The same happens with toys. I remember that a few years ago there was a massive craving for Buzz Lightyear toys and people queued up to get one. We all knew that

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the first 20 or 30 people, or however many could buy one, would resell the toys at a massively inflated price, in much the same way as happens with tickets. That is exactly what happened. Is anyone suggesting that the Government should intervene in the law to stop people reselling their Buzz Lightyears or their designer handbags, or whatever goes on sale in department stores with a lot of hype, at a higher price? If they do not want the Government to intervene to stop that—Lord help us if people want us to intervene in the market in that way—I do not see why they would want the Government to intervene with tickets. I do not see how tickets are a different commodity from designer handbags, toys or anything else.

Mrs Hodgson: The difference is that these are tickets to an experience. To use the Buzz Lightyear example, the situation would be like someone buying all the toys from the shop’s stock room so that other people never even had the opportunity to buy them off the shelves. That is what is going on. Customers have not even got a chance to buy them, because they have been bought out of the stock room.

Philip Davies: That might apply anyway. I do not know how shops operate, but it might well be that the shops say to staff, “If you want one, you can have one.” By the time any real punter gets in there, the items have all gone to members of staff. Does the hon. Lady really think that the Government should legislate to stop that from happening? That would be nonsensical. I do not see tickets as being different from anything else that people choose to buy and sell on at a higher price.

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): I also hesitate to rise to the bait, but is the point not about who owns the product? If someone buys a newly released iPad from someone else, it becomes their property to own and sell on, as would happen with baked beans. With tickets, the creative owner might prefer them to be sold in a particular way. For example, sports facilities might want a children’s area to build up support. The facilities could sell those tickets at much higher prices, but they prefer to sell them for a different reason than to be sold on again. It is the facilities’ products to do what they want with.

Philip Davies: My hon. Friend is right. It is the facilities’ product to do as they want with. If they want to go from house to house, picking the individual they want to sell those tickets to in a private transaction, they are free to do so. They choose to sell them in the public domain for anyone to apply for them. They sell them as they have chosen to sell them, and people are purchasing them as they have been invited to purchase them, so I am not sure what point my hon. Friend is making.

Mike Weatherley: That is an interesting point. If the owner of the ticket—the creative holder—wanted to restrict the people to whom it could be sold, does my hon. Friend agree that they should be able to?

Philip Davies: If the creator wants to sell the ticket in a particular way that to him or her guarantees that it goes to a particular person, they are free to do so. If they want to put it on the open market, the chances are

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that it will be purchased on the open market, and that is what happens. It is no good people bellyaching when people buy their tickets on the open market—presumably that is why they were put on the open market in the first place.

The idea that ticket touting negatively affects the artist or the person who is setting up the event is for the birds. If somebody is selling 50,000 tickets at £20 each, they have decided that they want to rake in £1 million in ticket sales from the event. It seems to me that the ticket touts are helping by buying up the tickets, because when the 50,000 tickets are sold, the event organiser and the artist have reached the amount—£1 million—that they were hoping to gain from ticket sales.

Whatever happens on the secondary market has no impact on the income that the event organiser has received from fixing up the event. It is still £1 million. If the event is not as popular as some people might have anticipated, the tout may well have done a favour by buying up tickets that they are not able to resell. They did not really want to go to the event, so they have helped the event organiser and the artist. The idea that reselling works is against the interests of the organiser and the artist is absolute nonsense. I hope that the Minister appreciates that and that we can nail the point for now.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove is right: the event organiser can do lots of things to try to discourage people from selling tickets on. For example, for an event in, say, four months’ time, instead of selling all the tickets in one go the moment the gates open—therefore encouraging the secondary market—the event organiser could sell a few tickets week by week, including up to the final week before the event. In that case, the secondary market would not be quite as attractive because tickets were still going to be available the week before in the primary market.

If the issue is so massive for event promoters and organisers, why do they not take the steps within their capability to try and deter the market? As far as I can see, it is all crocodile tears. If such a terrible thing is happening, which is against the rules, and if people put on the tickets that they are not for resale, it is open for ticket sellers, event organisers and artists to take people who resell the tickets to court. If they are so sure of their ground on the issue, why not do that? Perhaps it is because they fear that the courts will decide that what they are trying to impose is an unfair condition on the selling of tickets. I suspect that they shy away from doing so because it will be exposed for the world to see that what they are trying to argue for is anti-competitive and an unfair thing to impose on somebody whom they are selling to. I suspect that is why we get all the hot air in places such as this, but why no one stumps up the money to take the case to court.

On looking after the interests of the consumer, I should mention the net book agreement. I was at Asda when we bust that agreement. What used to happen in years gone by was that publishers—I am sure my hon. Friend would have supported publishers at the time—produced a book and set its price, and nobody else could sell it at any other price. Asda, when I was there, felt that that was terrible for the consumer. We wanted to sell it for less and thought that our customers wanted to buy it for a lower price, so we decided, “Blow it, we’re going to sell them at a lower price anyway”. Of course,

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the publishers took Asda to court and what happened? The courts found in Asda’s favour and book prices collapsed, to the massive advantage of the consumer.

Presumably everybody here who is arguing against the secondary market for tickets are the sort of luddites who would have kept the net book agreement in place, thinking that publishers should have the right to charge whatever they like for a book and that retailers should not be able to sell it at a lower price. I think that was a nonsense then and it is a nonsense now, and there is absolutely no difference between the arguments. Saying that the event organiser should be able to charge what they like for a ticket and not allowing anyone to sell it for any other price is the same as saying that publishers should be able to sell a book at a price they set, and that nobody should be able to sell it on at a lower price themselves. I hope that the Minister accepts that argument as well.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West mentioned the rugby world cup. It seems to me that for that tournament, the secondary ticket market should not only be allowed to happen, but is desirable. As I mentioned to the Minister, people in New Zealand may well be very confident that their team will get to the final, so they might buy up tickets for the final in huge quantities. However, their team might get knocked out in the semi-final. We need some mechanism for allowing fans of South Africa, for example, who may have beaten New Zealand in the semi-final, to get hold of the tickets that all the New Zealanders have bought.

It seems to me that the secondary sale of tickets works to the advantage, rather than the disadvantage, of the consumer. It would be a bit of a sickener if someone bought the ticket for their country’s game, but could not sell it on because of some well meaning legislation that the hon. Lady is trying to impose.

We then hear the typical argument that real fans suffer. I have no idea how one defines a real fan, but I will hazard a guess that if someone is prepared to stump up £2,000 or £5,000 for a ticket to see a concert or a sporting occasion, they are a real fan. No real fan would stump up such a huge quantity of money to go and see something that they were not really interested in. It seems to me that the resale of tickets is more likely to guarantee that real fans turn up than any other mechanism.

The Labour party used to believe in the redistribution of wealth, but that is obviously long gone from its DNA. The chances are that the person wanting to buy a ticket for £5,000 is wealthier than the person wanting to sell it for £5,000. If somebody who is relatively poor wants to sell off their ticket at a huge profit, that seems a rather good redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. Obviously, however, the Labour party has given up on the redistribution of wealth. I am sure that many of its members and supporters would like to know that.

Nobody loses out at all with the resale of tickets. The event organiser gets the income that they had budgeted to get from the event, so they certainly do not lose out, nor does the artiste, who is guaranteed to perform before a packed audience. If I want to go to an event but am not sure whether I can, because of work commitments, when I finally decide that I can, I have only one mechanism through which to buy a ticket—the

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secondary market, which gives me an opportunity to go. If that market was not allowed, I would have no chance of going at all.

If I do not want to pay the inflated price that is being asked for the tickets, I do not have to. Nobody is forcing me to, so I have not lost out through the secondary market. I have been given a choice and an offer that otherwise I would not get. I am not entirely sure who loses out with the resale of tickets. I do not see who the loser is, to be perfectly honest, because for many occasions, the tickets will sell out in five minutes flat, so many legitimate people would not be able to go. The secondary market gives them a chance that they would not otherwise get.

The hon. Lady mentioned people selling on tickets that do not exist. That is called fraud. It is already illegal; I am not entirely sure why she wants to make it more illegal, but we cannot make something more illegal that is already illegal, so we can easily dismiss that.

