‘(1) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument designate an event to be of national significance.
(2) Where an event has been so designated under subsection (1) the Secretary of State may grant permission for the organising body to impose additional terms and conditions on the sale of tickets for the event, including—
(a) the power to specify persons to act as official traders authorised to sell tickets for the event;
(b) the power to withdraw tickets advertised by a person who is not authorised as an official trader; and
(c) the power to recall unsold tickets from official traders.
(3) Where an event has been so designated under subsection (1) it shall be an offence for any person other than an official trader to sell tickets for the event—
(a) in a public place or in the course of a business; and
(b) otherwise than in accordance with written authorisation from the organising body.
(4) For the purposes of this section—
“ticket” means anything which is or purports to be a ticket for the designated event;
“selling” includes a reference to—
(a) offering to sell a ticket;(b) exposing a ticket for sale;(c) advertising that a ticket is available for purchase; and(d) giving, or offering to give, a ticket to a person who pays or agrees to pay for some other goods or services.
“organising body” means a person specified by the Secretary of State as responsible for organising of the event.
(5) A person shall (without prejudice to the generality of subsection (3)(a)) be treated as acting in the course of a business if he does anything as a result of which he makes a profit or aims to make a profit.
(6) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (3) by advertising that a ticket is available for purchase if—
(a) the sale of the ticket if purchased would be in the course of a business only by reason of subsection (5); and
(b) the person does not know, and could not reasonably be expected to discover, that subsection (5) would apply to the sale.
(7) A person does not commit an offence under subsection (3) (whether actual or inchoate) only by virtue of making facilities available in connection with electronic communication or the storage of electronic data.
(8) Where a person who provides services for electronic communication or for the storage of electronic data discovers that they are being used in connection with the commission of an offence under subsection (3), the defence in subsection (7) does not apply in respect of continued provision of the services after the shortest time reasonably required to withdraw them.
(9) A person guilty of an offence under subsection (3) shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 5 on the standard scale.
(10) Section 32(2)(b) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (c. 60) (power to search premises) shall, in its application to the offence under subsection (3) above, permit the searching of a vehicle which a constable reasonably thinks was used in connection with the offence.
(11) Subsection (13) applies where a person in Scotland is arrested in connection with the commission of an offence under subsection (3).
(12) For the purposes of recovering evidence relating to the offence, a constable in Scotland may without warrant enter and search—
(a) premises in which the person was when arrested or immediately before he was arrested; and
(b) a vehicle which the constable reasonably believes is being used or was used in connection with the offence.
(13) Subsection (12) is without prejudice to any power of entry or search which is otherwise exercisable by a constable in Scotland.
(14) A statutory instrument containing an order under subsection (1) is not to be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.’.—(Stella Creasy.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 12—Right to full refund: ticketed events—
‘An event organiser must issue a full cash refund where their tickets are returned to them up to 24 hours before the start of the event.’.
New clause 13—Goods to be as described: meat products—
‘(1) All products containing halal and kosher meat shall be labelled as such at the point of sale by retail and food outlets.
(2) A food outlet is anywhere where food is served to the public.’.
New clause 14—Communications services: change of service provider—
‘(1) Section 3 of the Communications Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) At the end of subsection (2)(b) insert “with a switching process that is led by the receiving communications service provider”.’.
New clause 15—Right to corrective action—
‘(1) This section applies if either—
(a) the responsible economic actor has identified that goods supplied present a health and safety risk to the consumer; or
(b) the appropriate authority has identified that goods supplied present a risk to the public safety; and as a result, the product is subject to corrective action by either party (a “recall action”).
(2) The consumer has the right to expect that the responsible economic actor for any goods supplied subject to a recall action must take all reasonable steps to inform all persons affected, or likely to be affected by the safety risks from the goods, within the shortest period of time practicable.
(3) The consumer, if placed at risk by goods subject to a recall action, has the right to prompt and effective action by the economic actor of that product to ensure that—
(a) the defect posing a safety risk to any persons affected or likely to be affected is eliminated;
(b) the actions required to achieve (a) do not cause significant inconvenience to the consumer; and
(c) all costs associated with the recall action are borne by the responsible economic actor.
(4) The Secretary of State will periodically gather and make publicly available information relating to safety incidents caused by recalled goods, and estimates of how many such goods still remain unaccounted for.
(5) The effectiveness of recall actions, and the procedures in place to achieve successful recalls, will be the subject of periodic review by the Secretary of State, with reference to public information on recalls in subsection (4) and any other relevant data.
(6) The Secretary of State may create or designate a body to act as a consumer product safety and recall authority.
(7) The Secretary of State may by regulations provide for the authority to—
(a) act to protect the public from identifiable and unreasonable risks of injury, death or household risk from consumer products;
(b) review products, test products, or receive or commission reports from other competent persons;
(c) direct corrective action to be taken by relevant economic actors, regulators or authorities;
(d) ensure and direct forms of consumer registration, from purchase of products, with databases which will be conducive to optimal fulfilment of (a) and (c) above;
(e) require notification by economic actors, including manufacturers, brand suppliers or traders, of significant evidence of concern in respect of the consumer safety of relevant products; and
(f) provide for accessible, intelligible information and advice to be available to consumers and relevant economic actors in respect of product safety, corrective actions and other guidances relevant to the authority’s work.
(8) For the purposes of subsections (4), (5), (6) and (7), the Secretary of State must consult with—
(a) market regulators;
(b) relevant authorities; and
(c) any other bodies he thinks appropriate.
(9) For the purposes of this section “economic actor” means—
(a) a “trader” as defined in section 2(2); or
(b) a manufacturer of “goods” as defined in section 2(8).’.
This new clause would enable new provision to be made regarding recall actions where a level of consumer safety risk has been identified. It would allow the Secretary of State to review and add to arrangements for corrective action for the protection of consumer safety.
New clause 16—Secondary ticketing platforms: product and seller information—
‘(1) The Secretary of State shall issue guidance to all traders who operate as secondary ticketing platforms on the application of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013.
(2) Guidance issued under section (1) shall include how secondary ticketing platforms must inform consumers of—
(a) the chosen identity of the seller;
(b) the country of residence of the seller;
(c) information provided by previous buyers on the reliability of the seller and the tickets he has sold;
(d) information on any complaints made against the seller for failing to supply tickets;
(e) information on any complaints made against the seller for supplying fraudulent or invalidated tickets; and
(f) information on all other accounts currently or previously held with the secondary ticketing platform linked to the seller by virtue of personal, financial and contact information provided by them.
(3) Guidance issued under section (1) shall set out how information required under Part 2 of the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 shall be—
(a) accurate; and
(b) prominently displayed before a buyer is able to purchase.
(4) Guidance issued under section (1) shall set out how secondary ticketing platforms must disclose clearly if the seller of the ticket is—
(a) the secondary ticketing platform themselves;
(b) individuals employed by the secondary ticketing platform;
(c) other companies linked to employees, directors or shareholders of the secondary ticketing platform;
(d) the event organiser or an agent acting on their behalf; or
(e) any other party connected to the event organiser of the event.
(5) Guidance issued under section (1) shall set out the status of tickets as unique goods with distinct characteristics which would affect—
(a) the enjoyment of the good by the consumer;
(b) the use of the good by the consumer; or
(c) the inherent value of the good in questions.
(6) Where a ticket is sold through a secondary ticketing platform, guidance issued under section (1) shall set out how the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013 apply to tickets as unique goods, including—
(a) how sellers must provide all relevant information about the ticket including but not limited to the face value of the ticket and a designated seat or ticket number;
(b) how secondary ticketing platforms will publish all the information about a ticket provided by the seller in a prominent and clear way; and
(c) what sanctions will apply for failing to provide this information under the regulations.’.
New clause 17—Secondary ticketing platforms: fraudulent tickets—
‘(1) Where a secondary ticketing platform becomes aware that sellers using their service have acquired tickets through illegal methods, or are selling fraudulent tickets, they have a duty to report this to the relevant law enforcement agency immediately.
(2) A secondary ticketing platform must meet any lawful requests for information on sellers made by law enforcement agencies or courts.
(3) Where a law enforcement agency has notified a secondary ticketing platform that a ticket advertised through their service is, or is suspected to be, fraudulent, the secondary ticketing platform must remove that ticket and suspend the seller’s activities immediately.’.
New clause 18—Secondary ticketing platforms: seller profiles—
‘(1) Secondary ticketing platforms must provide a profile of information on sellers using their service.
(2) Profile information provided under subsection (1) must include, but is not limited to—
(a) the name of the seller;
(b) the country of residence of the seller;
(c) if the seller is a company or business, its registered number, if any;
(d) if the seller is a company or business, its registered office or address for service;
(e) a list of all current and past inventory sold or offered for sale by the seller;
(f) information on all other accounts currently or previously held with the secondary ticketing platform linked to the seller by virtue of personal, financial and contact information provided by him;
(g) information provided by previous buyers of the reliability of the seller and the tickets he has sold;
(h) information on any complaints made against the seller for failing to supply tickets, and the resolution of those complaints;
(i) the VAT registration number of the seller, if applicable; and
(j) information on any complaints made against the seller for supplying fraudulent or invalidated tickets, and the resolution of those complaints.
(3) Information provided under subsection (1) must be—
(a) accurate; and
(b) prominently displayed before a buyer is able to complete their purchase.
(4) Secondary ticketing platforms must disclose clearly and prominently where the seller of the ticket is—
(a) the secondary ticketing platform themselves;
(b) individuals employed by the secondary ticketing platform;
(c) other companies linked to employees, directors or shareholders of the secondary ticketing platform;
(d) the event organiser or an agent acting on their behalf; or
(e) any other party connected to the organisation of the event.
(5) Where a seller offers for sale more than 20 tickets to the same event, the secondary ticketing platform must take reasonable steps to verify the validity of the tickets.’.
New clause 19—Secondary ticketing platforms: ticket information—
‘(1) Where a ticket is sold through a secondary ticketing platform—
(a) the seller must provide all relevant information about the ticket; and
(b) the secondary ticketing platform must publish all the information about a ticket provided by the seller in a prominent and clear way.
(2) Information to be requested by the secondary ticketing platform and provided by the seller for the purposes of subsection (1) should include, but is not limited to—
(a) the face value of the ticket;
(b) any age or other restrictions on the user of the ticket; and
(c) the designated block, row, seat or ticket number, where applicable.
(3) Where tickets are being resold in contravention of the terms and conditions agreed to by the original purchaser, this must be stated prominently by the secondary ticketing platform at every stage of the purchasing process.
(4) Information provided by virtue of this section must be—
(a) accurate; and
(b) prominently displayed before a buyer is able to complete their purchase.’.
New clause 20—Secondary ticketing platforms: compensation—
‘(1) Secondary ticketing platforms must reimburse reasonable costs to a buyer where a ticket sold through their service is fraudulent or invalidated.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), reasonable costs must include, but are not limited to—
(a) the price paid for the ticket by the buyer, inclusive of all service and delivery charges;
(b) all travel expenses incurred by the buyer in travelling from their place of residence to the location of the event for which they had purchased the ticket; and
(c) any accommodation expenses incurred by the buyer for the sole purpose of attending the event for which they had purchased the ticket.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (1), reasonable costs should be defined as a total amount not exceeding twice the total purchase price of the ticket or tickets in question, including all additional fees and taxes paid.
(4) Claims made by a buyer against a secondary ticketing platform under this section must be proven by receipts or other documentary proof.
(5) The secondary ticketing platform must settle any claims under this section within 40 working days, other than where a suspected fraud or abuse related to the transaction in question is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the relevant statutory authority.
