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Secondary ticketing platforms

Part of Armed Forces (Service Complaints and Financial Assistance) Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:28 pm on 9th March 2015.

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Photo of Ian Murray Ian Murray Shadow Minister (Business, Innovation and Skills) 5:28 pm, 9th March 2015

I am delighted that this issue has now come back to this place, as we have always believed that the Consumer Rights Bill gives an opportunity to provide real protection against rip-off practices, particularly in the secondary ticketing market.

We all know that healthy, fair and competitive markets are vital to building an economy that works for both consumers and businesses. We also know that well-informed consumers make for better customers and better-informed citizens get better outcomes in dealing with both the public and private sector. Ticket touting is a classic example of a market where a group of traders are colluding to restrict supply and so push up prices, ripping off consumers by overcharging them and as a result shattering the dreams of many fans. We have argued this throughout the passage of the Bill and, while we are pleased that Ministers are now in agreement, they have been dragged here kicking and screaming to make these changes.

I was delighted that in the last sentence of her speech the Minister agreed with the Lords amendments, but it has taken her three years to do so. That sums up this Administration. They rail against good ideas from Opposition Members, charities, non-governmental organisations, trade bodies, trade unions, the public and others, and then they are eventually embarrassed into having to bring forward the very provisions they have railed against. We have witnessed that with regularity, first on allowing the Groceries Code Adjudicator to fine people, and also on giving tied landlords a better deal with pubcos and better enforcement of the national minimum wage to name just a few, and they even had to be dragged kicking and screaming to do something about zero-hours contracts.

Now we have the secondary ticketing issue, where the Minister and the Government are arguing against their views of just a few weeks ago. On 21 January 2011 the Culture Secretary told Parliament:

“Ticket resellers act like classic entrepreneurs” and that concerns about touting represented

“the chattering middle classes and champagne socialists”.—[Hansard, 21 January 2011; Vol. 521, c. 1186, 1187.]

That is obviously not the case now.

On Friday 6 February 2015 the Daily Mirror quoted the Culture Secretary as saying unscrupulous websites have every right to hoover up sought-after tickets for football matches and pop concerts and flog them at five or 10 times the asking price. He said:

“There’s nothing wrong with a healthy second market” and went on to say

“I don't have any problem with it.”

He obviously does now.

On 12 January 2015, the Minister herself argued:

“There is a more substantive issue of principle. Is it right for Government to tell consumers that they cannot sell items that they have bought second-hand at above the price that they paid for them?”—[Hansard, 12 January 2015; Vol. 590, c. 661.]

She obviously thinks that that is now okay, just a few short weeks later.

Labour MPs have been campaigning on this issue for several years, and have supported amendments to the Consumer Rights Bill right from the start of its progress through this place, but it has taken the Government more than a year—during which time they lost one vote and voted against the measures on three occasions—to admit that they were wrong.

I should like to take this opportunity to pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson. When, in future, people buy tickets on the secondary market to attend that cup final they have always dreamed of—just a dream for many of us—or for that concert by the band they always wanted to see or that festival on their bucket list, they will be able to thank her for her courage and perseverance in getting us here today and for her role as the co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. Her co-chair, Mike Weatherley, also deserves a great deal of credit for the way in which he has cajoled his colleagues to come this far and brought his considerable experience of the industry to this place. I wish him well in pastures new after he steps down at the general election. The all-party group recommended

“greater transparency in the secondary market, in particular on whether the seller is a professional or occasional seller, and what the face value and individual characteristics of the ticket are.”

This is a huge issue, as the secondary ticketing market in the UK is valued at more than £1 billion a year. We must protect consumers in that marketplace, and that is why we have pressed so hard for these amendments. Let us look at two recent examples of why the measures are needed. In November 2013 there was outcry after all 20,000 tickets for Monty Python’s reunion performance sold out in three quarters of a minute, only to reappear on secondary ticketing websites at more than 15 times their face value. That was not the work of the Messiah; it was the work of a very naughty boy. High-profile concerts by the Stone Roses at Heaton Park in July 2012—I think my hon. Friend Mr Wright went to all of them—were being advertised on secondary ticketing websites for more than £1,000 after tickets had sold out, having had an original face value of just £55.

The Government amendments, although late and forced, are very welcome. We agree with the new clause creating a duty to provide information about tickets. This covers the information that sellers of secondary tickets will now have to provide when reselling tickets. That information includes the seat number, or detailed location if the event is standing only, and any additional restrictions on the use of the ticket. For example, information will have to be given on whether the seat has a restricted view—I am sure we have all ended up in restricted view seats; perhaps I do so because I go for the cheap seats—or whether admittance is restricted to over-18s.

The information will also have to include the face value of the ticket and the original selling price, and state whether the seller is employed by or linked to either a secondary seller’s site or an event organiser. On 12 January, the Minister spoke against the notion of transparency, but it is difficult to see how the proposal now being put forward by the Government, agreeing with the Lords amendments, overcomes her previous concerns.

We agree with the new clause on the prohibition on cancellation or blacklisting tickets. This will mean that event organisers will not be able to cancel tickets arbitrarily just because they are being resold. When we debated this matter on 12 January—a date that will no doubt be etched on the Minister’s mind—a similar amendment was tabled by the Opposition to protect fans from being unable to sell their tickets on. The Minister said that she could not support the amendment, yet the Government have now backed an amendment on the exactly same issue.

We also agree with the new clause providing for a duty to report criminal activity. This places a duty on the secondary ticketing websites to report it to the police when they discover that a seller is using the site to commit fraud. We have significant concerns, however, that the measures will not be properly enforced, given that we have heard recently from the Trading Standards Institute that trading standards departments have been cut by an average of 40% since 2010.

We agree with the new clause creating a duty to review measures relating to secondary ticketing. There must be a statutory review of the consumer issues in the secondary market within 12 months of the Act coming into force, as the market moves so quickly. This will offer an opportunity to review whether the requirement for companies to provide more information about the tickets being sold has enabled action to be taken to tackle ticket touts.

There are a number of things that we want the Government to do in any such review. Having said that, it will probably be my hon. Friend Stella Creasy sitting on the Government Benches and taking these matters forward after 7 May, but I will put these points on the record none the less. The review should consider: the enforcement of consumer regulations; online software—Philip Davies mentioned enforcement for companies based outside the UK—especially the kind that can hoover up large volumes of tickets in a short space of time and push up prices; tickets that never reach primary markets; lost tax revenue to the Treasury; and additional charges.

We have seen the Competition and Markets Authority take action on additional charges, but they still seem excessive. Lastly, we would like that review also to examine collusion, as there is widespread concern that some “secondary ticket sales” are actually event organisers seeking to use these sites to sell tickets at higher prices without being accountable to fans for doing so. We hope that the review will examine such issues.

We very much welcome the Government U-turn on this issue but just wish it had happened a lot sooner. As for the amendment tabled by Philip Davies, does he not want to stand on the side of his constituents who are being ripped off by secondary ticket sites? Perhaps it would have been better if his amendment had introduced a sunset clause on this Government, meaning that they expired five years after their introduction—perhaps that is what we should do on 7 May.

We have managed to get to a position where we can protect consumers when they buy tickets on the secondary market. Be it a ticket for a popular west end show bought as an anniversary present, a ticket for your beloved Arsenal or for my club, the famous Heart of Midlothian football club, a ticket for a sold out One Direction concert—do they actually sell out?—or a ticket for an iconic sporting event such as Wimbledon, we can now buy our secondary tickets with confidence, protection and transparency. That is why we agree with the Lords amendments.