Finally, the hon. Lady seems to think that the public are on her side on the issue, but I have no idea on what basis. ICM conducted opinion polls on the issue and asked people about this premise:

“If I had a ticket to a sporting event, concert or other event that I could no longer use, then I should be allowed to resell it.”

Some 86% agreed with that. Some 83% agreed with this premise:

“Once I’ve bought a ticket it is my property and I should be able to sell it just as I can any other private property”.

The enthusiasm of the hon. Member for Eltham appears to have wilted at that point, but that is not the case for 83% of the population. Some 86% of people polled agreed that

“It shouldn’t be against the law for people to resell tickets that they no longer want or can’t use.”

The same opinion poll showed that a clear majority thought that the price of a ticket should be determined only by what they were willing to pay. That seems to fly in the face of all the arguments that we have heard today.

I hope that I have instilled some balance into the debate, and that the Minister will bear in mind the Select Committee and Office of Fair Trading reports, as well as the excellent evidence given by the right hon. Member for Barking to the Select Committee, to the effect that what we are debating is the free market in operation. We should not try to outlaw it, but encourage it, because it works in the best interests of the consumer. That is what the Select Committee and the OFT found when they looked into the matter.

3.20 pm

Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): It is with trepidation that I follow my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies). I enjoyed his speech very much.

Music, theatre, comedy and sport are vital to British society and the British economy. Our creative industries are worth more than £36 billion a year. They generate £70,000 a minute for the UK economy and employ 1.5 million people in the UK. I have consistently been a champion of the free market and I want to make it clear that I do not have a problem with artists or sports teams charging whatever prices they want for the services that they offer. That is their prerogative and they should be allowed to set the prices of their tickets or, if they

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choose, to sell them through secondary ticketing or auction websites. However, as the online marketplace has become quicker and easier to use, a large number of unsavoury and illegal practices have sprung up surrounding ticket reselling websites. That is why I, along with colleagues, have set up the all-party group on ticket abuse.

One of the key aspects of an honest and transparent ticket purchasing process is the intention of the buyer at the time of purchase. No one would begrudge a Rolling Stones fan who has become ill the day before the show the opportunity to sell their ticket on to someone else. However, an increasing number of people are buying tickets with no intention of going to the event. Furthermore, the situation does not affect only those fans who waited too long to buy tickets. With internet selling becoming more streamlined, touts are able to use sophisticated computer systems to buy large volumes of tickets automatically, mere seconds or minutes after they go online. It can often be practically impossible for the target fans to access the event, so they are forced to rely on an artificially created secondary market, and the content creators—and the Treasury—are deprived of revenue from the event. That is unacceptable.

Mr Nuttall: My hon. Friend said that the creators would be deprived of income, but surely a sell-out is a sell-out, and they have got as much as they expected to.

Mike Weatherley: The argument goes that the creator will still get the same sort of money, but that is not true, especially if there is an audience that they want to target. Taking away control from performers also takes away control of how money is distributed. I have no problem with a band giving a promoter tickets to sell on the secondary ticket market, if they want to generate additional income. However, the process should be transparent.

My hon. Friend did not mention the fact that the Treasury is disadvantaged by the practice. There are people who do not pay VAT or tax on their secondary ticketing sales, and that is wrong. If they make a profit from someone else’s activity, I do not see how he can disagree about their paying that.

In 2011, I supported the private Member’s Bill on ticket touting promoted by the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). The sensible suggestion that profits from re-selling should be limited to 10% more than the face value of the ticket has already been adopted in some Australian states. We can argue about whether 10% is the correct amount, as there could be ticket fees and so on in addition.

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): That would not work, because it would drive certain people to the underground market, as they would have to get more than 10%. Surely it would be back to blokes outside concert venues shouting “Tickets, tickets, tickets.”

Mike Weatherley: I tend to agree. I am not that worried about the odd ticket tout outside a venue, but I am worried about people making money from a bank of about 1,000 computers in a room the size of this one

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automatically buying tickets, when they have no intention of going to the gig. Those are not touts as we know them. Things have substantially changed since 2006-07. We are in a completely different sphere of ticket purchasing. Those people do not buy tickets for any other reason. The solution of a 10% limit on reselling would stop the people who buy purely intending to resell, rather than to go to the gig, who take rights away from the intellectual property creator.

Even for those who have not personally had experience of ticket touts, the extent of the problem is illustrated by the lengths to which they go to subvert ticketing controls. A potential solution to touting, which has been adopted by some venues already, is credit card verification, and many other methods are available. Nevertheless, touts often generate such large profits from many events that even that method is ineffective.

That does not, of course, address the issue of completely fraudulent tickets. When people buy, or are driven to buy, from a ticket reseller, they expose themselves to a greater risk. It is not uncommon for someone to buy tickets through a website that looks genuine, and make travel and accommodation plans to attend the event, only to discover when they arrive at the venue that their tickets are fakes. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that such activity is already illegal, but secondary ticketing makes such illegal activity easier.

The Metropolitan police published a comprehensive report on fraudulent ticketing and the danger it posed to the Olympics that specifically cited ticket fraud, touting and ticket reselling websites as areas of concern. Among several issues, the Met noted that websites with their servers based overseas were causing serious problems by advertising fraudulent tickets and then making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track the offenders or shut down illegal sites. That is an irrefutable fact, and the Culture, Media and Sport Committee did not address it in 2007.

The Met’s report stressed, as I do, the need for an open and transparent system for ticket reselling, with clear and appropriate regulations. Transparency is the key to protecting not just content creators but ticket buyers from dubious and misleading transactions. It is common in the entertainment industries for all or part of the fee for professionals involved in an event to be paid in tickets. The venue might be paid in tickets to a corporate box, or a promoter or manager might be given them as part of their fee. That is done with the tacit understanding that the recipients of those tickets will subsequently be able to sell them on for significantly more than their face value. It is, of course, the prerogative of the content creators to do that if they want to, but it should be done transparently.

Some of my colleagues, including my hon. Friend, have suggested that trying to regulate ticket touting represents an interference in the natural free market. However, that is a misunderstanding of one of the key principles of the free market—the ability of a market to respond to demand by increasing supply. That is one of the five conditions of a free market. In the case of sports matches or live music, there is no way to increase supply. There are only so many games in the season and bands can only play so many dates.

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Mr Chope: If there is great demand, is not the best thing to sell tickets by auction? They could all be launched for sale by auction, and that would find the market-clearing price.

Mike Weatherley: I have no problem with someone doing that if they want to. My point is that someone who does not want to do that, but wants to sell to a particular sector of society, such as young fans or particular fans in certain areas, should be allowed to apply to do so. I see nothing wrong with the people who provide the content suggesting how much they should get for it. If they want the free market to decide the price, I would be the first to say that that is right. If they want to give tickets to the promoter to sell on for whatever price they can get, as part of the deal, that is fine. Let us not, however, say that there should be no transparency about it, and that it should be under the table. We should bear in mind the police’s comments about secondary sites driving illegality.

Philip Davies: Obviously the event organisers do not care very much about it. I know that my hon. Friend has influence with people in the music industry. If they want to sell tickets to a young target audience, I am happy to use my good offices to try to distribute them around schools in my constituency—I hope that he will tell them so. However, they choose not to. They put them on the open market for anyone to get them, as they choose. If they are that bothered, perhaps they will take up my offer to distribute them in such a way.

Mike Weatherley: I would be delighted if my hon. Friend would meet me and some of the people from the industry. In fact, it would be fantastic if he was able to come along to some of the meetings of our all-party group at which we could hear from band managers and promoters about some of the problems that they experience. They tell me that this is a huge problem and that their fan bases, to whom they would like to distribute the tickets, also find that it is a problem. That is not me saying it, but the people who are in control of these things. They are looking to the Government to help them with sensible and fair regulation.

The proposals from the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West are measured and sensible. This would be not a huge leap forward, but a gentle nudge in the right direction that would assist the process of tickets being provided at the price that people or performers would want. I see nothing wrong with the proposals. The free market can still operate in situations in which performers would like it to operate. All we are saying is that there should be some sense in the whole thing.