(6) Secondary ticketing platforms are permitted to take all necessary action to recover any monies paid out to consumers under this section from the seller of the ticket.’.
New clause 21—Secondary ticketing platforms: definitions—
‘(1) A “secondary ticketing platform” means a person or company operating an internet-based facility for the resale of tickets to events including in the United Kingdom, regardless of the country in which the owner of the service is registered.
(2) A “ticket” means anything which purports to be a ticket, including any item, tangible or intangible, which grants the holder entry to an event.
(3) An “event” means any sporting, music or cultural activity taking place at a specified time and place for which tickets are issued and required for entry or attendance.
(4) An “event organiser” means the person or persons responsible for organising and holding an event and receiving the revenue from the event.
(5) A “fraudulent ticket” means a forged or duplicated ticket.
(6) An “invalidated ticket” means a ticket which has been cancelled by the event organiser, or an agent acting on their behalf, after being issued.’.
New clause 22—Prohibition of fees in contracts for services: letting of residential accommodation—
‘(1) The provisions in this section apply to a contract for a trader to supply a service in connection with the letting of a residential premises.
(2) Subject to the provisions of this section, any person who demands or accepts payment of any sum of money from a person (“P”) for services in connection with a contract for the letting of residential premises shall be guilty of an offence.
(3) For the purposes of subsection (2), P is any person—
(a) who seeks to enter a contract to let residential accommodation, or
(b) who has a tenancy of, or other right or permission to occupy, residential premises.
(4) For the purposes of subsection (2)—
“letting” shall include any service provided in connection with the advertisement or marketing of residential accommodation or with the grant or renewal of a tenancy;
“services shall —
(a) include, and are not limited to—
(i) the registration of persons seeking accommodation,
(ii) the selection of prospective occupiers, and
(iii) any work associated with the production or completion of written agreements or other relevant documents.
(b) not include credit checks of person seeking accommodation.
(5) Where a person unlawfully demands or accepts payment under this section in the course of his employment, the employer or principal of that person shall also be guilty of an offence.
(6) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under this section by reason of his demanding or accepting payment of rent or a tenancy deposit within the meaning of section 212(8) of the Housing Act 2004.
(7) A person shall not be guilty of an offence under this section by reason of his demanding or accepting a holding deposit.
(8) A “holding deposit” for the purposes of subsection (7) is—
(a) a sum of money demanded of or accepted from a person, in good faith for the purpose of giving priority to that person in relation to the letting of a specific property, which is to be credited towards the tenancy deposit or rent upon the grant of the tenancy of that property, and
(b) not greater than two weeks rent for the accommodation in question.
(9) Costs incurred by persons seeking accommodation for the undertaking of credit checks shall be reimbursed upon the signing of a tenancy agreement.
(10) In this section, any reference to the grant or renewal of a tenancy shall include the grant or renewal or continuance of a lease or licence of, or other right or permission to occupy, residential premises.
(11) In this section “rent” shall include any occupation charge under a licence.’.
Amendment 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 15, at end insert—
‘(3A) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument provide that those who represent businesses with fewer than 10 employees and are purchasing goods or services for use within their commercial activities will be considered consumers.’.
Government amendments 9 to 14
Amendment 5, in clause 48, page 30, line 3, leave out from ‘(5)’ to ‘resolution’ and insert ‘may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by’.
Government amendment 15
Amendment 20, in clause 84, page 43, line 14, at end insert—
‘(2A) Section [Prohibition of fees in contracts for services: letting of residential accommodation] extends only to England.’.
Like a pub quiz, we now come to the lucky dip round of the Bill, with a number of different issues being taken together. I am conscious that many Members wish to speak, so I will keep my remarks brief. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am always eager to please.
Let me start with new clause 8. A number of provisions have been proposed to deal with ticket touting—a subject about which I know many Members feel strongly. I shall also deal with new clause 22, which deals with fees. We have already tried today to abolish fees for debt management, and we would now like to abolish fees for tenants, which is what consumers need. I shall also talk about businesses and consumers, new clauses 13 to 15 and the Government amendments.
Ticket touting is an issue about which many of us are concerned. We see the damage it is doing to a range of industries by distorting prices and access to entertainment activities. Ticket bot machines—I am not sure whether all Members are aware of them—are pieces of software that impersonate individual visitors to ticket vendor websites and automatically make multiple ticket purchases. What does that mean in practice? It means that many of us as fans of music, sport or light entertainment do not get a look in. It means that millions of fans have never been able to get a ticket for a range of different events because all the tickets are sold out within minutes: they are sold to a machine, not to fellow fans. Those tickets are then resold at an exorbitant price.
According to Ticketmaster USA, one group of scalpers were requesting 200,000 tickets a day in this way. We certainly know that the secondary ticket market for the resale of tickets is worth up to £1 billion a year. Those MPs who are members of the Monty Python fan club—I see it in many of their speeches as they are certainly “the knights who say ‘Ni!’”—will be aware of the outcry after all the tickets for the Monty Python show disappeared in that way. Perhaps the Monty Python foot will fall on me for making that joke—Damian Hinds seems to be making a face to suggest that it should. Those of us who are fans of the Stone Roses were horrified to see the band’s gigs automatically sell out in that way. Tickets for a Kate Bush gig were also taken out. They were originally sold for £49 but within minutes were on a resale site for £490. For the Stone Roses, tickets that should have been a mere £55 were being sold for £1,000 a time—well beyond the means of the average fan of such phenomenal music.
The Secretary of State has claimed that ticket resellers are classic entrepreneurs because they fill a gap that they have identified in the market. With the greatest respect, I fear that the new Secretary of State has misunderstood the market in ticket sales and quite what these businesses are doing by distorting people’s access. He presumes that consumers are able to compete fairly against these automatic machines, but that is simply not the case.
Let me be clear that our amendments are not designed to stop the resale of tickets. I told the Committee and I will tell the House that I was deeply disappointed to have to sit here late one evening and give up my tickets to see the great band, the Wonder Stuff. My hon. Friend Emma Reynolds will know of the band’s work. I was looking to resell my tickets and, as a genuine fan, I wanted it to go to another fan so that they could hear the beauty and the wonder that is “Dizzy”.
What we are talking about is finding a way to make this work for the fans and the consumers, rather than the botnets. Our new clauses deal with the three clear issues. First, we want to apply to the secondary market the guidance about what information should be provided to a consumer when buying a product. There is clearly a gap in which these companies are profiting. There is confusion and a lack of information about what people are being sold. Some of us have had constituents tell us that they have been sold a ticket through a secondary reseller market only to find that it is a fake.
Secondly, we want to give greater protection for events of national significance. We know that there is widespread concern across the sporting industry about the real fans being locked out of games by these kinds of practices. I want to pay tribute to the work of my hon. Friend Clive Efford and the tireless campaigning he has done on the forthcoming rugby world cup. Millions of fans will not be able to attend events because of the actions of these companies and the touts.
Thirdly, we want to strengthen co-operation between the enforcement agencies and the secondary sites so that there is more protection for consumers and we can all be confident that when we buy a ticket for something, it is what we think it is and we can get a ticket in the first place.
Would my hon. Friend’s suggested reforms be able to deal with the appalling situation highlighted by my hon. Friend Nick Smith whereby tickets for next year’s rugby world cup in the Cardiff Millennium centre—good stadium that it is—are now on sale for £1,560 for a £250 ticket? I would have thought that £250 is enough for the average rugby follower, but £1,560 is an absolute disgrace.
The new clauses and amendments would deal with that. I understand that the tickets for the rugby world cup are not yet formally on sale. The fact that they are already being marketed on secondary sites at such prices demonstrates the scale of the problem that we need to tackle.
I pay tribute to the tremendous and tireless work that has been done by my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson, who will speak about her new clauses later. I also pay tribute to what has been done by Mike Weatherley. I know that Philip Davies, who has also tabled a new clause on this subject, shares the widespread concern that is felt.
I will, but only briefly, because I am conscious of the time, and I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to talk about a number of new clauses and amendments himself.
Given what the hon. Lady said about not wanting to encourage the secondary ticket market, may I take it as read that she will support my new clause 12, which would guarantee people a refund from the organiser if they are not able to go to the event? If they cannot go and they cannot get a refund, they will not have much choice other than to sell the ticket on.
I think that the hon. Gentleman’s new clause responds to a slightly different challenge, and presents a practical challenge in relation to how it could be applied, but let me make one thing very clear, in case he did not hear me say it the first time. We are not suggesting that there should not be a market for the selling on of tickets; we are saying that what the ticket touts are doing is distorting the market for consumers. That is separate from the issue of whether people can obtain a refund within 24 hours. Let me caution the hon. Gentleman that some aspects of his proposal may not work in a practical sense, whereas we are presenting practical proposals.
New clause 8, in particular, has learnt the lessons of the Olympic and paralympic games. Tickets for those games were given particular protection to enable people to be confident that they could obtain them. The London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006 levied fines of up to £5,000 for the reselling of tickets at a profit. The Home Secretary increased that to £20,000, citing the threat from serious and organised criminal groups. We know that ticket touting is being used to support a range of criminal activities. New clause 8 relates to events of national significance. Let us make sure that rugby fans can go to the world cup: it surely cannot be all that difficult to legislate for that.
New clause 16 seeks to get to the root of the problem, which is that people do not necessarily know what they are being sold. A unique identifier is a simple way in which to ensure that when someone buys a ticket, it is a ticket for a particular gig, show or match. The venues themselves will have already given out identifying information, whether it is a seat number or a stall number. We are suggesting that they should be required to provide that information at the point of sale, so that people can be confident about what they are buying. That will enable the event organisers to identify those in, for instance, rugby clubs who are already selling on tickets that they have been given and are misusing their relationship to give out the information.
We think that that accords very well with what the Minister said in Committee about the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, which she believed would address the issues related to selling. She said that they
“set out…the information that a trader should provide to a consumer for all distance sales—which would include tickets”.
In particular, she said that they gave details of
We believe that new clause 16 would simply put that into practice in the context of the secondary ticketing market, providing clarity for all who are concerned about what they are buying. It accords with consumer regulation, and we hope that the Government will support it, even if they fear that some of the other new clauses relating to ticket touting would be difficult to implement. We certainly hope that they will listen to the clarion call from new clause 8. Surely everyone, in the House and outside, agrees that it cannot be right for us not to be confident that it is the fans who are able to obtain tickets to attend events of sporting significance, whether they obtain them online or offline.
I know that other Members want to talk about ticket touting, and I shall therefore move on to the subject of letting agents’ fees.
The city of Glasgow is about to host the Commonwealth games, and a great deal of effort has been put into safeguarding tickets. Some of us have been shouting for a long time “Make ticket touting illegal!” Once it is illegal, we can take care of the other little bits of pieces, but should we not make it illegal right now so that we can know exactly where we are?
The new clauses and amendments are designed to make progress on issues of precisely that kind. One of the problems of ticket touting is trying to identify who is responsible for the crime that is taking place. Making the seller of the ticket give the details of that ticket will enable us to identify its provenance and who is selling it. We shall then be able to crack down on the people involved, whether it involves the rugby world cup or another event, so that organisations will not have their tickets sold on when they do not wish that to happen. It will give that kind of flexibility, and it reflects the all-party group work done on some of these issues. I hope there will be support from across the House.
If the hon. Lady wants to suggest some tweets, I will happily take them, but I am sure everyone will appreciate it if we can move on to the question of letting fees.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady is being so waspish; I am just seeking a bit of clarification. She mentioned the crime of ticket touting. Is she proposing to make it a crime, or does she believe it is a crime?
