Consideration of Lords message (Order, 28 January)
I must draw the House’s attention to the fact that financial privilege is engaged by Lords amendments 12M and 12S. If the House agrees to those amendments, I shall cause the appropriate entry to be made in the Journal.
I have selected amendment (a) to Lords amendment 12Q, which stands in the name of Philip Davies.
After clause 32
Secondary ticketing platforms
I beg to move, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12J.
With this it will be convenient to debate the following:
Lords amendments 12K to 12P.
Lords amendment 12Q and amendment (a) thereto.
Lords amendments 12R and 12S.
It is a veritable alphabet soup of amendments, Mr Speaker.
On 24 February in the other place, the Government agreed with amendments tabled by Lord Moynihan to introduce light-touch regulation of the online secondary ticketing market, alongside a statutory review of the market. The Bill has therefore returned to us for further consideration. It sets out a simple, modern framework of consumer rights that will promote growth through confident consumers driving innovation and more competitive markets. Consumers, knowing their rights are protected if things go wrong, will have greater confidence to take up new products and switch suppliers, which will help to create a competitive and thriving economy.
The Bill contains important new protections for consumers alongside measures to lower regulatory burdens for business. All this together will make markets work better, which is good for consumers, good for business and therefore good for growth. It will have an impact across all sectors of the economy and address many of the concerns we hear daily in our own constituencies.
Chapter 1 gives consumers a new right to a refund on faulty goods within 30 days. Chapter 2 protects consumers in law for the first time when they buy digital content, while schedule 5 means business will get more notice of routine inspections by trading standards. These represent an important package of reforms that businesses and consumer groups have been waiting for and preparing for. Once the Bill receives Royal Assent, we will alert business to the forthcoming changes well ahead of the Act coming into force.
Since December, there has been one outstanding issue to resolve before the Bill can be sent for Royal Assent—how to address issues in the online secondary ticketing market. This is the market where fans sell tickets they can no longer use to fans who missed out on tickets the first time round. It is a much safer and more convenient environment for fans to buy and sell tickets than dealing with shady individuals in the backstreets around venues.
There are some concerns, however, about how this relatively young market is working, as I explained when we last considered this issue in January. I know that many hon. Members have been following this area very closely, and I appreciate the keen interest in this issue. I know that several members of the all-party parliamentary group and of the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport are in their places today, and I pay tribute to their extensive work on this issue over a number of years.
The Competition and Markets Authority has also been active in this area. I warmly welcome its announcement last week that it has secured further protection for consumers. This work makes an important contribution to our parliamentary debates. To deal with them, there has been general agreement across the House on two central points: we agree on the importance of a safe and secure environment for fans to buy and sell tickets; and we agree on the need for event organisers, the marketplaces themselves and enforcers to play their part in combating fraudulent practices in the resale market.
We were not, however, able to support an amendment made by the House of Lords in November. While that amendment aimed to increase transparency in the market, we were concerned about privacy and unintended consequences for the secondary market. We did not think that that amendment would allow the secondary market to continue to thrive or to be a proportionate and appropriate response to concerns that had been raised. Since December, we have been working intensively with all the relevant stakeholders to see if a compromise could be reached—a compromise that allows fans to resell tickets they cannot use, but one that also tackles some of the known issues in the market.
The Minister in the House of Lords said that the Government were accepting these amendments on the basis that people would still be able to sell on their tickets at any price they could command, and that the sports bodies concerned could not blacklist anybody who decided to do that. Will the Minister confirm that that is the Government’s position and the basis on which they are accepting the amendments?
I am certainly happy to confirm that position. There is already protection in the unfair trading regulations, and any unfair terms can be challenged in law, so they should not be included. There would be many circumstances in which the terms surrounding the cancellation of ticket reselling would be deemed to be unfair. My only caveat would be that, in some circumstances, such terms might be appropriate. If, for example, a particular category of ticket aimed at a particular sector such as a youth audience were sold at a discount and it was important to increase access to such events for a particular group, some restrictions on resale could be justified and the terms deemed to be fair. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will reassured by what I have said.
On 24 February, the other place agreed to add provisions to the Bill to protect consumers in the secondary ticket market. Those addressed the concerns I raised during our last debate and, importantly, they achieved cross-party welcome and support. The provisions cover four main issues. First, they put on a statutory basis the review that I announced here on 12 January. They also give more details on what the review will cover and how it will be conducted. It will be a full review of consumer protection measures in the secondary ticketing market.
As I explained during our last debate, this will be an independent review and it will be presented to Parliament. The review will start this summer and be presented to Parliament within a year of the duty coming into force. The review will look at the current law, including any new provisions, and assess how best to protect consumers. It will be an invaluable opportunity to gather evidence on how the market works and how consumers can best be protected when operating within it.
Secondly, there is a requirement that online ticketing marketplaces report criminal activity on their sites. Where they are aware of such activity—for example, fraud—they must report it to the police and the event organiser. This new requirement addresses an issue many hon. Members raised during the Bill’s passage. There is criminal activity and fraud in this market, as there can be in any market, and we should be concerned about that.
