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24 Apr 2008 : Column 510WH—continued

One argument that I hear against banning ticket touting—I am sure that it has been made in the debate in certain ways—is that it is simply not enforceable. I wonder whether it would not be more of a problem if we had a voluntary agreement on a limited number of
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events—if we say that we cannot have ticket touting for the crown jewel events, but that we can have it for other events. Concerts would come into that, because fewer people would be involved—perhaps only 5,000, 6,000, 7,000 or 10,000 people go to a concert. However, the new Wembley can hold about 80,000 for a cup final, so it would be much more difficult to deal with that.

The other problem is that ticket touting goes on. A gentleman from Ticketmaster told me that he had been to the England-Croatia game. Walking up to the ground, he passed ticket touts selling tickets while policemen were standing nearby. That is just not on. There is a law against ticket touting, and if the police see it, they should do something about it. That is why we have got ourselves into this state—we have not done anything about it in years gone by, and people do not see touting as a criminal act.

The key point that the chief executive of Get Me In!, Andrew Blachman, made to me was that he would not allow the sale of Olympic games tickets on his site, and I must assume that eBay, viagogo and all the big sites will do the same. If we can bring in a law that makes ticket touting illegal for an event such as the Olympic games, and if we have said that we shall do the same for the Commonwealth games in Glasgow, why will we not do it for any other event that just happens to be smaller? Does that mean that it is okay to do something about a big event with worldwide coverage, at which we do not want ticket touting, but that it is not okay to protect the people—young people, in particular—who go to pop concerts, from ticket touting? We must think seriously about that.

The House of Commons agreed on the ban, and we voted on it. I am glad to say that we managed to secure it for Glasgow as well; I look forward to the Commonwealth games there. What I cannot understand is the inconsistency. Is it any wonder that we do not do anything about ticket touting? Our stance on the practice does not enable people to say, “These are the rules; this is the law; and this is what should happen.” That is what we should think about.

I have talked to people involved with big events, and in particular to Geoff Ellis of T in the Park, who has worked tirelessly to stop ticket touts selling tickets at his event, and who has taken people to court for stealing his logo to enable them to sell tickets. He should not have to pay for all that. He should have the help of the law to ensure that the young people who come to the events pay the minimum—they pay a lot of money anyway—and do not need to worry about being ripped off by crooks.

The heart of the question is the need to sort out what kind of country we want to live in. I cannot subscribe to a solution that allows exploitation and brings everything back to a bidding war. Having spoken to people involved, I know that there is a real worry; by permitting sales by ticket touts we spurn the industry’s consumer-friendly pricing policy. My great fear is that they will start to do the primary selling, prices will go through the roof for big events, and small events will not take place because there will not be enough money in them and no one will be able to afford to buy tickets.

The musical talent that we have amassed over the years is second to none in the world, and we have begun to invest more in sporting events. I fear that if we put all our money into events such as the Olympic
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and Commonwealth games, and forget support for grass roots athletes, and if, because of lack of money, people cannot pay to go to those events, we shall go down a road we do not want to go down.

I shall finish with another statement by Pink Floyd—from “Dark Side of the Moon”, if anyone is interested. Pink Floyd said:

It might be a good lyric, but it is not the mantra that I want our cultural events to live by.

3.23 pm

Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson). I disagree with him on virtually every point, and shall come to that in a minute, but it is always beneficial to a debate to have his insight. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who chairs the Select Committee with great panache; he is an outstanding Select Committee Chairman. I think that most hon. Members present know of his background, working for Lady Thatcher, and I sometimes feel that the purpose that I serve on the Select Committee is to remind him of some of the free market principles that she held so dear, and on which I sometimes feel he lacks the consistency of his esteemed former employer. However, I commend him on trying so hard to get a consensus in the Committee on the issue in question. Anyone who observed the discussions about the report’s recommendations would realise what a challenge it was to do that. We did a reasonably good job of reaching a largely settled view. There were, as my hon. Friend pointed out, some specific areas on which I could not support the rest of the Committee, but on the whole the majority of the report was unanimously agreed. That was largely down to my hon. Friend’s skill.

There are two issues concerning ticket touting; one is a matter of principle and one is a matter of practicality. The matter of principle is that if I buy something—whether it is a book, something from the supermarket, a house or a ticket—I have bought it and it is mine; if I choose to sell it on to someone else, that is no business of anyone else, least of all the Government of the day. They should not interfere. There are many examples of things that appear in limited editions that sell out rapidly. Often there are limited editions of handbags, which sell out in five minutes in the shops. Within five minutes they are all on eBay being sold at a hugely marked-up price. No hon. Member here is arguing, as far as I am aware, that that should be made illegal. I should be very concerned if Parliament decided to make such activity illegal. It is exactly the same when tickets for events are sold out rapidly, and soon afterwards go on eBay or other websites at a marked-up price. That happens not just with tickets but with many other things.