There are already criminal elements to what we are talking about. What we are talking about in this legislation is the information provided to a consumer—this is, after all, a consumer rights Bill—that could help address the problems caused by ticket touting, and it reflects the work being done by the all-party group. [Interruption.] Well, this is a separate issue about what we can do for consumers, and with that in mind I want to move on to new clause 22 because, as I have said, there is a lucky dip element to the amendments before us and it is about letting fees.
I pay tribute to the work done in this area by my colleague my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton North East. I see first hand in my constituency the problems caused by increasingly difficult access to housing and affordable housing, particularly within the private rented sector. We know that 9 million people in England are living in rented homes and they are paying on average over £1,000 more a year in rent than they did in 2010. That is why we have to reform the private rented sector. The costs that people are facing are unsustainable. I have families in my constituency spending between 60% and 70% of their monthly income on rent alone. They cannot make ends meet.
There is a wider debate to be had about the length of tenancies and the levels of rent, but this amendment, like the previous amendments I was speaking to, relates to consumer legislation, and in particular the specific issue of fees and whether they should be charged.
The issue my hon. Friend is outlining, and that our colleague my hon. Friend Emma Reynolds, the current shadow Housing Minister, has raised, is very important. It is particularly an issue for us in Blackpool and many other seaside towns, where, because of degrees of internal transience, some families have to move two or three times a year. That exacerbates the whole issue of letting fees.
I entirely agree. We see it in London as well, where people are having to move: every single time they move a fee is applied, and those fees are extortionate and are anti-consumer, as I shall explain.
The average such fee is about £355, but there are great variations. In my constituency of Walthamstow, in the work we have done on the “home sweet home” campaign, we found some fees as high as £827. We found renters being asked to pay fees for having pets, for having their houses cleaned and for a whole range of other practices, and we can see the consequences. We also know that 94% of letting agencies impose a fee on top of rent in advance and a deposit. There is therefore a huge sum of money for people to find. One constituent had to find £4,000 before he and his family could move into a property.
One in seven of those who use an agency are charged over £500 in agency fees before finding the deposit or rent in advance. Mystery shopping by Shelter found that some renters are routinely being charged £700. Over the past three years, one in four people who have dealt with a letting agency have said they have had to borrow money to pay that fee, which is of relevance to our previous debate. One in six is cutting down on food or heating to meet the cost of that fee, and four in 10 experience money worries as a direct result of that fee. If that fee is being applied every single year because people are moving again and again, we can see how quickly these sums can cause huge problems for consumers.
Some, perhaps those on one side of the coalition, will say what we need to do is make sure there is transparency. Certainly we explored whether people knowing the kind of fees they were facing—if everyone was upfront about the amount of money they were going to charge as a fee for introducing clients to a landlord, for example—could be one way of addressing this. That is a bit like somebody being tied to the train tracks and being told the train timetable, however, because in the current market many tenants have little option but to try to borrow to find that fee and then deal with the financial consequences. While I appreciate that one half of the coalition has now understood that fees are a challenge, the argument that simply knowing how much those fees are is enough in itself to deal with these problems simply does not wash. And nor does capping fees, because it is anti-consumer to have two different organisations paying for the same service. That is what we are talking about here: a form of double-charging. How can both the landlord and the tenant pay for the same service at the same time and the agent act in the interests of both? How can a landlord be confident that they are getting the best tenants if the agent also has the tenant’s interests at heart? How can a tenant be confident that they are getting a decent landlord if the landlord is also being acted for by the agent? This is fundamentally an anti-competitive practice and we think it is therefore time to act. Our new clause would do something very simple: it would clarify that renters could not be charged a fee.
The hon. Lady rightly talks about the difficulties that many people face in trying to find the money to pay these fees, but is it her assumption, and that of the Opposition, that were letting fees to be banned, that source of revenue would disappear for the agents but they would not seek to reclaim it elsewhere?
It is not simply an assumption; it is based on the evidence we have seen from Scotland, which is that this money would be incorporated in the centre of the tenancy and so that the landlord would pay the fee. We would expect the tenant to pay one fee—the credit referencing fee—but once the tenancy was secure and the landlord could therefore be confident that the person was back in the place, we would expect it to be refunded. We are very clear that the practice of charging fees to both parties at the same time is a conflict of interest and therefore needs to be addressed, which is what our proposal would do. It would spread the fee over the course of the tenancy.
One issue is what landlords are charging for. I see landlords who are charging twice for credit referencing, because they are charging the landlord and the tenant that fee. [Interruption.] The presumption the hon. Gentleman makes is that all the fees are for different activities—
Our presumption is that the fees would then be taken on by the landlord and taken as part of the tenancy agreement. Our approach would resolve the problems we are seeing for tenants and the conflict of interest over whom the agent would act for. Our proposal is about making sure we deal with that conflict, particularly how for landlords and for tenants it creates a series of perverse incentives whereby both can be charged for the same service.
The problem is that if the letting agency loses an income it will seek to get it from elsewhere, so it is likely to increase its charges to the landlord. The landlord will then seek to recover that money, and from whom will the landlord seek to recover it? From the tenant.
I simply do not accept the picture the hon. Gentleman is painting. Scotland has banned fees on tenants, and the experience there has been an increase in the number of letting agents and no effect on the rents people are paying. The evidence shows that, as with the payday lenders, when we give tenants the muscle to remove this fee, the market shapes up. We have not seen an increase in the fees that tenants are facing; nor have we seen an exit from the market. Some of the fears the hon. Gentleman might have, which I understand, are not well founded, because a lot of the fees tenants are being asked to pay are not indicative of a service being provided; they are indicative of a profit-making machine. We are trying to deal with the detriment caused by the ability of agents to charge fees to two parties at the same time. By making this a fee for the landlord, it is clear whose interest the agent is acting in.
As I say, we have dealt with the particular issue here, because we have listened to the landlords and letting agents who have expressed concerns about tenants who may not be what they seem. In that instance, there would be a case for being able to charge a fee to the tenant which would be refunded, but the alternative of letting this practice continue and seeing the kind of fees that we are seeing, and therefore the problems that are being caused, is also unsustainable. I hope that Government Members, particularly those who have now recognised there is a problem with the fees in themselves, will go that stage further and recognise that there is a problem with this form of double-charging, support our proposals and learn from the experience in Scotland on this issue.
As I am conscious of the time, I shall move on; I appreciate that there are a number of Members who wish to speak in this debate. I am sure that the hon. Member for East Hampshire, who has made many useful contributions this afternoon, will get to speak in the following debate.
I briefly want to speak to amendment 6. It may come as a surprise to some to see the Government resisting the work of the Federation of Small Businesses, which is trying to help small businesses that are struggling with their consumer contracts. Members in this House may have first-hand experience of that, as we are, after all, small businesses and will have dealt with business-to-business contracts, and many may not realise that they have different levels of consumer protection as a result.
The FSB has recently published a report on small businesses which points out that it makes much more sense to give micro-businesses the same consumer protection as private individuals. After all, it is unreasonable to expect a micro-business to have the same level of legal qualification and expertise to deal with a contract as that of a larger body, and that is what amendment 6 addresses. I note that the FSB has given its support to this amendment. I was surprised when the Minister said earlier that the FSB did not support giving consumer rights to businesses. That has not been the briefing that we have had from it; indeed, it supports this amendment. Will the Minister set out when she expects to give small businesses the kind of consumer protection they need, because it will be one fewer worry for them?
I wish now to touch on some of the other new clauses. New clause 14 deals with Ofcom and switching. We certainly think this is a good idea, and we wish to see the Government following it through. I am sorry that Philip Davies was not here earlier when we were debating new clause 3 and new schedule 1 and making it easier for consumers to be able to switch. We recognise that there are problems. It is unusual for the UK, by comparison with other nations, to have this issue, and it will be interesting to know whether the Minister is considering it.
I look forward to the hon. Member for Shipley making his case for new clause 13. I certainly agree that transparency is important. The laws governing animal welfare at slaughter, at both EU and UK level, require animals to be stunned before slaughter, but they make an exemption to that requirement for religious slaughter, which is carried out by members of the Jewish and Muslim communities.
We are concerned about whether this amendment has a significant effect on animal welfare and implications beyond that. In particular, we must ensure that our laws strike the right balance between concern for animal welfare, which many of us have, transparency for consumers and respect for the traditions of different businesses and different communities. We also recognise that a lot of work has already been done on this matter in the European Union, and it would be sensible to learn some of the lessons on the wider issues such as how goods and foods are labelled. It will be interesting to hear the hon. Gentleman’s views on that—perhaps not on Europe but on the research that is being done.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman would not want to make a law that caused confusion in this area rather than clarity. He focuses on halal and kosher food, but the Opposition believe that respect implies an active attitude towards others rather than a passive attitude, and certainly our position is to seek proper engagement with all faith groups before we move forward on such a measure.
Let me turn now to new clause 15, which has been tabled by Mark Durkan. We supported it in Committee and would support it again. It is an incredibly important amendment and I urge Members to listen to what the hon. Gentleman has to say. We do not believe it is acceptable to leave it to consumers to know whether they have a death trap in their house.
Finally, I want to say a bit about Government amendments 14 to 20 and the very welcome U-turn that seems to have been made. In Committee, we were concerned that consumers could be left waiting many months for a refund, but the Minister suggested that the Government believed there were potential disadvantages of introducing a time limit that outweighed the benefits that such a change could bring. We suggested 30 days in which to get a refund, so I am absolutely delighted that the Government have gone one stage further and said that people should get their money back in 14 days. That gives me great hope that while the Minister may be saying “computer says no” at the moment to some of the things that we have been talking about today and in Committee, we will see further concessions in due course. We shall welcome them accordingly.
It is a pleasure to follow Stella Creasy. I was, surprisingly, rather encouraged by her response to my amendments. It could be a red-letter day for me, getting support across the House for some of my amendments.
I want to focus mainly on new clause 13, which is about the labelling of halal and kosher meat at the point of sale. With your permission, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will seek to press it to a vote, should the opportunity arise. It is an issue of great importance to the public, and we have heard an awful lot of commentary on it in the media and among many of our constituents in recent weeks. They would appreciate seeing where their Member of Parliament stands on the issue.
The hon. Lady needs to get out more, to be perfectly honest. She would find that there is widespread concern about the issue. She can vote accordingly and should not have anything to fear from a debate or a vote. I do not see why she should seek to object to either thing—that is what we are supposed to be here in Parliament to do, after all.
As you know better than anyone, Mr Deputy Speaker, I enjoy the cut and thrust of debate in the Chamber, but I am well aware of the time limitations and that other Members want to speak. I have given way once, but I will try to resist the temptation to give way many times because I want to hear what others have to say, too, and there is a lot to get through.
I am sorry to test my hon. Friend’s resolve so early in his speech, but this is an important point. On reflection, does he not agree that his new clause on halal meat—[Interruption]—and kosher could have been better drafted? If we are to have labelling, is it not important that the labelling specifies whether the meat was pre-stunned halal or non-pre-stunned?
I have resolve, but I can seldom resist giving way to my right hon. Friend. Animal welfare is a big issue for lots of people, but it is not the only one. Many other faith groups are concerned about the blessing given to the meat before sale, and his proposal would not address their particular concerns. My new clause has been drafted with all such people in mind, because the issue is bigger than one only of animal welfare. Animal welfare is an important element, but not the only element. I will come on to that later.
I want to start, however, with new clause 12, which relates to ticketing. The hon. Member for Walthamstow said that my new clause had nothing to do with her new clauses, but nothing could be further from the truth—it very much has. We know what her long-term agenda is, because she let it slip in an intervention: ultimately, she wants to see the end of ticket touting and the secondary sale of tickets. I think that that would be a massive retrograde step. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport, on which I serve, looked into the matter in the previous Parliament and found that such activities were a legitimate area of business. The Office of Fair Trading, as well as the Committee, found that it works in the consumer’s best interest.
