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24 Apr 2008 : Column 517WH—continued

More than 80 per cent. of the public agreed with that statement. I am not surprised by that, as it is a perfectly reasonable statement to agree with. People’s attitude to ticket touting depends very much on how the question is framed; one can get the answer that one wants.

It is worth pointing out that more than half the people polled had tried to get tickets to an event but had found that it was sold out before they could buy one. The secondary market therefore gives them the only opportunity to attend. Half of people who wanted to go to an event before it was sold out did not know where to go or how to purchase a ticket from that moment in time. The secondary market provides a great service to members of the general public who are trying to access events, and it works to the benefit of consumers, on the whole, rather than against them.

John Robertson: The hon. Gentleman totally misses the point. When someone buys a ticket for an event, but suddenly finds that they cannot go, they are not then looking to make a profit on their ticket. They want to get their money back or to pass the ticket on to someone else. No one is saying that it is illegal to pass on a ticket, and no one would begrudge them passing on the price of the ticket plus the booking fee. I want something done about the practice of people buying up tickets at multiple call centres, or using an IP address in the way that the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford described earlier, and deliberately setting out to defraud the general public. Those are the people we have to have a go at, and we must have something in law that stops them from doing that. We are not looking at people who want to give their ticket to a member of their family or to sell it to a friend in the pub because they cannot go. We are looking at people who deliberately go out of their way to break the law, and who are breaking the law, because they are defrauding people.

Philip Davies: The hon. Gentleman is entirely wrong to say that such people are defrauding the public. They are offering tickets at transparent prices, and people are making conscious decisions about whether to pay those prices. That is not defrauding people; it is opening up opportunities that people can choose to take up. It is entirely a matter of choice.

The hon. Gentleman talked about the police, but who will enforce the laws that have been suggested? In my constituency, the police are already run off their feet trying to deal with more bread-and-butter crime. I am not sure that many of my constituents would want acres of police time to be taken up by seeing whether someone is selling on a ticket at a profit, rather than with maintaining law and order on the streets. In the scheme of things, there is worse criminal activity in the country than people trying to sell on tickets at a profit.

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I want to discuss sporting events because it seems, from what the Minister has indicated and from the Government response, that they have been nobbled by the sporting bodies on this issue. They should be aware of the motivations behind that and other aspects of certain sporting events. Access to such events, it is said, should be kept open to the ordinary, decent punter, but the Government were quite happy for the cricket to go to Sky. They were happy to deprive millions of people of the opportunity to watch cricket, so I am not sure where their great, high commitment to access to sport comes in, because far more people access sport via television than will ever get the opportunity to go to an event. I am thus not entirely sure that the Government are so much on the side of access, and the same applies to the England and Wales Cricket Board.

Rugby union provides us with a good example, and the powerful point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford about the rugby world cup is worth repeating. Suppose that someone from a particular country buys a ticket for an event thinking that their team is going to get to the final. Indeed, the event does not even have to be international; a Chelsea supporter could buy a ticket for the FA cup final in the expectation that their team is going to get there. For example, an All Blacks supporter might expect their team to get to the final and buy a ticket on that basis. If the policy promoted by the hon. Member for Glasgow, North-West were implemented, thousands of England fans would have been deprived from watching last year’s rugby world cup final because he would have disallowed New Zealand supporters from selling on their tickets to England supporters. That would be a rather perverse outcome of a policy.

Organisations such as the Rugby Football Union say that they are concerned about the ordinary decent rugby supporter gaining access to their events, but let us consider the ticket allocations for the six nations international games of 2006-07. Can hon. Members guess how many tickets for the England v. Scotland and England v. France matches at Twickenham went on sale to the general public? The answer is a big, fat zero—not one ticket to those two internationals went on sale to the general public. If I were a genuine rugby union fan who wanted to go to one of those internationals, I would have had no opportunity whatever of purchasing tickets for them. The allocations were given to RFU member clubs, debenture holders, other RFU people, visitors, commercial people and sponsors. No tickets were on open sale for the general public. It is no wonder that tickets are happily sold at below cost price, given that they are bringing in such little income; nobody is buying them, because very few are on sale. Most of them are given away to other people.

