Second Reading

Part of Consumer Rights Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:57 pm on 1st July 2014.

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Photo of Baroness Heyhoe Flint Baroness Heyhoe Flint Conservative 3:57 pm, 1st July 2014

My Lords, I fully support the general principles of the Bill. It will improve the rights of consumers, which will make for a fairer and more effective economy. Good progress has already been made on many issues in the other place.

Today I wish to raise an issue that is important to consumers whom I and many other noble Lords would more usually describe as fans or supporters, and the issue specifically concerns the occasions when those consumers have problems trying to buy tickets for sporting events. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for opening the door on this issue by pointing out that the Bill currently makes no mention of secondary selling. The issue is also of great concern to the major governing bodies of sport. We need to create absolute transparency for the purchaser about the seller so that every purchaser has full information about secondary sellers, thus providing much needed protection to the consumer.

I declare an interest in that I am on the board of the England and Wales Cricket Board, which is deeply concerned about this lack of transparency. I have also had representations from the Rugby Football Union, the Football Association and the Lawn Tennis Association. It is a concern of huge importance to those who stage major national and international sporting events.

Government regulations and law currently do not provide adequate protection for the consumer. We need to stress the importance of those fans getting access to sporting events. Britain probably has more people who attend sporting events than any other country in the world. Take just this summer as an example: we have Wimbledon tennis, Open golf, the Ryder Cup, the cricket series with England against Sri Lanka and India—although we might not mention the first in glowing terms—and, of course, the Commonwealth Games. Last year the Rugby Football League held a successful World Cup, and we all look forward to the RFU staging the Rugby World Cup next year. And how can we forget the millions of legitimate ticket holders who flocked from all over the world to the 2012 Olympics here in London? Increasingly, however, this desire of the general public and fans wishing to see the very best in sport is leading to a multimillion-pound business with secondary sellers seeking to rip off—I hope that is not too strong a phrase—and take huge advantage of those buyers when they try to purchase those much sought-after tickets.

There is a worthy debate to be had about the need to actually ban ticket touting by making it a criminal offence, and I know that my noble friend Lord Moynihan is currently giving thought to that approach. The Government banned ticket touting for the London Olympics and it helped a great deal. It meant that the Metropolitan Police were able to take action against the criminal element which infiltrate major events, and consequently there were no touts loitering on the pavements outside venues to menace consumers and spoil the ambience on the way to the events. However, that is a debate for another day.

Today I am raising the issue of using the Bill to strengthen the protection given to consumers who buy tickets, particularly from secondary sellers. How can we strengthen the regulations? There is a widespread feeling among the major sports governing bodies which host international events that we need to strengthen all the regulations that apply to the resale of tickets. This subject was raised in the other place, and I know that the Minister has had the matter raised with him too.

The sports world would like to see more rigorous regulation applied to that market and to those who act as intermediaries in selling tickets to fans. We must ensure—surely this is at the heart of effective protection—that we give the consumer more information at the point of purchase. For example, we should let them know at the point of sale the actual location of the seat they are buying and its face-value price. That would enable them to determine whether the seat was of the correct value and to ensure that it was not a concession seat to be sold to children or people with disabilities—sadly, that does occur. Perhaps noble Lords read in yesterday’s newspapers the story about tickets for centre court for the Andy Murray match being sold for £2,000 on one well known online selling site. That hardly seems fair, in my eyes, to those very keen fans who would like to support such an event.

Even more importantly, the consumer buying the ticket must be told what are the terms and conditions of the transfer of that ticket to them. Many sporting events do not allow seats to be transferred above face value or without their prior approval. It is patently not fair to allow someone to buy a product that is rendered worthless when doing so because it is not allowed to be transferred by the original terms and conditions. Indeed, we should consider whether it is appropriate to allow such a sale to take place at all.

I seek to show why the existing regulations are weak and do not work efficiently. I know that Ministers have already done some good work. Last year they introduced the Consumer Contracts (Information, Cancellation and Additional Charges) Regulations 2013, and recently they published updated guidance to those regulations which refer to ticket sales. However, legal experts in the sporting world who administer national and global events advise us that these regulations will not work due to lack of information and transparency to the buyer. This is because those regulations apply only to sales by a trader, which is defined as being:

“A trader means a person acting for purposes relating to that person’s trade, business, craft or profession whether acting personally or through another person acting in the trader’s name or on the trader’s behalf”.

Therefore, that regulation does not apply to every sale. Indeed, it will probably not apply to the majority of sales on sites such as viagogo and Seatwave, where the claim is made that most sales are being conducted by individuals.

Furthermore, the guidance that the Government have issued is just that—merely guidance—and its definitions are weak. It talks of the seller providing key characteristics. My expectation is that sellers will not deem exact seat locations as key requirements. We need to spell out the exact requirements that are needed.

At this early stage of the Bill, several of my noble friends, from all parties, have expressed a wish to bring forward an amendment. Having met with the Minister, I hope that the Government will seek to make progress here and share the spirit of what other Peers and I are looking to achieve. I believe that we can build on what has already been done with a small and tidy amendment to the Bill. I therefore hope that we can debate the matter in more detail and review the exact form of such an amendment that will work best to make sure that sports consumers—the fans—are protected and given true and honest details about their ticket purchases.

There is a worldwide philosophy created by the MCC called “the spirit of cricket”. I would like to see a similar creation stated in a proportional amendment entitled “the spirit of secondary selling”.