I will stick to my resolve. The hon. Lady and I have locked horns on the issue over years. If anyone wants to look at our previous debates, they can go back to Hansard and see them all rehearsed there. I am sure that she will get the opportunity to have her say in a bit.
Fifty per cent. of tickets on viagogo are sold at a loss, so the idea that all people touting tickets are selling them at huge profits is simply not true; most are sold at a loss. The principle is this: if I buy a ticket, as far as I am concerned it belongs to me. I should be able to do with that ticket what I choose to do, including selling it on to someone else, as I can with any other commodity. Other products have limited editions, which are popular, such as designer handbags or Buzz Lightyear toys from years back, and people go in, buy the lot for a small amount and sell them on at an inflated price on eBay a few hours later. If the Labour party wants to ban that happening with tickets, presumably it will say that that kind of behaviour should be banned as well. That is complete nonsense.
Event organisers do not lose out at all, because all the tickets are sold at the price that they wanted to get for them—all the income that they wanted is delivered. The idea that real fans will be deprived of going to an event is complete nonsense. If someone is prepared to pay £1,500 for a ticket, you can bet your bottom dollar that they are a real fan. Not many people are prepared to pay £1,500 for a ticket for something that they do not really care about going to. It actually guarantees that real fans go.
I am not going to give way for the reasons I mentioned earlier.
If I have a ticket to the Lords test match, for example, or to the rugby world cup final, and I go into my local pub and someone says to me, “It is my lifetime ambition to go there, I would give £4,000 for a ticket,” what is wrong with my saying that I will give up my ticket and they can go instead? Everybody is happy, nobody has lost out, but Labour want to interfere with people’s aspirations. Why should that be banned? If someone does not want to pay the higher price, they should not pay it. Nobody is forced to pay the inflated prices if they do not want to.
If the secondary sale of tickets bothers event promoters so much, why do they not do something practical to stop it? Why sell all the tickets in one go, for example? Why not hold them back? Why put them all on sale so that they are sold within 43 seconds, meaning that they can be resold at inflated prices? If promoters are so bothered, why not sell tickets bit by bit, week by week, month by month so that there are still tickets available the week before the event? That would remove the secondary ticketing market, but they choose not to do it. That can only lead me to presume that the event organisers are shedding crocodile tears, as they are happy to get all the money from the tickets being snapped up.
An ICM poll showed that 83% agreed with the premise:
“Once I’ve bought a ticket it is my property and I should be able to sell it to just as I can any other private property.”
I am not going to give way.
This situation is very similar to the one I experienced when I was at Asda and we broke the net book agreement. Publishers had the right to set the price of books and nobody could undercut it, but Asda went to court and broke that agreement so now books can be sold at any price the retailer wants. It seems to me that Labour wants to go back to a time when publishers of books could set the price for books and ticket providers could set the price for tickets and nobody could do anything about it.
New clause 12, which guarantees that an event organiser must give somebody a refund up to 24 hours before an event, is essential if the Opposition want to get their way. If they want to ban somebody from selling on a ticket for the rugby world cup final, the only option for somebody who has bought a ticket and cannot go would be a refund. On too many occasions, event organisers will not allow refunds for events so what on earth is the customer supposed to do in such circumstances?
The Opposition will not support insisting that they get a refund and they want to ban them from selling the ticket on, so somebody will be left with a ticket that they can do absolutely nothing with. How on earth can that be in the best interest of the consumer?
On the subject of the rugby world cup final, if people from New Zealand buy a lot of tickets for the final in the expectation that their team will get there only for it to be knocked out in the semi-final, we need a mechanism by which those fans can sell on their tickets to the fans of the team that will be in the final instead. It seems that the Opposition have not even thought about that prospect. The secondary market in tickets is an efficient way of getting tickets from one group of people to another so that the real fans can go. If Labour had its way, the real fans would not be able to go because they would be blocked from using any mechanism to get there.
I want to concentrate on new clause 13, which says:
“All products containing halal and kosher meat shall be labelled as such at the point of sale by retail and food outlets.”
For the purposes of the new clause, I have defined a food outlet as
“anywhere where food is served to the public.”
I have done that because I specifically wanted to include places such as schools and hospitals, as I think many parents and patients are concerned about food that they do not know the provenance or background of, and that information is important to them.
If that is the hon. Gentleman’s intention, his clause is far too simplistic. Does he not agree that in the interests of fairness and consumer transparency consumers have the right to know about the origins of non-religiously slaughtered meat, whether that meat has been stunned or not, if it has been stunned what method was used and the method of non-religious slaughter? That is a lot of information, but observant Muslims or Jews would like that information as well as people who object.
I have a great deal of sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. She seems to be making the point that we need more labelling, not less. If she is saying that my new clause is a step, but it does not go as far as she would like it to go, I am happy to take that criticism on the chin.
I support further labelling, but does my hon. Friend agree that it is wrong to look at religious slaughter in isolation from other forms of slaughter, as Shabana Mahmood said? Labelling could give information about how the animals lived—their housing, food and drug consumption. Why is he picking on religious communities in his new clause?
Let me make something clear. I am not picking on anyone. I do not want to ban anything. People want to buy religiously slaughtered meat, although that may not be my choice. It is Labour Members who want to ban everything that they do not happen to like. That is not my style. I happen to believe in freedom of choice, and I want people who want to buy religiously slaughtered meat to be free to make that choice. Equally, people who specifically do not want to buy that meat should be free to make that choice. So this is not about picking on anyone. It is not about trying to ban anybody from doing anything.
I do not really see who loses out from the new clause. It is to the advantage of those people who want to buy halal and kosher meat and to the advantage of those who specifically do not that meat is properly labelled. So I do not see who the victim of my new clause is. Everyone is a winner. It is to everybody’s advantage that meat is properly labelled and above board so that everyone knows that what they are buying is what they want to buy. That is the only intention behind my new clause; there is no other objective. I am not seeking to ban anything or stop anybody from doing anything they want to do. I merely seek to allow people to make an informed choice. My hon. Friend Mr Djanogly asks why. The simple reason is that there is a huge demand for labelling out in the country—there certainly is in my constituency. That is why I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill on this very issue two years ago. It was defeated by three votes, largely by the politically correct brigade on the Opposition Benches. It was a big issue in my constituency then. I contend that it is an even bigger issue today. It has not mushroomed out of nowhere. There is widespread customer demand that proper information is given so that people can make an informed choice.
I have said that I must make some headway.
British legislation requires the stunning of animals before slaughter, with the religious exemptions that Shabana Mahmood made clear. Religious traditions sometimes require people to slaughter without stunning. The exemption dates back to the Slaughter of Animals (Scotland) Act 1928 and the Slaughter of Animals Act 1933, which applies to England and Wales. The EU also granted derogations from stunning regulations for religious communities.
In recent years, animal groups, most notably the Farm Animal Welfare Council, have advocated labelling of some meat to decrease the amount purchased, thereby reducing the amount of unstunned meat, as my right hon. Friend Sir Greg Knight said.
Neither the British Parliament nor the European Parliament has passed a law that requires labelling of unstunned meat, but there has been much debate about it in the past. My new clause would make it compulsory for halal and kosher meat to be labelled because, as a strong believer in freedom of choice, I think that one of the fundamental rights of the consumer is to know what they are purchasing.
I spent 12 years working for Asda before I entered the House. Some of the supermarkets are reluctant to do anything about this because it is inconvenient for them to go through the food chain to provide the labelling. When I was at Asda, I was taught that we were in business to do what was best for the customer—to do what the customer wanted, not what was for our convenience. I am rather worried that that attitude is slipping in some of our supermarket chains. It is not about what is most convenient for them; I do not care about that. They should be delivering what their customers want, and there is no doubt that this is what customers want to see.
Consumers cannot satisfy their preferences at present because not all meat products are labelled. Therefore, legislation requiring labelling is essential for consumers to exercise their right to make an informed decision.
I am not going to give way.
I would much prefer it if legislation was not required. I am not the type of person who wants to rush to legislation, but in the two years since my ten-minute rule Bill was introduced absolutely nothing has happened. There have been plenty of opportunities for the retailers to sort this out for themselves, and they have failed spectacularly to do anything about it.
This is important. According to the EU DIALREL project, the exemption from religious slaughter in schedule 12 to the Welfare of Animals (Slaughter or Killing) Regulations 1995 clearly states that the exemption applies to people of that religion—not to everybody. That implies that halal and kosher meat should be consumed by those of Muslim and Jewish faiths respectively, because that type of slaughter is specified for their religious needs. That is clearly not the case, because Muslims make up a small proportion of the UK population, yet the Halal Food Authority estimated two years ago that halal meat makes up 25% of the meat market. I suspect that the figure is even higher. Similarly, approximately 70% of kosher meat that is sold is not consumed by the Jewish community.
We are going far beyond the exemption that was designed for those people with their particular religious beliefs. There have been cases of schools, hospitals, pubs, sports arenas, cafés, markets and hotels serving halal meat to customers without their knowledge. I am led to believe that it even happened in the House of Commons canteens in 2010. To my dismay as a former retailer, it has certainly happened in some of the larger supermarket chains, and in some of the largest food outlets such as Pizza Hut, Domino’s and KFC. It has also happened in schools. In 2010, Harrow council faced a massive protest after announcing a plan to serve halal-only menus in the borough’s state primary schools, and parents complained that it was forced on them against their will.
Some 98% of consumers in the 2004 Co-op survey of consumer attitudes to the ethics of the food industry stated that they supported the humane treatment of animals. Considering that some halal and kosher meats are slaughtered without pre-stunning, many such consumers would not buy the meat if they were aware of what it was. Interestingly, Massood Khawaja, president of the Halal Food Authority, stated in September 2010:
“As Muslims have a choice of eating halal meat, non-Muslims should also have the choice of not eating it. Customers should know it is halal meat.”
An amendment to induce the compulsory labelling of unstunned halal and kosher meat and products would give consumers more freedom of choice, increase market efficiency, as retailers are enabled to respond to customer demand, and help to protect animal welfare rights.
It is not just me who thinks that. The Sikh Council UK has put out a statement agreeing with that. It believes that everyone has the right to purchase and consume food in accordance with their religious beliefs. Hindus have said that they, too, agree with my new clause, and believe the same thing. Many of these groups do not focus on animal welfare but specifically object to the religious blessing that goes with the practice. I will conclude with this particular point about halal and kosher meat. I do not know if hon. Members read the article by Taj Hargey, the director of the Muslim Educational Centre of Oxford and the imam of the Oxford Islamic Congregation, who said that the practice is
“covert religious extremism and creeping Islamic fundamentalism making its way into Britain by the back door. It is completely wrong that the food sensitivities of Britain’s Muslims—who amount to just 4.8% of the population—should take precedence over the other 95%. Halal meat should never be forced on customers without their knowing, surreptitiously and using clandestine methods. It’s unfair to everyone, non-Muslims and Muslims alike.”
He also said that the idea that Muslims cannot eat non-halal meat is completely wrong, and
“has no theological basis in the Koran, the supreme text of Islam.”
“I’m a dedicated Muslim, a devout religionist, an imam and intellectual scholar of Islam, but I eat whatever food is placed before me, with the obvious exception of pork. If you’re kind enough to invite me to your home, I would eat whatever meat you chose to serve”.
“It is high time the white, liberal, Guardian-reading classes stopped behaving like apologists and woke up. There is a fundamentalist Trojan horse in our midst, and we must take corrective action.”