The Minister is being typically kind in giving way. What measures exist to prevent people from setting up online sites offshore, and how would the law apply to an offshore internet site that was selling on tickets in a secondary market?
The hon. Gentleman has identified challenges that exist in regulation of all kinds that applies to the internet and to foreign sites and companies. I do not think that those challenges can be the basis for an argument against trying to make the market fairer. We have built a consensus with the key players in the industry, and have arrived at proposals that they believe to be workable. We have a secondary ticketing market that works very successfully for many consumers in this country, and because there are existing, established providers, it is unlikely that there will be a sudden exodus of tickets to sites abroad. Consumers will also be aware of the protections from which they benefit when using sites in the United Kingdom. The legislation will cover sites with which they are already familiar.
There is no benefit in making crimes “doubly” illegal, but it is important for us to improve reporting and enforcement, and the new requirement to report fraud will help in that regard.
The final two changes that we are making address the issues of transparency and consumer protection directly. To improve transparency, those who sell tickets online must give buyers some basic information. That information, when applicable, consists of the face value of the ticket, the seat number, and any restrictions relating to the person who can use the ticket. When those in the secondary market, event organisers or certain other connected persons are selling the tickets themselves, they must make that clear. The provision is complementary to, and supplements, existing law. It ensures that buyers will be given some of the most important information that they will need in order to make an informed choice.
Crucially, the list of information that must be provided does not include the name of the individual seller, so individual consumers will not have to give their names when they sell online. As was pointed out when we considered the earlier amendments in January, that is an important way of protecting sellers from identity theft. We are providing a finite list of the most important pieces of information that a consumer will need to make an informed purchasing decision, thus ensuring that there is compliance with relevant EU law.
I know that some Members—including the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—fear that the new information will allow event organisers to cancel tickets or blacklist sellers. That might, of course, be unfair on fans, and give those event organisers unfair control of the market. We share those Members’ concern, which is why our provisions build in consumer safeguards. An event organiser will not be able to cancel a ticket or blacklist a seller merely because the ticket is resold or offered for resale, unless there is a term in the original sales contract that allows for that, and, perhaps more important, the term itself is fair. Terms that prohibit resale are not always fair, and those that are not fair do not bind the consumer. Similarly, terms that seek to prohibit resale at or above a particular price are not always fair, and not always binding on the consumer.
The combination of transparency and consumer safeguards will allow the secondary market to flourish. It will ensure that no one, including event organisers, has a monopoly on resales, or an unfettered ability to set prices in the secondary market. The new system of light-touch regulation will make buyers and sellers confident about using the market. It will make the market more dynamic, and will benefit consumers further by creating competition in relation to price and quality of service. The review that I mentioned earlier will ensure that that outcome materialises in practice. If other issues arise, or if the new legislation has any unintended consequences, the review will pick that up.
The hon. Member for Shipley has shown great interest in the Bill, and has brought a great deal of energy to our debates.
Is that a compliment?
It is indeed a compliment, and I hope that the hon. Gentleman takes it as one.
If the hon. Gentleman’s amendment were passed, chapter 3B would cease to apply two years after coming into force. The Government share his fear that regulation of the resale market could threaten the current online ticket marketplaces. That is why chapter 3B makes it clear that tickets cannot be cancelled or their sellers blacklisted merely because the tickets are offered for resale, unless certain strict conditions are met. The consumer protection that amendment 12Q seeks to introduce is already part of these provisions. Striking this down after two years would neither help nor protect consumers.
The Government have set great store by the review they are going to carry out after the election and after the legislation has been introduced. Surely a sunset clause of two years will give that review much more power, because it will mean that by the end of the review the Government will have to make specific proposals to implement its recommendations, rather than just a review taking place and dying?
My hon. Friend clearly takes that view. However, I think that two years after the legislation has come into force is not very long at all. It would be very shortly after the review had concluded and the Government had issued their response. Indeed this would already have pre-empted the outcome of the review by saying it should be sunsetted, because if the review finds that the new provisions are working well, it will be required to take action to make that continue. The review might recommend removal of the provisions, but in that scenario we would also want the benefit of the advice on the best timing in which to do so, rather than some arbitrary date being imposed. However, what I would say to reassure my hon. Friend is that if such action was required as a result of the review, the Government could use primary legislation to repeal chapter 3B without needing a sunset clause.
Finally on amendment 12Q, we should take a step back and look at how it could impact on the market. I am sure I do not need to remind this House of the disruption caused by changing the law too often. Changes and reforms are necessary and important, but there are costs to business in implementing a new regime, and to have it repealed wholesale after two years would incur significant costs.
We must also consider the major events we host in this country. Amendment 12Q would mean that fans of some such events benefit from the new regime, but others do not. For example, fans buying and selling tickets for events such as the world athletics championship in 2017, possibly the biggest athletics event we will have hosted since the Olympics, would lose out. That would not be fair on those fans.
