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House of Lords

Thursday, 5 July 2007.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Ticket Touts

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as vice-chairman of the Cardiff Millennium Stadium.

The Question was as follows:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the restrictions on sales of tickets for the 2012 Olympic Games is a requirement of the International Organising Committee and, in respect of football, to maintain segregation of fans for reasons of public disorder. The Government do not intend to extend these measures or propose new legislation at this stage, preferring to see industry-led solutions, but are considering a case for events of national significance.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply. He will appreciate that it will come as a disappointment to sports governing bodies and arts organisations which find that the activities of ticket touts are disruptive to their business and expensive to control. They cause disorder in the streets and make it impossible to give a decent deal to fans, who are ripped off by the touts.

Is my noble friend aware that the sort of problems we experience at Cardiff, where we may have a football match one week, which is controlled by the legislation on touting, but a rugby match or concert the following week, which is not controlled, are extraordinarily difficult to deal with? The problems will be multiplied when the Olympics come, with venues used for Olympics events, such as Lords for archery and the test match the following week. How can we get some consistency in the way in which ticket touting is dealt with?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, as I indicated in my original Answer, the major inconsistency to which my noble friend refers is with football. Of course, under the Public Order Acts, we have restrictions on football ticket sales in order to maintain the necessary segregation of fans, the absence of which has in the past caused mayhem at some football occasions.

In general terms, my noble friend will recognise that there are two sides to the story of the resale of

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tickets. Certainly, sports organisations and organisations such as his own at the Millennium Stadium resent the profit taken by some people who sell tickets on for that purpose. But a great deal of the resale of tickets is by ordinary members of the public who cannot get to an event to which they intended to go. It would be very difficult to legislate against that resale.

Lord Addington: My Lords, if we allow this to carry on, we effectively are taking money out of the economic sector because no one receives any extra profit. We would exclude the fans at whom the sale of tickets has been aimed. With online facilities and much better opportunities to buy and sell tickets, what function is preserved by allowing people to take an extra profit and to rip the public off in this way?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, it is easier to say that we should produce restrictions than to make them legally enforceable. The noble Lord will know that we potentially will have very great difficulty in enforcing any law under those terms, which is why, even under the existing position with regard to ticket touts and the resale of football tickets, the authorities do not always think that it is right to use the force of the law. The noble Lord is right that there is a problem with online reselling. That is why we have been involved in consultation with the industry to seek to improve practices where resale occurs online; for example, making sure that the original value of the ticket is stated so that the person who is proposing to purchase a ticket knows the accurate value rather than any additional value that someone else might add to it.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the Football League. Do the Government have any plans to consult sports governing bodies on this issue?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government are in regular contact on the matter with all the major sports governing bodies. Those bodies are putting their case fairly forcefully and, as my noble friend Lord Faulkner indicated, they are pressing for legislation. The Government of course take on board those representations but we also have an obligation to the wider public. Our survey of wider public opinion on this matter shows that the ordinary punter would not want the law to come down to prevent the resale of tickets.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, notwithstanding what my noble friend has just said, does he accept that the problem is not really about ordinary people selling on tickets that they cannot use? It is about the acquisition of large numbers of tickets, probably legitimately, by people who then sell them on at an inflated price. Does he also accept that in relation to the arts the Government’s position on events of national significance is not going to be of any great help, given that it is a day-to-day problem, particularly in London, and the unavailability of tickets, particularly for hit shows, at other than very