Mr. Sutcliffe: If there are conditions on the purchase of a ticket, is it not important that the organisation that set the conditions should have them adhered to?

Philip Davies: As the Select Committee Chairman made clear at the start of the debate, many events do make such specifications on their tickets, but few have
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confidence that those conditions would stand up in court or are prepared to defend the claim in a court of law. I suspect that that is because they fear a judge would rule the placing of such conditions on the purchase of a ticket to be unfair.

John Robertson: I wonder whether those matters would end up in court if the law were less ambiguous and we had a definitive law on touting. Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that that is what we need?

Philip Davies: No, I certainly do not. I shall deal with this in more detail later, but I shall deal with the hon. Gentleman’s point now. It is not a question of whether we allow ticket touting or not. As my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, ticket touting has always taken place and always will, whatever rules and laws the Government pass. It is a bit like prostitution, in that, whatever people may think of it, it will always happen, and no matter how many laws are passed to stamp it out, it will always take place. The issue that we are debating is whether ticket touting—the sale of tickets in the secondary market—is allowed to be done only by people outside grounds, on a rather shadowy basis with a nod and a wink down a dark alley, or by respectable companies on websites, which give lots of consumer protection to the people who buy the tickets. Whether ticket touting takes place is not and will never be an issue. It will always take place. People involved in football will confirm that, even though there is a law banning the sale of tickets at premiership football games, it still happens. It just does not take place on some of the more reputable sites involved in the secondary market. Let no one be in any doubt that such touting still takes place; it is just under, rather than over, the counter.

The analogy that I would give is buying a house. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford quoted my friend Harvey Goldsmith’s comment about ticket touts being like parasites, living off the abilities and intellectual property of others, and denying ordinary folk access to the events in question. It seems to me that there is a close analogy with buying houses. People buy houses off the ability—the intellectual property—of house builders and the construction industry. Those are the people who are capable of building houses, which the ordinary punter would not be able to build. However, those punters buy them, and then sell them on at a profit. I am sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West would agree that selling them on at a profit is one of the things that prevents first-time buyers from getting on to the housing ladder. If the Government are so obsessed with access to people’s intellectual property, and not abusing it, presumably we should have a law to stop people selling their houses at a profit, to allow first-time buyers access to the housing ladder.

Mr. Don Foster: Often a house is purchased with conditions attached, particularly with respect to leasehold. If the hon. Gentleman wanted to buy my current house, he would have to agree that there would be no rowdy behaviour in it. Conditions are attached, and that is important in any sale.

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Philip Davies: I do not quite follow the hon. Gentleman’s analogy. I am talking about the principle of whether or not something can be purchased and sold on at a profit, even if that denies access to people at a future date or further down the line.

Paul Farrelly: We have traded many hypothetical examples in our discussions on economic philosophy in Committee sittings. Would the hon. Gentleman agree that—unless we are talking about a very bad builder from Shipley—a house, unlike an FA cup final, is not a one-off event?

Philip Davies: That is self-evident, but I do not see that it detracts from the main point. The point is whether or not people should be allowed to buy something and sell it on at a profit, even if it might deny somebody else access to that particular ticket or property. The Government do not want to interfere in any other form of buying something and selling it on at a profit. Why they want to get involved in regulating tickets in that way is beyond me. I will come to the Government’s position in a moment.

John Robertson rose—

Philip Davies: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, but I also want to give other people the opportunity to speak.

John Robertson: The hon. Gentleman is being very generous. I understand where he is coming from with his house analogy; however, I return to the example of football grounds and football supporters. Clubs are put under pressure because they are supposed to look after their fans. They are deliberately made to keep parts of the ground open for ticket sales, and not to sell season tickets. My own club keeps one part of the ground open and it has deliberately kept the prices down, so that ordinary fans can take their children and buy them a top and all the other stuff. What the hon. Gentleman proposes will prevent that from happening and allow all the tickets to be bought up before they even go on sale, which is what happened with the Take That tickets. That will prevent the ordinary fans from getting tickets to see a football team, or to a pop concert.

Philip Davies: I do not agree with the hon. Gentleman, and in a few moments I will explain why. There are some myths surrounding the practicalities of what ticket touting does. One argument often given—less so now because it is such a palpably stupid argument—is that it takes away money from grass-roots sports. That is clearly not true because the people who sell the tickets in the first place have already got the income that they intended to get by selling them. If someone decides to sell on the tickets at a profit, it makes no difference to the income received by the sporting body or event promoter. Ticket touting, therefore, does not take away any money from grass-roots sports, so the argument that is sometimes trotted out is a red herring.

The other argument—this is where the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West comes in—is that ticket touts prevent the ordinary fans from gaining access to particular events. That is wrong for a number of reasons. I am not sure where the huge amount of
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evidence is to suggest that that happens. One of the points that we made in the Committee was that the evidence for the scale of the problem is very difficult to pin down. It is often given on an anecdotal basis. For example, one finds that only a very small proportion of tickets for an event, either sporting or musical, goes on sale on eBay. I am not entirely sure where we have built up the idea that ticket touting is such a huge issue, and that nobody can gain access to an event because of it. There is no evidence to suggest that it is a massive problem.