Many people in this country are demanding that this House takes the action that they would like to see.
Finally, and very briefly, new clause 14, which the hon. Member for Walthamstow said she supports, and which I hope the Minister will support, would introduce a mobile phone switching process that is led by the receiving communications service provider, rather than the one losing the custom. Currently, if someone wants to cancel their mobile phone contract, they must first approach the company they are leaving. The problem is that mobile phone operators have no incentive at all to proactively ensure that their customers are getting the best deal. They can overcharge them again and again until they say, “Actually, I want to leave”, before trying to win them back with some offer.
New clause 14 would keep mobile phone providers on their toes, ensuring that their customers constantly got the best real-time offer, because they would never get the chance to do that if the customer went to a competitor. They would act in the best interests of the consumer. That would be in line with what now happens in the banking and energy sectors. It is widely appreciated that the best way to encourage switching for consumers is to enable them to go to the provider they want and for it to do all the hard work for them. It is an anomaly that that does not apply to mobile phone switching. I think that it would make a great deal of sense for the Government to accept the new clause. I am pleased that the Opposition have agreed to support it and hope that the Government will too. It is a common-sense measure that will ensure a much better deal for consumers.
I will bring my remarks to a close. I look forward to hearing what other Members have to say. For your benefit, Mr Speaker—you were not here at the start—I repeat that if the chance arises I would very much like to press new clause 13, on labelling halal and kosher meat, to a vote, because I think that it is a matter of great importance to many people in the country.
I am delighted to be able to speak on new clauses 18 to 21, which stand in my name and those of Mike Weatherley and other hon. Friends. I add my support to new clauses 8, 16 and 17, which were tabled by my hon. Friends on the Opposition Front Bench and ably argued for by my hon. Friend Stella Creasy this afternoon and in Committee.
New clause 18 follows directly from the conclusions and recommendations of the recent excellent report by the all-party group on ticket abuse. I want to put on the record my thanks to colleagues across the House and all the outside experts who contributed to that excellent report. We found that the existence of a secondary market for event tickets is justified by the need of genuine consumers to pass on tickets that they can no longer use. To some extent, that is because event holders are not very good at facilitating refunds or exchange mechanisms, even though they sell tickets many months in advance of the event.
On that point, I will speak briefly to new clause 12. It is a shame that Philip Davies—he is not listening now—would not allow any interventions, because I wanted to correct for the record some of the errors in what he said. He is right that we have regularly locked horns on the issue, but that does not mean I will sit back and not seek to correct him when I think he is wrong. First, the Opposition are seeking not to ban the resale of tickets, but to regulate and reform the market in the interests of consumers through these very sensible cross-party proposals. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow did not “allude”—I think that was the word he used—to trying to ban the resale of tickets.
Secondly, the hon. Member for Shipley was incorrect to claim that no one gives refunds at the moment. The Rugby Football Union guarantees full refunds for high-demand matches—I am sure that the World cup would qualify—up to an hour before kick-off. It also provides legitimate resale platforms. This ensures that any investment goes back into the sport of rugby. The England and Wales Cricket Board has established ticket exchanges at each venue and centrally so that a supporter who can no longer attend a match or has a spare can legitimately re-sell their ticket. Those are just two examples among many more that are out there.
Does my hon. Friend agree that new clauses 16 and 18 are particularly powerful, because they would enable us to identify the power sellers—the people who buy tickets on an almost industrial scale, and by doing so corner the market, rip off consumers and push up prices? Unless we do so, it is more likely that £250 tickets for the rugby world cup can be sold for over £1,000, as is happening at the moment. That has to be a bad thing, and we must stop it.
I agree with my hon. Friend. I thank him for his work in the all-party group in producing the report that has led and informed us in tabling the new clauses.
Our report recommended that the live event industry should do more to provide refunds. The new clause tabled by the hon. Member for Shipley could be ruinous for the live event industry while removing all the risk for the industrial touts of whom my hon. Friend Nick Smith spoke. Most touts will aim to sell their tickets on the internet about four days in advance, so under the hon. Gentleman’s plans, any they do not manage to sell for a profit they could simply give back to the promoter for a full refund the day before, by which time the promoter will be unlikely to be able to sell them all on again. I fear that rather than helping ordinary consumers, as the hon. Gentleman has no doubt argued, that would mean more tickets being acquired by ticket touts who no longer face the uncertainty of whether they will be able to shift them, thereby manipulating the supply even more than they already do. A better balance would be to give refunds up to a reasonable point before the event, with facilitated resale after that if the event has sold out—as we set out in our report, which I hope the industry will take on board.
While accepting that there is a role for a legitimate secondary ticket market, the all-party group found considerable problems with how this market, which is estimated to be worth about £1 billion a year, works at present. In particular, we found that it does not adhere to the same principles of transparency and consumer protection that other markets are held to. To address these shortcomings, we have put together some modest proposals which, far from driving ticket resale underground, as some of those involved in it have claimed, would increase consumer confidence in the secondary market and therefore be very good for business.
Our first two new clauses address the lack of transparency. New clause 18 is about who is selling the ticket. It would place a duty on secondary ticketing platforms to provide basic identifying information about the individual or business offering a particular ticket or set of tickets for sale. It would allow consumers to say how prolific and reliable a particular seller is—in other words, whether they are a tout or a fellow fan and, if they are a tout, whether the tickets they have sold in the past have been as advertised. That would make the secondary ticketing platforms a lot more like the other internet marketplaces that many of use regularly and with confidence, such as eBay, Amazon and Play.com.
Importantly, the new clause would also require secondary ticketing platforms to be transparent in cases where the seller is also the event holder. The practice of event organisers secretly allocating whole blocks of tickets directly to the secondary market has been on the rise, due to the failure of successive Governments to intervene in the market on behalf of consumers or the creative sector. It was exposed in the Channel 4 “Dispatches” programme, “The Great Ticket Scandal”, broadcast in 2012. I cannot blame those who do this. They cannot stop the touts, who have not contributed in any way to the event—unlike the artist, the venue, the agent, the promoter, and so on—from making huge profits off the back of their hard work, so why not try to make some of that money for themselves, or, as I like to see it, have a piece of the poacher’s pie? That is their decision, but they should have to be transparent about it. Hiding behind the secondary market and allowing fans to believe that the ticket they are buying has been sold at face value before and they are buying from a third party is simply dishonest.
There is also a dishonest practice whereby a secondary ticketing platform or its employees or shareholders buy and sell tickets themselves, as the “Dispatches” programme also exposed. Employees of the platforms featured were shown with catalogues of credit cards, trying to buy as many tickets as possible to gigs. A leaked operations manual sent to me shortly after “Dispatches” aired showed that that was also a key part of the viagogo business model. The manual showed, among other things, that a company called Andro Capital, which was linked to viagogo’s then chief executive, Eric Baker, was also its most favoured power seller. Interestingly, a box at the start of the chapter explaining such dealing to employees stressed:
“Not only do we have private and power sellers, we also sell tickets on the website. PLEASE NOTE THAT NEITHER SELLERS NOR BUYERS SHOULD KNOW THAT WE ARE THE SELLER OF CERTAIN TICKETS. NOR SHOULD ANY OF THE INFORMATION BELOW BE DIVULGED TO OUR POWER SELLERS!”
Viagogo has since said that it has abandoned that practice, and Christoph Homann of GetMeIn! also assured the all-party group in his evidence that it does not itself buy tickets, either. In that case, they will not be affected by the new duty and have no reason to oppose it. Even if they or other secondary ticketing platforms still engage in such dealing, I can see no good reason why the law should permit them to keep that information secret from their consumers when it may make a material difference to a buying decision. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will consider adopting the measure.
I have mentioned the Channel 4 “Dispatches” investigation into the problems and I am also pleased to inform the House that the BBC’s “Watchdog” is also very keen on highlighting them. Indeed, they will feature in its shows on 21 and
New clause 19 relates to the transparency of the product itself—that is, the ticket. Knowing the characteristics of a ticket would in many cases make a material difference to a buying decision, particularly in the case of seated events, in which a person’s position in the venue can make a significant difference to their enjoyment of the performance or the experience. Providing that information —or, indeed, the ticket number when there is general admission to the event—would also give consumers the confidence that the individual or company selling the ticket actually has tickets in hand and is not just speculating that they will be able to provide them at a later date. When a consumer wants to buy a number of tickets, the information will help them to ensure that they get seats together or at least close by.
The secondary platforms themselves were asked about that as part of the all-party group’s inquiry. StubHub said in its evidence that it requires seat information to be provided, but an investigation of its website shows that such information appears to be hit and miss. On the whole, it tended to be single tickets, which were probably being sold by ordinary fans, that had full information, while listings of two, four, six or more tickets, which were probably being sold by a professional, did not.
One of the other key pieces of information of which a consumer should be aware is a ticket’s original face value, which in many cases is another indicator of the quality of the product. In their evidence to the inquiry, representatives from the Rugby Football Union said that the cheapest tickets at Twickenham—those they keep cheap to try to get families to come along and to encourage grass-roots participation—often end up being resold at higher prices than some of their premium tickets, some of which may still be available.
Many consumers who are less conscious of how these secondary markets work think that because they are paying more for a ticket, they will get a premium service or seat. Many others do not even know that the website they are using is a secondary market rather than the primary or official source, given that such sites pay significant sums to show up first in Google rankings. Making sure that consumers are made aware of the original price of the ticket they are buying at the earliest opportunity, not just on the last screen—if at all—therefore gives them another piece of the information that they need to make an informed choice about whether to enter into such a purchase.
I do not think that any genuine fans who needed to sell on their tickets would have a problem with providing the basic information about the product they are selling, and I cannot see why any professional reseller would either. Even a street tout shows people a ticket—and therefore the seat number and face value—before they buy it. The secondary ticketing platforms, which claim to have higher standards, should therefore have no problem adapting to the new provisions.
Moving on from transparency, more of which should reduce the chances of things going wrong in the secondary market in the first place, new clause 20 concerns the recourse available to consumers when they do. There have been numerous recent reports of thousands of event goers being turned away with counterfeit or invalid tickets that they had bought via the big four secondary ticketing websites, all of which heavily promote their reliability, with prominent guarantees that tickets are genuine. The latest example to make the news involved the hundreds of Drake fans turned away from the O2 arena in north Greenwich.
It is welcome that all the big four companies say that they offer refunds, although over the years I have received a handful of complaints about their being less than prompt in doing so. As Reg Walker from the Iridium Consultancy pointed out during our second evidence session, people who turn up at venues with unusable tickets have all incurred at least some travel costs getting there, and in some cases they have come from abroad for the express purpose of using the ticket. That echoes the findings of the recent UK Music report on music tourism, including that ancillary spending just from music events is worth more than £2 billion a year to the country’s economy.
For such people, a full refund on the ticket, while welcome, will still leave them out of pocket. New clause 20 would, therefore, allow those consumers to claim back the extra costs associated with attending an event up to a reasonable level, which we suggest should be 200% of the total purchase price paid to the platform. The new clause would place responsibility for that initial payback on the secondary ticketing platforms, because they offer guarantees that they say consumers pay for in their significant service charges. However, having paid out that money, the new clause makes it clear that the secondary ticketing platform may recover it from the seller of the ticket. The payback should be made promptly, unless the police or other relevant authorities are investigating the buyer or seller for committing or trying to commit fraud. The only individuals or businesses that the new clause would hurt, therefore, are those who have sold dodgy tickets and consequently caused financial loss to the consumer.