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inflated prices, brings the whole industry into disrepute and discourages a lot of ordinary people from going to the theatre?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, certain aspects of the arts will benefit from our proposed actions because if we make progress with regard to special events, then we may be able to effect greater controls for certain of the hugely in-demand music concerts. I hear what my noble friend says about what I presume is mainly the London theatres. She will recognise that there is legitimate secondary sale and disposal of London theatre tickets. There are ticket operators who legitimately perform what is a valued service. But as she rightly indicates, the danger and problem is that others come into that market with much more malign intentions than just offering a service to the public.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, I declare an interest as a debenture holder at the Millennium Stadium. It is very well known that, for example, you can find on websites such as amazon.com tickets at greatly inflated prices with a lot of money being made out of them by the people concerned. I was very pleased to hear the Minister say that he is examining online reselling, which is very difficult to control. I know that for some arts events it is impossible to buy tickets in the normal way because a lot of these tickets have been swept up and sold on Amazon at a great profit, which prevents other people getting them at the proper price. It is a serious problem.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, there is a difference between the kind of event that the noble Lord was alluding to in the last part of his question and the crown jewel events, the big events that occur at stadiums, which are regular events such as test matches in cricket, the rugby internationals and so on. On the latter, we are looking to see whether legislation might help with regard to those regular events where the sporting authorities are pressing us for some control over the resale of tickets. But the noble Lord will recognise that there are other areas which are much looser in these terms and what goes on on eBay is what other people take advantage of.

NHS: Junior Doctors

11.15 am

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I declare an interest as someone who has to rely on specialist medical care at times.

The Question was as follows:

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the delivery of the Secretary of State’s employment commitment will be managed by strategic health authorities, which have been asked to produce plans for its delivery. These plans will be performance-managed by the MMC programme team. The employment commitment will help trusts to manage any service gaps which might otherwise have existed. The employment commitment covers eligible MTAS applicants who are in substantive employment on 31 July. This includes all doctors in deanery-approved training posts or with a substantive contract. It does not cover locum doctors or doctors on short-term contracts.

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply but I am not sure whether it is a very satisfactory one. Is she aware that on 1 August about 10,000 junior doctors will be without posts? How many patients will be put at risk?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, there are two elements to that question. First, the number of doctors in training who do not have posts is not entirely clear yet. Of course, a second round of applications is beginning now and will end on 31 October. At the end of that process, some doctors will not have training posts. However, that was always the case. The vast majority of those doctors will still have jobs; it is merely that they will not be in training. As to the way in which patients will be treated after 1 August, junior doctors have changed in hospitals at the beginning of every August. We are confident that there will be proper continuity of care and safety for patients.

Lord Patel: My Lords, in the light of the experience gained so far of running MTAS, what are the perceived benefits of the system? If there are none, should it not be scrapped?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, as the noble Lord will know, there have been many difficulties with MTAS. It is not properly in use at the moment and whether it will be used for 2008 is under consideration. I hear what he is saying and I am sure that if it should be scrapped, it will be.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: My Lords, how many deaneries have reneged on the assurances given by the Government by offering jobs wrongly in round 1, by using the discredited application forms in round 2 that failed in round 1, and by putting the closing date for round 2 before the completion of round 1? I declare an interest as the person organising a meeting this Saturday on “Living with MTAS 2007” for junior doctors.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I regret that I do not have that information to hand. I will ensure that the noble Baroness has it before her meeting on Saturday. However, I should say that the Government understand the terrible stress and anxiety that has been caused to junior doctors. We hope that from now onwards the situation will be much better for them and their families.

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Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, the Minister said that the effect of the failure of this system upon the morale of junior doctors, upon whom the future of our National Health Service depends, has been utterly devastating. Can she confirm, first, that if any system is to be devised to be introduced in 2008, the application form which did not allow those involved in shortlisting to identify doctors of the highest quality will be totally rejigged? Secondly, can she give any information about the progress of the inquiry being undertaken by Sir John Tooke into the future of this process?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government well understand that there was great unhappiness with the application form and this issue is being considered carefully by the department. As to the Tooke review, the recommendations will be brought forward in September 2007. It is on the basis of that review that we will take decisions relating to 2008 and beyond.