3.30 pm

Andrew Bingham (High Peak) (Con): I did not intend to make a speech, because I just wanted to hear Members’ arguments—both sides of the argument have been put with great passion. My view is that we must take a pragmatic approach. There is a market for secondary tickets. If people cannot go to a concert, they have to get rid of their tickets. We live in a new world in which we have the internet, and we need to harness it. I think that what has been suggested is trying to preserve in aspic for a new world the way in which tickets used to be dealt with. I have looked into the secondary market and how people operate and, quite honestly, I think it works.

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I think it is a good system. People can offer their tickets for sale for the price that they want, and if other people want them, they can buy them. I hear the argument, “Oh, well, the ticket prices will be inflated,” but as my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) will know from his days at Asda, if people overprice things, no one will buy them. The market will dictate what price tickets will sell at, and we should let the market do that. I do not think that we need to be wrapping things in legislation at every turn.

Many of us will remember the days when there seemed to be people outside sporting events and musical events with fistfuls of tickets. I have never bought a ticket from a tout and I would not do so, but if someone does buy a ticket from a tout outside a stadium, they do not know whether it is genuine, and if an honest person is trying to get rid of a ticket because a member of their family cannot go to the event, they do not know whether the person buying it is paying them in forged money—we hear tales about forged £5 and £10 notes.

The secondary ticketing market, of which I was unaware until I looked into the issue in greater depth, provides a secure way for people to dispose of a ticket that they cannot use. There is a guarantee that they will be paid for the ticket and that the person buying it will get the ticket that they want. With regard to the price being driven up, let us say that there is a surplus of tickets to see the Rolling Stones, Motörhead or whoever my hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) would like to go and watch. I do not know what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley likes to watch, but we will have a punt on Barbra Streisand or someone like that. If there is a market for the tickets, that will dictate the price. As has been said, many tickets go for a price below their face value, because that is what the market will allow.

Philip Davies: I will not go through my tastes in music with my hon. Friend, but I just want to point something out. Does he agree that many events do not even allow people to get a refund, and that if we do not allow people who cannot go to events to sell their tickets, we are in a completely ludicrous situation? If event organisers are so busy, perhaps a good place to start would be to force them all to allow people to receive full cash refunds if they cannot go to an event, which does not happen at the moment.

Andrew Bingham: Yes, and that practice has a knock-on effect because people think, “Actually, I’m not going to buy a ticket, because I don’t know whether I can go. I don’t want to pay out however much for a ticket because if I can’t use it, I’ve lost the money.” My hon. Friend makes a valid point.

The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) made a point about corporate responsibility. I think that legitimate companies with secondary ticket websites will be concerned about their corporate responsibility. I have looked into the issue and held discussions with them. I have talked about the internet and how the world is different, and there is a different way of dealing with tickets. I hear the argument about bots—roomfuls of computers just harvesting tickets. As far as I can see, however, such legitimate companies are aware of their corporate reputation and, as a result, are making every effort to prevent that sort of thing from happening. That is the way in which the secondary

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market and the systems seem to work. We are in a brave new world in which we are dealing with the internet. When tickets came out many years ago, I remember that we would sit there on the phone, pressing redial, redial, redial. Now we are on the internet, although sometimes it seems somewhat the same—we just hit refresh, refresh, refresh. Learning to deal with the secondary market is about using the internet, not abusing it.

I heard what was said about previous inquiries. My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) said that the all-party group had made its mind up, but I am a vice-chairman of that group and I can assure him that I might not fit the template that he seems to imagine for the group, although that might disappoint one or two people. Let us carry out an open and honest inquiry. I have my views, and I will listen to all aspects of the argument, as I am sure that we all will. However, I note that the inquiries in previous Parliaments found nothing wrong with the current system, and I do not think that Government legislation is especially necessary at the moment. The system seems to work, but by all means let us have another look at it. The world has moved on but, as I said, my view is that at the moment it seems okay.

3.35 pm

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak (Andrew Bingham). This has been an interesting debate. As we have heard, we have perhaps been round this course before in Parliament—no doubt we will do so again—but the debate is no less enjoyable for that. The hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson), who opened the debate, said that some hon. Members might have new arguments. I do not have any new arguments, because my belief in the free market is the same today as it was three years ago. It was on 21 January 2011—three years ago to the day—that we debated the hon. Lady’s private Member’s Bill, and my view today is the same as it was then. When someone buys a ticket, whether they are an individual or a large corporate entity, it is up to them what they do with it. It is not the job of the Government—it is not the job of the Houses of Parliament—to try to legislate to control in any way what they should do with it.

I agree that it is up to the original owner of the ticket—the band, promoter, sporting team or whoever—what they do with it. If they want to sell it, to whomever they want, I am happy to go along with that idea. It is perfectly sensible and right that they should do that. I do not accept that it is the job of Parliament to try to say to anyone that they cannot sell their ticket at a given price, whether that is 10% more than face value, 15% more, 20% more or whatever. Of course, the problem with introducing the 10% rule that was proposed in the private Member’s Bill is that if it is okay for the first person to sell the ticket for 10% more, what about the owner who has already paid 10% more for it? Are they then stuck with being able to sell it only at that price, or can they sell it for an additional 10%? The idea is just ridiculous.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) made a point about bands wanting to target a certain sector. Let us not beat about the bush. What the proponents

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of controlling the secondary market seem to be suggesting is that that target audience is somehow those who are of lesser means—those who cannot afford to pay for a ticket in the open market. If bands are really committed to helping those of lesser means, there are many ways they can do so. What is to stop bands, on the day of the concert, from letting a certain number of people—the genuine fans—in for free? Those fans would be the people who were prepared to queue to see the band for free. The top bands, and middle-level and lower bands, could still get their money by selling the rest of the tickets at higher prices. They would still get as much as they ever would have, and they would be able to reward those fans of lesser means. I will not call those people “real” fans, however, because if someone is prepared to pay an inflated price, they are just as much of a real fan as someone who is prepared to queue throughout the night to see a particular band. I look forward to hearing what my hon. Friend the Minister has to say.

3.40 pm

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): It is a pleasure to take part in this debate under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I start by paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson). She has been a tireless campaigner on the matter and is determined to protect the consumer, who is frequently ripped off by people exploiting the secondary ticketing market.

We need to get one or two things clear at the start. No one is suggesting that people should not be able to resell their tickets if they have a legitimate reason to do so, such as if they are unable to attend an event. We have all been in similar situations. The viagogo figure of 50% of tickets being sold for their face value or less arises because many people use the secondary ticketing market to try to minimise their losses when they cannot attend events. They did not necessarily buy tickets with the intention of making a profit and fail to sell them on.

We must have a robust secondary ticketing market that is properly regulated and that gives consumers protection. The secondary ticketing market must also allow organisers to monitor what is going on. The hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) said that if somebody buys a ticket, they own the rights to it and can do what they like with it, but that is not true. When someone buys a ticket, they enter into a contract with the organiser. In many instances, the organiser makes stipulations regarding the selling on of tickets, which must be honoured. The ticketing market must be regulated and provide that information so that organisers can check ticket details at the point of sale. Let us face it; there is no other form of retail in which a consumer cannot examine the full details of a product. Rugby union made a challenge against viagogo on that basis, to try to secure access to such information.

We must protect the consumer against organised gangs of touts. The hon. Members for High Peak (Andrew Bingham), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall) and for Shipley made passionate speeches in favour of the free market. I have had various descriptions of redistribution of wealth thrust at me, but that given by the hon. Member for Shipley was a new one on me. He did not mention the link between crime and many instances in which people hoover up large numbers of tickets and sell them on. Presumably, he sees bank robbery as a

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form of redistribution of wealth and considers any form of crime that takes from the rich and gives to the poor to be justifiable in terms of the free market.

At the moment, 14 sets of tickets for the rugby world cup are available on the viagogo site. Tickets for that event will not even go on sale until autumn of next year, and the tournament will take place a year after that. When people do not even own those tickets yet, how can they be offering them for sale? The tickets on offer range from £86 to £10,000, and the two £10,000 tickets carry a £3,000 surcharge to cover the ticket guarantee and customer service. I would have thought that that was well and truly covered in the £10,000 price. What sort of extra cover could anyone need from viagogo to get a ticket guarantee? I would expect that to be part of the deal, but it is obviously not. People who use such sites are subject to some dubious additional charges, which is another area of concern.