In conclusion, we believe the provisions agreed in the other place create a proportionate, light-touch regime to protect consumers and the secondary market. I encourage Members to support them and allow this important Bill to move to Royal Assent.
I am delighted that this issue has now come back to this place, as we have always believed that the Consumer Rights Bill gives an opportunity to provide real protection against rip-off practices, particularly in the secondary ticketing market.
We all know that healthy, fair and competitive markets are vital to building an economy that works for both consumers and businesses. We also know that well-informed consumers make for better customers and better-informed citizens get better outcomes in dealing with both the public and private sector. Ticket touting is a classic example of a market where a group of traders are colluding to restrict supply and so push up prices, ripping off consumers by overcharging them and as a result shattering the dreams of many fans. We have argued this throughout the passage of the Bill and, while we are pleased that Ministers are now in agreement, they have been dragged here kicking and screaming to make these changes.
I was delighted that in the last sentence of her speech the Minister agreed with the Lords amendments, but it has taken her three years to do so. That sums up this Administration. They rail against good ideas from Opposition Members, charities, non-governmental organisations, trade bodies, trade unions, the public and others, and then they are eventually embarrassed into having to bring forward the very provisions they have railed against. We have witnessed that with regularity, first on allowing the Groceries Code Adjudicator to fine people, and also on giving tied landlords a better deal with pubcos and better enforcement of the national minimum wage to name just a few, and they even had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do something about zero-hours contracts.
Now we have the secondary ticketing issue, where the Minister and the Government are arguing against their views of just a few weeks ago. On 21 January 2011 the Culture Secretary told Parliament:
“Ticket resellers act like classic entrepreneurs”
and that concerns about touting represented
“the chattering middle classes and champagne socialists”.—[Official Report, 21 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 1186, 1187.]
That is obviously not the case now.
On Friday 6 February 2015 the Daily Mirror quoted the Culture Secretary as saying unscrupulous websites have every right to hoover up sought-after tickets for football matches and pop concerts and flog them at five or 10 times the asking price. He said:
“There’s nothing wrong with a healthy second market”
and went on to say
“I don't have any problem with it.”
He obviously does now.
On 12 January 2015, the Minister herself argued:
“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?”—[Official Report, 12 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 661.]
She obviously thinks that that is now okay, just a few short weeks later.
Labour MPs have been campaigning on this issue for several years, and have supported amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill right from the start of its progress through this place, but it has taken the Government more than a year—during which time they lost one vote and voted against the measures on three occasions—to admit that they were wrong.
I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). When, in future, people buy tickets on the secondary market to attend that cup final they have always dreamed of—just a dream for many of us—or for that concert by the band they always wanted to see or that festival on their bucket list, they will be able to thank her for her courage and perseverance in getting us here today and for her role as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. Her co-chair, the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), also deserves a great deal of credit for the way in which he has cajoled his colleagues to come this far and brought his considerable experience of the industry to this place. I wish him well in pastures new after he steps down at the general election. The all-party group recommended
“greater transparency in the secondary market, in particular on whether the seller is a professional or occasional seller, and what the face value and individual characteristics of the ticket are.”
This is a huge issue, as the secondary ticketing market in the UK is valued at more than £1 billion a year. We must protect consumers in that marketplace, and that is why we have pressed so hard for these amendments. Let us look at two recent examples of why the measures are needed. In November 2013 there was outcry after all 20,000 tickets for Monty Python’s reunion performance sold out in three quarters of a minute, only to reappear on secondary ticketing websites at more than 15 times their face value. That was not the work of the Messiah; it was the work of a very naughty boy. High-profile concerts by the Stone Roses at Heaton Park in July 2012—I think my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr Wright) went to all of them—were being advertised on secondary ticketing websites for more than £1,000 after tickets had sold out, having had an original face value of just £55.
The Government amendments, although late and forced, are very welcome. We agree with the new clause creating a duty to provide information about tickets. This covers the information that sellers of secondary tickets will now have to provide when reselling tickets. That information includes the seat number, or detailed location if the event is standing only, and any additional restrictions on the use of the ticket. For example, information will have to be given on whether the seat has a restricted view—I am sure we have all ended up in restricted view seats; perhaps I do so because I go for the cheap seats—or whether admittance is restricted to over-18s.
The information will also have to include the face value of the ticket and the original selling price, and state whether the seller is employed by or linked to either a secondary seller’s site or an event organiser. On 12 January, the Minister spoke against the notion of transparency, but it is difficult to see how the proposal now being put forward by the Government, agreeing with the Lords amendments, overcomes her previous concerns.
We agree with the new clause on the prohibition on cancellation or blacklisting tickets. This will mean that event organisers will not be able to cancel tickets arbitrarily just because they are being resold. When we debated this matter on 12 January—a date that will no doubt be etched on the Minister’s mind—a similar amendment was tabled by the Opposition to protect fans from being unable to sell their tickets on. The Minister said that she could not support the amendment, yet the Government have now backed an amendment on the exactly same issue.