Paul Farrelly: Saying that tickets are “given away to other people” demeans the efforts of the RFU and other sporting organisations to make it a priority to allocate tickets at a reasonable price to rugby clubs around the country. That practice gives members of rugby clubs—people at grass-roots level who play the sport week in, week out—the opportunity to watch internationals.

Philip Davies: That is perfectly laudable, but if I happen to be a genuine rugby union fan who does not
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fall into the category that the RFU has identified, I have no opportunity to go to a big international match at Twickenham without the secondary market. Why should I be deprived of that opportunity even though I am a genuine rugby union fan? Let us not be mistaken into thinking that all those tickets are available to ordinary fans and that nasty ticket touts snap them all up to deprive the ordinary fan the chance to go. Often, the ordinary fan has no opportunity to go to those sporting events.

Paul Farrelly: The people whom the hon. Gentleman mentions could join the England rugby supporters club.

Philip Davies: Indeed, but we are being told that the aim is to protect the ordinary supporter who wants to buy a ticket and go to a match, and my point is that, for some sporting events, those opportunities simply do not exist to ordinary supporters without the secondary ticket market.

If we are so concerned about the ordinary punter’s access, as we keep being told is the case, why are not we preventing so many tickets being given away to corporate sponsors? What chance does the average punter have of accessing those tickets? Virtually zero. The majority of people who turn up to those things might have only a fleeting interest in the sport that they are going to see. Indeed, they might have no interest in it whatever, and simply think that it might be a decent bash with a bit of free drink. If we are so bothered about opening up access to the ordinary punter, I am surprised that people have not pointed out that sporting organisations and event promoters could use those tickets to give access to ordinary, decent punters.

Saying that someone who buys a ticket for £7,000 is not a genuine fan strikes me as perverse. I should think that, if someone is prepared to splash out so much for a ticket to an event, the chances are that they are about as passionate a supporter of that event as one could find, so I do not see how ticket touting stops genuine fans from going. Some of the amounts that people are prepared to pay indicate that there are some very genuine fans making use of the secondary market to go to such events.

I come back to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford raised about what should be done to deal with ticket touting. If ticket touting is such a big problem for concert promoters and organisers of sporting events, much of the solution is in their own hands. There are many things that they could do to remove the secondary market from their events. My hon. Friend himself gave an example of what they could do. Promoters could also have ticket lines open 24 hours a day. Often, some people are not able to get tickets during working hours because they have no opportunity to ring up and buy a ticket when they are at work. If there were 24-hour ticket lines to allow people to ring up at any point and get a ticket, that might open up access to tickets for ordinary, decent people.

Also, promoters could stop selling all the tickets in one go at the start of an event’s promotion. Often, every single ticket for an event or international sporting match will go on sale on day one, which encourages ticket touts to buy up tickets and sell them on when
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they have all been sold. If sporting bodies and event promoters are so concerned about touts, why do they not sell a few tickets at a time so that tickets are still available to buy on the open market even in the last week or few days before the event? That would take away the secondary market, because why on earth would someone pay thousands of pounds for a ticket from a tout on the secondary market if there were still tickets available at face value from the event organiser?

Of course, the key point is refunds. If the organisers of sporting events and other events will not agree to give people refunds, I do not see any option but a secondary market. If somebody buys a ticket for an event and they cannot go, they should be entitled, one way or another, to retrieve their money, whether that is through a refund or by selling it on the secondary market. It is perverse that we would stop the secondary market without forcing event organisers to give refunds. Many event organisers have clearly said that they will not agree to give refunds to people under any circumstances whatsoever, which is ridiculous.

The point about the secondary market is that, if someone does not know whether they can turn up to an event or not, they can still buy a ticket in confidence. If somebody wants to go to a big sporting event, they can buy a ticket in confidence knowing that, if they cannot go for some reason, they will be able to sell it on. Restricting the secondary market and stopping so-called ticket touting would stop those ordinary people from being able to buy a ticket for something with confidence; they would simply have to pass the opportunity by, even if they found at a later date that they would have been able to go to that event.