The police inform us that touts are often linked to criminal gangs, and touting is estimated to raise some £40 million a year for organised criminal networks. The report “Ticket Crime: Problem Profile” published by the Metropolitan police in February 2013 states:

“Intelligence suggests that OCNs engaged in ticket crime have links to other organised crime, including the importation and production of drugs, as well as the smuggling of firearms and money laundering.”

We have heard impassioned pleas for a free market that facilitates such criminal activity, which is totally irresponsible and unjustifiable. Criminal gangs are well equipped, as my hon. Friend has set out, to hoover up tickets through networks of computers, botnets and so on ahead of genuine fans—the hon. Member for Shipley is no doubt wriggling in his seat at the mention of those words—whom they will force to pay extortionately high prices for those tickets.

I wrote to the Minister to ask that the rugby world cup, like the 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, be given a specific designation as an event of national significance to protect rugby fans. The organisers of the rugby world cup have priced their tickets to make them accessible to a range of fans, and they want to be able to resell returned tickets at face value through their own ticketing regime and reimburse the original purchasers. They want fans to be able to buy tickets at affordable prices so that a good cross-section of our communities and sports fans attend the events. What is wrong with that? Inevitably, however, criminal organisations and people who, even if they are not involved in criminal gangs, attempt to avoid paying tax on the profits that they earn from reselling tickets will buy tickets from under the noses of the fans. In so doing, they will completely undermine the ticketing policy that we, as politicians, have demanded of the England rugby world cup 2015 to try to ensure that tickets are accessible.

In my letter to the Minister, I asked for co-operation across the House to pass legislation to protect rugby fans from such exploitation. In her response, she mentions a consultation by the previous Government on ticketing. She states that the responses were broadly in line with the findings of the report by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee in 2008, and says that the consultation found that the biggest issue with regard to ticket resale concerned the practice of purchasing large numbers of tickets with the sole intention of releasing them back into the secondary market. That is exactly the point that

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we were raising, and we did not need it to be reiterated. She went on to say that the Department had looked at the Select Committee findings and the conclusions of the previous Government, and that it was broadly in agreement.

Time has moved on, and the Metropolitan police report that I have referred to states:

“The absence of a regulatory or legislative framework (apart from designated football matches) enables fraud, unscrupulous practices and a lack of transparency. This clearly places the public at risk. This matter was last considered by a Culture, Media and Sport select committee report in 2007.”

I think that report was actually in 2008. The Metropolitan police report continues:

“It is noted that, since then, the Internet has grown exponentially providing even more opportunities for fraudsters and unauthorised sellers to exploit.”

The Metropolitan police force has conducted a serious study into this area of operation since the 2012 Olympics and since the Select Committee’s report, and it has reached the conclusion that something needs to happen. The Metropolitan police report later states that there is a “lack of legislation outlawing” the practice.

In 2005, the then shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Faversham and Mid Kent (Hugh Robertson), who became the Minister for Sport and the Olympics, said that ticket touting had a “knock-on effect” on the availability of tickets for real fans, and that

“ticket touting is now part of a vast organised criminal business.”—[Official Report, Standing Committee D, 18 October 2005; c. 101.]

When the Government were in opposition, they put forward exactly the same arguments as we are making today. Those arguments apply even more so now with the advancement of the secondary ticketing market on the internet.

I welcome the Minister’s offer of a meeting to discuss the issue. We can wait for legislation—I am sure that we will have detailed discussions about secondary ticketing market regulation when the consumer protection Bill is introduced—but when we meet, will the Minister guarantee that we will sit down and talk about how we will designate the rugby union world cup 2015 in order to protect fans from being exploited in the secondary ticketing market on the internet?

3.50 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mrs Helen Grant): It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby. I would like to start by telling the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West (Mrs Hodgson) that I too was a Take That fan, although perhaps not first generation. I congratulate her on her very good musical taste and thank her for securing this debate. I also thank my hon. Friends the Members for Shipley (Philip Davies), for Hove (Mike Weatherley), for High Peak (Andrew Bingham) and for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), as well as the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford), for their important contributions, which I have listened to carefully.

I welcome the opportunity to discuss ticket abuse, which is important to my Department, and I would like to assure the hon. Lady that the Government take the issue seriously and keep it under review. My officials have had lengthy discussions with the organisers of the

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rugby world cup—who have been repeatedly mentioned by Members today—and with other organisers of various events. We are aware of the concerns that the hon. Lady and others have highlighted today.

Although the Government have no plans to introduce new regulations on the ticketing and events market, we continue to encourage improvements so that all customers have an opportunity to purchase tickets and can do so in a secure, safe and proper environment. We believe that it is for event organisers, together with the professional ticketing organisations, to determine suitable arrangements for ticket sales to their various events. That is why my officials have had extensive discussions with both the event organisers and the ticketing organisations such as Ticketmaster.

Where the Government differ from some of the opinions expressed today is in the belief that the best way to achieve improvements is through legislation. Our view is that the best way to do that is by building effective safeguards into the ticketing processes. For example, at a meeting last month with Ticketmaster, which is the ticketing partner for the rugby world cup, officials had a detailed briefing on the options available to event organisers. Options include using barcoding, having named tickets, staggering the release of tickets, and rewarding fans with a history of support. I note that tickets for the ever-popular Glastonbury festival, for example, are managed very effectively in that way. I am pleased to learn that the rugby world cup organisers have already decided to sell 500,000 of the 2.3 million tickets to members and clubs through the Rugby Football Union. That will ensure that tickets really do go into the hands of genuine fans.

The question of ticket re-sale is interesting and important. There are, of course, genuine reasons why someone might wish to re-sell their ticket—for example, if their team does not qualify for the finals. In such an instance, we would look to the event organisers to offer an official platform to return or re-sell the ticket. That would have the added benefit, which I believe was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, of offering to fans a last minute opportunity to buy tickets at face value. That proved to be a successful way of ensuring that fans could safely buy and sell tickets for the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games. I understand that the rugby world cup will also have an official re-sale mechanism in place—the shadow Minister asked about that a few moments ago.

We must recognise above all that there is a legitimate market. People are willing to pay above the market value of a ticket to attend an event. Others have genuine reasons to sell their tickets. I have listened carefully to

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everyone, but we do not want to criminalise fans, and we must not. Successive Governments and Select Committees have looked into the market in great detail and concluded that events organisers, promoters and ticket agents need to find solutions to ticketing and access to their events. Members will be aware that the Government made an exception in producing legislation for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games because that was a requirement of the bid. The hon. Lady conceded that point.

Operation Podium has also been mentioned. The report on that operation clearly sets out that, even where legislation exists—such as for the re-sale of football tickets—it does not necessarily prevent the secondary market from operating. The hon. Lady raised the issue of the football tickets loophole. I will certainly raise that issue with the football authorities. I know that many season tickets take the form of electronic cards that are quite difficult to sell on for individual matches, which I think helps. I am happy to take that issue further. The Home Office is in charge of the legislation, so it would decide whether there is any risk to public order. I am sure that it will keep an eye on the issue and act accordingly.

Although further regulations might act as a deterrent for some, the regulatory burden imposed by stronger regulations is one that local authorities and police forces can ill afford to bear. The Government have made a commitment to reduce regulation and will only introduce new regulation as a last resort. We believe that the lightest practical regulatory burden is the right approach, particularly as powers exist to prevent criminal activity and unauthorised re-sale. Local authorities have powers to prevent unlicensed trading in the streets around venues under the Local Government (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 1982, and fraudulent activity is already a criminal offence under the Fraud Act 2006. The police have had some successes in tackling such activity, but some of it occurs abroad where our powers of enforcement do not extend, unfortunately.

The key aim must be to reduce fraud by carefully educating consumers about the risks they take in using unofficial marketplaces. Removing the ability for consumers to buy tickets legitimately will ultimately drive demand to unauthorised websites, which are much harder to police. The Government have previously stated that unless there is proper evidence of market failure, there is no need for us to take action. We still believe that to be the case, but we will keep the position under careful review.

3.59 pm

Sitting suspended for Divisions in the House.

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Earls Court Exhibition Centre

4.24 pm

Mr Andy Slaughter (Hammersmith) (Lab): It is a great pleasure to be here under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, to tell what I hope is an uplifting story about one of the finest cultural institutions in this country, although I am afraid that it has a rather sad twist, which leads to my being here.

