Sharon was presenting her Sale of Tickets (Sporting and Cultural Events) Bill to Parliament for its Second Reading. This is her speech in support of her Bill.
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab): I beg to move, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
The reason for my bringing forward the Bill should be obvious to hon. Members who have turned up today, even those who have done so perhaps only to oppose it. To demonstrate the problem, I will paraphrase from an article in The Times of 25 September 2010. At 8.50 am, Rachel Still switched on her computer and waited. At 9 am precisely, tickets for a gig by Brandon Flowers in London were to go on sale. A few minutes before 9, Rachel logged on to the ticket website and began the repetitive formula for buying tickets. At 9.1 am she was told that the gig had sold out. Her friends told her that they had received the same message at 8.57 am, before the tickets were even officially released. Within minutes those same tickets were appearing on secondary websites at prices way above the £25 face value, the cheapest one being £74. A survey showed that of the 2,300 tickets sold, 616 were instantly re-advertised-more than a quarter. No doubt there would be more to follow closer to the date too, as it is common practice to drip-feed more tickets on to the market at a sufficiently slow pace to keep the prices high.
That situation plays out time and again in homes up and down the country-ordinary fans trying in vain to get tickets, only to find that they have sold out within minutes. The disappointment is then compounded when they see that the touts do not have the same problems as they do in finding large numbers of tickets. I know all this because it has happened to me and to my teenage children, and I know we are not alone.
When I first tabled the Bill, after the private Member's Bill ballot, the media attention prompted lots of people to write to me, expressing their support for action to tackle ticket touting. They ranged from academics to ordinary fans, and all had a story to tell. The story that stood out most prominently, though, was that-
Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs Hodgson: Not at the moment. There will be plenty of chances for Government Members to speak. We have plenty of time, and I will give way when I have got further into the substance of my speech.
The story that stood out most prominently was that of a gentleman who used to work at a media event venue, which I will not name. He told me that it was common practice for the box office managers to cream off all the best seats to sell to touts at a mark-up of 50% before they even went on sale. Then, when the tills opened, they would simply put in the face value and issue a receipt for them all. I suspect security has improved since those days, but there is no doubt that the levels of reward on offer and the lack of regulation mean that many tickets never even reach the legitimate market at face value.
Even the big players in the secondary market recognise that, from the consumer's perspective at least, there is a massive problem with this market. I quote Graham Burns, chairman of the Association of Secondary Ticket Agents, who said in a Sunday Times article in November:
"The ordinary fan is screwed. The decks are stacked against them. Try and buy a front-row seat at a bestselling concert at face value. It can't be done."
The aim of the Bill is to redress that balance-to give consumers back the power and to help event organisers choose how they want their tickets to be available and for how much.
While I initially approached the Bill from a fan's perspective, I quickly got a better picture of the industry's perspective as I met people who had got in touch about it, but I think the most strikingly unjustifiable part of the secondary market is the resale of charity tickets. Later in my speech I will go into some detail about the experience of the Teenage Cancer Trust, but I came across another, briefer example in The Sunday Times. Like the Minister's boss, I too am a fan of some of Rupert Murdoch's news output.
That example was the sale of Help for Heroes tickets. The gig was at Twickenham in September, and featured Robbie Williams, Gary Barlow and Tom Jones, who had freely given their time and names to support an incredibly worthy cause. Tickets for the event were being touted on secondary websites at an average of £106, despite the fact that the face value of an ordinary ticket was £46.75 and that the tickets clearly said on the back that they were not to be resold. The touts are earning more than the charity here, and if any hon. Member can convince me that that is right, I will happily withdraw my Bill and sit down.
Philip Davies (Shipley) (Con): I wonder who the hon. Lady sees as the victim. If a charity wants to sell tickets at £46 each and someone pays £46 each, the charity gets all the money that it expected to get. The fact that someone is prepared to pay more to someone else for that ticket does not take any money away from the charity. It still gets exactly the same amount as it bargained for when it sold the tickets. It makes no difference to its income whether the person who paid £46 for the ticket uses it or sells it on to someone else.
Mrs Hodgson: The charity does not get the whole £46. On average, with overheads and so on, charities reckon that they get about half the ticket money. The tout or whoever sells on the ticket, which clearly states on the back that it must not be resold, makes six or eight times more than the charity. The artists, who have given their time freely, intend that any money that comes on the back of their time and from the ticket should go to the charity. I find it quite shameful that the hon. Gentleman can say that such a practice is fair when the charity intends to help teenage victims of cancer. [ Interruption. ]
Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. Hon. Members should work through the Chair, rather than talk across to each other.
