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24 Apr 2008 : Column 535WH—continued

In football, there are security reasons for such a ban regarding the division of fans and so forth. However, the examples given today show that the system does not
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work, and that it is not properly scrutinised. It is easy to pick up tickets from touts. Not all clubs provide a resale opportunity, so once someone has a ticket, there is no legitimate way of handing it back to the club for it to be sold on. The football industry needs to consider that problem.

When Seb Coe put forward the idea that London should host the Olympics, one condition was that tickets could not be resold. Then there are the crown jewel events, with which I shall deal in a moment. However, we agree that attempting to ban the secondary market would be wrong.

It is worth considering where tickets go. For instance, just over 3 million tickets were sold for the 2006 World cup in Germany. Only 1 million were for global public sale, and the other 2 million or so went to a variety of other places, such as sponsors, and for hospitality. Some went to the German football family—I do not know whether that was for Franz Beckenbauer, or a larger group—and the international football family. It must be possible for the organisations themselves to do more to ensure that tickets get to genuine fans. That should not involve Parliament or the Government; it should be a corporate responsibility, and a corporate duty, for those organisations to ensure the wider distribution of tickets.

I was interested to read the report produced by Campbell and Keen Ltd. I do not know whether the company was working for the Government, but its recommendations were clear. It believes that there is no role for further legislation, but it makes clear that more can be done, and better, to co-ordinate certain aspects.

I was interested to hear the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) say that there is no association or body to knock heads together, so that a collective view can be taken. I shall leave it to the hon. Gentleman to recommend the formation of a union to get action. However, Ticketmaster has made its views clear, as have viagogo and eBay. They all say that they do not want legislation, but they all put up their hands to say that there should be much better co-operation and that there is a demand for guidelines. The Government have a responsibility for leadership to ensure that such guidelines are produced.

I now turn to the crown jewels—the key national events in which we take such pride. Because we have no guidelines, I cannot see the situation coming to fruition immediately, but I would encourage that to happen. The view has been expressed that such events are of national importance and that they should be given some protection. However, we are concerned about spreading that out to other events. Another concern is that some events—particularly a cricket event, I think—want to remove themselves from that status because they believe that they might gain more money by doing so. The Government should be aware of the desire to opt out.

The Government’s response to the Committee’s report said that they would introduce a limit on the number of tickets sold to each person, with clear refund policies, improved distribution, allocation exchange arrangements, and fair terms and conditions. We agree that that is going in the right direction, but we want more detail on how it will be achieved. A series of examples has been given today showing that that will be hard to police. As I said earlier, making changes was
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a Labour manifesto commitment in 1997. I thought that the sale of the Tote was the longest uncompleted Labour commitment, but improvements to the guidelines on ticket touting is another.

I was slightly confused by the Government’s press release. It first said:

but it was quickly changed to say:

I am pleased to say that the Conservative press office came to the Government’s aid to ensure that the right message was sent out.

I am concerned about the number of convictions relating to ticket touting. Over the last seven years, there have been 150, which is scandalous. It suggests that, although we have legislation, it is not effectively implemented. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies)—he knows more about handbags and prostitution than I gave him credit for—said that the police have other things to do at football matches. I agree in part, but we have moved into a different world. I would like to see a policeman walk up to a ticket tout and say, “Move along, please”, and not have to spend seven minutes filling out a form, with all the attendant problems. The police should simply do their duty and push those people away, rather than turning a blind eye to their activities. That would be a step in the right direction. If we make touting illegal, the law will have to be enforced, because otherwise what is the point? The Minister should recognise that there is a lack of enforcement. Indeed, I hope that he will comment on the matter.

My first intervention on my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford was to ask about the Office of Fair Trading report and model terms and conditions. I was pleased that the Minister jumped up immediately to say that they are about to be published.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Soon.

Mr. Ellwood: How often have we heard that? I hope that we will see the voluntary code shortly.

I started by talking about the corporate responsibility of the secondary market, and I feel passionately about the subject. There is much that the primary and secondary markets can do to ensure that the consumer is protected. I had a meeting with some of the organisers involved in the secondary market. It was good to hear about the ban on the sale of tickets for the Diana memorial concert, and they were right to make that decision. However, one could still pick up a ticket originally priced at £50 if one was willing to pay £400 on the black market. I understand that 20 per cent. of the resale value of charity tickets goes back to the original charity if one purchases tickets off one of the recognised internet sites, which, again, is a way in which the secondary market can work responsibly.

