like, so we are also requiring agents to state whether they are a member of a client money protection scheme.
From 1 October last year all letting agents and property managers must belong to one of our three approved redress schemes that provide tenants with an effective way to address complaints. We will now require letting agents to publicise which redress scheme they have joined. Those changes will level the playing field for agents by raising awareness of what best practice looks like, put downward pressure on fees, and provide consumers with the information they need without introducing significant new costs to the sector.
As set out in our 2011 White Paper on higher education, we are providing all higher education students who receive public support with access to external dispute resolution. That reflects the fact that increasingly, new and different providers are offering higher education, not just the traditional university sector, yet only a handful of alternative providers—seven in total—have so far voluntarily joined the Office of the Independent Adjudicator’s complaints handling scheme. We are making it mandatory for alternative providers whose courses are designated for student support to join.
I convey my grateful thanks to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. It published the outcome of its scrutiny on 11 July 2014, and I was delighted to accept its recommendations that the exercise of certain powers in the Bill be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, as reflected in the amendments. We also addressed concerns that current provisions for the appointment of the Competition Appeal Tribunal—or CAT—effectively exclude judges from the Scottish Court of Session or the Northern Ireland High Court. We have now ensured that Lord Chief Justices of England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and the Lord President of the Court of Session, may nominate any suitably qualified individual who is already a judge sitting in a relevant court to be deployed as a CAT chair.
We have improved provision for private actions in competition law. First, we are allowing the Competition and Markets Authority—the CMA—to approve an outline of a voluntary redress scheme, and for the business to create a full scheme afterwards. That is part of a wider Government initiative to promote alternative dispute resolution, and it allows responsible businesses who wish to make redress to those they have wronged an avenue to do so. The amendment allows the CMA to impose conditions necessary to set up a full scheme. If those conditions are not complied with when the full scheme is set up, the CMA can withdraw approval or consider a revised scheme.
We are enabling provision to be made for claimants to incur costs if they apply to have the representative to the action removed but lose the application. That is in line with the wider “loser pays” principle that exists in domestic law, and should deter vexatious applications. The Government recognise that during collective proceedings, not all damages are claimed. Therefore the Bill makes provision that the CAT may award unclaimed damages from opt-out collective action proceedings to a prescribed charity—currently the Access to Justice Foundation. Although the body to receive unclaimed damages may be changed, we are ensuring that it must always be a charity.
The Bill consolidates and simplifies important provisions on investigatory powers of consumer law enforcers, and the Government greatly value the vital work that enforcers such as trading standards do in protecting consumers and legitimate businesses. We now require enforcers to give two days’ written notice for routine inspections, and we have set out clear exemptions to that. We are firmly underlining that provision by putting it beyond doubt that notice need be given only for routine inspections, which is when there is no reason to doubt that the business in question is operating properly without any significant breaches of legislation. We have committed to review the practical effect of the notice requirement within two years of the commencement of the Bill. As a result, we are confident that the powers and safeguards strike the right balance between protecting civil liberties, reducing business burdens, and ensuring effective enforcement, and I invite the House to agree with the amendments.
In the short time available let me say that I think we are looking at a form of alternative dispute resolution this evening, so let me first flag up the positive in terms of the customer service feedback we would like to give to the Government on these Lords amendments: we will be supporting all the Lords amendments. In particular, there are three that are worthy of consideration, following the rule about the six in 10 Britons who believe that politicians should do more in the coming years to help them stay out of financial difficulty.
On Lords amendment 24, regarding nuisance calls, I pay tribute to the long-standing campaigning work of my right hon. Friend the Member for Doncaster Central (Ms Winterton). It is perhaps apposite, as we come towards election time, for the House to make progress on tackling nuisance calls. I know that many constituents will be concerned about them. We therefore welcome the Lords amendment 24. It follows some of the rulings we were trying to make on tackling the problems caused by nuisance calls. Automated calls and texts make life a misery for many, with 71% of landline consumers saying they have received a live marketing call and 63% a recorded marketing message. The Opposition tabled amendments in his House to strengthen issues around consent to receive calls for marketing purposes. We therefore welcome the fact that the Government have accepted the Lords amendments on making caller line identification mandatory for marketing calls. Marketing calls must now show the number from which the call is coming, which will allow consumers to screen and block the calls they do not want to take. That follows what has happened in Germany and France. We look forward to working with the Government on this issue. There is more to do on nuisance calls, but we welcome the amendment and the Government’s agreement to it.
On Lords amendment 77, as a London MP, I disagree with the Minister completely when she says that it is a small minority of letting agents who are causing problems. In my community alone, stories come to me daily about the problems with letting agent fees and the rip-off charges that consumers face. The impact they have on my local community and on the bank balances of my constituents is heartbreaking. I am not alone in seeing those challenges. Studies from organisations such as Shelter show that some tenants are being charged as much £700 before they even set foot in a property, and that charge can often happen on an annual basis.
We welcome that the Government, under pressure from the Opposition to do something about regulating the private rented sector, introduced proposals on Report. However, they still fall short of what we need to do. In particular, we need to learn the lessons from the hon. Lady’s constituency and from Scotland on the impact of banning fees for tenants. We need to recognise that there is a simple conflict of interest: is the letting agent acting for the tenant or the landlord when it charges both of them for the price of a credit check? An agent cannot act for both parties in the same sale. We have put forward proposals to outlaw this form of conflict of interest. I am disappointed that the Government still oppose those measures and I hope we will make progress in tackling the private rented sector. Nevertheless, it is welcome that the Government have recognised that transparency of fees is a start towards the process of recognising just how much people in the private rented sector are being ripped off by agents, and that this is not a fair market as a result.
