Examination of Witness

London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games (Amendment) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:42 pm on 17 May 2011.

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Hugh Robertson MP gave evidence.

Q 124

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Minister, welcome. Would you kindly introduce yourself formally and then make some opening remarks about the Bill?

Hugh Robertson: Thank you, Chairman. As I think most people know, I am Hugh Robertson, the Minister for Sport and the Olympics. As we said in this morning’s session, this is a comparatively minor and technical Bill. It basically takes the original provisions in the 2006 Act and looks at areas where subsequent legislation bringing the Act’s principles into effect has not taken place or where something else has arisen, as in the case of ticket touting, to change what happened in 2006.

It is a remarkable testimony to the success of the 2006 Act that we have only had to change it once, in a comparatively minor and technical way. I think that I am right in saying that Australian experience was that they had to do this four times over, and the Australian Government had to pay the Australian Olympic committee about 80 million Australian dollars for failing to transfer the image rights over correctly in the first place. Actually, the fact that this is a minor, small, technical amending Bill is a considerable testimony to the work done in the original 2006 Act.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Colleagues, who would like to ask the first question? Tessa Jowell.

Q 125

Photo of Tessa Jowell Tessa Jowell Shadow Minister (Olympics and London), Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office)

I think that I might have had my ration. Just one quick question: does the Minister consider that this is the end of the business of further legislation, or are there circumstances in which it might be necessary?

Hugh Robertson: I hope very much that this will be the final hurdle. One of the things that we did before introducing this amending Bill was to look across the entirety of the London 2012 project, to look at what had changed, to benchmark that against the experience of other games and what we have learned since 2005 and 2006 and to see whether anything else was required.

The one outstanding issue at the moment of which I am aware is this business about changing the regulations to allow freight to be delivered to businesses, and opening up the period over which that may be done. Our initial prognosis—the Department for Transport, as I said earlier, is looking at it very closely at the moment—is that it is not absolutely certain that primary legislation would be required and, even if so, not absolutely certain that this Bill would be used.

With that exception, as of today I am absolutely certain that this is all we need. Clearly, as we know, if the situation changes dramatically in some particular area between now and next year, then we would have to take action.

Q 126

Photo of Mary Macleod Mary Macleod Conservative, Brentford and Isleworth

Minister, the witnesses we have received so far all seem to have been supportive of what is in the Bill. I want to get some background from you.  When you looked across at other hosting countries, what were the lessons learned that made you decide on some of things in the Bill?

Hugh Robertson: It is a good question. I think that part of the reason why so many people—the witnesses you have seen today—have been in favour of what we are doing is because we cauterised much of the opposition back in 2005-06. Listening to the evidence this morning, I was struck by how much the position of the advertising industry had shifted since 2005-06—it had a number of concerns about the original Bill—and I think that that is because the original Bill was enacted in a sensible and proportionate way. The powers contained in the 2006 Act have been used sensibly and proportionately, which has given people an enormous amount of confidence in the whole process.

The question of benchmarking against previous Olympics is a good one. When the original Act was put on the statute book, the benchmark was the 2000 Sydney games. There are some similarities between the winter games and the summer games, obviously, but they are very different beasts and on a very different scale. Without being too indelicate about it, the 2008 Beijing games are not always the easiest benchmark, not least because it is actually quite difficult to find out exactly what went on in some detail. They were a very different sort of games, because the whole apparatus of the Chinese state was thrown at making them work. There are reasons why Athens in 2004 was a different sort of games, so you really go back to Sydney in 2000.

Sydney in 2000 were the first games of the modern cycle, because the Atlanta 1996 games were the ones that ground to a halt completely because there was no Olympic route network of any sort. Athletes were late for their qualifying heats, there were not officials at the relevant events and ambush marketing took place around many of the big brands, as discussed this morning.

The benchmark, therefore, is Australia 2000 which is the one that we have used. There are some things in that which should be immensely reassuring to the Committee. If one is worried about proportionality, and we all ought to be, there was only one person who was fined in Australia as a result of this sort of measure. It was a fast food salesman on Bondi beach, I think, who put an Olympic logo on his kebab van—he went down for about £30 after three warnings, which he had stroppily refused to take. It is not as if the Bill will give rise to a huge trail of people going around the block at the courts on Monday morning.

Hugh Robertson: I know what this might be about.

Q 127

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education)

During our many very fruitful exchanges on this subject over many months now—

Q 128

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education)

The subject of ticket touting. During those exchanges, I found one of your answers to be very helpful. You said that it was a prerequisite to get the games that we did something to control ticket touting. I am very pleased that we are doing something  to control it. It was in the original Act, and after hearing evidence from the Metropolitan police you have brought forward the legislation to increase the fine for ticket touting. I just want to add that I hope that trend will continue when we move into other areas during what will no doubt be our future debates on ticket touting.

The one point that I want to tease out a bit further concerns selling tickets on to family and friends at face value. I know that that is probably the small fry end of touting and not the serious and organised crime end, which obviously the legislation is there to tackle. However, I have concerns that people who will not have realised that this legislation was even on the statute book at the level of a £5,000 fine, or who do not realise that the fine is now up to £20,000, will currently be in the process of buying their tickets, which they probably thought they were going to sell on at inflated prices. There will probably be people who have bought tickets thinking, “Oh well, I’ll sell them to my mates down the pub,” without realising that there was any criminality or wrong-doing in that, because they currently do it when they buy tickets to whatever event they might go to and their friends are always very happy that they have done so, because they put the money up front, pay perhaps six months in advance and their friends buy the tickets at the last minute if they want to go to the event. That goes on.