The new clause would have the positive benefit of giving consumers the confidence that they will not be left out of pocket when they purchase tickets through the secondary market if those tickets turn out to be counterfeit or invalid. Again, far from driving the trade in tickets underground, it would have the effect of driving consumers to use websites that offer such protections, instead of those that do not and, in particular, instead of blokes outside the venue on the night.
Our last new clause, new clause 21, simply defines terms used in the previous three new clauses, so I will not detain the House by explaining it.
The proposals are not radical. If the Minister or hon. Members who have spoken against them asked their constituents whether they want to know what they are buying and who they are buying it from when they spend what are often significant sums, they would find that most of them said yes. The proposals would not abolish the secondary market or drive it underground; in fact, they would bring it out of the shadows into the mainstream. No longer would so many people still see it as a murky market; it would be a legitimate secondary market that works—as all markets should—in the interests of consumers, with full transparency and adequate protection. The only people who have opposed the proposals are those making large amounts of money from the status quo. It is time that this House and this Government stopped standing up for the interests of such people, and finally put fans first.
I congratulate Mrs Hodgson on a thorough interpretation of the new clauses.
Music, theatre, comedy and sport are a vital part of British society and the British economy, and our creative industries are worth more than £36 billion a year. They generate £70,000 every minute for the UK economy, and employ 1.5 million people in the UK. That is why it is vital to have a healthy and transparent ticket market, yet with increasing frequency, secondary ticketing resellers are causing dramatically inflated prices for the fans, and taking away revenue from performers. That has to stop.
I have consistently been a champion of the free market and I do not have a problem with artists or sports teams charging whatever they wish for their services. That is their prerogative, and they should be allowed to set the prices of their tickets or, if they 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 from both sides of the House, founded the all-party group on ticket abuse. We conducted a review and the results were published recently, as we have heard, with new clauses recommended as a result.
One key aspect of an honest and transparent ticket purchasing process is the intention of the buyer at the point 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 to someone else. However, an increasing number of people are buying tickets with absolutely no intention of going to the event. Instead, those career touts buy tickets solely with the intention of denying them to real fans, whom they can squeeze for profit by reselling their tickets to a “sold out” event.
That situation is not limited to fans who simply waited too long to buy tickets. With internet ticket 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. That can often mean that it is practically impossible for genuine fans to get access to the event, forcing them to rely on an artificially created secondary market, and depriving content creators of revenue for their event. That is unacceptable.
On this issue I fundamentally disagree with my hon. Friend Philip Davies, who raised some points earlier, because we would all suffer, including the artists. Just because an artist has received the full value for a concert that is sold out does not mean that they—or another artist—would not suffer elsewhere. For example, suppose someone has a budget of £500 a year for going to venues. They might think, “I’ll go to 10 concerts in that year and buy some merchandising and other products while I am there”, but if they then spend £200, £300 or even £500 on one concert, they will not go to the other nine. No wonder there is underselling in other concerts because people do not necessarily have the money, and we all lose out as a result.
My hon. Friend is shaking his head, but he must understand that my point is right. I would, of course, prefer no legislation on the subject and to rely on industry-led solutions, as we heard earlier. A potential solution to touting, which has been adopted by some venues already, is to use credit card verification. However, touts often generate such large profits from many events that that method is ineffective. There are also additional problems of crowd control and so on. If hon. Members who disagree with that point had bothered to come to the all-party group when we took evidence, they would have heard from promoters who have tried those other methods that such things do not work, and they would not try them again for all sorts of reasons.
The Metropolitan police published a comprehensive report on fraudulent ticketing and the dangers it posed to the Olympics; it specifically cites ticket fraud, touting and ticket reselling websites as areas of concern. Among several issues, the Met noted that websites with servers based overseas were causing serious problems by advertising fraudulent tickets, and making it difficult for law enforcement agencies to track the offenders or shut down illegal sites. The report stressed—as do I—the need for an open and transparent system for ticket reselling, with clear and appropriate regulations.
Transparency is key to protecting not just content creators but ticket buyers from dubious and misleading transactions. Again, I will refer to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley because I never thought there would be a connection between halal meat and secondary ticketing. I was keen to intervene on him but he would not allow me to. All through his speech, however, he made the point that clear labelling and the consumer being aware of what they were buying was fundamental. He said—I wrote it down—that it is a fundamental right that consumers know what they are buying. That is exactly what the new clauses are saying, no more and no less. For instance, 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 and a promoter or manager may be given some as part of their fee. That is done with the tacit understanding that recipients of such tickets will subsequently be able to sell them for significantly more than their face value. It is, of course, the prerogative of the content creators if they wish to do this, but it should be done transparently.
Some hon. Members, including my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley, have suggested that trying to regulate ticket touting is an interference in the natural free market. However to say this is to misunderstand—and be wrong about—one of the key principles of the free market, which is the ability for the market to respond to demand by increasing supply. In the case of sports matches or live music, there is no way to increase the supply. There are only so many games in the season and bands can only play so many dates. That is why it is so important for the content creators to be in control of how their tickets are sold. It does not in any way infringe their right to charge however much they want for the tickets, as long as it is part of a transparent and well regulated system that works in the best interests of fans and performers.
New clauses 18 to 21 are intended to assist that transparency. None of the clauses would restrict the secondary markets, but they would become more accountable. In particular, people who had been sold an invalid ticket would be compensated more than just the ticket price to reflect the true cost of attending. New clause 20 would restrict the cost to twice the price paid for the ticket, which might not be the full cost to those attending, but would at least give some incentive to those selling to get the ticket price right, without being an open cheque book.
We have come a long way since I first supported the private Member’s Bill of Mrs Hodgson a few years ago. Then, there was little support for measures to protect consumers from the worst aspects of ticket touting. Now, I am pleased to say that, with increased knowledge and understanding, there is increased agreement on both sides of the House that something needs to be done. The small measures suggested in new clauses 18 to 21 are a step in the right direction, and I trust that the Minister will address at least some of the issues when she responds later.
Order. By my reckoning, eight hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye. Colleagues will be aware that the moment of interruption is 7 o’clock. They will be able to do the arithmetic for themselves, but if everyone speaks for approximately five minutes and no longer, it should be possible to accommodate everybody.
It is a pleasure to follow Mike Weatherley who spoke so well in support of the new clauses tabled by Mrs Hodgson. I also wish to associate myself with the clear arguments put forward by Stella Creasy in respect of other amendments in this group.
I wish to speak to new clause 15, in my name and that of the hon. Members for East Lothian (Fiona O’Donnell) and for Batley and Spen (Mike Wood). I raised this issue in Committee, although new clause 15 is not simply a retread of the new clause I tabled there about product recalls, especially of electrical items, and safety. It is a new and improved new clause, with added provisions based on the very fine contribution by the hon. Member for Batley and Spen in an Adjournment debate on
When my original new clause was debated in Committee, the hon. Member for East Lothian had to speak to it, as I was in the United States as part of a delegation on the Colombian peace process. I pay tribute to the hon. Lady for speaking so well on the new clause in Committee.
The purpose of the new clause is to try to make good the deficiencies in the product recall system. I am one of those people, probably like many other Members, who laboured under the assumption that there are very clear schemes, strict regimes and tightly managed fine systems for product recalls, particularly for products that can threaten the life and health of families and the fabric of properties. We read about products catching fire and being recalled—washing machines, cookers and so on—but the Electrical Safety Council report “Safer Products, Better Business” shows that most product recalls succeed in recalling only 20% of products, with some recalling only 10%. That means there are a lot of unsafe products in people’s homes, threatening lives and property.
We are told that the Bill is all about giving consumers rights; that it will give more power to consumers in relation to faults; that they will be more aware that products are unsuitable and more able to return them and get redress. Surely we also need to make good the serious gap between faults that manufacturers and suppliers know about, but consumers do not. New clause 15 would improve recall standards and create direct powers for the Secretary of State to take more responsibility in that regard.
The additional points we have included in the new version of the new clause come from the hon. Member for Batley and Spen, who highlighted existing US federal legislation. The Consumer Product Safety Commission, a federal body, operates mainly under the Consumer Product Safety Act 1972, which was enhanced by the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act 2008. It takes federal responsibility for recall measures and is able to ensure that the considerable gaps in suppliers’ and manufacturers’ customer records are made good. It has become a federal responsibility to ensure that records are kept of who has bought products and where they have gone.
The Government seem to be relying on the industry for that. That is what I took from an answer the Minister gave me in January. She said that there is no problem because the industry has not told her that there is one, but it currently relies on its records of ownership, and they depend on whether people return their warranty and registration cards when they buy products. A lot of people do not because they think they will receive a great deal of marketing bumph and other material they do not want, but doing so is vital if a product recall is required. What we are left with are general media information recalls and signage, which people may not see or take in, being put up in various stores. That is why our recalls do not have a very high success rate, and that is leaving people at risk.
Order. The hon. Gentleman is addressing the House with inimitable eloquence as always, but I think I can confidently predict that he is reaching his peroration.
The other point the Government make is that this will be the subject of a European directive in a couple of years’ time. I would only make the point that we should not have to wait for a European directive, and that it would be better if a meaningful European directive were transposed through existing legislation. New clause 15 would provide exactly those powers and that legislation.
I would like to speak to new clauses 13 and 22, and make a small reference to new clauses 18 to 21.
New clause 13 was explained so eloquently by my hon. Friend Philip Davies as being a matter of consumer choice. I have a huge degree of sympathy with that, but I will explain why I cannot support him today. We should all know exactly what we are eating. We should have a good deal of information about how animals have lived and died. I have major concerns that Europe does not have the same high standards of animal welfare that we have in this country, yet we import meat from those animals who have been raised with living standards we do not find acceptable and have outlawed, such as farrowing pens for pigs.
Briefing from the Eurogroup for Animals, published in 2011, gives some interesting information about European standards of animal husbandry and, indeed, animal slaughter—much of the meat involved enters our own food chain—and makes it clear that many of us should be very concerned about those issues. That organisation opposes the slaughter of all animals without their being stunned beforehand. The briefing states:
Unfortunately, there was a real lack of data. According to the briefing,
“most of the countries do not have reliable figures available as no traceability exists to differentiate between animals” when it comes to how they have been slaughtered. Of course, I am concerned about how they have lived as well. There is also a significant over-slaughtering of animals for halal and kosher meat within the food chain to allow for the amount of demand that might arise in countries that import such meat, which means that there is no way of showing what happens to animals that have been killed in that way and where they end up in the food chain.
This is indeed a labelling issue, but I must say to my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley that, according to some of the information that has been gleaned through the examination of people who do not wish animals to be killed without being stunned, it is almost impossible to trace the meat involved, and that without Europe-wide traceability, his proposal will be totally unenforceable. I appreciate that many consumers would like to know how the animals were treated, where and in what conditions they were raised, the extent of the confinement in which they were placed, and how they were slaughtered. While I agree with my hon. Friend’s sentiments—I, too, believe that consumers should know exactly what they are purchasing—I therefore cannot support his new clause.
Let me now say something about the tenancy issues that have been raised. I quote my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley a great deal, because he talks a lot of good sense, and his heart is often in the right place. However, I believe that if we put all the onus on landlords when it comes to any fees associated with the checking of tenants—they often have to be checked now because of the rules on residency, which govern whether they have the right to rent in this country—those fees will go into the chain, and other ways will be found to put up rents. I cannot believe that the Labour party wants that to happen.
A small letting agency in St Albans, which contacted me about the Labour party’s proposal, is deeply unhappy about it. Given that the agency provides a service enabling people to go into its office, choose from the properties that are advertised, be shown round and so on, why should a fee not be incurred for the benefit that the potential tenant enjoys? The landlord may enjoy a different benefit in the form of the checking of the tenants; the benefits are not always exactly the same.