On private colleges and their access to alternative dispute resolution, Lords amendment 50 reflects perhaps the biggest Pandora’s box that the Bill has opened: the rights of consumers in the public sector. In debating the Bill, the previous Minister, the right hon. Member for Cardiff Central (Jenny Willott), admitted that the law would apply to all contracts covered in the public and private sector where there are agreements in which
“there is a promise to do something in return for a valuable benefit known as consideration.”––[Official Report, Consumer Rights Public Bill Committee, 6 March 2014; c. 517.]
She highlighted that that would be in terms of paying tuition fees, personal care budgets and possibly a number of other areas. We believe it would proffer a whole range of contracts within the public sector. The Minister at the time was confused about whether students would become consumers. I hope that we have now clarified that matter. Certainly, the Government’s acceptance of the amendments on extending the rights to alternative dispute resolution to those who are students of private colleges is welcome, in that it recognises that students paying tuition fees are consumers. However, it is unclear whether the Government have given any meaningful thought to what extending the consumer rights framework to the public sector will mean. We are deeply concerned as a result. We welcome the Government’s adoption of our amendments—I pay tribute to the work done by Baroness Hayter on extending access to the Office of the Independent Adjudicator for Higher Education—but I put on record that we are deeply concerned about this proposed legislation as it moves forward. We hope that the Government will think again, because this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. In our lifetimes, there has not been any other consumer legislation in this way.
On ending conflicts of interest both online and offline, we hope the Minister, in the time she has left in the Department—who knows what will happen after May?—will look again at whether we can do more to protect consumers who are being ripped off.
The Bill has singularly failed to do anything about the personal debt crisis now facing our country. It could have done so much to tackle the rip-off charges we have seen in the consumer credit industry. There are already 9 million people who are over-indebted. That is before any rise in interest rates, which may well happen this year. The Government refuse to do anything to end logbook loans or the scandal of making people in debt pay for the privilege of being assisted out of it, or the mis-selling of debt management. The Government have done little either on alternative dispute resolution. The Government’s proposals would do little to provide a proper system. I draw the attention of the Minister to the comments from the new retail ombudsman, which show the frustration within the industry on these issues. We have put forward proposals to license ombudsmen to finally give real teeth and meaning to the concept of ombudsman. I hope the Minister will look again at this issue. She was away when the issue was first raised, but I hope she will look again at how we can implement the European legislation.
I hope the Minister will also look at public service complaints. It is right that we give people in the public sector clear rights, but those rights need to be enforced. The lack of advice and information in the public sector, the growing evidence that numbers of people in the public sector, particularly vulnerable people, do not complain because of fear of reprisal, and the uniquely different relationship we have to the public sector as both producers and consumers all call for a far more rigorous process than the Bill has allowed for looking at the impact that will have. We may now see students calling to lecturers to say that they did not receive a lecture in a reasonable time frame at a reasonable standard. They will have the right to complain, but it will be those, I would wager, in the law department who will use these rights—they will not be equally distributed.
The Minister may laugh, but what if this happens with personal care budgets? Some vulnerable people may be able to complain, but others will not. There is a risk that, in introducing the Bill without looking at how we ensure that everybody and not just those with sharp elbows can use this legislation, we will increase inequality. The Opposition are keen to see consumer rights extended, but we do not want to do so at the risk of creating some who are more able than others to access their rights. We are therefore not looking for a repeat performance. We believe that when the public adjudicate—they are the ombudsmen after all—they will decide that the failure to act on these very real issues and the opportunities missed mean that the Bill is a faulty product and that nothing less than a complete replacement in May 2015 will do.
I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. She had some well-crafted lines and I disagree with her final remarks, but she raises an important point about information for consumers whether in the public or private sector. My view is clear: passing the Bill to enshrine those rights is not in itself sufficient. It is vital that people know how to use these rights in a practical way. That is why the Department has been working with consumer information bodies such as Citizens Advice and Which?, and retailers and other groups, to try to ensure that there will be sound, straightforward and easy to understand information that will be readily available to consumers, whether at the point of sale or where they have a problem, through a variety of different methods, and whether online or through more traditional means. Consumer confidence, which will underline the improvements in the economy, is crucial and will ensure that this landmark legislation, which the hon. Lady rightly highlights as a once-in-a-generation opportunity, will truly deliver much more confident consumers who are able to enforce their rights. That will help to ensure that the economy benefits and is much stronger.
Three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration of Lords amendments, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83F), That this House agrees with Lords amendment 1.
Question agreed to.
Lords amendment 1 accordingly agreed to.
The Deputy Speaker then put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83F).
Lords amendments 2 to 11 and 13 to 78 agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 24, 38, 39 and 77.
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83H), That a Committee be appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendment;
That Stephen Doughty, Matthew Hancock, Toby Perkins, Mel Stride, and Ian Swales be members of the Committee;
That Matthew Hancock be the Chair of the Committee;
That three be the quorum of the Committee;
That the Committee do withdraw immediately.—(Mel Stride.)
Question agreed to.
Committee to withdraw immediately; reason to be reported and communicated to the Lords.