Skip to main content

Waterson Review

Volume 776: debated on Wednesday 23 November 2016


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when their response to the Waterson review of secondary ticketing will be published.

Professor Michael Waterson’s independent report on consumer protection measures applying to online secondary ticketing makes a number of recommendations which deserve to be fully considered by all those concerned with ticketing, live entertainment and law enforcement. The new Government are taking time to look very closely at the recommendations and will publish a response in due course.

I thank the Minister for that response. What would be her response to somebody who discovers that they have purchased the wrong ticket, when the Government have yet to implement the Act in question?

The Act has of course come into force and there have been prosecutions on ticketing, although they are often made through fraud law rather than consumer law. The advice I would give to consumers is to get in touch with the excellent Citizens Advice service. If they have evidence of fraud they should contact Action Fraud, and there is also the possibility of trading standards taking action. One of Professor Waterson’s recommendations is that more work should be done on that.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that modern-day touts who use bots in the form of software that stores hundreds of credit card accounts and can instantly sweep the market of tickets the moment they go on sale, only to reappear half an hour later through their colleagues on the secondary market at highly inflated prices, corrupts the market and denies the true fans of sport and musical events the opportunity to buy tickets? These touts should be subject to legislative action by the Government through the Digital Economy Bill.

As always, my noble friend makes some powerful points. He will be glad to know that the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has asked for a round table to be held with the industry on this matter next week, on 30 November, in order to bring together all the interested parties to look at the issue of bots following very useful discussions on the Digital Economy Bill.

My Lord, the Minister told me in May this year that the response to Waterson would be coming in due course but we are still being given the same answer. Meanwhile, the law, passed in this House and elsewhere, is being flouted. Justin Bieber tickets on sale at £70 can be bought for £1,600, while a £127 rugby ticket is selling at £1,250. None of these people are keeping to the law because they are not giving the information. Given the Government’s very welcome ban on letting agents charging tenants fees, will the Minister take similar action to deal with ticket touts?

I have already explained that we are looking at the problem of bots, which has delayed the formal response to the report, but of course, we published the report straightaway and action is beginning to be taken. I do not recommend that consumers pay such prices. The report makes it clear that there is also a duty on the part of primary ticket sellers to think about how they can distribute tickets in a sensible way, perhaps by holding ballots or selling to fans. I know the disappointment this can bring—I have seen my own nieces in tears because they could not get tickets—but sometimes tickets do become available later. However, this is an important issue and that is why we spoke to Professor Waterson. The bots issue is very much on our minds and we are looking at it to see if the existing law on computer misuse is adequate.

My Lords, the Minister has clearly made herself extremely conversant with digital ticketing purchasing software, but the clue is in the name, is it not? Will she confirm that she is favourably disposed towards dealing with bots well in advance of the final government report on and response to Waterson, which, ominously, she describes as coming “in due course”?

We are certainly keen to get to the bottom of the issue of bots and to find the right way forward. There was consensus in committee in the other place that it was right to try to sort out the bots issue before our formal response. But as I said, the Waterson report is with us and work is in hand on this important issue. I am told that there is a proposed federal law on bots—“better online ticketing service”—although I understand the situation is a little different in the United States.

My Lords, in response to the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, suggested that a form of redress could be sought through citizens advice bureaux. Given that very few councils can now afford to have a trading standards department, is the Minister aware that Citizens Advice has had huge cuts in its funding?

I am of course aware of the problems Citizens Advice and trading standards have with funding; we have discussed that in this House before. One of the points Professor Waterson made in his very useful report, which we are looking at very seriously, is how we make sure there is appropriate funding for the kind of investigations we all want in this area. Interestingly, secondary ticketing is not top of the complaints we get. They are often about the primary ticket sellers, rather than the secondary market we have been debating through this report.

My Lords, I again refer to my interest as listed in the register. Is not what the noble Baroness is describing a failure in the market for entertainment tickets? Might not the secondary ticketing sellers be colluding with the primary ticket sellers—a situation that suits all the parties involved rather well, because they do quite well out of it? Should we not be looking at how the market as a whole functions?

That was one of the reasons why we asked Professor Waterson, who is an economist from Warwick University, to look at this, and that is not the conclusion he came to in his report. There are benefits from the secondary platforms, which give greater protection than buying from a tout or on social media. They guarantee a replacement if you cannot get in. We have a big tourist industry in this country, and it is very important that when tourists come here—there are more and more of them since the depreciation of the pound—they are able to access our amazing sporting events, theatres and so on. There are difficulties, which I acknowledge, but in general this market works well and has its advantages. Obviously, the bots issue is a big one.