For those people, they will obviously be allowed to sell tickets supposedly at face value. I suppose that the only way that anybody would know is if somebody tells the police. I wonder whether you think that that will be a problem. So, somebody has bought a ticket for £300 and they go down the pub and they say to their mate, “You can have this for £400,” then somebody else says, “Actually, I’ll give you £500,” and somebody else says, “Opening ceremony? I’ll give you £2,000”. Do you know what I mean? It becomes a little bidding war in the pub that the person never intended, but they have therefore fallen foul of the law totally unintentionally and somebody could overhear that conversation, get in touch with the police and that person could be hauled in. Do you think that that will be a problem, or should we not worry about it?

Hugh Robertson: I think that sports events are probably marginally different from music events, in that at most big sports events around the world—most global sports events—ticket touting is now illegal. If you go to a cricket world cup, it is illegal to tout tickets and so on and so forth. So the first point is that among the sporting public there is probably a greater awareness that this is illegal for these key global events and there is that awareness in the market as a whole. Secondly, for anybody buying a ticket, if they read through the small print on the internet when they ordered their tickets the small print makes it perfectly clear.

Do I think that this legislation today will mean that there is absolutely no chance of anybody carrying out the activity that you described? No. Do I think that this is the best and proportionate way of stopping organised criminals targeting these games? All that I can do is to defer to the evidence given by the assistant commissioner a moment ago. I must say that I thought that his evidence was fantastic, actually. He gave us exactly the same briefing and said that there is a very particular threat that we need to address here around increased  organised criminality, and his recommendation was that we need a fine of £20,000 to tackle it—hence the provisions in the Bill. What you see in front of you today is a simple response to the evidence and the request presented to us by the Metropolitan police, on the basis of evidence gathered through Operation Podium.

Q 129

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Shadow Minister (Education)

Do you see anybody who perhaps finds themselves in that situation in the pub being brought before the police?

Hugh Robertson: If they do, I hope a sense of proportion would be exercised at the courts, but anybody who touts a ticket illegally—in other words, not to their family and friends—must realise that they run the risk of a very large fine. At the moment, at this stage in the cycle, that is where I want us to be. I want people to realise that we are discouraging that activity in the strongest possible terms. It is not to be undertaken.

Q 130

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

Minister, you describe this as a minor, technical Bill, so I hope you will not mind if I ask you an incredibly minor, technical question that arises from evidence we heard earlier today. We are told that by transferring responsibility for both storing and dealing with confiscated items, there will be a net saving of £55,000 to the public purse and a very precise £22,000 additional cost to the ODA. Please will you explain how that figure was arrived at, and does it include both storage and the handing back of items under the legislation, or only one or neither of those matters?

Hugh Robertson: I can sort of explain the first part of that because, as they say, you have kindly given me notice of the question. The initial estimate was that the cost of the police storing that material would be £77,000. If the storage is undertaken by the ODA, using their enforcement officers, that would cost only £22,000, therefore there is a net saving of £55,000—if my maths is right. That is the answer to the first part. You are absolutely right that, according to my briefing, those figures refer entirely to storage, and not to the associated costs of handling those goods. I will find out what answer is and, as they say, I will write to you.

Q 131

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

The legislation is reasonably vague about what goods will be allowed and what will not. May we be clear about what publicity will be given  nearer to the time, so that traders of all descriptions will not innocently walk into a trap about the goods they sell both near to the games venues and elsewhere?

Hugh Robertson: The definition is not that vague; it is laid out in some detail in the 2006 Act, after it had been the subject of considerable debate. Clearly, we are now adding an animal to that provision. It may cause you to laugh, but I saw an elephant advertising beer during the cricket world cup, so it is not quite as silly as you might think.

Since 2006, there has been an ongoing process. The organising committee, as soon as it hears of any form of infringement or potential violation, writes to people and gets into a process with them. That has been incredibly successful. There were a considerable number of such cases in the early stages; there are many fewer, as people have begun to understand the Act much better. I suspect that, as we get closer to the games, we will probably see another spike, which will be dealt with in the same way. The intention is always to work with people, to advise them that they have made a mistake, to correct their ways and to use the powers contained in the Act only as a last and final resort. I hope that by a process of education, and by the process of communication that is going on day by day and week by week, that will not prove to be a huge problem at the time of the games. If it is, we have the powers in the Act to deal with it.

Q 132

Photo of Don Foster Don Foster Liberal Democrat, Bath

I would like to follow that up and to support the Minister in what he has said. I confess to the Committee that I have been guilty of a breach of that very legislation in respect of advertising. I assure the Committee that it was handled very sensitively. I was politely told off and told not to do it again, and I have not subsequently done so. Those things are handled well.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Conservative, Southend West

Splendid. If there are no further questions from the Committee, we will meet again at 9 am on Thursday in Committee Room 9.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Angela Watkinson.)

Adjourned till Thursday 19 May at Nine o’clock.