I am delighted to see the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) in the Chamber. The better known part of the exhibition centre is in his constituency and I know that he has a strong interest in this matter. I am also delighted to see my hon. Friend the Member for Bishop Auckland (Helen Goodman), the shadow Culture Minister here, which reminds us that this is not just a local or a London issue, but a national issue as well. I look forward to the Minister’s response, because he is not only a great patron of the arts, but a local resident himself and no doubt a user of the exhibition centre. I hope that we will be joined by other hon. Members.

I acknowledge the people from the Earls Court Area Action Group, who are here in substantial numbers in the Public Gallery. They helped me prepare for this debate and, more importantly, they have been stalwart in the defence and promotion of the exhibition centre, since we learned that it was under threat. I thank them for their incredible efforts. I am wearing the badge today, but not the T-shirt. I hope that they will find this debate rewarding.

In providing a brief background to the importance of Earls Court, I could not do better, although I could try, than simply to read the introduction—the long description—on its own website. So I shall read from it for two minutes.

“Earls Court One opened for business in 1937 with the Chocolate and Confectionery Exhibition, and was joined in 1991 by Earls Court Two which still boasts Europe’s biggest unsupported roof span. Earls Court One and Two together have a total 60,000 square metres of event space and add to these facilities the purpose-built conference centre and the Museum Hall party space can boast a venue and a space for every event.

Over the years, the venues have welcomed visitors to shows such as the London Boat Show, the British Motor Show, the Ideal Home Show, the London Book Fair, the Great British Beer Festival and the Good Food Show”,

to which we might add the royal tournament.

“The halls have resounded to performances by world-famous artists such as Madonna, Pink Floyd, Iron Maiden, George Michael, Elton John, Kylie, Rod Stewart, Queen and the Rolling Stones.”

It has

“hosted the BRIT Awards, and sporting events such as boxing and wrestling contests, and some of the country’s largest companies have held conferences, training sessions and…staff parties in”

the venues.

“As the ultimate accolade, Earls Court was selected to be a London 2012 Olympic venue—chosen, according to Lord Coe…for its west London location and excellent transport links.

All of this puts Earls Court at the heart of the communities in which they operate, as the 1.5 million visitors, 15,000 exhibiting companies and 300 events that we cater for every year have a sizeable economic impact—in terms of jobs and expenditure.

A study carried out on behalf of Earls Court and sister venue Olympia London, showed that the two venues together supported

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£258m of expenditure in their boroughs and over £1.25bn in the London region, and accounted for…over 1,000 jobs in the boroughs and around 12,500 in London.”

The study...showed that one in two Londoners visits the venues every year.”

One could go on and mention the history, even before the centres were built.

Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I have listened to my hon. Friend listing the events. Does he think that it is tragic that we are going to lose this important venue, which was so central to our successful bid to win and host a successful Olympic games and Paralympics in 2012, and that losing it in this way will close off the opportunity for London to host such major sporting events in future?

Mr Slaughter: I thank my hon. Friend, the shadow Sports Minister, for his intervention and I am delighted that he has drawn attention to the centre’s importance as a sporting venue.

It is the largest exhibition space in central London and is clearly a versatile space. It has a swimming pool 60 metres by 30 metres available inside it. In its time it has hosted ski runs 100 feet long. It was used in both world wars.

During the construction of Earls Court Two, the new part of the exhibition centre in my constituency, residents put up with some years of pile-driving—I was first a councillor there in the late 1980s—but they knew that a venue was being provided that could rival any other in the United Kingdom and internationally. Its expansion, only 20 years ago, provided jobs for the local community and an unrivalled conference venue. It has hosted operas, rock concerts and the Olympics; it is a venue that cannot be replaced.

I say all that because we are here to praise Earls Court, but we are also here because others wish to bury it. That includes Earls Court’s current owners Capital & Counties, the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham and Transport for London, which between them own the Earls Court opportunity area—one might call them partners in crime. They are abetted by the planning authorities, which conveniently are also the owners of those bodies in two out of three cases: the Mayor of London and the London borough of Hammersmith and Fulham. They are joined, I am afraid, by the royal borough of Kensington and Chelsea and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government in sounding the death knell for the exhibition centre by granting consent to the master plan for the development of the 80-acre site, which will lead not only to the demolition of the exhibition centre but the demolition of 760 high-quality, affordable homes on the West Kensington and Gibbs Green estates and the loss of 550 skilled jobs and a major manufacturing site for Transport for London at the Lillie Bridge depot. Each of those deserves a debate in its own right, and indeed I have previously raised them in the House. They are part of a much bigger plan to destroy Earls Court.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): My hon. Friend is making an excellent case. Does he agree that the potential destruction of the Earls Court site, which has an iconic 1930s art deco building and provides employment, would affect an important area of London

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that is a real place with a real community? If we take Earls Court with Smithfield, we see that all the city will be turned into expensive flats for people who do not live in them. Does he not think that will make London an intensely boring city?

Mr Slaughter: My hon. Friend makes several good points. She is right about Smithfield, although I note that Smithfield, which is an iconic site, albeit much smaller than Earls Court, has been granted a public inquiry, as has the Shell centre. In the case of Earls Court, the Secretary of State has cynically refused a public inquiry for 80 acres in the centre of London. My hon. Friend is also right that, in place of the rich employment, cultural and residential areas that we now see, we will have 8,000 faceless high-rise luxury flats sold off plan to foreign investors with, at most, 11% new affordable housing—a quarter of all housing—that will not be affordable to any of my constituents. Unfortunately, every day in west London is Christmas day for developers, but there is a lot of collateral damage.

In the remaining time, I will address the damage that will be caused and the real loss that will be occasioned if the exhibition centre goes. The proposal is part of a much bigger time scale. We have had five years of attempts at demolition and resistance from the community, but we have up to 25 years of further development on the site. That long time scale notwithstanding, it is appropriate that we should be talking about Earls Court today because we stand between two important events for the future of the exhibition centre. Last week, the developer submitted the first detailed application for that part of the site, which includes the potential replacement for the exhibition centre should Earls Court One and Two be demolished. That detailed application followed the granting of the planning application for the master plan for the whole area in November 2013.

With what would the developer and the local authorities replace the exhibition centre? The answer is luxury flats. The total floor space of the detailed designs submitted to replace the exhibition centre is 290,170 square metres. The amount for culture, education, health and community is 324 square metres, which works out at 0.1% of the site. There will not be one single affordable home, but there will be 1,324 luxury homes in massive apartment blocks. That is what we will have on the site instead of the Earls Court exhibition centre if the detailed planning application is granted. Meanwhile, there is a question of land ownership, and on Thursday of this week Transport for London’s finance and policy committee—there are serious questions on whether that is the appropriate body and whether it has the powers to do this, but no doubt it will attempt to do so—will recommend that the board approve TfL entering a joint venture arrangement with Capital & Counties Properties and/or a wholly owned undertaking of Capco, on which hangs other tales, with regard to the development of Earls Court One and Two, of which London Underground is the freeholder and Capco the long leaseholder, along with other properties owned by London Underground and Capco.

The matter has been debated at length in the London Assembly. On 9 October 2013, by 14 votes to 7, with the support of all parties other than the Conservative party, this resolution was passed:

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“This Assembly notes that the Mayor of London has approved the Earls Court Opportunity Area plans, which will mean that…the Earls Court exhibition centres will be demolished in the absence of a full, independent economic impact assessment, and in the face of opposition from the event organisers industry”.

The resolution goes on to describe what happens to the West Kensington estate and the Lillie Bridge depot, and it states that:

“TfL should not enter a joint venture to develop these sites”.

That very clear instruction from the London Assembly was totally ignored by the Mayor. I am pleased to say that the same members of the Assembly have today written to TfL:

“We are writing to strongly urge you to defer your recommendation on entering the proposed joint venture with Capital and Counties…with regard to the redevelopment Earls Court and West Kensington Opportunity Area”.

The letter points out that the London Assembly transport committee has yet to discuss the matter, and indeed we have yet to hear the Government’s response to today’s debate. The letter states:

“There has not…been a full independent economic impact assessment on what the loss of the Earls Court Exhibition Centres will mean to the local and national economy. There are also concerns that TfL will not receive the best value from this deal until the value of the land has been properly and independently assessed.”