The debacle over the disabled seat at Wimbledon was interesting. I would put the onus on Wimbledon to ensure that any disabled seat is used by a disabled
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person—it would be completely wrong for that seat to be given to somebody else—but the price of the seat and who ends up with it is a separate debate.

We have heard some original thinking and creative marketing ideas about how to prevent the wholesale purchase of tickets, and the Government might want to consider the scrutiny of IP addresses. On the sale of tickets, one of the most enjoyable times that I have had at Wimbledon was on the middle Sunday. Most of the week had been rained off, so there was an extra day of play, and people had to queue, which itself was an event—it was good fun. People say that the crowd that day was more loyal, British and energetic than on any other day. There are means other than the internet to sell tickets.

I can confirm that I did not attend the Led Zeppelin concert, but I am pleased that some of my hon. Friends were able to get tickets. I was interested to learn that people had to provide credit card details to ensure that they were the tickets’ original purchaser.

I am concerned about the growth of the black market as an alternative if we try to legislate completely against the secondary market. That is exactly what would happen—it happens to a small degree at the moment—and the consumer really would lose out. That would also develop the growth of the numbers of fraudulent tickets.

We welcome the report and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response. I have suggested that a further parliamentary debate might be in order to allow us to scrutinise the position and to gain more feedback from the various organisations that are involved in the primary and secondary markets. I am slightly concerned about the comments made by the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the right hon. Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), in the Committee’s hearing on 26 June 2007. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley was a little shy in coming forward to talk about the exchanges. My hon. Friend again was talking about his favourite subject—handbags—and said during the hearing that a person who purchases a handbag—I am paraphrasing—can sell it on eBay for a profit in 10 minutes flat, and asked why tickets should be any different when, in both cases, a person bought something that they felt could be sold for a profit. The Minister replied:

She went on to say:

However, it seems that if one transfers from one Department to another, everything that one has said in the past suddenly disappears, if I understood the Under-Secretary earlier. I am sure that what he said was tongue in cheek, but some clarification would be welcome.

The Conservatives welcome the voluntary code of conduct and will be encouraging further research on the matter and better information sharing. When we get into government—I am sure that it will not be too
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long—will set up our own commission to look at the ethics of sport, which I am sure will include a look at the issue that we are debating.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford and the rest of the Committee’s members for their hard and diligent work, and I look forward to hearing the Under-Secretary’s response.

5.4 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr. Gerry Sutcliffe): I welcome you to the Chair this afternoon, Mr. Weir, and add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford (Mr. Whittingdale) on his work and chairmanship of the Committee, and on producing the report. It is obvious from today’s debate that bringing together the disparate views of members of the Committee was a Herculean task, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) said.

I was interested to learn that there was supposed to be a quick, one-day hearing to discuss the issues that we face. However, in the light of the contributions of the witnesses that came before the Committee, it unearthed an issue that we must look at. That is why the Government are interested in the Committee’s recommendations, and why we are having today’s debate. As the hon. Member for Maldon and East Chelmsford said, this debate is not the end of the process. Indeed, we need further clarity and further discussion of how we take matters forward.

As was mentioned, I formerly had ministerial responsibility for consumer affairs and competition. Putting the consumer’s interests at the heart of the matter is paramount, whether that consumer wants to go to a pop music concert or is a sports fan. The consumer’s interests must be looked at directly.

All hon. Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), for Stoke-on-Trent, North (Joan Walley) and for Glasgow, North-West (John Robertson), put clearly their views and thoughts on how things should develop. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who has a view contrary to most members of the Committee, gave his honest view of the position. That established the problem and set the tone for the rest of the debate, in that there are diverse viewpoints.

The point that I made earlier about the Minister of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport, my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge), was that different Departments have different views on how things should progress.

Mr. Ellwood: Will the Minister give way?

Mr. Sutcliffe: I shall finish my point and then give way.

I can reassure the House and the Committee that the Government now have one voice on the issue. We have had discussions with our colleagues in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform and believe that the voluntary code is the way forward. However, there must always be the back-stop of legislation if the industry is not prepared to move forward. Is the hon. Gentleman okay with that?