Where are the Government on this issue? To be honest, they are all over the place. I await the Minister’s comments with interest to find out how far down this ridiculous route they are prepared to go. If they try to restrict the secondary market, I assure the Minister that they will come to regret it.

The Minister ought to have a close word with the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), who very helpfully gave our Committee lots of evidence—I might add that she gave us some very sensible evidence. It is worth reminding hon. Members of some of the points that she made. She was subjected to ferocious questioning by the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), and I am sorry that he is not here today because I am sure that he would have been interested in the Under-Secretary’s response.

When the hon. Member for Torbay suggested that the Government should introduce some kind of restriction on the secondary market and ticket sales, the Minister of State said:

It strikes me that was a pretty clear statement from the Minister of State, who is in the Under-Secretary’s own Department.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Just for the record, my right hon. Friend the Minister of State was a Trade and Industry Minister at the time that she made those comments.

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Philip Davies: That is true, of course, but it is a novel concept that a Minister should have a particular view one day, because they are working in one Department, and an entirely different view the next day, when they move to another Department. If that is the way in which the Government conduct their business, it strikes me as rather perverse.

The Minister of State’s evidence was not in any way equivocal—it was very unequivocal—that the secondary market works in the best interests of the consumer and that the Government do not want to go down the route of regulating the sector, for very good reasons. Equally, the Office of Fair Trading concluded that the market worked broadly for the benefit of consumers, rather than against their interests. Also, in the Government’s response to the Committee’s report, they acknowledge that the OFT made it clear that it received very few complaints from people about ticket touting. Of course, the OFT does not receive many complaints of that kind because people enter into this area voluntarily. No one forces anybody to pay any particular price for a ticket, whether it is in the primary or secondary markets.

The event organisers and promoters want to have and maintain a monopoly on selling tickets in the primary and secondary markets. That is good old-fashioned self-interest. I believe in the free market and that a plurality of supply works to the benefit of consumers, rather than against them, and that monopolies work against the interest of consumers.

That is why I very much hope that the Minister will not pander to the kind of simplistic arguments that we hear—the instinctive opposition to people making a profit by selling on tickets—that he will look at the evidence and the whole issue seriously, and that he will understand the huge pitfalls in which the Government will get themselves by restricting this market. Instead, they should abide by the Select Committee report, which concluded that the secondary market was very legitimate.

3.55 pm

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Lab): I shall take my reprimands like a boy.

When it came to this report, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale), who is the Chairman of the Select Committee, really should be sitting with Government Members despite his impeccable Thatcherite past. He was practically a socialist compared to the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies).

I think that you, Mr. Weir, already have an idea why, of all our inquiries, this was the longest drawn-out, even though it was supposed to be a one-day inquiry. I think that we have had more drafting sessions on this report than on any other.

If we get away from the hyperbole of the hon. Member for Shipley, the essence of this debate is about the example of Harvey Goldsmith, which was given by the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford. Was Harvey right or wrong to try to restrict sales and enforce those restrictions in the way that he did and, if he was right, should the Government, by the introduction of a voluntary code or legislation, give him a bit of a helping hand in future? That is the
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essential question and the hon. Member for Shipley did not pronounce on it, because his opposition is much more fundamental. He does not really want the state involved in anything, which raises a further question about whether organisations such as the OFT, which has today won a case against the banks on overdraft charges, should exist in the first place. However, that is a much wider question than the issue covered by this debate.

We had a Committee that was composed of genuine music fans. We had a Chairman, the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford, whose bedroom is, I imagine, a veritable shrine to Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath; I am not so close to him that I have been to his bedroom, so I can only imagine that that is the case. We had the hon. Member for Torbay (Mr. Sanders), who runs his own Friday night radio music programme for the elderly down there in his constituency and I do not imagine that it just consists of easy listening. I myself hope to go and see Bruce Springsteen, in a marriage of sport and music at the Emirates stadium, at the end of May, Harvey Goldsmith permitting; that is if he does not bar me from the ground and the event because we did not meet his expectations in the report.