I suggest that the Government should be extremely cautious before accepting any blandishments from the Labour party, which constantly tries to impose all the cost on businesses. We, as consumers, also want a degree of protection.
I am afraid that this is a very short debate.
Part of those fees go towards ensuring that there is a market for people who want a good choice of tenanted properties that they can go and look at.
Let me now add my few words to the extensive debate about tickets. Mrs Hodgson made a very good point about touts who would potentially sell tickets back. That is a flaw, but I have a huge amount of sympathy with those who have bought a ticket that cannot be used for some reason. I do not see how it can be wrong to sell that ticket on, as I might sell on anything else that I might have purchased. My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley made the valid point that if a major company selling tickets en bloc wants to try to stop the practice, it should be working with the Government for that purpose.
I do not wish us to outlaw the selling on of tickets that people may have purchased quite rightfully and of which they then wish to dispose. I feel that that would creep into other areas and start applying to people who buy the latest thing from Kate Moss At Topshop, the latest pair of trainers or the latest toy, and then choose to sell it on. I think that that is a slippery slope, and I do not wish to go down it.
Order. Of course I am in colleagues’ hands, but I simply point out that anyone who speaks for longer than three minutes will knowingly be stopping another colleague contributing. I just put that in my usual gentle fashion.
I want to speak to new clause 22 about letting agents’ charges. When the Communities and Local Government Committee did a report on the private rented sector last year, we had more evidence and more complaints about letting agents’ charges than almost anything else. That was reflected by the OFT, which said that complaints to Consumer Direct about letting agents were almost all about fees and charges. It is not just that there is one fee upfront for a tenancy agreement; there are also the charges for inventories and for credit checks, and people enter into a viewing not knowing what the ultimate charge will be. It is a charge they have to find upfront as a prospective tenant, at the same time as they are trying to find the deposit, and often these are people on very low incomes.
The process gets repeated to a degree every time people renew their tenancy after six months or 12 months, and that militates against having longer term contracts. Agents see this as an incentive not to let longer term contracts because short-term contracts mean renewals and more fees for them. I have described letting agents as being a bit like football agents as they make their money out of transfers and renewals of contracts. We ought to be extremely wary of that.
Shelter said the average size of a fee to a tenant was £355. The Foxtons website gives its fees as £420 to a tenant to create a contract, £96 to renew it and £150 for an inventory check. Such charges are replicated by most letting agents.
The Committee responded that there should be absolute transparency of fees upfront when a property is advertised and it must be clear what the totality of charges to tenants will be and there should be no double charging. If there is transparency, it will be harder for a letting agent to charge a tenant and a landlord for the same thing, which happens at present.
We want these changes to be put in a mandatory code of practice, but the Government have not agreed to do that. On transparency, all that has happened is the
Advertising Standards Authority has given a ruling saying the fees that are compulsory should be shown upfront as part of the price quoted. However, when we go on websites like that of Foxtons, we see those fees are in very small print, so, in practice, letting agents are going through the motions when it comes to the ASA ruling, but they are not sticking to the spirit of it.
We did not recommend a complete abolition of fees to tenants. What we said was that it has been done in Scotland and that we should review the Scottish experience. The Committee will come back in the autumn and look at the Scottish experience and consider whether banning charges to tenants means higher rents. If so, there is a question as to whether tenants favour paying a bit more in rent rather than having a massive fee upfront. The Committee will also look at the fact that the contract is with the landlord, not the tenant. We will take further evidence on those matters in the autumn.
I wish to speak briefly to new clauses 18 to 21. I was a member of the Public Bill Committee and we had a long debate about ticket touts and the secondary ticketing market. I think there is cross-party support on this, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mike Weatherley and Mrs Hodgson for the work they have done as chairs of the all-party group on ticket abuse of which I am proud to be a member. The report that has been produced is excellent and is close to my heart as Knebworth, which is in my constituency, is the largest outdoor music venue in the UK. I am therefore very keen to ensure that we eradicate ticket touting for all events. Having cross-party support to eradicate ticket touting is very welcome, and we need to push that forward.
In Committee I referred to an organisation called Twickets. It takes a photograph of the ticket in question and places it on its Twitter feed and it can then sell that ticket for the face value or less. That is the only way in which that ticket can be sold. That provides a good opportunity for someone to sell a ticket at face value or less to a third party who they do not know.
One thing that disturbed me in Committee, and one of the reasons why I cannot add my name to new clauses 18 to 21, is that botnets are buying up huge amounts of tickets from the online retailers, and 90% of tickets in the UK are currently sold online. So one huge problem facing us is how to stop these botnets buying up the tickets. Consumer behaviour is in many ways driving the problem, because consumers are prepared to pay almost any price and so they accept the market; they pay the price and that allows ticket touts to flourish. We need to focus on how we can remove ticket touts from the UK and how we eradicate them as much as we can.
Many people feel that because they are buying a ticket online they are not engaging in behaviour that is associated with a criminal activity, but few of the people who would buy a ticket online would speak to a ticket tout in the street outside a venue and buy a ticket off them. Therefore, part of this may be about educating people so that they understand that when they are buying these tickets online, they are helping some people who are often engaged in criminal activity and they are also working with a group of organisations that are not putting money back into the film and music industries. I am not able to support these new clauses. Although I agree with the spirit of them, I do not feel they would do enough to eradicate the scourge of ticket touts.
I rise to support new clause 22 which is an important first step in addressing a private rented sector into which many hundreds of thousands of people who would previously perhaps have been allocated a social housing dwelling have been forced because council houses and housing association properties are currently in short supply. Many of them have to move over and over again: often these are people on very low incomes and they are hit with punitive charges by profiteering rogue letting agents. I say that this is an important first step because it is not just about the charges associated with establishing a tenancy in the first instance.
A letting agency in Derby, Professional Properties, hits people not only with the sorts of charges we are debating, which would be covered by the new clause, but with additional spurious charges when they end their tenancy. I am dealing with one case in particular where a young woman who looked after the property in which she had been living very well was hit with an enormous charge of more than £1,000 for spurious repairs. As a result of my intervention that charge was dropped, but there has been a refusal to allow her to have her deposit back. Those are shameful tactics by letting agents who are exploiting a very vulnerable group in society, and it is incumbent on us in this place to stand up for people who are being exploited in this way.
It is important to acknowledge that the private rented sector does have a role to play, but we want a responsible private rented sector and a responsible letting agents sector. Rents in the private sector have gone through the roof, so there is ample money in this system without these additional charges being heaped on people, who, as I have said, are often on very low incomes. I strongly support new clause 22 as a very important first step to regularising the private rented sector in our country.
I want to speak primarily to new clause 22, but first let me briefly speak in support of new clause 14. I thought I was the only person who had problems with switching, believing it to be another in the long list of failures in my life, but since I got elected I have realised that there is a massive issue to address so I fully that provision. I have some sympathy with new clause 13, as I would like to see better labelling, but I am not sure I can support it as drafted.
On new clause 22, I should declare that I do not have any buy-to-let properties—I struggled enough to qualify for one mortgage, so the idea of qualifying for a further mortgage is probably a bit of a joke. Going through the list of other Members who have relevant interests, I noted that an awful lot of them were on the Opposition Benches. I assume that no Labour Members who rent out a property do so through a letting agent that charges fees, because to do so would be to fall foul of a word we are not allowed to say in here.
With this new clause we have a campaign going on. We have student union politics at the moment whereby the Opposition pick an issue and throw it out there in the hope it gets some traction. They do not think it through; there is nothing more to it than that. This time the issue is letting agent fees. It is my belief that they have not spoken to the letting agents or to many of the tenants who have to pay the fees—if they had, they would not be proposing this measure in such a way. I want a sensible debate on this, but we do not get it. As I have said, what we have had is an orchestrated campaign in which Labour opponents, many of whom live in massive houses in particular constituencies, have been told by the Labour party centrally here in London to parrot a particular line. They do not care about it to the extent that they have ever stood up and talked about it before. My Labour opponent, who wrote to me about this, certainly never had a word to say about it before she was told to do so by Labour headquarters in London. That is what is going on here. We are not having a sensible debate about this measure, which hits some of the big cities such as London, or about repeat fees. Labour has taken this scattergun approach in the hope of trying to drum up support for the measure, but what will happen is that rents will go up, because these charges will not disappear; the tenant will have to pay them in some way.
In many houses in my constituency, particularly in Goole which is relatively poor, the landlords do not charge bonds. They say is that if they cannot charge a relatively small fee—the biggest company in my constituency, Goole Property Centre, does not charge repeat fees or fees to people who do not then get a property—they will charge bonds instead. The cost of getting into a property to begin with could double or quadruple in my constituency.
I can tell Members what some of the letting agencies use their fees for. A large number of those who are renting are foreign tenants, and the agencies try to provide somebody who speaks their language and who gives them additional support, often getting them signed up to gas and electricity. They also help out with some of the simple things, which lead to a huge number of letters in my postbag. I am talking about things like bin collections—how to follow the rules—and community cohesion problems, which occur when large numbers of foreign migrants live in homes in multiple occupation. Landlords use their letting fees to subsidise such activity, and that is what will disappear. This is an ill-thought out policy from the Labour party. Let us have a sensible debate about it. Mr Betts said that it was too early to make a decision, because we need to see what happens with the trial in Scotland. Unfortunately, Labour has decided not to wait, but wants to continue with a student union type approach to try to build something around the cost of living issue. It is a bit pathetic in my view, which is why I will not support this measure until we have a proper and sensible debate.
I am concerned about the way in which this debate on halal and kosher has been taking place in the country and about some of the things that have been said in the Chamber. At the heart of this debate is a suggestion that somehow the halal and kosher slaughtering processes are more painful for the animal than the stunning process. Some 90% of the meat in this country is stunned, so we are talking about just 10% of meat. I am sure that Members can see behind what Philip Davies is saying. He claims that the whole country is concerned about the issue. As somebody who is virtually a vegetarian, but occasionally will eat meat, I am concerned not just about the rights of animals but about the issue of experimentation on animals, which I speak up about and campaign against. The newspaper that is going on about halal meat does not talk about experimentation on animals, which is real cruelty. We know that it just wants to have a go at one particular group of people. I want to deal with one central question, which seems to be the accepted wisdom of everyone here, and that is whether the kosher and halal method of slaughtering is more painful.
A scientific study was carried out by Professor Schultz and his colleague at Hanover university in Germany. They took one group of animals and followed the halal and kosher slaughtering process, and then took another group and followed the stunning process. They placed electrodes on the animals concerned and monitored the level of pain experienced by the animals. If anyone is squeamish here, they can place their hands over their ears. This is what they said about the halal method:
“The first three seconds from the time of Islamic slaughter as recorded on the EEG did not show any change from the graph before slaughter, thus indicating that the animal did not feel any pain during or immediately after the incision…For the following 3 seconds, the EEG recorded a condition of deep sleep—unconsciousness. This is due to the large quantity of blood gushing out from the body…After the above-mentioned 6 seconds, the EEG recorded zero level, showing no feeling of pain at all…As the brain message…dropped to zero level, the heart was still pounding and the body convulsing”— at this point, the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other organisations might say that the animal is suffering, because it is convulsing, but the reason for that is not pain, but that the blood is leaving the body and the bones in the body structure are convulsing. That is not pain—[Interruption.] I wish hon. Members would listen.
With the stunning method, although the animal appeared to fall unconscious after the stunning, in fact the EEG graph
“showed severe pain immediately after stunning”.