Mrs Hodgson: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): I thank the hon. Lady for being both gracious and generous in giving way a second time so quickly. If the charity fails to sell its tickets for the market price, which is £106, that is its fault. It ought to investigate other ways to sell its tickets, such as eBay, to maximise its return, rather than our introducing a harsh legislative measure.
Mrs Hodgson: The charity decides on the price based on the genuine, ordinary fans whom it wishes to attract. It is often aware that the price is sometimes below the market value, but the reason is that it does not want to attract only people who can afford to pay £106. It wants to attract a broad cross-section of people. It does not just want elite people in the audiences at such events. I will give further examples in due course.
Ian Austin (Dudley North) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend share my surprise that Government Members support a system that excludes their constituents from having access to a free and open market, in which they can compete with other people to have proper access to tickets? Why does she think that they are in favour of their constituents not being able to buy tickets when they first go on sale?
Mrs Hodgson: That is an interesting point. Government Members have a lot of good arguments on the free market, but with regard to charity tickets, none of those arguments hold up. They should want such access for all their constituents, not just the ones who can afford to pay premium prices.
Philip Davies: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs Hodgson: I would like to move on. I have a long speech, and I would like to get through the details.
I am, of course, aware that the issue has been considered on a number of occasions over the past five years. To be honest, the fact that it has been revisited so many times is testament to the fact that those who look at it keep coming to the wrong conclusions. Although I have read some of the contributions to the Culture, Media and Sport Committee's inquiry, I still cannot understand how it arrived at its conclusion. The Select Committee and the then Government both concluded that fans wanted a forum in which they could buy tickets closer to the date of an event or sell them if they could not make it. I absolutely agree with that statement, but I disagree that that conclusion should allow the secondary market to carry on unregulated.
The key thing that both the Government and the Select Committee missed is that consumers also want a fair chance to get tickets at face value, and they do not want to be ripped off. I have a quote from a letter that my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston (Mr Woodward) sent in his capacity as the then Minister with responsibility for the creative industries in response to my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North West (John Robertson), who is not in his place today, when he was campaigning on the issue way back in 2007. My right hon. Friend said:
"While consumers want a secondary market, they do not want to be exploited by individuals or businesses at their personal expense."
But he then suggested that it was not in the public interest to legislate. I know my right hon. Friend the Member for St Helens South and Whiston; he is an intelligent man, so I can only think that once one becomes a Minister, there is sometimes a tendency to trust what the civil servants are saying a little too much.
Philip Davies: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs Hodgson: No, I will not, if the hon. Gentleman does not mind.
Will the Minister tell us what his civil servants advised him ahead of this debate? I know my office provided them with advance sight of the Bill, so I hope they had enough time to come to a considered view. I look forward to hearing the Minister's response-if his colleagues allow him to get in.
Coming back to the point, the Bill does not aim to do away with the secondary market. It aims to make the secondary market work in the interests of genuine fans, by forcing out the people who are there simply to profit from the hard work, investment and creative talent of the live entertainment industry, a sector that I am sure the Minister will agree has become extremely valuable to the UK's economic vitality.
The role of the Government and of the House is to legislate in the public interest. The public interest does not lie in a few touts and the channels they sell through continuing to make obscene profits at the expense of the general event-going public and of the live entertainment industry. The public interest lies in the Government providing a statutory framework for the industry to use in the interests of fans where needed. That is exactly what the Bill provides for.
Before I come to the substance of the Bill and go through its various clauses, I take this opportunity to thank my fantastic and hard-working team who have helped me on my route to introducing the Bill to the House. In particular, I thank two people: Mike Forster, my researcher, who only started in August, so the Bill has been a huge part of his job; and David Hopper, previously my intern but now studying to be a solicitor, who did a lot of the groundwork behind the scenes on legislation around the world.
The Bill addresses the problem I laid out. It creates two new offences, but that is not the starting point. The starting point is the creation of a voluntary designation scheme under which those involved in putting on live entertainment events can apply for protection from the unauthorised resale of their tickets. If they apply for protection, it would be an offence for an unauthorised individual to be concerned in the sale of a ticket for that event at a price greater than 10% above face value. For such purposes, face value is the printed value plus any service charges levied by the appointed ticket agent.
Such an approach broadly follows that set out in the Queensland solution, of which hon. Members on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport will be aware. In Queensland, tickets for any event held at certain major venues are subject to price caps on unauthorised resale. I want to broaden that provision out, because it would not touch a large part of the market, such as theatre or mid-sized and small gigs, which are just as lucrative for touts as stadium events-if not more so, because they occur on almost every night of the year in towns and cities throughout the country.
