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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that encouraging reply. Is he aware that, had he conducted a search on eBay last night for Ashes tickets, he would have found that 170 items came up, including Lord's test tickets with a face value of £52 being sold for more than £1,000? A very similar situation exists with regard to Wimbledon tennis tickets. Does he agree with the submission that the four major sports have made to the Secretary of State, that the activities of ticket touts—who buy large numbers of tickets, often by nefarious means—are having the effect of driving tickets beyond the reach of ordinary sports fans, who are unable to get them?
My Lords, as I indicated, the Secretary of State is exercised enough about the issue to consider it further in consultation with other departments. We received a further additional document from the four sports associations only last Friday and it will be considered thoroughly.
Wider interests of public policy are, of course, involved in any such exercise. However, as I think my noble friend will recognise, we cannot produce an immediate response to the demand for Ashes test match tickets any more than we can produce one to the extraordinary figures quoted for Wimbledon. But we are looking at the issue with a view to the possibility of legislation. As he will know, however, the legislation which is in force applies only to segregation at football grounds.
My Lords, does the Minister have any sympathy with the idea that picking out a few individual sports is a great way to keep us sitting for longer and on more occasions? However, we should ban all ticket touting. We should also extend it to events other than simply sport. For instance, the annual scrum at Glastonbury usually leads to fences collapsing. We should probably do something about such events as well.
My Lords, that point of view is certainly widely held, but as I think the noble Lord will recognise, some quite complex issues are involved here. We could not ban all secondary selling; after all, a great many theatre tickets are sold not directly at the theatre but through secondary selling. It could be argued that, in certain aspects, such sales increase the public's access to tickets. We could not, for instance, ban a situation in which someone who could not attend the theatre one evening wanted to sell on his ticket. The reasons for allowing it are obvious—it helps to guarantee that the theatre is full rather than empty.
It is a complex issue. But I understand entirely what the noble Lord is saying about the issue covering more than just the great sporting events.
My Lords, does the Minister consider the situation satisfactory when some of those wishing to go to Wimbledon have to go there the day before and sleep overnight on the pavement in order to get a ticket?
My Lords, the demand for tickets at Wimbledon looks almost limitless. However, if it is a choice between the most extravagant pricing of tickets so that only the wealthy can go, and the most enthusiastic tennis fans being prepared to camp out on the pavement, I am in favour of the latter.
My Lords, when my noble friend reports this conversation back to the Secretary of State, will he draw her attention to the work that has been done over many years by the Society of London Theatre to manage the impact of the secondary selling of theatre tickets, to which he has already referred? There may be some useful information to be had there.
Indeed there is, my Lords. I am grateful to my noble friend for drawing that to the House's attention. It is important, for example, that people do not buy theatre tickets for seats with restricted views. Whereas the theatre box office would make such restrictions clear, the secondary seller may be under no obligation whatever to do so, thereby causing enormous unfairness. That point needs to be taken on board.
My Lords, why not give the original vendor or their agents the power, if they do not already have it, to impose a contract on the purchaser stating that what they have bought is not for resale?
My Lords, the sporting associations would say that that is exactly what they do when they issue tickets. But it is extremely difficult to enforce it, which is why tickets come on to the market.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester has rightly drawn our attention to the concern about the exorbitant prices being demanded for these tickets. As I understand it, my noble friend the Minister said that the Secretary of State is looking at the issue. I should like to ask him two questions arising from that. First, how long will that consideration take? Secondly, to what extent will the operation of the market impinge on her report?
My Lords, on my noble friend's second question, as I indicated, there are benefits from the free market. We are careful about where we put restrictions. However, noble Lords will recognise the powerful arguments for restricting ticket touting operations. On his first point, I should mention one obvious consideration. If we are successful in our bid for the Olympic Games, we would need to bring in legislation to ensure that tickets to the Games are restricted and thus not open to touting. It is a requirement of the International Olympic Committee. So of course there is an element of delay as we await that decision.
My Lords, could not the sporting organisations make substantial ticket sales conditional upon a donation being made to the organisations concerned, so that at least they would benefit rather than the touts?
My Lords, we expect the sporting organisations to sell tickets in good faith and that the price printed on the ticket is the price that ought to be paid by the person going to the fixture. But touts get hold of some of those tickets and sell them on at escalated prices. We all want to see tickets being sold at their face value. That is the law of the land. On occasions when they are able to substantiate clearly that the public are being exploited because tickets are being traded at above the figure printed on them, trading standards officers will intervene. But of course the touts are extremely careful to ensure that the unfortunate purchaser has no idea of the original ticket price.