Of course, other members of the Committee are heavily involved in sport. My hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston (Alan Keen), who is the chair of the all-party group on football, cannot be here today, but he is still playing at the age of 70 in the same parliamentary football team as myself, the Minister and the new Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. I will declare other interests: I am the secretary of both the all-party group on rugby union and the parliamentary rugby team. The hon. Member for Shipley is also on the Committee. He is a cricketer, who largely believes in an untrammelled free market, where everyone has a God-given right either to make a profit or, as some would say, a fast buck.

Every report is a compromise; not everyone gets what they want. As a result, for instance, Mr. Goldsmith, who gave so much helpful evidence to the Committee, has actually taken the view that it is “a plague on all your houses, and you are all a waste of space”. However, I assure him that, had he been here today and sampled the flavour of this debate, or had he been in all the sittings of our Committee and seen the exchanges, he might differ from that view and feel that some people were more on his side than not.

We could have constructed a doctoral thesis out of our sittings—on perfect and imperfect markets. However, we agreed on some things, including that there were valid concerns in some areas about ticket touts and ordinary fans’ access to tickets for high-profile events at fair prices. The reason was not because of the activities of the traditional ticket touts outside venues, as described by the Chairman of the Select Committee, but because of the rise of the internet, which helps the industry in terms of its marketing reach and facilities, and also gives sophisticated individuals and groups the opportunity instantaneously to snap up great swathes of tickets and then pass them on, with collusion or otherwise, to so-called secondary sellers such as eBay, Seatwave, Get Me In! and viagogo, to mention some of the bigger names, who then sell them on at highly marked-up prices.

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The real concern, given the rise of the internet, is that if I apply for a ticket for an event, do I have a realistic chance—one in four, one in 10—of actually getting one, or, with time and the activities of people who have no intention of going to the event, do my odds become diminishingly small? I hope that the hon. Member for Shipley understands that concern, as he used to be a bookie.

Before dealing with the Government response, I wish to highlight a couple of areas where I wanted our report to be a little stronger. In paragraphs 35 and 37, we address the fundamental issue of whether a ticket is a commodity like a house—that was one of the examples that was used—or whether it is different, and whether it confers rights and responsibilities after the sale. I take the latter view. The example is followed in respect of transport tickets, such as those for airlines and rail and even down to the tube travelcard.

In the end, the Committee did not favour that view. We had a vote, and it was the one occasion when the hon. Member for Shipley won. Some of the Members were so tired that they wanted to throw him a bone or two, and the result was four to three. However, had the Chairman voted—he was itching to do so—I suspect that the vote would have been a draw. I shall not invite the hon. Member for Shipley to call me a bad loser, but I think that the jury is still out on that.

I would have liked much more protection for major events, on the basis of the crown jewels list. I am very glad that, in the Government response, there is an inching towards recognition that there are significant events of national importance for which some protections might be more in order. I recognise the problems that that would present for the music industry. The list would be dominated by sports events, and it would be guaranteed to drive Mr. Goldsmith apoplectic with rage, but the sports industry is rather different: it does not have the latitude to stage another cup final to cope with demand, whereas it is possible to stage another Bruce Springsteen concert. That frequently happens in the music industry.

There is a qualitative difference that might give some justification for a crown jewels list, even though it may be dominated by sporting fixtures. There is a basis for that. Football has its own regulations, which were designed to address crowd disorder. When we were conducting the inquiry, we did not have people from the football industry clamouring for a great change to make tickets more freely available through internet secondary sellers, so that more people could get hold of them. That situation seems to work.

Of course, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson) said, we now have the Olympics 2012 legislation, which was extended from legislation for the Commonwealth games. The justification for it is to stop profiteering, and we will face further demands for such legislation in the future. How many times can the sporting industry come back to the House of Commons? It may be a precondition, for example, of our successfully winning the 2015 rugby world cup or future world cups. As it was, I decided not to advance an amendment because I preferred a 0-0 draw and to leave the question open. I am glad that the Government have filled the void to a certain extent in their response.

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