We also agree with the new clause providing for a duty to report criminal activity. This places a duty on the secondary ticketing websites to report it to the police when they discover that a seller is using the site to commit fraud. We have significant concerns, however, that the measures will not be properly enforced, given that we have heard recently from the Trading Standards Institute that trading standards departments have been cut by an average of 40% since 2010.
We agree with the new clause creating a duty to review measures relating to secondary ticketing. There must be a statutory review of the consumer issues in the secondary market within 12 months of the Act coming into force, as the market moves so quickly. This will offer an opportunity to review whether the requirement for companies to provide more information about the tickets being sold has enabled action to be taken to tackle ticket touts.
There are a number of things that we want the Government to do in any such review. Having said that, it will probably be my hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow (Stella Creasy) sitting on the Government Benches and taking these matters forward after 7 May, but I will put these points on the record none the less. The review should consider: the enforcement of consumer regulations; online software—the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) mentioned enforcement for companies based outside the UK—especially the kind that can hoover up large volumes of tickets in a short space of time and push up prices; tickets that never reach primary markets; lost tax revenue to the Treasury; and additional charges.
We have seen the Competition and Markets Authority take action on additional charges, but they still seem excessive. Lastly, we would like that review also to examine collusion, as there is widespread concern that some “secondary ticket sales” are actually event organisers seeking to use these sites to sell tickets at higher prices without being accountable to fans for doing so. We hope that the review will examine such issues.
We very much welcome the Government U-turn on this issue but just wish it had happened a lot sooner. As for the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), does he not want to stand on the side of his constituents who are being ripped off by secondary ticket sites? Perhaps it would have been better if his amendment had introduced a sunset clause on this Government, meaning that they expired five years after their introduction—perhaps that is what we should do on 7 May.
We have managed to get to a position where we can protect consumers when they buy tickets on the secondary market. Be it a ticket for a popular west end show bought as an anniversary present, a ticket for your beloved Arsenal or for my club, the famous Heart of Midlothian football club, a ticket for a sold out One Direction concert—do they actually sell out?—or a ticket for an iconic sporting event such as Wimbledon, we can now buy our secondary tickets with confidence, protection and transparency. That is why we agree with the Lords amendments.
It is difficult to know where to start, but I shall begin by saying that there was one thing on which I very much agreed with the hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray), which was when he said at the start that the Government had in effect done a massive U-turn—they clearly have. My colleagues ought to be aware that in a few minutes’ time, or whenever it may be, they will be encouraged by the Minister to vote for something that they have twice been invited to vote against. I should say to the hon. Gentleman that if his party is lucky enough to be in a position to put a coalition together after the election and he is thus thrashing around for coalition partners, he will have seen at first hand what happens in coalition with the Lib Dems: they find it easy to change their view on something within a few weeks, and usually it does not take them that long.
On changing minds, perhaps the hon. Gentleman should look closer to home, as the Prime Minister seems to have changed his mind about TV debates.
You would rule me out of order if we got into a slanging match about TV debates, Mr Speaker. The hon. Gentleman is an affable chap and I am happy to have a cup of tea with him afterwards so we can discuss the merits of the TV debates. I do not think this is the right venue for such a discussion, as I would rightly be ruled out of order if I were to go down that route. I knew it was a mistake to give way to him.
Once upon a time, as you will recall, Mr Speaker, the Conservative party used to believe in the free market. It appears to be an increasingly alien concept these days, but I am wedded to the idea and I always thought it was what the Conservative party believed in. I am talking about the idea that if someone owned some property, they were free to sell it on to somebody at a price they were happy to sell it for and others were happy to pay. That is the whole essence of the free market, and it happens with every possible thing we can ever buy, including houses—they are in short supply at the moment too, with much more demand than supply. But I worry that Government Members seem to have given up completely on the free market.
I am happy to give way to someone who never believed in the free market.
Indeed; the hon. Gentleman has a point. The free market operates where supply can actually be increased. Where there is a limited supply, the price simply increases and people are exploited.
I am interested in what the hon. Gentleman says. I do not want to rehearse all the arguments we have had in the past, but what we are talking about does not just happen with tickets. For example, limited edition products are sold all the time—there is a limited number of them. When a painting is sold, there is just one and the demand for it may well outstrip the supply. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that wherever demand outstrips supply and the supply cannot be increased, nobody should ever be able to make a profit? That may well be the policy the Labour party is arriving at: nobody is ever allowed to make a profit. That is a perfectly respectable position for the hon. Gentleman to hold, and he holds his positions consistently, and with great vigour, honour and determination. I do not blame those in the Labour party for being in favour of these kind of restrictions: because they are socialists, they do not want people to make a profit and they want to regulate every aspect of people’s lives. That is fair enough; I respect them for that, although I do not like it. What I object to is the fact that Conservative Members are being asked to give up on the free market.
I always have great respect for anything the hon. Gentleman has to say. I have to tell him that the UK Independence party has adopted the free market mantle now, as his party has gradually eschewed it.