I do not want to run too much over my time, but I hope the Minister will bear with me if I go one or two minutes over because this is an opportunity to present all of the issues. I want to say two other things. First, in the view of those who understand, what will be the effect on the exhibitions industry? According to Karim Halwagi, the chief executive of the Association of Event Organisers:

“At a time of deep economic recession, the exhibitions industry is a shining example of national resilience and economic growth. The events economy expanded by over 18% from £9.3 billion to £11 billion between 2005-2010 and this uplift occurred during the worst economic recession in recent years.

We must ask why, in the midst of a property-busted recession, should loss of the halls…rob London of a much-needed cultural and business hub at a time when Britain needs more space devoted to cultural and commercial exhibitions.

This debate is set against a mounting concern in the local residential and business communities that will be directly affected by this contentious development. The failure by the two local authorities to conduct an Area Action Plan, which would have provided a wide-ranging strategic assessment of the proposed development, has left the immediate area vulnerable. The impact of this development is already being felt with businesses and amenities that support the vitality that residents enjoy, already closing.”

I pause to observe that the local businesses that have been sustained by the footfall to Earls Court over the years—mainly small businesses in Kensington and Chelsea and Hammersmith and Fulham, but also businesses in the wider area—are not only facing the loss of most of their trade due to the closure and demolition but are effectively being blackmailed and forced out by the developer, which is increasing their rents by up to 100%. Mr Halwagi also points out that ExCeL, which is considered the alternative to Earls Court, is 36th in the world rankings, whereas Paris has two venues in the top 10. We know that the national exhibition centre is possibly threatened because of the forced sale due to cuts to local government funding in Birmingham. Ironically, the NEC was supposed to provide an alternative to Earls Court all those years ago.

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It is therefore not the case that we can do without Earls Court, which is unique by virtue of its space, history and central London location. Indeed, more exhibition centres are needed. There are only 52 weeks in the year, and in any one week we need as many exhibition centres as we have. The industry is expanding, and we are trying to compete on the world stage. It is the sheerest folly to have decided to destroy such centres without putting anything in their place.

Finally, because this debate is primarily about the culture of the area, I turn to a letter published in the Evening Standard on 28 November last year from 30 well-known names across popular and more elite culture, including Neil Tennant, Holly Johnson, Ozwald Boateng, Tracey Ullman, Duggie Fields and Baroness Deech. They said:

“The planned demolition of the iconic landmark Earls Court Exhibition Centres is nothing but cultural vandalism. The authentic Art Deco building represents the visual heart and hub of a community vital to the life-blood of the London economy. The venue attracts on an international scale, with a history of millions of visitors and crowd-drawing events on the world map…Trade shows, product fairs, artists, musicians and performers hold this venue in high esteem because it offers an unrivalled space in a central location. The substantial loss of income to local traders and to London as a whole is inexcusable. Nothing about the so-called Masterplan is beneficial for either the neighbouring community or for the long-term economy, only more shops, offices and apartments for the super-wealthy…London’s skyline is already at risk according to UNESCO and yet the shameless glut of luxury property building continues. It is a scandal that will scar the capital forever and a bubble that will have to burst in the near future, inevitably…A far more modest spend on the buildings infrastructure would guarantee the Earls Court heritage for the long term future, with a continuing enrichment both of London’s creative life as well as the national economy.”

I could not have put it better. That is what is at risk.

This should not be a party political issue, and certainly was not in the past. I am grateful for being sent a press release from Sir Horace Cutler, the Conservative leader of the Greater London council in 1979—gosh, that does seem a long time ago— announcing that £5 million was being provided to sustain and improve Earls Court. He said:

“It is tangible proof of the GLC’s total commitment to retaining and encouraging major exhibitions and conventions in London.

It is also evidence of our support for Earls Court in particular. The £5 million that the GLC is injecting will, together with money and expertise from the Earls Court management, ensure that operations go on here for some considerable time.”

I hope that that “considerable time” is not cut off in its prime by the demolition plans. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, I am delighted to see the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington here. His constituents have also written to me, so I know that he has said:

“I would like to see Earls Court being preserved.”

I know that he appreciates as much as I its value as a cultural, as well as economic, asset to the area. I look forward to working with him, with my hon. Friends and, I hope, with the Minister as well. I apologise again for taking slightly more than my allotted time, but I hope that the Minister will indicate whether the Government are prepared to show sympathy to retaining the Earls Court exhibition centre for all the reasons given—and if not, why not—and what do they see as the alternative to preserving and enhancing the cultural and economic life of this part of central London?

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4.44 pm

Sir Malcolm Rifkind (Kensington) (Con): Given the time available, my speech will be brief, but I start by congratulating the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter) on raising this subject. The Earls Court exhibition centre itself is primarily in the Kensington constituency, but the proposals form part of a much larger development, involving the demolition of large numbers of houses in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency, so I fully understand residents’ concern about all the changes. The hon. Gentleman has set out the position fairly.

This description has already been used, but Earls Court is an iconic building. It is always sad when such a building moves on. That has been part of the history of London, which has seen so many changes of this kind. Part of why London remains a vital and extraordinarily successful city is that it not only tries to preserve the best, but adapts to changing circumstances. The hon. Gentleman gave some of Earls Court’s history and I can add to it in one important respect. In 1935-36, when it was being built, it was reported that the

“project did not go exactly to plan; it ran over budget and was late in completion.”

Running over budget might not seem too strange, but the total cost rose to the extraordinary, astronomic sum of £1.5 million in 1937. When Earls Court Two was constructed in 1991, inflation meant that it cost some £100 million. We are therefore dealing with major projects. I am sad that Earls Court exhibition centre is likely to disappear. That is unfortunate, because it has made an important contribution in the way the hon. Gentleman describes.

With regard to my constituents, the massive development is going to last for not one year or five years, because it will be up to 20 years before the work is complete, and that has substantial implications for those who live in the immediate vicinity. I want to make particular reference to the residents of Eardley crescent and Philbeach gardens, the two streets that are closest to the centre. The volume of traffic, the demolition and all the various works associated with any major development are bad enough, but something of this scale will be of great significance. I visited the exhibition centre to see the developers’ presentation, and I must confess that I was impressed by their awareness of implications for residents in the immediate vicinity of the area, the steps that they are taking to try to ameliorate the difficulties, their willingness to have ongoing consultation with the residents of the adjoining streets, who will have to bear the brunt of the noise and dust, and various measures to ensure that much of the rubble that is removed will not be taken through residential areas. I am sure that the two local authorities—Kensington and Chelsea, and Hammersmith and Fulham—will be responsible for monitoring the work closely as it develops. Conditions can be imposed on developers, but that is not good enough. Even when good conditions exist, what can sometimes be more noticeable is a lack of willingness to respect them once the development has actually started. Local authorities have sometimes been less than perfect at imposing real conditions that can be enforced.

The project could take up to 20 years to be completed. It could represent an exciting new phase of London life but, whatever its success, the loss of the centre and the

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short and medium-term impact on people’s lives are matters of sadness. The hon. Gentleman has done a service in raising the issue, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): I point out to the Minister that we will move on to the next debate at 4.54 pm.

4.49 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (Mr Edward Vaizey): I am grateful to be speaking under your chairmanship, Mr Crausby, and for the alert that I have only five minutes in which to make my points. I do not regret that, however, because it is extremely important that local residents—whether due to being here in the audience, or reading the record—are aware of the clear exposition of the hon. Member for Hammersmith (Mr Slaughter), as well as the equally clear speech made by my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind). My right hon. and learned Friend’s speech was rather shorter, given that this is not his debate, but both he and the hon. Gentleman expressed their views as local MPs.

This debate could range far and wide. I cannot be blind to the fact that there is a huge debate about the merits, or otherwise, of the entire development of the Earls Court area. However, while I put on record that I do not doubt the sincerity of the points made by the hon. Member for Hammersmith, or of the residents’ action group, which campaigns on the issue, the hon. Gentleman has used Earls Court as a good way to raise much wider issues in Parliament and to seek a response from the Government.

