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24 Apr 2008 : Column 541WH—continued

That brings me to my hon. Friend the Member for Stoke-on-Trent, North and her plea for me to acknowledge the work of Port Vale football club, which I am happy to do. She kindly referred to
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Bradford City. I think that the only point on which the hon. Member for Shipley and I agree is that the effort that went into work on the season ticket prices for Bradford City made it a leader in the field. The average crowd at Bradford City is 14,000 as a result of that innovation. Next season, we hope that it will be 20,000, because tickets will be buy one, get one free.

I am happy to endorse Bradford City’s work, and if Port Vale can operate a similar scheme, of the sort suggested by my hon. Friend, it will be in its interests and those of its supporters. I acknowledge her point about football—you would not want me to get into a debate about the future of football, Mr. Weir, as I am sure that we can return to it at some other time—and I congratulate her on all the work that she does for Stoke-on-Trent, particularly her support for Port Vale. I wish the club every success in its venture.

I am happy to see that the Rugby Football Union is doing lots of innovative work. The hon. Member for Shipley is right that the primary market can and should be doing a lot more. He might be getting a letter from the RFU soon, though, about his comments on genuine fans’ opportunities to get to rugby union games.

Mr. Foster: I am pleased that the Minister is focusing on the issue of innovative approaches. Where there are problems, we should find a market-based solution. That is why it is important to praise organisations such as Ticketmaster, which has introduced systems to prevent simultaneous multiple purchases, and those organisations that have introduced effective return and refund programmes. Surely that must be a major part of the way forward.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I agree wholeheartedly that the focus should be on the consumer and what is to the consumer’s advantage. Yes, we must take into consideration the events and sports, but the consumer should be at the heart of it, and I congratulate the primary and secondary markets on ensuring that consumers’ interests are put to the fore. We do not want fans to be exploited. We want all consumers to have fair and equitable access to the chance to attend their chosen event, but our specific concern is ensuring that our key national and international sporting and cultural events remain widely accessible.

One central issue is how tickets for sport and entertainment events are released on to the market. Current practice seems too often to benefit those whose only interest is reselling at the expense of those who actually want to go to the event. Therefore, to help improve the market for fans, the Government want to work with the ticketing industry to establish a new code of principles that the market can sign up to. As a first step, we will look to the Society of Ticket Agents and Retailers, which will be particularly important in helping to take it forward. STAR is a well-established and recognised trade association with members across the events and ticketing industry. The STAR logo may be displayed by its member companies only on the condition that they abide by its code of practice and articles of association.

The Government will not dictate how tickets should reach fans, as we are not in the ticketing business, but clear principles underpinning the market should
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benefit all fans. We want consumers to be able to buy from agents signed up to the principles with trust and certainty. We believe that to be vital.

Mr. Foster: I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but will he explain why he is talking only of STAR and not of the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents, which predominantly represents the secondary market? Surely, if there is not to be a combined organisation, ASTA must be included, notwithstanding the problems with its behaviour described by the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I agree wholeheartedly. I made the point about STAR because it is the organisation that the DCMS and the Government have been talking to, but I am not against meeting representatives of the secondary market. If, as the hon. Member for Bournemouth, East said, we can bring them together in one body, fine—we will need to include the secondary market in the principles—but STAR is the organisation that we have talked to. It is an association; it has a logo, and it is a recognised body, but my officials will be happy to speak to secondary bodies as well. Incidentally, STAR is calling together the industry for an event in June. I hope that that event will start to work through the discussions. I hope that I can attend, and I urge hon. Members to get involved in that process as well.

Philip Davies: I do not think that I understand the Government’s position. They say, and I think the Minister has just reiterated this, that a well-functioning and honest secondary market has clear benefits for consumers. I agree with and endorse that wholeheartedly, but I do not understand why, if the secondary market has clear benefits for consumers generally, the Government have suddenly come to the view that it does not have clear benefits for consumers for a handful of sporting events.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Again, I shall come to why we think that it is important to protect many national sporting events in particular and free concerts.

I shall return to last year’s DCMS study that found that consumers often do not distinguish between primary and secondary ticket sellers and that, therefore, clearer information to consumers shopping for tickets is crucial. Robust ticketing principles would help, because people will know exactly what is expected from both the primary and secondary market.

What might be in this code of principles? We want the industries to work with each other to improve the systems needed to prevent exploitation of the ticket-buying public. They should counter bad practices, such as misleading information, erroneous and futures selling and preventing access. Such principles might also contain provisions on the exchanges, returns and refunds, and controls on tickets, such as identity requirements—the technology is there to have photos on tickets. Having said that, if someone cannot attend an event, they should be able to sell or pass that ticket on or get a refund from the primary market, particularly for sporting events. We also want greater control at venues, greater use of fan and sports clubs networks to ensure that people are not disadvantaged and innovative ticketing systems to increase access to
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events. We will discuss those principles with STAR and the industry to ensure that event owners can tell us what they believe will help us to build and sustain a loyal fan base with fairly priced tickets. We want the code to help eliminate some of the problems about which people feel aggrieved.