The hon. Gentleman kindly said that he had a great deal of respect for what I had to say, which is certainly more than can be said for most people on the Government Benches, so I am very grateful to him for that kind comment. It probably will not do much for his reputation within his party, but I am grateful for it, because I have a great deal of respect for him, too.
I believe in the free market and am not ashamed of doing so. I believe it acts in the best interests of the consumer. The hon. Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) said he was surprised that I was not standing up for my constituents as consumers, but I am. I believe in the free market; I believe that people should have the right to sell on their ticket if they buy one and then find that they cannot go to the event or that somebody else is prepared to pay a higher price for it. I will happily take my chances with my electorate at the general election, to see whether they are happy that I look after their interests, just as he will put his record before his electorate at the general election—we shall see how we both get on.
The Minister glossed over the fact that the Government have done a complete U-turn on this issue. I do not know whether she is embarrassed about that or not, but I would be if I were in her shoes.
I am surprised to hear about the extent of the U-turn. Can my hon. Friend explain why there has been such a U-turn? Surely the Government are normally consistent—or try to be consistent—from one week to the next.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on keeping a straight face when he said that, but it is not for me to explain it. I have certainly kept my position consistent, and I have to congratulate the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport on maintaining a consistent position on these issues. I can only presume that the interference of our Liberal Democrat coalition friends in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has led to this about-turn.
We have an issue here, because the Minister seems to be arguing that nobody in the secondary market has anything to worry about and that their industry is going to thrive, prosper and flourish, yet all the sporting bodies and events organisers, and some of our hon. Friends, are cock-a-hoop about this. They are not cock-a-hoop because they think the secondary ticketing market is going to thrive and prosper as a result of this Lords amendment being accepted; they are cock-a-hoop because they think the exact opposite will happen. I have to congratulate the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who has been very persistent on this issue, and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley). They obviously knew what they were dealing with in Liberal Democrat Ministers; they knew that they were always in the game for a U-turn whenever the Lib Dems were involved, and I congratulate them on their industry and initiative in that regard.
The question nobody has asked is why are the sporting bodies and events organisers so keen for the full details of the ticket—the row number, the section number, the ticket number, the seat number and the whole lot—to be published online? Let me give hon. Members the answer. They are so desperate to have that information so that they can see who bought the ticket, cancel the ticket if it gets sold on to somebody else, blacklist the person involved and prevent them from ever buying a ticket in the future. The only reason they want this information is so that they can use that information to stop this market.
The Government have said that these bodies will not be able to do that—the law will say they cannot do that—but I would like to know from the Minister who is going to police that? When somebody turns up to an event with a ticket bought from a secondary ticketing site and the event organiser says, “Sorry, I’m not going to let you in. We don’t like the look of that ticket. We saw it in the secondary ticketing industry”, who is going to be there from the Government to say, “No, this chap should be allowed into this event”? Nobody will be there. That person will be sent away and never get to see the event they wanted to see—the Government will have let them down. Even if the person went to court and won the case, they would still have not got to the event they particularly wanted to see. It is an absolute con if consumers think this will protect their interests when they buy a ticket from the secondary market. The sporting bodies know it and the hon. Members here who have been agitating for this measure know it, and that is why the sporting bodies and the events organisers are so keen to have this information. The Minister says that people cannot be blacklisted, but who is going to police that? Who is going to stop it? What resources are the Government putting in to make sure that does not happen? The answer is none. Basically, there are just warm words. The Government are repeating what they did on immigration, which is making a promise that they know they are in no position to keep. It is that kind of thing that brings politics into disrepute.
The Minister said that consumers could now have confidence in the market, but where is the evidence that consumers do not have confidence in the secondary ticketing market? Consumers have confidence in the secondary ticketing market, but the sporting bodies and the big event organisers do not. If people did not have confidence in it, they would not be buying tickets there in the first place. The problem for these big bodies and these multi-millionaire music organisers is that too many people do have confidence in the secondary ticketing market, which is why they want to damage it. That is why we should reject these Lords amendments this evening.
What will happen is exactly what I predicted in an intervention on the Minister. We have a successful online secondary ticketing industry in this country. Lots of people are employed in it and it works very well. When the regulations come in and the things that I describe happen, the companies will have no alternative but to up sticks and locate themselves in a foreign jurisdiction, taking their jobs with them. They will set up their sites and advertise their tickets in offshore territories around the world. It will make absolutely no difference to the consumer. In fact, as the Minister said, it will weaken the consumer protection that we currently have in the secondary ticketing market and it will make absolutely no difference to people selling on their tickets at a profit. This is just a job export scheme from a successful industry in this country for no good reason at all. It is an absolute travesty that the Government are giving in on this particular issue.
Amendment (a) would introduce a sunset clause to the Bill. A few weeks ago in a parliamentary question, I asked how many Government Bills had contained sunset clauses in recent years. I am pleased to say that hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of legislation have contained sunset clauses. The Government are quite happy to put sunset clauses in legislation. In fact, we should have more sunset clauses in legislation to see how the provisions work in practice.