I will focus on the Earls Court exhibition centre, which is the focus of the debate. The hon. Gentleman gave a good history of the area. It is interesting to note that the site was first opened as an entertainment ground in 1887. Known as the Earls Court exhibition grounds, the site closed in 1914 and was commandeered for the war—none of those historical buildings survives. As was pointed out, the grounds were replaced by the exhibition centre in 1936 to 1937, with Earls Court Two added in 1991.

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The key point lies in the fact that although people have talked about a magnificent art deco building, one of my most important responsibilities as heritage Minister is to decide whether to accept listing recommendations from English Heritage, the official body that advises the Government on such matters. It is worth pointing out, to provide clarity and context to the debate, that the application to list the building was first made in 2006, under the previous Government. As the hon. Gentleman pointed out, this is not a party political issue, and I respect and understand the fact that every heritage Minister not only takes their responsibilities seriously, but approaches any decision on a listing recommendation in a quasi-judicial capacity, if I may put it in such terms.

At the time, the clear advice from English Heritage was not to list Earls Court and, further, it provided a certificate of immunity from listing for a period. The issue came back in October 2010 and again, although some note was made of an exhibition centre that had survived, given that a lot of such centres were temporary, the view of English Heritage was:

“In terms of architectural merit…this is an extremely functional building, designed to maximise floor capacity on a difficult site, with limited embellishment...While of regional interest as one of the capital’s most prominent exhibition centres, in a national context Earl’s Court has insufficient architectural interest to warrant listing.”

As far as I am aware, no other opportunity to list Earls Court will come up again for a number of years—not until 2016 at the earliest—so there is no protection for the exhibition centre as a listed building.

The hon. Gentleman widened the debate to the merits or demerits of the development itself, which is the subject of a Terry Farrell master plan. Sir Terry Farrell was used by the previous Government to carry out master plans, and at the moment is undertaking a review of the architectural profession on my behalf. The hon. Gentleman is familiar with both sides of the argument, but the opposing points to those he made are: the development will provide 7,500 homes, 1,500 of which will be affordable; there will be 750 replacement homes for the residents of Gibbs Green and West Kensington estates; there will be 37 acres of new open space, with a five-acre public park; and there will be investment in the local tube stations of West Brompton and Earl’s Court. In terms of exhibition space—

Mr David Crausby (in the Chair): Order. We must move on to the next debate.

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Carbon Capture and Use

4.54 pm

Laura Sandys (South Thanet) (Con): I am honoured to be serving under your chairmanship today, Mr Crausby.

As the Minister knows, few Conservative Members have a greater commitment to building a sustainable, clean and low-carbon economy than I do—an economy that is truly resilient to price shocks and international crises, while making a serious contribution to the global reduction in carbon emissions. The Government have been tireless in building the policy framework around a low-carbon infrastructure that was so neglected for so many years. There are also a few who would like to see more energy from renewable sources, with little to no reliance on fossil fuels. Even I, however, live in the real world. I totally recognise that the pressures to use new and existing fossil fuels will be real and immediate for many economies, now and into the future.

As part of the armoury to combat climate change, it is essential that we promote technologies that can capture carbon and restrict emissions. I would very much prefer our default option to be low carbon at the point of generation, but carbon capture and storage offers greater flexibility in the energy source, and as a technology it will be important for coal and gas-rich economies.

I have to admit that I am not a techie, but—my word—CCS is an incredibly complex route for achieving carbon-free fuels. I sometimes accuse the energy sector of being over-engineered, but CCS is an engineer’s dream. Extraction, transportation and deep-sea storage—quite a feat to rid us of waste that in some minds should not have been emitted in the first place.

How did we get to that particular solution? Part of it perhaps is that carbon is seen as a waste product. Carbon has suffered from a bad image, in particular among the greenies. Carbon itself, however, is not bad; what is bad is its atmospheric build-up, the emitting of carbon dioxide. Carbon can be recycled, utilising rather than storing this so-called waste, not only reducing the cost of land fill—or sea fill—but ensuring that new products do not need to use new carbon. The issue is about resource reutilisation and remanufacturing what we now consider a waste product into something of value.

I am aware that the quantities of carbon that would need to be used to complete the whole carbon cycle through utilisation are huge. Few scientists can envisage full utilisation of CO2 from fossil fuel generation; at best, 10% might be feasible to reuse at this stage. There are scientists, however, who believe that we must start looking at utilisation alongside capture and storage. Perhaps utilisation should be the first call on carbon, not only the afterthought.

Carbon utilisation is not only a fringe area of interest. Sir David King, now the Foreign Secretary’s special representative for climate change, even highlights carbon dioxide conversion and use as one of the top 10 emerging technologies for 2013-14 on behalf of the World Economic Forum. The US is investing $1 billion in carbon capture and utilisation research; Germany is investing £118 million

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and the Chinese are making it a key part of their carbon management programme. What can be done with CO2 that would add to the greater good, rather than its merely being regarded as waste? Sir David King’s group states that the conversion of

“unwanted CO2 into saleable goods can potentially address both the economic and energetic shortcomings of conventional CCS strategies.”

A leading group of scientists from Imperial college, while warning that carbon capture and utilisation must work in conjunction with CCS, agree that there is potential for conversion into liquid fuel. They also agree that captured carbon need not simply displace conventional petrochemicals. Some say that, in the longer term, polymers could be used for sustainable packaging and construction materials, as a by-product of CO2. The universal key reservations, however, are scale and whether enough added value could be created by the end of the process. No one is saying that the technology will change the world of carbon overnight or that we should halt our focus on carbon capture and storage, but utilisation and reuse should be part of the mix. We want to get rid of landfill onshore, so why do we want to create a different sort of landfill offshore?

This debate aims to raise the profile of the utilisation of carbon, to rehabilitate carbon and offer it a second chance—or even a second life. I ask the Government to consider the following policy interventions. Although carbon capture and storage will be the main focus of decarbonising fossil fuels, to what extent have the Government focused on utilisation, particularly in light of Sir David King’s belief that CCU could be a game-changing technology?

The US and Germany are putting huge investment into research. What is the current spending on research on carbon capture and utilisation in this country, and should we be looking at it again as a priority? Did the carbon capture and storage cost-reduction taskforce examine the cost implications and potential benefits of utilisation, such as chemical and/or liquid fuels? If carbon capture and utilisation could be scaled up or work in conjunction with carbon capture and storage, would it attract contracts for difference? The big potential prize of carbon capture and utilisation is its transference into liquid fuels. As we know, one of our biggest challenges is decarbonising the transport sector. Could CCU play an important part in the decarbonisation of that sector, and help deal with such a vexatious and challenging issue?

Carbon capture and utilisation is an excellent example of the circular economy that keeps products within the productive sphere rather than leaving them as a waste product, and turns a malign substance into an economic asset. Although there is much that we still need to overcome, with economic and engineering challenges that are also shared by carbon capture and storage, CCU could become an integral part of our decarbonisation strategy and could deliver innovation. Perhaps some game changers might even emerge. It is early days for utilisation of carbon, but as we are still a while away from fully functioning carbon capture and storage, utilisation technologies have time to catch up. With a bit of Government help and encouragement, that could be achieved for all our benefit, both here and globally.

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5.2 pm

The Minister of State, Department of Energy and Climate Change (Gregory Barker): I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet (Laura Sandys) on not only securing but leading this debate on green issues and the climate agenda. As usual, she is absolutely bursting with provocative, interesting and thoughtful ideas. I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the important issues she has raised today, and join her in raising the profile of carbon capture and use—or, as she said, reutilisation, re-engineering and remanufacturing.

I agree with my hon. Friend that carbon capture and use is an interesting, albeit nascent, approach and one that we are already investigating in the coalition as part of our broader CCS programme. CCU refers to technologies that can capture and then convert waste CO2 into commercial products of value—for example, construction materials, biofuels, fertilisers, polymers or even the fizz in a Coca-Cola. CCU can be seen as a subset of and complement to carbon capture and storage, which is the focus of our current long-term approach. Many people, particularly in China and the US, also use CCU to refer to enhanced oil recovery, where waste CO2 is used to increase the amount of oil recovered from a field, although I do not think that is what my hon. Friend was getting at.