Access to sport and cultural events is hugely important. The fans are the lifeblood of live events. Without them, there is no event. Event organisers have every incentive to structure their distribution arrangements so as to support the loyalty of their fans. Pricing remains an important point of access or barrier to people attending and enjoying a live sporting or cultural event. The Government recognise that some events are so popular that they are almost institutions within themselves and contribute far more to their respective sector and the wider economy. In this instance, I am thinking of sporting gems such as the Wimbledon championships and the rugby and football world cups.

The Government’s response to the Committee makes clear our intention, built upon existing policy stemming from the Broadcasting Act 1996. A listed event is one that is generally felt to have special national resonance. It should contain an element that serves to unite the nation—a shared point on the national calendar, not solely of interest to those who follow the sport in question. The 1996 Act provides for listed events being offered to free-to-air broadcasters on the same terms as they are offered to pay-to-view television providers. Such events have more than commercial significance; they have wider benefits at community, national and international level. The Government are concerned that tickets for such events should be distributed on an equal basis enabling access at all levels.

In addition, ticketing controls for international sporting events would assist the UK in winning bids to host future international sporting tournaments, which would be in the public interest. What we have tried to do for sport in the decade that starts next year with the cricket Twenty20 world cup is clear. It is followed by a major international sporting event in the UK for every year of that decade, including the Olympics in 2012 and the Commonwealth games in Glasgow in 2014. So we believe that this is a crucial issue.

The Government take the view that access to some of our great sporting and cultural events should not be compromised by failings within the ticketing marketplace that might prevent that from happening. In addition to a functioning set of principles such as I have outlined, the Government intend to consider whether certain restrictions on resale should be implemented on a non-statutory basis to sustain broad access to these major events.

Mr. Whittingdale: The Minister has spoken about the crown jewels in the broadcasting legislation, but they are all sporting events. The Government’s response talks about major cultural events, so will the Minister tell us what cultural events he has in mind?

Mr. Sutcliffe: We will discuss this in the future, but live free concerts and major international cultural occasions come to mind. However, we need the support of stakeholders to identify those. The list was last looked at in 1998, but clearly the cricket Twenty20
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world cup and other new events are not on that list. We must ensure that we give them consideration. Obviously, I would like to hear from hon. Members about events that they want us to consider. That is in the spirit of understanding other people’s opinions. In sport it is easy to agree on those events, although there might be disagreement and discussion on the details, but it is less easy with cultural events.

The hon. Member for Bath said that we did not need legislation for legislation’s sake and that we should proceed on a voluntary basis. I am very concerned about what has been said on enforcement. We need to look at that, because it sends out all the wrong messages if we cannot enforce legislation in areas of concern. We must be careful that we do not drive things underground, as the hon. Member for Shipley said, which exposes consumers to greater harm. Action has to be proportionate and the Government intend to establish new principles for the market to give clarity to the consumers.

Those will be complemented by fair and effective model terms and conditions on which the Office of Fair Trading has been advising STAR. I spoke to John Fingleton prior to this debate and he gave me the impression that those discussions were positive. So I hope that my definition of “very soon” is “very soon”.

Mr. Whittingdale: It might help the Minister if I remind him that when Mr. Fingleton gave evidence to us in response to the hon. Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme (Paul Farrelly), he said that he expected to agree final terms with STAR by August last year. That deadline was eight months ago, but he is still talking about it happening very soon.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I hear what the hon. Gentleman is saying. Both he and I would encourage Mr. Fingleton to—

Paul Farrelly: Pull his finger out.

Mr. Sutcliffe: Something like that.

Mr. Ellwood: Will the OFT guidelines, for which we are waiting with anticipation, focus on the primary or secondary market?

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Mr. Sutcliffe: They will consider the principles for both, which is what we asked the OFT to do. In addition, I shall speak to Ministers in the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform—there are issues about how we develop this at the pace that the hon. Members would like.

Clearly, as the Select Committee found while considering the diversity of views, there is a problem that needs to be resolved. The secondary market seems to be saying, “There is no problem. We are here to benefit the consumer, so full steam ahead.” We do not see it that way. We believe that the primary market can and should do a lot more, and that we should be encouraging voluntary principles. Although the Committee Chairman is not convinced about what we are trying to do with the listed sporting events, the Committee highlighted a problem that needs to be resolved and has given us a good platform from which to continue discussions.

The Select Committee and Opposition politicians will monitor our progress. As I have being saying from the outset, we want the consumer to be at the heart of this. We do not want fans to be exploited. I can give my assurance, as a former Consumer Minister, that that will be at the heart of what we are trying to achieve with the industry.

Philip Davies: I hope that the Minister will tread carefully and take note of one of the points that we made in the report: a number of American states, where there were restrictions on the secondary ticket market, have been easing, or getting rid of, their restrictions, because they were having problems with them. I hope that he will consider what has been happening in other parts of the world, before he makes any rash decisions.

Mr. Sutcliffe: I shall not make any rash decisions but look at what is going on in the world—in Australia and other such places. I know that I will be monitored on our progress by the hon. Gentleman, as I will be by my hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle-under-Lyme. I must congratulate the Select Committee on its work. This is a lively debate, not only in the House, but outside with fans and those who want to go to concerts. I believe that we can make progress at a reasonable pace and by putting consumer benefit to the fore.

Question put and agreed to.

Adjourned accordingly at twenty-nine minutes past Five o’clock.

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