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House of Lords Hansard
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05 November 2014
Volume 756

Question

Asked by

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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the level of criminal activity related to ticket touting in the United Kingdom.

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My Lords, ticket touting is a criminal offence when tickets are sold for a designated football match. This is set out in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. Arrests for ticket touting are recorded per season. There were 104 such arrests during the 2013-2014 season. Prosecutions are recorded annually, and there were 40 prosecutions in 2013. Your Lordships will be glad to know that 35 of those prosecuted were found guilty and sentenced.

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Will my noble friend confirm the figures from the DCMS following the Olympic Games that there were around 1,000 known professional groups involved in ticket crime? Does she also accept last year’s National Fraud Authority report, which estimated that 2.3 million people fall victim each year to online ticket fraud, resulting in losses of £1.5 billion? Will the Government consider, as a matter of some urgency, providing greater protection for theatre and concert-goers and sports fans?

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My Lords, the Olympics and Paralympics were a fantastic achievement. It took an enormous enforcement effort to police the resale of tickets at that event, which we cannot do for every event. Since my appointment, I have taken a great deal of interest in this issue. I have had meetings with event organisers, including the Rugby Football Union, the England and Wales Cricket Board and UK Music, with online marketplaces and with consumer groups, to hear how the market is working. At present, we have broadly the right balance between consumer protection, with a number of regulations and allowing the market to operate, but I am considering new evidence as it becomes available.

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My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the Olympics. Will she take the opportunity of commending the report from Operation Podium of the Metropolitan Police, which so valuably made a number of recommendations about ticket fraud and abuse? Does she agree with its conclusion that self-regulation is unlikely to be successful, given the current lack of transparency, and unscrupulous practices by some? Is the Consumer Rights Bill not the ideal vehicle for reform in this area?

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My Lords, Parliament has debated this issue for more than 10 hours on the Consumer Rights Bill alone, and we have legislated and produced guidance. New regulations came into force this year in June, which ensure that consumers get the information they need. We have included specific guidance on how the regulations apply to tickets. In terms of the police, consumers are protected by the Fraud Act. Action Fraud is now the single national reporting centre for fraud, and since 1 April, responsibility for that has moved to the City of London Police. They are making good progress.

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My Lords, does the Minister accept the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan?

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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Moynihan brings a great deal of expertise to our discussions. It has been very helpful during the discussions on the Consumer Rights Bill to have his knowledge of this subject. There is an issue, but there are also things being done by the Government to tackle what is wrong and make sure that this is a good market for consumers, and that fraud is not allowed to flourish.

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My Lords, if I understood my noble friend’s original Answer correctly, she told your Lordships that about one-third of those who were arrested for ticket touting at football matches were found guilty. Is that a percentage that my noble friend finds satisfactory?

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My Lords, I should be careful about moving on to the turf of the criminal justice services. What I will say is that this was a narrow question about ticket touting, which is regulated under the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which was specifically set up to help with the terrible problems in football. I think that everyone feels that it has had some success. Clearly, our discussions have been wider, covering what we are doing for the consumers on the general question of ticket touting and how we can make sure that this is a good market, where people can buy tickets and be sure that they are not getting defrauded, while also ensuring that the consumer gets a good deal and can attend sport, the theatre and pop concerts. That is what we all want.

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My Lords, Operation Podium argues, and the Government need to accept, that ticket fraud is usually,

“committed by organised criminal networks … creating legitimate-looking websites, taking payment for event tickets and then failing to supply them.”

That is the fact, but what is perhaps not realised as often is that many people who suffer from that ticket fraud then discover they are also subject to a scam which means that their credit card details are used again and again, so they are doubly hit. What sort of balance does the Minister find in that?

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The noble Lord is right to express concerns but I think the House needs to understand that we have brought in new regulations as recently as June, and we have been working with the online marketplaces so that consumers are protected. The four main resale sites now go way beyond what they used to do. They are refunding or replacing unusable tickets and working with the RFU and all the other sporting bodies to make sure that things are okay. I saw the RFU yesterday and was very impressed by the action it is taking for the 2015 Rugby World Cup in using anti-forgery designs and a ballot system. We have to make progress in the real world, where consumers want to get tickets and attend games and concerts.

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My Lords, will the Minister confirm that the statistics she gave in her original Answer were for England and Wales? What discussions is she having with her counterparts in Scotland—which thankfully is still part of the United Kingdom—about co-operation and exchanging experience?

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My Lords, I have so far not had discussions with Scotland on the Bill but I am very willing to engage and to do so. I thank the noble Lord for raising that excellent point.

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My Lords, perhaps I could ask my noble friend the Minister about secondary selling—that is the posh term for ticket touting, in case people were wondering. Touting nowadays is not carried out on street corners with somebody waving a wodge of tickets in front of you. It is a £1 billion global business. Does the Minister not agree that with this online business, which is taking money out of the game of sport itself, the Government should ensure that the voluntary guidance is being followed?

My noble friend asked for further information. Today, on one of the well known online ticket agency sites, there are 400 tickets listed for the Ashes cricket test match in Cardiff next July. Among those 400, there is not one with any ticket detail. People within the governing bodies of sport and entertainment are looking for a kitemark of assurance that, in future, all ticket purchases will be transparent and responsible.

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My noble friend shares my passion for this subject and for cricket. We are certainly looking at those sorts of details in the discussions that we have been having.