Let me first remind my hon. Friend about why we are pursuing CCS, including CCU. Coal and gas currently provide the majority of our electricity in the UK—still, I am afraid, nearly 70% in 2012. They also represent a key source of our carbon emissions. The energy supply sector remains the single largest source of UK emissions today. We must reduce those emissions if we are to meet our climate change ambitions. CCS and CCU can help us do that, and let us continue to enjoy the benefits of flexible fossil fuels without emissions. That is particularly important for global efforts to reduce emissions, allowing countries to make use of indigenous resources while they transition to a low-carbon model.

That approach can also help us meet our emissions targets in a cost-effective way. The Energy Technologies Institute estimates that successfully deploying CCS could cut the annual cost of meeting our carbon targets by £32 billion, or up to 1% of GDP, by 2050. CCU has the potential to add even further value to that. For those reasons the Government see CCS as an important part of our energy policy and a core element of our approach. We are taking forward a comprehensive package of measures, with significant funding, to build the first commercial scale CCS projects and establish conditions that encourage the development of a wider industry.

We are looking not just at storing the CO2 we capture, but at how it can be used positively—an area of particular interest to my hon. Friend. CCU covers a broad and diverse range of technologies. It offers the potential for a new revenue stream to contribute to the business case for carbon capture. It also presents a possible alternative to transportation and storage, particularly in more remote locations where it may not be economically sensible to invest in such infrastructure.

We envisage CCU having a flexible role in addressing the UK’s CO2 emissions. There is a wide range of possible approaches and some will be better suited to

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certain regions than others. For that reason, we are investing in research and development projects now. That will help us to assess the viability of CCU and what role it could play in the future, and to develop promising new technologies.

Let me provide some more detail on our support for CCU. As part of our four-year carbon capture and storage research, development and innovation programme, the coalition is investing over £10 million in new CCU projects. My hon. Friend highlighted three particular CCU technologies: polymers, photosynthetic bacteria and mineralisation. I am pleased to say that, with our partners, we are involved in innovative research in all those areas.

On polymers, we are supporting Econic Technologies, an innovative spin-out from Imperial college, to develop polymers using CO2 rather than hydrocarbons. With support from the Department of Energy and Climate Change, Econic has already tested its idea, using CO2 captured from the DECC-funded CCS pilot at Ferrybridge, a power station in Yorkshire.

On photosynthetic bacteria, we are providing funding to a Sheffield-based SME, Carbon Sequestration Ltd, which is working with Sheffield university to develop high-value chemicals from CO2 using novel algae and bioreactor technology. On mineralisation, the Technology Strategy Board has funded Carbon8, an award-winning SME that is developing a technology to mineralise CO2 from waste incineration. I understand it has also recently secured funding from Europe to work with the university of Greenwich on further research.

Mineralisation technologies are also a good example of some of the challenges CCU faces. Although Carbon8 is forging ahead, the Energy Technologies Institute invested £1 million looking at other mineralisation processes. Working with Caterpillar, the British Geological Survey and the university of Nottingham, it concluded that at this time certain technologies might not be economically viable. But, as we have seen, CCU covers a broad range of different technologies.

Our approach shows that, despite austerity and the huge cuts that we have had to make to public spending to correct the deficit, the coalition continues to prioritise science and innovation, knowing that research and development and such innovation are critical, right across the board, to our future prosperity. It is part of our long-term economic plan. The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council is supporting five British universities to undertake novel research into CCU, working with major companies such as Johnson Matthey. That research includes projects to develop catalysts for the conversion of CO2 into chemical feed stocks and fuels, and projects to use methane to convert CO2 into fuel.

CCU also forms an important element of the current techno-economic study into industrial CCS, which was commissioned by the coalition Government in October 2013. That was recommended by the CCS cost reduction taskforce, which the coalition set up. We expect a final report to be published this spring. Those work streams, led in the coalition by DECC and our partners, will help us to assess which CCU technologies are viable and what role they could play in the future. CCU covers a broad range of technologies and each needs to be evaluated individually.

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To help to answer these questions and to encourage academics to share ideas, the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council has funded the CO2Chem network, which I understand could be the largest CCU network in the world, with more than 800 global members. My officials attended its meeting in October 2013 to hear the latest news and innovative ideas direct from the CCU community.

One of the biggest considerations for DECC is that CCU should permanently reduce emissions. That is another great example of the UK now leading innovation in a global way. We fully support the work of the CO2Chem network, which has made carbon lifecycle analysis of CCU technologies a key priority across its research areas. Through the international Carbon Sequestration Leadership Forum, of which the UK is a co-chair with Australia, we also engage with the carbon capture utilisation and storage action group.

Back in the UK, if some of the CCU projects prove to have significant potential, they will need a constant supply of CO2. This is where our wider work on CCS comes in: getting the first commercial-scale projects built and laying down the UK’s first CO2 transportation infrastructure. We also need to prove our CO2 stores in the North sea, which will be needed even if CCU takes off. As my hon. Friend noted, given the huge scale involved, few scientists can envisage full utilisation of CO2 from generation.

We have introduced a comprehensive package of measures to develop CCS in the UK, as set out in the coalition’s CCS road map. We recognise that that is most important for confidence in CCS and to kick-start wider deployment to get the first projects up and running in UK conditions. The coalition’s £1 billion competition is designed to help that to happen and we are making good progress.

In December 2013, the coalition awarded the White Rose CCS project a multi-million pound contract for a front-end engineering design study of its bid. The proposal is to build a new state-of-the-art 426 MW-equivalent clean coal power plant with full carbon capture and storage, bringing clean electricity to more than 630,000 homes and capturing approximately 2 million tonnes of CO2 per year. That will link into the planned development of a CO2 transportation and storage infrastructure—the Yorkshire CCS trunk line—with the capacity for additional projects in the area.

We are also looking beyond the first project, reflecting the coalition’s ambition in this area. We want a strong and successful CCS industry able to compete on cost with other low-carbon technologies in the 2020s, and to deploy up to 13 GW by 2030. Our policies are designed to help to bring CCS to the point where it can compete with other low-carbon technologies. Our electricity market reform programme will provide certainty and a route to market for CCS projects in the UK.

As my hon. Friend knows, the second Energy Bill of this Parliament received Royal Assent just before Christmas, and we are now working to develop the contracts for

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difference for CCS. My hon. Friend also asked about contracts for difference for CCU. We do not believe that utilisation is currently available on the scale needed for commercial electricity generation, but if utilisation became established as a viable technique for permanently avoiding the release of large quantities of CO2, there is no reason in principle why the clean electricity produced should not become eligible for contracts for difference. I hope that that is the answer she wanted.

We are focusing on how else we can strengthen the business case for CCS projects. We are trying to learn from overseas experience, and we have seen in north America how enhanced oil recovery using CO2 has played a crucial role in the development of CCS projects. Some people believe that this is a type of CCU and have adopted the abbreviation CCUS for carbon capture utilisation and storage.

Conditions here are different, but we are exploring with industry whether enhanced oil recovery might have an important role in UK CCS projects and in extending the supply of North sea oil. We have undertaken a detailed mapping exercise to estimate potential and held a workshop with industry to inform the coalition’s approach. We know that CCS could be important for industrial, energy-intensive sectors, and in December 2013 the Prime Minister announced agreement on the Tees Valley city deal, which includes funding for a feasibility study on industrial CCS.

On the inclusion of CCU in the IPCC best practices for greenhouse gases, I should say that it would be sensible if, when CCU activities lead to permanent storage of CO2, such activities were reflected in the IPCC in respect of how to report emissions.

In conclusion, I thank my hon. Friend for allowing us the opportunity to shine a light on a fascinating area of innovation, with the potential to improve the economics of carbon capture by putting a value on the CO2 captured. It may also present an innovative solution for smaller or more remote emitters, when it may not be economical to transport the CO2 to storage or to a trunk. We are providing multi-million pound funding to help to develop projects in this area and to assess its viability. That work complements the coalition’s wider ambitious programme on carbon capture and storage, which is maturing and beginning to deliver. We have awarded the first front-end engineering design, or FEED, contract to the White Rose project, and we hope to make a further announcement shortly on the competition.

Our £125 million research and development programme is keeping the UK at the forefront of CCS innovation and the global race for clean energy. Our electricity market reform programme has passed the significant milestone of Royal Assent for the Energy Bill. All told, we are set for a very exciting future.

Question put and agreed to.

5.17 pm

Sitting adjourned.