Baroness Neuberger: My Lords, the Minister has just told us that the Government are going to take forward their thinking about MTAS in the light of the Tooke review, to be published in September. Will the Government accept the recommendations of the review, whatever they might be, and—given the level of interest in this House in the MTAS business and since we will be in recess—how will she make sure that Members of the House know what is happening and whether there will be a chance for a debate as soon as we come back?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government will examine the recommendations of the Tooke review carefully and will act accordingly. However, I point to the fact that the Government acted on every recommendation brought forward in the Douglas review, so that bodes well for the future. The House will not be sitting when the Tooke review reports but I will ask the department to write to every noble Lord who is interested in the subject, to ensure that they are properly informed of the review’s outcome. The third point, in relation to a debate, will be a matter for the usual channels.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, how can the noble Baroness say that those 10,000 doctors who will not get training posts will still have jobs, bearing in mind that the training posts that they are already in will have been filled and that the National Health Service is trying to reduce its costs?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the National Health Service is, quite properly, trying to get its budgets into balance, but that does not mean that there has been a huge reduction in the number of doctors employed. I am confident that the vast majority—not each and every one—of those doctors will find employment or some other form of education; many things can be done, and I will certainly inform the noble Lord in writing.

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Children: Film and Television

11.22 am

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we support the broadcast of UK children’s television programmes, especially by public service broadcasters, and we welcome Ofcom’s review. We also support the UK Film Council’s work in distributing lottery and grant-in-aid funding for film, which includes films for children.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, given the Prime Minister’s stated aim to deepen our children’s understanding of the British way of life, and given the fact that only three out of the 19 children’s films published last year were in part British-made, will my noble friend go to the British Film Council and to public service broadcasting organisations such as the BBC to encourage them to develop a children’s strategy with a view to commissioning and distributing more children’s programmes? This would not only fulfil the Prime Minister’s aims but would also give our children a broader view of the world beyond the purblind prism and prison of Hollywood.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we live in a digital age and therefore television’s public service broadcasters are supplemented by the vast range of channels now available digitally. At present, 80 per cent of households receive digital and when we have the switchover in two or three years’ time, the coverage will be almost universal. But my noble friend is right; we are concerned about the quality of children’s television. As regards film, the recent consultation that the UK Film Council carried out, Film In The Digital Age, indicated that its proposals and provisions received wide support from the consensus of view.

Lord McNally: My Lords, did the Minister see the news story this morning entitled “TV News ‘a turn-off for young’ ... Ofcom says solution could be to axe impartiality rules”? Does he not agree that any move to bring Fox News channel standards into our broadcast news would be an act of lunacy? Would he pass this message on to Ofcom: the reason we have a Communications Act and a communications regulator is to maintain public standards in this country and not to opt for the line of least resistance in news and children’s television whenever there is whining from commercial vested interest?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Ofcom is taking this issue with regard to children seriously and is carrying out a review in advance of its review of the total position of public service broadcasting later in

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the year. It will of course bear in mind the points that the noble Lord made about certain extraneous American broadcasters.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, the Minister will nevertheless recall that during the debate on the advertising of foods to children, much play was made by the commercial stations of the impact of loss of revenue on children’s programmes. Will he assure us that Ofcom will be vigilant about this and that the BBC will do all that it can to redress the balance to ensure quality programmes, and more of them, as the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, outlined?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the BBC is part of the digital age and has increased the number of channels that it makes available specifically for children. It is therefore already beginning to address that market. The noble Baroness was reflecting on the impact on commercial television of the restrictions on advertising for certain foodstuffs. That impact is direct and has caused Independent Television, for example, to reduce the number of children’s hours. A cost is involved in these changes, but the Government took a view that reflected the consensus of the nation: that it was necessary to protect the health of our children by restrictions on food advertising.

Lord Puttnam: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the key issue is not so much production and development, but the distribution of these films? These films do exist and some quite remarkable work is done. I commend to the House an extraordinary series made by the BBC World Service and the British Council called “African School”. It was a wonderful series of seven films, but it was put on late at night and was almost impossible to find. So long as we have a television system in this country judged principally on the basis of the ratings that it achieves, these excellent programmes will be marginalised and not seen, and we will be having debates such as this.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend’s is a powerful voice in these issues and what he says will be borne fruitfully in mind by broadcasters. If such material is available, as it is, it is incumbent on them, for the good of our children and their development, to offer the highest quality provision.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister remember that the very first White Paper on international development that his Government produced many years ago pledged to improve education on international development in our schools? To that end, will he see that films such as the one mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, and campaigns and films such as we saw on “Newsnight”last night about the Stop the Traffik campaign, relating to children working in the cocoa industry in west Africa, reach schools in this country?

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