There is a huge divergence of opinion over the impact of the legislation. The Minister says that the secondary market will flourish and expand, that everything will be fine and dandy and that nothing will change. The sporting bodies, music event organisers and secondary ticketing market do not agree. Undoubtedly, we will end up with some kind of court case to determine what terms and conditions are fair or unfair. Who will decide that? It will not be this House; it will be unelected judges, and all because the Government do not have the guts to put in the Bill what they consider to be fair or unfair.
When those court decisions are reached, surely this House and the House of Lords should revisit the issue to see whether everybody’s intentions have been met. The Government said that they will review the industry after this legislation comes into effect, but we all know that that is the old civil service talk for kicking it into touch or the long grass. That promise is designed just to get us over this debate. Afterwards, it will be, “Well, we won’t worry about that review.” It will just end up in the quicksand somewhere. Everybody knows what happens with these so-called reviews: they die a death and nothing ever happens. My amendment would ensure that that review was meaningful, that something positive would come out of this, and that we could start again.
This legislation is a fundamental infringement of the free market. Whether or not people agree with the Lords amendment, we are making a very big change. We have barely any time to debate it. It was not debated on Third Reading, because it was not even in the Bill. It is most unsatisfactory to pass serious legislation in this way. Before this amendment, I supported this legislation. I have voted for a Bill that now contains something I would have voted against. I have no opportunity to say that I do not agree with this particular Bill. That cannot be the way to pass important legislation. A sunset clause would allow us to come back to this matter properly in two years’ time, and to start afresh with a Government Bill in which everything is debated properly right from the word go.
Will my hon. Friend give me some idea of how much damage might be done to the industry during a two-year phase?
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. The Minister argued that two years was very short. In two years’ time, the whole industry could have upped sticks and gone abroad. It may well be that my two-year sunset clause is too long. I will happily be chastised for that, but I thought it was important that we put a line in the sand. I thought that two years would give us a reasonable time to see how the legislation worked with different tournaments and different music events. It is ample time for people to consider the effects. If those people who are in favour of the Lords amendments are so confident in their arguments, they have nothing to fear from a sunset clause. If everything is fine and dandy and none of my fears comes to fruition, the Government will happily reintroduce the legislation and it will sail through because it has been shown to have worked. They do not like the sunset clause because they know that the point I am making is the real agenda behind this Bill, and they do not want to be rumbled.
Once the Bill is on the statute book, the Government think that that will be it and nobody will bother or have the courage to revisit it, and I suspect that they are right. That is why I have tabled my amendment. I understand that there may be some difficulty in having a vote on it, even though it is sensible, and I am sorry that the Government have refused to accept it. This is an unfair and unnecessary intrusion into the free market. Who knows what consequences will flow from this legislation? I shall urge my colleagues to do what they have done twice in recent times already, and vote down the Lords amendment. I shall be interested to see how many of my colleagues vote for something that they have happily voted against in recent weeks and how, as a general election is coming, they will justify their action to their constituents. I shall happily be able to tell my constituents that I stuck to my guns, that I did not change my mind and that that is why I do not want to be in coalition with these wishy-washy Liberal Democrats any more.
As many in the House are aware, I have been interested in the secondary ticketing market for many years now, and, alongside the hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley), I have co-chaired the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse, the report of which spearheaded the former amendments to those we are debating today.
It is my long-standing belief that for a long time things have needed to change in the sector, as more and more fans are being ripped off and exploited by unscrupulous touts, and ordinary people are being priced out of seeing the artists, shows, or teams that they love. The full extent of the problem was clear last week when the Competition and Markets Authority, after consulting the major ticket re-sellers, published a new code of conduct—an agreement for which the CMA was happy to take all the credit, somewhat ignoring all the hard work and campaigning over many years of Members, peers and other industry bodies, and on which we are now legislating.
However, that small gripe aside, on the very same day that the new code of conduct was announced, a person could go on some of those companies’ websites and find tickets, guaranteed, for the upcoming boxing match between Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao in Las Vegas. On one site, the cheapest came in at just under £4,000, and the most expensive floor seats at more than £32,000. That was despite the fact that last week there were no official tickets yet on sale and original ticket prices had not even been agreed. That is a ludicrous situation which leaves the public totally misinformed about the marketplace and serves only further to inflate prices when the tickets become available.
Does the hon. Lady agree that it was bizarre that the CMA came out with guidance only days before Parliament was debating the issue and passing laws in this House? It seemed almost to usurp what we are doing.
I totally agree. As I have mentioned, I was surprised that in the press coverage the CMA was taking all the credit for the new measures given that Parliament has been pushing for this in both Houses. As the new authority, which is replacing the OFT, has now agreed with Parliament, the CMA should perhaps have mentioned that fact in some of its press coverage.
Sadly, the example I have given is one of many hundreds of thousands that routinely happen every day. It is only through measures such as the Lords amendment that we can hope to tackle the worst excesses of the industry and put the genuine fans first.