Let us be realistic about stunning. It is not a nice little prick; it is done via an electric shock or sometimes, with some animals, a pistol. We are not talking about a painless death.
No, I will not, because I only have a few minutes.
The third thing to notice is that the
“hearts of animals stunned by C.B.P. stopped beating earlier as compared to those of the animals slaughtered according to the” halal meat method. No one wants to talk about the science, because the accepted wisdom goes with the prejudice that I am sorry to say certain newspapers in this country show towards certain groups without looking at the evidence.
No; as I said, I am not going to give way.
I am very concerned about how animals are treated and reared and concerned that they should not be treated cruelly when they are transported. We should have a proper scientific debate about slaughtering, because the evidence is out there. Concern is perpetuated because most people do not know how the halal or kosher methods of slaughter take place. If they looked into the studies that have been done in America—I do not have the time to go into all of them—they would find that this is a proper system with the animal’s level of pain being monitored—[Interruption.] I know that Government Members do not want to hear this, but I am sorry: they are going to have to listen to me. I have the Floor, and I am not—[Interruption.]
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I am probably saying something that a lot of people are finding a bit difficult to swallow, but it is about time that the counter-argument and the full facts were presented to the country and to Parliament. For far too long, the debate has been skewed, because certain sections of the media want to deal with just one aspect, but they are misleading people. A myth is being perpetuated that somehow kosher and halal methods, carried out as they should be, are more painful and cause more suffering to the animal, but that is incorrect. The stunning method is probably more painful, so banning things or labelling based on “humaneness” or whether animals are being treated properly is wrong. I want to say more, but I will leave it at that, because others want to speak.
I will not detain the House for long. I want to talk to new clause 13. I was hoping that my hon. Friend Philip Davies would not divide the House on it, but it has highlighted yet again the extremely important issue of food labelling and consumer choice, and the work that still has to be done.
I start with a simple principle and question. Should consumers be allowed to know where their food has come from, how it has been prepared and how it has been slaughtered? For me, the answer to that simple question is yes so that consumers can make an informed choice. However, I accept that the issue is more complicated than that and more complex than this simple new clause. I am not being critical of my hon. Friend when I say that, and I completely understand why he has worded it as he has. However, although I have great sympathy with new clause 13, I cannot support it as it stands.
In essence, the stunning of livestock has been mandatory in the EU since 1979, although member states can grant exemptions for religious slaughter. Some people in this Chamber might want to follow the lead of Denmark and ban non-stunned slaughter altogether on animal welfare grounds, but I for one would certainly not want to go down that road. As my hon. Friend has said, the proposal is not about banning anything, nor should it be. I strongly believe that consumers should have the right to make an informed choice, and the new clause should serve as a warning shot across the bows of Government that the issue will not go away.
The Government are going to have to grasp the nettle at some point and for me that point needs to come sooner rather than later. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say.
We have had a varied and wide-ranging debate this afternoon, so I shall do my best to cover as many of the issues that Members have raised as I can. First, however, I want to explain the Government amendments, which are designed to protect consumers from a delay in receiving a refund. We discussed the issue in Committee and although delay might arise only in a minority of cases, the Government are persuaded that the potential detriment means that this is a sensible change to make. We are ensuring that any refund must be made without undue delay and always within 14 days of the trader agreeing that the consumer is entitled to a refund. Since we discussed that in Committee my Department has been consulting business organisations and consumer groups to identify the best way to make the change without disadvantaging either consumers or businesses. I am glad that the Opposition support the change.
The Government agree that consumers should be protected from fraudulent, counterfeit and misleading ticket sales. I think that everybody in the House would agree with that. However, we also need to allow the market to operate for the benefit of consumers who would miss out on events without it. We have made new regulations that will come into force this year to empower and inform consumers. From June, traders will have to ensure that consumers have all the information they need before they buy. We published detailed guidance when the regulations were made in December 2013, but since then the Trading Standards Institute has been working on additional guidance. We have today updated our guidance on those regulations to make it clear what that means for ticket sales. That went live on our website this morning. It includes clarification that if the ticket is for a specific seat that information must be given, that the total cost, including delivery costs and other charges, must be given and that, depending on the circumstances, the face value may also need to be given.
In addition, from October of this year we are making it easier for consumers who have been misled by a trader to take their own action to get their money back and, if appropriate, to get damages as well. Armed with that information and access to redress, consumers will be empowered to make use of the market for their benefit and hopefully not fall victim to fraudulent, counterfeit or misleading ticket sales. There are also rules in place to protect consumers, and when a marketplace is aware of illegitimate activity on its site it might be in breach of the Consumer Protection from Unfair Trading Regulations 2008.
As for new clause 12, when there are concerns about the secondary ticketing market the first port of call should be for the industry to source a solution. Some of the larger event organisers, as has already been mentioned, already have refund procedures in place and we welcome that. However others, including smaller players, have chosen not to, for very good commercial reasons in many cases.
Philip Davies highlighted the importance of industry-led action, and we agree with that. Stella Creasy and a number of other Members mentioned the rugby world cup in 2015, and that is a great example of industry-led action. The organisers’ 10-point plan lists many of the actions suggested by the hon. Member for Shipley, including the release of tickets in batches and the late issue of tickets.
All that is being industry-led. I hope that what I have said has reassured members of the all-party group that we share the concerns that they have highlighted and that we have looked carefully at the best way to take on board the group’s recommendations to try to protect consumers. I hope that they are reassured by what I have explained about the information on the website and in the guidance. On halal meat—a completely different subject—we want people to have the information that they need to make informed choices about the food that they buy. Many retailers or restaurants and fast food outlets already voluntarily provide information on whether meat is halal or kosher. As we have seen from the debate today, this is a complex and sensitive area. There is no single clear definition of halal meat. The majority of halal meat produced in this country comes from animals that are stunned before slaughter, whereas kosher meat all comes from unstunned animals. That is just part of what consumers want to know, as we have heard in the debate today. We already have powers under the Food Safety Act 1990 to make domestic regulations to introduce a requirement to label with the method of slaughter. However, we do not consider at this stage that regulation is the best approach. Primarily, food businesses should provide consumers with the information that they want and need. If there is to be compulsory labelling, we believe that this would best be done at a European level. That would be best for consumers and also ensure that we do not put our food industry at a competitive disadvantage.
I will not give way, I am afraid. I have no time.
My hon. Friend the Member for Shipley said that there was widespread customer demand for labelling of the kind that has been suggested. An EU study is currently being undertaken on precisely that question, so we are waiting with interest the publication of the study so that we have full information on what consumers want. We will review all our options at that point.
We had a good debate about product safety in Committee and we have discussed it recently in the Chamber. There is already legislation on product safety recalls, which places strict duties on producers and distributors to ensure the safety of products. These regulations also provide trading standards with comprehensive powers to enforce them. As Mark Durkan said, we need to improve the effectiveness of product recalls. The traceability of products after sale is a real challenge, as he said, but I do not believe that introducing new reporting requirements or a new overarching agency is the right approach. The vast majority of businesses take the safety of their customers very seriously and I believe that the best approach is therefore for us to continue to work with representatives from industry, consumer groups and enforcement agencies to ensure that the system is as effective as possible.
The issue of lettings has also excited people this afternoon. Most letting agents offer a good service. A blanket ban on fees, as new clause 22 proposes, cannot therefore be the answer to tackle a minority of irresponsible agents. In addition, banning fees will not make it cheaper for tenants, because tenants will just end up paying through higher rents rather than upfront fees. The hon. Member for Walthamstow highlighted the example of Scotland. My understanding is that in the first quarter after the change was introduced rents rose significantly in Edinburgh and Aberdeen, and in the year to March rents rose by more in Scotland than in England and in Wales. In fact, the rate of increase in rents was double that in Wales. So it is not quite as simple a picture as the hon. Lady highlighted.
We are already changing the law to require all letting and managing agents to belong to an approved redress scheme, which will give tenants an effective way to make complaints. Last month the Housing Minister approved three redress schemes that all letting and property management agents will be required to join later this year. This will ensure that tenants and leaseholders have a straightforward way of holding their agents to account. The three compulsory schemes, which are the property ombudsman, ombudsman services: property and the property redress scheme, will offer independent investigation of complaints about hidden fees or poor service. Where a complaint is upheld, tenants and leaseholders could get compensation.
We are going further. Today, in a move that ensures a fair deal for landlords and tenants, I am pleased to announce that we will be amending the Bill to require letting agents to publish full details of the fees that they charge. Currently the Advertising Standards Authority requires letting agents only to list charges to the tenant up front in their advertisements. Those letting agents who are found to have imposed hidden charges face little more than being named and shamed on the authority’s website. We want to go further to require all letting agents to publish a full tariff of their fees both on their website and prominently in their offices. Anyone who does not comply with those new rules will face a fine that is a much stricter penalty than currently exists. While every business remains free to set its own fees it has to be transparent, so competition will ensure that letting agents will have to justify those fees to tenants.
Today’s plans add to the work that the Government have already done to offer stronger protections for landlords and tenants in the private rented sector while avoiding excessive regulation, which would force up rents and reduce choice. We intend to review the requirement for greater transparency after 12 months of operation to confirm that it is delivering the expected benefits. If not, the Government will consider whether the proposals need to go further.
We have discussed micro-businesses in an earlier debate, so I will briefly state that we do not support extending the consumer protections in the Bill to smaller businesses. The provisions in the Bill have been designed for consumers, and we cannot and should not assume that they can be applied as successfully to small businesses as they can to consumers. As the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills acknowledged, all business groups that responded to the Government’s 2008 consultation preferred to retain the clarity of the current distinction between business and consumer.
Finally, on Government amendment 14 and Opposition amendment 5, I am happy to change the process from a requirement for the negative to the affirmative procedure, and have tabled a Government amendment to that effect. I therefore hope that the hon. Member for Walthamstow will not press her amendment.
Given the time restrictions, I shall say that we support the intention behind the new clause but not its wording, as there are a number of problems with it. I am happy to discuss with the hon. Gentleman after the debate the points that he has made to see if there is a way forward. With those remarks, I hope that hon. Members are happy that I have covered all the issues that were raised in the debate.
A number of issues have been raised. I am conscious of the time so I shall be brief and discuss the two new clauses that we want to push to a vote because we are not satisfied with what the Government have said. First, on new clause 22, which deals with letting fees, the Government should realise that it is not a small minority of letting agents charging fees. Indeed, good landlords do not want to lose tenants who cannot afford those fees.
Mrs Main was disrespectful about the idea that tweeting in the Chamber was a good idea. Let me tell her that in the past hour we have had an example of a fee of £1,300 to change the names of two tenants on a tenancy agreement. Those are the sorts of fees that we are talking about. Shelter disputes the evidence that the Minister gave about there being no impact on rent inflation in Scotland since the measure was introduced. Members have to make a decision about whether they are on the side of the consumer or on the side of business. We are firmly of the view that we need to be on the side of the consumer in this instance in changing the way in which the rental market works. Rental fees are anti-competitive, and there is a conflict between who acts for the landlord and who acts for the agent. We need to change that, so we want to push new clause 22 to a vote.
We also want to push new clause 16 to a vote, because it is clear that Members across the House want to see action on ticket touting. New clause 16 puts into practice the amendments that the Government proposed on consumer information and consumer evidence. The Minister discussed the rugby world cup, but it is clear that tickets are already being sold on secondary sites, so the measures that she discussed have not had an impact. We need to make progress on that too.
We are happy to take advice on amendments on businesses, and we are happy to accept the Minister’s assurances about refunds. We are seeking more Government U-turns, but on letting agent fees and ticket touting it is time for action, and that is exactly what the Opposition seek in the amendments. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.