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It is not only music fans who suffer at the hands of touts, and some of our major sporting events have been threatened. A search on eBay on 6 June 2005 found 137 tickets for sale for the Wimbledon mens final, but they were priced at £1,650 per pair. The site even offered tickets allocated to wheelchair users, but they were double the price. That in itself is a scandal.
Often, sellers pretend that they have a clash of commitments and are no longer able to go to the event. Such people must suffer from amnesia, because the majority sell their tickets only minutes after the tour has been announced, with most tickets being auctioned before they have even been printed or distributed. I have no problem with people who genuinely have to sell their ticketsat the original pricebecause they suddenly realise that they have another commitment. However, those who fleece people to line their own wallets should face the consequences.
Pete Wishart (Perth and North Perthshire) (SNP): The lack of Government action means that it has been left to music promoters and businesses to introduce measures to beat the ticket touts. Why is it left to them to protect music fans and sports fans from touts? Why do the Government not take action to ensure that they do something to address the problem?
It is important to note that fans who buy tickets from touts receive none of the consumer protection that applies when tickets are bought from the original event organiser. Not many people are aware of that, and that can result in innocent fans losing a lot of money when things go wrong. We did not introduce consumer protection laws for touts to undermine them.
Touting is particularly problematic for families on low incomes who save for months to buy tickets to see their favourite artist or sporting hero, only to end up being duped by touts. Those are the people we must protect and they are the main reason why I asked for this debate.
Websites often falsely advertise front-row seats, only for consumers to find out on the day that the seats are actually near the back of the arena. Touting often changes the dynamics of the audience, with real fansthe lifeblood of sport and musicmissing out.
I am aware that the Government held summits with the sporting and music industries in November 2005 and, most recently, in February 2007. I welcome the acknowledgement from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport that touting is a real problem. Her encouragement to the industry to tackle the problem was recognised, and the industry took her recommendations on board.
The concert industry agreed to unite under the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers so that all tickets would be sold exclusively by STAR member agencies. STAR will agree to a clear refund policy, and those who can no longer use their ticket can inform the agency and be refunded the money and the booking fee. The agency will then resell the ticket.
Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): I thank my hon. Friend for securing this important debate. Does he agree that although a voluntary code of conduct would be perfect in an ideal world, we need Government action to protect people such as my daughter? She sat by the phone waiting for Take That concert tickets to come on sale, but the tickets sold out within minutes because touts bought them up and sold them for three times the price.
John Robertson: I have three daughters and I tried to get tickets for them for the very same concert. I failed miserably, and much though they might have thought that an MP can get them everything they want, things did not work out that way.
The key principle that STARs terms and conditions require the OFT to agree to is that people cannot resell their ticket for commercial gain, and that is quite fair. The Government must pursue the OFT to ensure that it concludes its deliberations and rules that it is a breach of the terms and conditions to resell tickets for profit.
The Secretary of State encouraged the industry to tackle the problem without Government intervention. Primary markets have tried different methods, but there has been no voluntary movement from the secondary markets to sign up to a code of conduct on ticketing. That makes things increasingly difficult for concert promoters and managers, who spend every night of their week dealing with distraught members of the public who turn up at gigs only to find that the person who has their ticket has not appeared.
It should be remembered that doing something about touting was a 1997 Labour party manifesto commitment. I appreciate that the Minister was not sympathetic to the aims of my party at that time, but he saw the light in 1999 and joined the Labour party, so perhaps he could see the light again as regards touting.
The Rugby Football Union spends £50,000 a year on average fighting ticket touts. Although legislation is in place to target some touts, enforcement is poor, and many sports associations must spend their own time and money monitoring the secondary market to ensure that supporters do not lose out to touts. Many websites offering tickets use the official logos of concert promoters, groups and sporting associations to imply that the tickets are on sale from official sites. That is intellectual property theft and must also be stopped.
Many organisers must increase security and the number of stewards on the day of their event to target double-booking, touts not turning up with tickets and fans who are duped into thinking they have seats when they do not, because unfortunately that occasionally leads to violence in arenas and surrounding areas. Not only must stewards act as seating guides and health and safety officers, they must double up as police officers to patrol the grounds. I am also concerned that young people, particularly young girls, who are desperate to see their favourite pop acts spend time hanging around concert venues waiting to buy tickets from touts.
How can we fix the problem and allow loyal supporters and true fans to get the tickets that they deserve? One way is for the Government and the industry to work together. The industry has outlined its needs and has worked hard on its own in the past few years, but it is about time that legislation was passed. The Government recently enacted legislation to prevent ticket touts from operating at the London Olympics. It was easily done through an amendment to the London Olympics Bill. Why can it not be done for all major sporting and cultural events? Should the legal position regarding the resale of tickets change, eBay has stated that for all other sports it will review its policies to comply with any new regulations. What better case is there for the Government to act? Perhaps the 2014 Commonwealth games bid in Glasgow might help. Addressing ticket touting would show the Commonwealth Games Federation that Glasgow and the rest of the UK are serious about tackling the problem, which would help the bid.