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Mr. Ellwood indicated assent.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Paul Farrelly: The name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Margaret Hodge) has been taken in vain a couple of times. However, the quote read out by the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East (Mr. Ellwood) contained certain caveats on transparency and consumer interests. In fact, one problem is that we do not know how much the market is rigged against the ordinary consumer, because of the rise of the internet and the sophistication of people who can snap up tickets instantaneously by pressing a button.

Mr. Sutcliffe: My hon. Friend makes a fair point. Clearly, the marketplace is changing. As the Minister responsible for consumer affairs, I introduced Consumer Direct, which provided an opportunity for consumers to receive advice and support from trading standards officers about what was going on in the market and gave them confidence in it. My hon. Friend will be aware that unfair commercial practice legislation will come into effect in May 2008, and it will provide another opportunity to protect consumers. The Government have a proud record of protecting consumer interests, and that is the direction from which I approach the issue of ticket touting.

I was interested in the points made by the hon. Member for Bath (Mr. Foster) on enforcement; I shall be looking at that issue. I heard what he said, and the response to his point, if it was as he described, is unacceptable. Existing legislation needs to be acted on—it is passed through the House through the democratic process. We need common sense and the police must prioritise, but clearly, if there is problem, we need to respond to it.

I can tell the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East that the Government will be looking to hold further discussions with all stakeholders. It is a critical issue, so we need consensus and understanding on the variety of questions that we face.

Mr. Ellwood: I politely draw the Minister’s attention to the fact that the Committee hearings took place on 26 June 2007, and the report was released at the beginning of this year. It took some time for the Government to respond; I think that 60 days was the time required. We need to expedite the process; it cannot drag on. I should be grateful for the Minister’s assurances that we will be able to move the process forward at a slightly pacier rate than currently.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I apologise to the Select Committee Chairman for the time that it took the Government to respond to the report. Conventionally, the deadline for a Government response is two months, but as the hon. Gentleman will know, there was a change in the Department, and my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State was new in post. However, as we have heard from his public utterances, my right hon. Friend is very concerned about the issue. I think that that will reassure the hon. Gentleman that the Department takes it seriously. We need to move at a pace with colleagues throughout the process. My only word of
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caution is that we are talking about diverse issues. The hon. Member for Shipley says, “Don’t legislate in this area; don’t go anywhere near it,” and my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, North-West tells me that we must legislate with urgency. We must consider that point.

The live entertainment industry has experienced unprecedented growth and an increase in popularity over the past few years, as hon. Members have said. That is to be celebrated. The UK now has world-class live sporting and entertainment events whose value stretches beyond their contribution to our leisure economy and into improving the well-being of citizens through increased participation and engagement with those sectors. In parallel, how businesses and consumers use the internet has become increasingly sophisticated. New online markets have been created and significant changes made to how consumers shop for goods. Embracing those technological changes, event owners and promoters selling tickets for sporting and cultural events can now reach more customers more quickly than ever before, but that has brought its own challenges. We often hear about websites crashing due to the number of people trying to buy tickets at any one time, individuals missing out when tickets go on sale and concerns about additional fees on top of ticket prices.

Of course, online trading has also facilitated the growth of secondary ticket brokers and auction sites such as eBay, as has been mentioned, which provide platforms for consumers to resell tickets to each other. That has substantially changed the character of the secondary market, and both the Government and the Select Committee have focused largely on it. The debate has moved on. It is not just about ticket touting. There are fundamental questions about how ticketing markets are working for the consumer, especially given the recent changes in how some tickets are sold to fans. The Government believe that the marketplace should work better for fans—the people who actually want to go to the match or concert. All too often, fans find that they cannot secure the tickets that they want from the initial distribution, as they are snapped up by people whose only interest is reselling at a higher price.

I want to make it clear that we have no problem with the principle of a secondary market for most events. An honest and well-functioning secondary market provides valuable services for consumers. That market works for those who have surplus tickets because their plans have changed and for those prepared to pay higher prices for last-minute availability. We do not think that any general restraint on resale would be justified or in consumers’ interests, but we do have concerns about the impact of resale and some ticketing distribution practices on certain events, particularly events of national importance. I shall come to those in a moment. I think that we can all agree that whatever the event, the ticketing and events industry has a responsibility to get tickets to the fans—its customers. Ultimately, that is its business, and we want it to be delivered in innovative ways.

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