Another point is that ticket touting can give the ordinary fan the only opportunity that they will ever get to go to a particular event. My hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford mentioned Led Zeppelin. I will take his word that the concert was heavily over-subscribed and very popular. If I was an ordinary hard-working person interested in Led Zeppelin and I was not sure whether I could go to the concert when the tickets went on sale—my work might not allow me to go on that day—I would not be in a position to buy a ticket there and then. It might become evident later on, much nearer the time of the event, that I could get the time off work to go. Under the regime that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West was advocating, I would ring up the event organiser and find that I could not go because all the tickets had sold out.

Stopping touting will not prevent certain events from being over-subscribed and far more popular than the available number of tickets can cope with. In the situation that I described, I would be unable to go and there would be nothing that I could do about it. The secondary market gives me the opportunity to go to that event. I can go on to eBay to see if a ticket is available and how much it is. It may well be that I decide that I am not prepared to pay the price being asked. It may be that I cannot afford to pay the price. However, at least it has offered me an opportunity that I would otherwise not have had.

Mr. Whittingdale: On a point of information, I had the privilege of attending the Led Zeppelin concert, and I should put on the record my thanks to News Corporation for inviting me. That concert was promoted by Harvey Goldsmith, who insisted that the tickets would not be available until 24 hours before the concert and only on production of the credit card used to purchase the ticket, so he attempted to block the secondary market in that way.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend’s intervention is incredibly helpful. I will come to the points that he makes in a bit more detail later. He is absolutely right. The solution to the perceived problem of ticket touting is often in the hands of the event organisers and promoters themselves. They should not be looking to the Government to take action that they could reasonably take themselves if they put their mind to it. The imaginative solution that my hon. Friend describes is one such way in which it can be done.

I am sure that the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West is a great believer in the redistribution of wealth. I think that he would agree with me when I say that, if somebody buys a ticket for £25 and it is sold on for £7,000, the likelihood is that the person who bought
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it for £25 will be much poorer than the person who bought it for £7,000. Therefore, if one believes in the redistribution of wealth, it strikes me that ticket touting is a particularly good way for somebody who is less well off to get a lot of income from a wealthy person who is prepared to pay over the odds. I am rather curious to know why he wants to stop that kind of redistribution of wealth.

The other point that is made is that, if I buy a ticket and sell it on to somebody else, that has prevented the next person down the line from purchasing that ticket. Let us say that Mrs. Bloggs is one place behind me in the queue. I snap up the last ticket and sell it on to someone else. That prevented Mrs. Bloggs from getting a ticket and access to an event that she would otherwise have been able to go to. It might be that I am buying a ticket for the Test match—I am a big cricket fan and quite happy to go to the Test match—and as far as I am concerned, I am going. Lo and behold, in the pub a week before the game, somebody comes along and says, “I have always wanted to go to a Test match. I am only here for a few weeks and I have never had the opportunity to go. I would love to go but I cannot get a ticket. I am prepared to pay £1,000 for that ticket.” It may be that I think to myself, “I would like to go to the Test match, but this is an opportunity that I cannot give up. If it means that much to him and he is prepared to give £1,000 for that ticket and I am quite happy not to go on that basis, I will happily sell my ticket to him.”

Now, Mrs. Bloggs, who was one place behind me in the queue, is not going to the Test match one way or the other. If the person who is offering me £1,000 for the ticket does not go, I am going to go. Mrs. Bloggs is not missing out at all. This is a private matter between me and the person who wants to pay a fantastic amount of money for the ticket. No one else is involved; it does not affect anyone else.

Paul Farrelly: In that particular case, the hon. Gentleman has half an intention of going to the match. What about the person who has no intention of going to the match and simply wants to flog on the ticket? Is it just tough for Mrs. Bloggs?

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman misses the point. If we have a blanket ban on the secondary market and on ticket touting generally, everybody will be caught up. All those who buy a ticket with the genuine intention of going but do not go, for whatever reason—because they subsequently find that they cannot go due to illness or a work commitment; or because they want to sell the ticket on to somebody at a profit later on and had not realised that such an opportunity would arise at the time—would be caught up in this blanket ban of ticket touting. That is the problem with the legislation on this issue.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West said that people want a ban on ticket touting, but I think that it depends on the question they are asked. I am sure that if one asks, “Do you think that dirty, nasty, parasitical ticket touts should be able to make a huge profit from selling on tickets, which will prevent other people from going?”, the answer will probably be, “That is outrageous and we should stop it at once.” But if one asks, “Do you think that, if you buy a ticket for
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an event, but then find that you can’t go, you should be allowed to sell your ticket to someone else?”, one would get a different answer altogether. That has already happened: those surveys have taken place, and the most agreed with statement in opinion polls was:

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