In the Australian Parliament, an amendment to the Major Sports Facilities Act 2001 made ticket touting illegal, resulting in the prosecution of three women who attempted to sell tickets to a Red Hot Chili Peppers gig in April for more than their face value. The Police Minister warned that ticket touting, known there as scalping, would not be tolerated and that anyone wanting to make a quick buck would be charged. If Australia can do it, why cannot we? Some believe that the public want a secondary market to buy tickets that sell out within minutes of going on sale. Why, then, have I received letters, e-mails and telephone calls from my constituents and many others thanking me for raising the subject in Parliament and calling on the Government to do something?
I met people from eBay recently, as I was interested to hear what it had to say. It has yielded to public pressure following backlashes after Princess Diana memorial concert tickets were sold at over-inflated prices. When tickets to the memorial of Australian wildlife expert Steve Irwin were sold for commercial gain, they were withdrawn from eBay, a move welcomed by the public. Why should it be any different for someone selling tickets for a profit of £900? Surely denying real fans access to tickets and making obscene profits as a result is just as bad. However, eBay is not the only online company dealing with the problem. It is only a marketplace. Indeed, eBay is not the company exploiting individuals; it is just the middleman.
I welcome the Scottish Sunday newspapers campaign against ticket touting. They recently profiled the touts caught selling tickets to T in the Park, which my hon. Friend the Member for Livingston (Mr. Devine) mentioned. They are encouraging readers to contact them if they encounter a tout, and have named and shamed touts with photographs. Probably more sinister is Ticketmaster, a primary market that has recently introduced a ticket bidding option on its site. As an example, the lowest original price on Ticketmaster for Genesis tickets was £55. Why, then, is it allowing bidding on the option part of its website to begin at £80, climbing to £440 for a front row, centre stage ticket? I have not yet received any requests for meetings with Ticketmaster, but I would be interested to know why it believes that to be a fair system of accessing concert tickets.
How will the future of concerts and sporting events look if the problem is not addressed? There is a worry
that company shareholders will put their percentage of allocated tickets up for auction in the same way as touts. That means, for example, that 75 per cent. of capacity would sell in the normal way and the remaining 25 per cent. would be auctioned, with grossly inflated profits going into the hands of the shareholders. Either way, the consumer, the electorate and the constituents whom we try to protect with every law that we pass will lose out.
Many artists, promoters and sporting associations have tried their own methods of targeting ticket touting, but to no avail. The only avenue left is through Government intervention and legislation. T in the Park, which Geoff Ellis boasts is Scotlands largest outdoor festival, has been working on the problem for years. He has contacted lawyers to get websites to remove the official T in the Park logos that many use to advertise tickets. Indie rock band the Arctic Monkeys weighed in by offering tickets to the latest gig only to fans on the mailing list. However, that did not prove successful, as anyone could register, as they did, receive a personal identification number, and then flog tickets minutes later in an online marketplace for double their face value.
I urge the Government to conduct a public consultation into ticket touting, taking evidence from all involved, from concert promoters to eBay and other websites, to individual music and sporting fans. The industry has gone as far as it possibly can in self-regulation, something that we do poorly in this country. We need further and stronger Government intervention. The all-party group on music, of which I am the chair, is willing to help. We have contacts among artists, concert promoters and other primary markets who are more than willing to help to tackle the problem. It is not rocket science. The first move to is to make it illegal, and the how will follow.
I am also chair of the communications all-party group. After 31 years work in the industry and six as chair, I know that the technology exists to stop touting. All that we need is a commitment to the cause from everybody. I recently attended a reception hosted by O2, where a representative told me of a recent event to which ticket entry involved scanning the bar code of a guests O2 mobile phone. O2 believed that the method worked extremely well and was not complex. I am sure that something similar could be piloted for other events.
I do not begrudge people selling on their tickets for one reason or another, provided that they do not do so for commercial profit, but I do have difficulty with those who advertise tickets before they have even gone on sale or before the date has been set, as with tickets for the 2006 FA cup final, which were sold before either the date or the venue had been decided. I also find it appalling that some set up call centres using more than one identity and credit card to maximise their chances of getting tickets. A telephone line should be set up to allow individuals to contact companies such as eBay to notify them of people trying to make money on the backs of ordinary fans. Feedback forms can be accessed to notify eBay of good and bad selling, but individuals must buy something before they can get to them.
I have specific questions for the Minister. At the last summit, he promised to circulate a statement of collective agreement to which all parties attending the summit could sign up, a key point of which would be a request that all sectors of the ticket industry do all that
they can to prevent the resale of tickets for profit. Has that statement been circulated? What action has he taken to ensure that online companies refrain from selling tickets for profit? Does he think that the Ticketmaster option is right? If not, what is he going to do about it? What direct discussions has he had about the problem with his colleagues in the Department of Trade and Industry? Finally, is he willing to meet me and a delegation of concert promoters, sporting event organisers and DTI colleagues to discuss the issue further?
