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Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as I have already said, at the moment we have a period of reflection. I quote again my right honourable friend the Prime Minister who gave a very good speech this morning to the European Parliament setting out our position when we take over the presidency on 1 July. The best thing that I can recommend my noble friend and other noble Lords to do is to read that speech with great care. They will find that there are some very clear ideas of how we plan to take this forward.

Sport: Ticket Sales

11.13 am

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport has agreed to look into the issue, in consultation with the Home Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, to see whether the matter warrants further government involvement.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Is he aware that, had he conducted a search on eBay last night for Ashes tickets, he would have found that 170 items came up, including Lord's test tickets with a face value of £52 being sold for more than £1,000? A very similar situation exists with regard to Wimbledon tennis tickets. Does he agree with the submission that the four major sports have made to the Secretary of State, that the activities of ticket touts—who buy large numbers of tickets, often by nefarious means—are having the effect of driving tickets beyond the reach of ordinary sports fans, who are unable to get them?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I indicated, the Secretary of State is exercised enough about the issue to consider it further in consultation with other departments. We received a further additional document from the four sports associations only last Friday and it will be considered thoroughly.
 
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Wider interests of public policy are, of course, involved in any such exercise. However, as I think my noble friend will recognise, we cannot produce an immediate response to the demand for Ashes test match tickets any more than we can produce one to the extraordinary figures quoted for Wimbledon. But we are looking at the issue with a view to the possibility of legislation. As he will know, however, the legislation which is in force applies only to segregation at football grounds.

Lord Addington: My Lords, does the Minister have any sympathy with the idea that picking out a few individual sports is a great way to keep us sitting for longer and on more occasions? However, we should ban all ticket touting. We should also extend it to events other than simply sport. For instance, the annual scrum at Glastonbury usually leads to fences collapsing. We should probably do something about such events as well.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, that point of view is certainly widely held, but as I think the noble Lord will recognise, some quite complex issues are involved here. We could not ban all secondary selling; after all, a great many theatre tickets are sold not directly at the theatre but through secondary selling. It could be argued that, in certain aspects, such sales increase the public's access to tickets. We could not, for instance, ban a situation in which someone who could not attend the theatre one evening wanted to sell on his ticket. The reasons for allowing it are obvious—it helps to guarantee that the theatre is full rather than empty.

It is a complex issue. But I understand entirely what the noble Lord is saying about the issue covering more than just the great sporting events.

Viscount Astor: My Lords, does the Minister consider the situation satisfactory when some of those wishing to go to Wimbledon have to go there the day before and sleep overnight on the pavement in order to get a ticket?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the demand for tickets at Wimbledon looks almost limitless. However, if it is a choice between the most extravagant pricing of tickets so that only the wealthy can go, and the most enthusiastic tennis fans being prepared to camp out on the pavement, I am in favour of the latter.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, when my noble friend reports this conversation back to the Secretary of State, will he draw her attention to the work that has been done over many years by the Society of London Theatre to manage the impact of the secondary selling of theatre tickets, to which he has already referred? There may be some useful information to be had there.

Lord Davies of Oldham: Indeed there is, my Lords. I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing that to the House's attention. It is important, for example, that people do not buy theatre tickets for seats with
 
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restricted views. Whereas the theatre box office would make such restrictions clear, the secondary seller may be under no obligation whatever to do so, thereby causing enormous unfairness. That point needs to be taken on board.

Lord Elton: My Lords, why not give the original vendor or their agents the power, if they do not already have it, to impose a contract on the purchaser stating that what they have bought is not for resale?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the sporting associations would say that that is exactly what they do when they issue tickets. But it is extremely difficult to enforce it, which is why tickets come on to the market.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester has rightly drawn our attention to the concern about the exorbitant prices being demanded for these tickets. As I understand it, my noble friend the Minister said that the Secretary of State is looking at the issue. I should like to ask him two questions arising from that. First, how long will that consideration take? Secondly, to what extent will the operation of the market impinge on her report?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, on my noble friend's second question, as I indicated, there are benefits from the free market. We are careful about where we put restrictions. However, noble Lords will recognise the powerful arguments for restricting ticket touting operations. On his first point, I should mention one obvious consideration. If we are successful in our bid for the Olympic Games, we would need to bring in legislation to ensure that tickets to the Games are restricted and thus not open to touting. It is a requirement of the International Olympic Committee. So of course there is an element of delay as we await that decision.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, could not the sporting organisations make substantial ticket sales conditional upon a donation being made to the organisations concerned, so that at least they would benefit rather than the touts?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we expect the sporting organisations to sell tickets in good faith and that the price printed on the ticket is the price that ought to be paid by the person going to the fixture. But touts get hold of some of those tickets and sell them on at escalated prices. We all want to see tickets being sold at their face value. That is the law of the land. On occasions when they are able to substantiate clearly that the public are being exploited because tickets are being traded at above the figure printed on them, trading standards officers will intervene. But of course the touts are extremely careful to ensure that the unfortunate purchaser has no idea of the original ticket price.
 
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Bird Influenza

11.22 am

Lord Morris of Manchester asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, experts continue to monitor the risk of an influenza pandemic arising from avian influenza, which is currently circulating in south-east Asia. The Government are ensuring that we are as prepared as possible. The revised UK influenza pandemic contingency plan was published in March this year and will be kept up to date. Since the issue was last raised by the noble Lord earlier this year, the Government have announced the purchase of 14.6 million courses of antiviral drugs to treat those who become ill during a pandemic. Guidance has been issued to NHS planners.

Lord Morris of Manchester: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. Is she aware that in February the head of the World Health Organisation in Asia, Dr Shigeru Omi, said the world was facing the "greatest possible danger" of an avian flu pandemic that was "already overdue"? Will she confirm that we then had only 100,000 courses of antiviral drugs—France already having bought 13 million—and that half of the order of 14.6 million courses the Department of Health announced in March will not be available until 2006–07? How many have we now and how many will we have by the end of 2005?

Finally, is there any action open to Ministers to speed delivery, increase manufacturing capacity in the UK, or otherwise strengthen our defences against a scourge that experts have repeatedly warned could kill up to 500,000 people in this country?


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