Let me be clear that the argument and the fight have never been about stopping the resale of tickets. The legitimate resale of tickets is not the problem and those who have claimed that clamping down on ticket touts and increasing transparency will harm true fans know very little about the problems and even less about what needs to be done to address them. Greater transparency is never a problem for a market operating properly and it is only in the interests of illegal ticket touts to sit back and do nothing to change the law. Others say that this is a licence for event organisers to cancel tickets, but the amendment clearly sets out that event organisers cannot cancel tickets simply because they have been resold, and can do so only in very specific circumstances. I am glad that that safeguard is in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) has tabled a characteristically unhelpful amendment that would insert a sunset clause for the provision—an act that is as misguided as it is obstructive. I know that the Opposition will vote against it and I am sure that the Government will too, as it is our intention to work on behalf of the fans and not the touts. Any further debate on that point gives it merit that it simply does not deserve.
Before I consider the specifics of the amendments proposed in the other place, let me praise Lord Moynihan for his diligent cross-party work and for succeeding in achieving such an important step towards strengthening the regulations in the sector. As a former Sports Minister, he knew first hand how pernicious the practice is. It has been an extremely productive experience working with him, as it has been with many other colleagues in both Houses who care just as passionately about the rights of fans as he, the hon. Member for Hove as my co-chair on the all-party group, the members of the all-party group and I do. I know that Lord Moynihan worked tirelessly over the last recess to secure a compromise with Ministers across two Departments—a feat few could accomplish—and event goers and fans across the country owe him a debt of gratitude for the amendment.
As has been said, the amendment will do three key things to help stop the exploitation of fans. First, it will boost transparency, as from the time the Bill is enacted, ticket resellers will have to provide a seat number, any restrictions or limits on the ticket and the original face value of the ticket to all those they hope to sell it to. That will give fans far more knowledge about what they are buying and will give event managers more information about the tickets that are being resold.
Secondly, the amendment will place a duty on ticket resellers to report criminal activity if they suspect it, making the enforcement of the law much more proactive and effective and discouraging the secondary market platforms from turning a blind eye and letting the worst excesses of these practices continue.
Finally and crucially, the amendment compels the Secretary of State to review measures relating to the industry in a report to Parliament after 12 months, and that is what I would like to use the remaining time to speak about. The improvements in the amendment are a crucial first step, but they do not solve all the problems we can see in the sector. The review process will be absolutely vital in taking representations from the industry and making proposals that can build on the legislation and get to the heart of what is wrong with how things operate.
There is much that needs to be considered in the review, but I shall limit myself to a couple of key points that must be investigated if we are ever properly to understand why the problem is so persistent and deep-rooted. The first is the speed at which secondary ticketing sites get access to tickets in the first place. Secondary ticketing platforms can have hundreds if not thousands of tickets on their sites and ready to be sold within minutes of their first going on general release and in some cases even before they have gone on sale. How can that happen without sophisticated software, such as bots, harvesting them, without certain so-called power sellers working alongside the platforms to get tickets on their behalf or without inside trading, such as behind-the-scenes deals in which premium tickets are not sold on the primary market but given straight to the secondary market to be sold at huge mark-ups?
Does my hon. Friend agree that in some circumstances those people never have tickets in the first place but are chancing their arm to see whether they could get inflated prices?
I agree. Sometimes they are following through on a fraudulent transaction and sometimes the listing is speculative, as they might try to get a ticket later and want to see how much they can sell it for.
Given that there is no lawful way to harvest large numbers of tickets and that behind-the-scenes deals are at best duplicitous and immoral, we must ask just how the situation can take place and continue. Further to that point, if the tickets showing on the system have not been acquired, how can the sellers guarantee their sale on their sites? An investigation of those guarantees must be central to the review, because if that approach is found to be misleading, it would directly go against consumer rights, which are of course the entire purpose of the Bill. One way the all-party group on ticket abuse thought of to solve that would be to publish the seller’s identity when reselling tickets. I am sure that that will also be considered in the review.
The duty under the new amendment to report criminal activity is welcome, but we must also ask why past instances of criminality have been so largely unreported in the sector, even when the secondary platforms have been the victims and have had to pay out large sums in compensation. Has that been seen simply as collateral damage? It cannot be a continued coincidence and questions must be asked in the review.
In conclusion, the review is crucial and much needed and will have to be handled carefully and expertly so that we understand how best further to protect the public. That is why the choice of chair is so important. The marketplace is so complicated that it will need somebody who understands it but who is fair minded enough to listen and engage with all parties while keeping the rights of the fans at the heart of the entire process. If I may be so bold as to venture a suggestion, I think that my all-party group co-chair, the hon. Member for Hove, would be an ideal candidate to take up the challenge after he leaves Parliament. I do not know what his plans are—he might be hoping to travel the world and have a normal life for a while—but I can think of no one better. Whoever is chosen, however, I am confident that they will ensure that the right questions are asked, the right leads are pursued and the right outcome is achieved so that at last we can be sure that the market will put fans first.