Ticket touting is daylight robbery and innocent fans should not lose out to those who want to make obscene profits. At least Dick Turpin wore a mask when he robbed people; these people hide behind computers and the fact that no laws exist to prevent them from doing what they do.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Shaun Woodward): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) on securing the debate. He raises an important issue that genuinely concerns hon. Members on both sides of the House and is undoubtedly a real problem.
Of course the Government recognise the significance of the problem, and it is right that we should look at it in the round, but our response to it must be proportionate. It is helpful to look at several surveys that have been carried out, the most recent of which, in New Musical Express, found that only 5 per cent. of the public who were surveyed wanted a legislative answer to the problem. Critically, it found that the public want touts to be dealt with, butit is essential that the House recognises thisthat they also want to retain their right to resell tickets that they have legitimately bought. Consumers are clearly telling us that they want to be able to buy and resell tickets. The trick is to maintain a balance that enables people to do that, therefore having a secondary market in tickets, while making it extremely difficult for others to exploit legitimate fans.
John Robertson: I accept what the Minister says, but the problem with the surveys that he mentions is the way that the questions are phrased. If I asked members of the public, Do you think its right that somebody buys a ticket to sell at an exorbitant price? about 95 per cent. of them would say No. I would be much happier with a survey that was conducted by an independent body asking the right questions rather than questions like, Do you think it is right that you can buy a ticket from somebody?
My hon. Friend might be frustrated by the speed at which the Government appear to be responding to this problem, but one advantage of not moving too quickly is that it allows us to consider the situation over time. Our survey was not simply a series of pointed questions, but genuinely tried to elicit solutions to the problem, and the answers that we received did not lead us to the conclusions that he has drawn. The clear message from the public in our survey, which I will discuss further if I have time, indicated that they want not a legislative answer to this problem, but agreement by the industry to act. It is in that spirit that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State and I conducted a
series of summits in the past year. In those four summits, we brought together a wide cross-section of the industry and other Government Departments with a view to drawing up codes of practicemy hon. Friend referred to a statement, which I shall come to in a momentto deal with the problems.
My hon. Friend will know that there are two problems. The first is when people outside venues, who probably are not licensed, try to sell tickets at hugely inflated prices. There is legislation to deal with that problem, but the issue is enforcement. How do we ensure that that legislation is being effectively enforced? That needs to be addressed.
The second, growing problem is with internet use. The internet is undoubtedly a great friend to consumers, but is also the agent by which touts exploit legitimate fans. An obvious area of exploitation to which the internet has given rise is future selling for events. It is significant that we have managed to agree with the industry actions to outlaw future selling. We are working with the industry to draw up statements of principles to establish a fair return exchange mechanism.
Online sites are beginning to provide buyers with information about the price that they are paying for their tickets and their location. Consumers buying on the internet have faced the considerable problem of having no idea of the original price of the ticket that they were buying or where it would be located. An agreement is now being drawn up with the industry that that information must be provided when a ticket is put on the internet.
My hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West drew a comparison with the situation for certain sporting events. One of the reasons why we have legislation to deal with sporting matches is because of the public order issue. My Department is working closely with other Government Departments, including the DTI, to put together a fair, effective and proportionate policy.
My hon. Friend talked about the OFTs important work, and I understand his frustration, but I must recognise the independence of the OFT. I was aware
that there was some frustration, and I recognise my hon. Friends comments; I am sure that they will not fall on deaf ears at the OFT. It would be prudent for me to leave that issue there.
My hon. Friend rightly and understandably talked about the hugely successful T in the Park. The problems with that event reveal the nature of the problem: we have amazing music and sporting events, but there are many more fans than available seats. We could deal with that problem through legislation, as has been suggested, but the public have told us that they do not want their right to resell their tickets to be taken away. We therefore need to work with the industry to produce a fair secondary market for tickets. We must also recognise the abuses that take place in the primary market.
I remind my hon. Friend that technology, particularly the internet, is a friend as well as a problem. This year, the organisers of the Glastonbury festival are taking matters into their own hands and introducing a method whereby people will have to register their personal details to apply for tickets and there will be photo identity documents. That creates an opportunity to outlaw some of the people who have been exploiting the primary market.
I know that my hon. Friend, who has a great knowledge of the music industry, as does the Chancellor, is aware that the Arctic Monkeys are using similar technology for their next concert. Consumers will have to register their personal details and will be given a personal identification number. Only if the PIN and personal details cross-match will consumers be allowed to take part in a ballot for tickets. The problem with that system is that it will be in the hands of the music organisers to ensure that only those with legitimate tickets are allowed into the concerts, so it will be important that the organisers see the system through. They have started well by using technology and trying to create the kind of fairness that my hon. Friend wants for legitimate fans, but people must not be able to exploit the market on the dayeither at the primary or secondary stage.
We look to the industry to see what can be done, but I am conscious that we might have to introduce legislation. European directives to encourage fairer selling and practices will be transposed later this year. The Secretary of State and I are aware of hon. Members concerns and we are making the industry address the problem. However, the industry should be in no doubt that the Government are prepared to act if its application of technology and available enforcement mechanisms ultimately fail the consumer.
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