Digital Economy Bill - Committee (4th Day) (Continued)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:45 pm on 8th February 2017.

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Photo of Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Lord Stevenson of Balmacara Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Shadow Spokesperson (Education) 9:45 pm, 8th February 2017

My Lords, before I introduce the amendment, I wonder whether we could reflect on the fact that we are missing rather an important person from the debate. The noble Baroness Heyhoe Flint was a keen and active Member of your Lordships’ House. She had several special interests apart from cricket and a wonderful raconteur’s skill of telling stories of her exploits at the crease. She was rather good at it. Whatever it was, it was always a delight to hear. She had a special interest in secondary ticketing, and in many of the debates held in your Lordships’ House on this issue, she was present and often contributed. She was responsible, along with the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, whom I see in his place, for getting changes made to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which brought in the first of what we hope will be a series of measures to improve and clear up this issue.

The amendment to the Consumer Rights Bill that we inserted in 2015 raised from a secondary legislation provision to a primary legislation provision a series of measures to improve and clear up the secondary ticketing market. It was done primarily to ensure that those who buy tickets for sports, arts and music events can do so in the sure and certain knowledge that their tickets are valid, that they will be able to gain access to what they want to see and that they are not being ripped off in the process.

It is fair to say that we only got this after a considerable struggle—and the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, might wish to share with us some of the difficulties that he experienced—but one of the things that was necessary in order to achieve that victory was to agree to a report on secondary ticketing to be carried out by a distinguished person. That person was Professor Waterson. He has now done that and the report has come out. Those involved are entitled to take a moment to reflect on the fact that what we were saying in Committee on the Bill and what we did in moving amendments and getting them inserted into what became the Act was brought out by the professor’s report, which was a comprehensive piece of work that showed that the scale of the issue was as we described it and that there was a need for further action.

The Bill before us is an opportunity to do more work, and the group of amendments that I am introducing—and for which I am hoping to get support from the noble Lords, Lord Moynihan, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Foster of Bath, and others as we go through it—is a mixed bag because there are still things that need to be sorted out. An issue that arose in the other place and which was very nearly accepted by the Government was the question of an offence caused by using digital ticket-purchasing software—so-called bots. They are a scourge of many people who organise and run events—particularly in the music industry, but they apply right across the piece. Automated software operated by a number of individuals creates a situation where virtually no tickets are available on the first release of an event, but they then appear very quickly at very much higher prices through secondary ticket outlets. This amendment would, we hope, stamp this out. It has been tried in a number of territories, including New York very recently, and it does seem to work, so we recommend that.

The other amendments deal with changes that we would like to see to improve the broader approach taken in the Consumer Rights Act which, in practice, needs to be taken to another stage. They are basically to do with greater transparency and accountability in how the secondary ticket market works. It is really important, however, that we get clear at the start that nothing in these amendments would stop the resale of tickets once purchased by an individual who wished to sell them because they could not attend the event or that they wanted to sell them on to other people in a closed circle. This is not about private purchases or operations. It is about those who go into the ticket market on a commercial basis, very often making huge amounts of money by exploiting people who do not understand and cannot get to the heart of the issue and therefore pay ridiculous prices. It also would help stamp out what is clearly a fraudulent activity that has been partially stopped by the changes made in 2015 but has not stopped completely. People buy what look on the surface to be valid tickets, but when they turn up at the venue they discover that they are not valid and are refused entry. This is fraud on an industrial scale, and probably the source of much money laundering and illegal activity, which was referred to by the police in their Podium report prior to the 2012 Olympics.

These amendments should be taken as a batch; they build on work in which this House has already been involved and they are the right changes to make this stage. I beg to move.