It is an honour to follow my co-chair on the all-party group, the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). The amendment is the culmination of four years of hard campaigning and it is a little ironic that we have only about two minutes to squeeze in all our comments. I will not go through all the points that have been made so admirably by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) and the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West, as there is no point in doing so, other than to say that the bots have made the free market untenable and something needs to change.
I want to make two particular points. The first is about the review, which is crucial. I thought at first that that would be like kicking the issue into the long grass, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said, but it is an essential part of the reforms. The critics of the reforms are screaming about the potential problems, as we have heard, whereas those who want more action are screaming that more should be done. That is a lot of shouting, but time will tell and the review, which will report in a relatively short period of time in parliamentary terms, will closely consider both claims and at last come up with a proper analysis and recommendations.
The legislation specifically states that terms and conditions need to be fair, and making sure that they are fair must be part of the review. The terms and conditions that event organisers attach to tickets are there to protect fans—not to take advantage of them, as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley indicated they might be. Where fans have bought tickets for genuine use, and have a genuine reason for resale—that is, where they have bought tickets not just to make a profit—I am fully behind their ability to resell. I will make sure that that is a fundamental principle in the review. Equally, I will make sure that the insertion of “fair terms” in the amendment is not the secondary ticketing industry’s way of undermining all these changes to the law. I am pleased that groups such as the Sport and Recreation Alliance, the England and Wales Cricket Board and the Rugby Football Union are fully behind the amendments.
As with all compromises, neither side is fully happy with the solution, but on balance, this is a good step in the right direction. The review will be key. With this review, the UK, with its rich cultural heritage and world-leading position, will once again be the focus of world attention. I suspect that the review will act as a blueprint for many countries around the world—both those that have enacted secondary ticketing legislation, and those considering doing so.
The hon. Gentleman has put so much effort into ensuring that we got to this point today. Will he, with his experience of the industry, say what he would like the conclusions of the review to look like? What questions should be asked to make sure that the secondary ticketing market works best for both consumers and businesses?
I thank the shadow Minister for his intervention. The review must be balanced. Obviously, I am pushing for more regulation, because I feel that the free market has fallen down, but we should consider experiences around the world. There are states in America that have repealed secondary ticketing laws, and we need to look at why. Was it because the legislation was badly drafted? Norway and Denmark have laws under which tickets cannot be sold above face value, but they have never been enacted. Is that because, as someone mentioned, trading standards teams do not have enough teeth to implement such measures? All of that needs to be in the review; that is absolutely essential. There are so many aspects to the review that it will be quite an exciting one.
To summarise, and to misquote E.M. Forster on democracy, two cheers for the amendment, but not quite three. However, I am really pleased that we will enact this law before the end of this Parliament, and before I step down. This is very much a good step forward.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) on their tireless work on this issue. They should be pleased with the outcome that they have managed to achieve. I want to address two points that came up in the debate. The first was the question, “Why now?”, and the second was about the CMA.
On the question of why now, my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) seemed to suggest that we had voted for something and will now be voting against it, or some such thing. The amendments that we are considering differ in two respects from the ones that we considered in January. First, on privacy, the amendments in January stipulated that the name of those selling tickets would have to be a piece of information that was made transparent. We thought that there were privacy concerns about that. Secondly, there were concerns about compliance with EU law—the technical standards directive—and that could unfortunately have rendered all the provisions unenforceable. That was because of the de facto price cap in the amendment put forward by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West. For those reasons, although we understood the concerns brought forward, we could not accept the amendments in January. Of course, those concerns have now been addressed; that is why we are able to accept the Lords amendments today.
Last week’s announcement by the CMA has been mentioned. The CMA in no way sought to usurp the work done in this House. It had done a long-running piece of enforcement work against four sites. The announcement covered the transparency elements of amendment 12J, but the amendment puts things on a statutory footing and should be very welcome.
The CMA does, of course, have significant power. To address the concern raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, it would be able to stop an organiser cancelling tickets. The CMA has shown that it is willing to act in this market should there be any concern that tickets were being cancelled, and I am sure that it would be happy to do so in future. On the international point, as the provisions apply to marketplaces and sellers targeting the UK, enforcement action can take place elsewhere. Indeed, the CMA recently pursued successful enforcement action against several websites, including viagogo, which is of course based in Switzerland. That shows that we have the enforcement to back up these consumer protections, which are proportionate, and which do not give rise to the privacy concerns that we had before. They will help to make sure that the secondary market can genuinely thrive and work better for consumers.
Question put, That this House agrees with Lords amendment 12J.
9 March 2015
The House divided:
Question accordingly agreed to.View Details
Lords amendment 12J agreed to.
More than one hour having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the Lords message, the Deputy Speaker put the remaining question to be decided at that hour.
Remaining Lords amendments agreed to, with Commons financial privileges waived in respect of Lords amendments 12M and 12S.