Clause 1 sets out how that system of designation could work. I am open to its refinement or to alternative suggestions from the Government or other hon. Members in Committee should the Bill be successfully voted through today.
Clause 2 sets out the offences, the first of which I have already mentioned. The second offence is the advertisement for sale and taking of payment for tickets that have not yet been released by the primary retailer. The issue is separate from that of the secondary market, coming as it does before even the primary market. Websites spring up offering concert tickets-a recent example is the Take That tour-that the person running the site obviously does not even have. It is a risk-free business, because the person gets a lump sum of cash to buy as many tickets as possible to satisfy the orders, and simply refunds any orders that cannot be satisfied. In some cases, such sites have simply not delivered the tickets and done a bunk with the money. Other laws cover such activities, but why is it still legal for those sites to offer tickets that they do not have, at the risk of many consumers being left short-changed and without tickets?
Clause 2 sets out the sanctions for the offences, which include a fine up to the level 5 limit on the standard scale. There was a case for going higher than that, as for many major operators, £5,000 represents a drop in the ocean of their business.
Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): As my hon. Friend knows, I am particularly concerned about the issue of tickets touts and the Olympic games. I do not feel that £5,000 is enough of a fine to deter unscrupulous touts. Does she agree?
Mrs Hodgson: I certainly do, and I shall come on to the Olympic games shortly. One of my suggestions is that we work with the Metropolitan police unit set up to tackle the issue. I am sure that my hon. Friend will meet it in the course of her work as a local MP. That unit also feels that £5,000 is nowhere near a big enough deterrent. There are measures in place, which I will come to in due course, but perhaps my hon. Friend will intervene on me again if I do not cover her point in detail.
I want to state explicitly that for the worst cases, the confiscation, under section 70 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, of assets and cash thought to have been garnered through this activity should be considered. Clause 3 assumes an exemption from the limitations where the proceeds of an auctioned ticket are to be used for, or donated to, charitable purposes. Any exploitation of that assumption would obviously be investigable under the Charities Act 1993.
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady talks about her constituents and mine being exploited by ticket touts, but does she not accept that one of the worst exploitations in the whole ticketing market is carried out by promoters who sell tickets and then refuse to exchange them or give refunds? Somebody who buys a ticket and then finds that they cannot go to the event may not get a refund. In the secondary market, viagogo has a viagogo guarantee; if anything goes wrong, it guarantees people their money back. Surely that is giving people a better service than the primary ticket market does.
Mrs Hodgson: I shall come to that point, too; I shall mention that I encourage primary sellers to offer a refund service within a certain period-a cooling-off period, as it were. A lot of other online purchases are covered by these periods-a certain amount of time in which purchases can be returned. I met Rugby Football Union representatives, and that body accepts returns of all its tickets; the same is true of most tickets from the All England Lawn Tennis Club for Wimbledon finals. Most of these places will happily accept the tickets back and give a full refund, because they know that the tickets are highly sought after. [Interruption.] Not all are, but some key tickets are accepted back; the Minister is nodding.
Philip Davies: Some.
Mrs Hodgson: Some are, and later in my speech I shall say that as part of the legislation, there could be discussions with primary ticket sellers and event organisers about ensuring that they offer a refund facility.
Let me come back to the clauses of the Bill. Clause 4 relates to the sale of tickets on the internet by touts. It is not my intention to require the active monitoring of adverts placed on websites by sites' administrators; after all, the practicalities involved would be prohibitive. However, where that monitoring is done, either by the event organisers or the police, the Bill places a duty on the administrators of those websites to take down in a timely manner any adverts thought to be in contravention of clause 1-that is what will happen with regard to Olympic tickets-and to co-operate with any investigations of touts who have been using their services. Again, failure to comply would incur a fine up to the level 5 maximum.
Clause 5 places a duty on the Secretary of State to consult the industry on two things. The first is the establishment of a voluntary code, under which primary ticket agents would offer refunds on tickets within a certain time frame, just as other internet retailers are subject to distance-selling regulations; that exactly covers the point mentioned by the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies), who is now not listening to the debate. Secondly, the Secretary of State should consult the industry on whether the creation of an official ticket exchange facility would be beneficial for consumers-both those who have spare tickets to sell, and those who want them. Primary agents and sites through which the secondary market operates would be happy to engage in that process and work towards creating a fairer marketplace for fans. The remaining clauses relate to interpretation provisions and the commencement and jurisdiction of the Bill, and require no explanation.
The House will be interested to learn that, in drafting the Bill, I consulted officers from Operation Podium extensively, and I thank them for their input. Members with an interest in preparations for the Olympic games-my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham (Lyn Brown) has such an interest as a constituency MP-may be aware that Operation Podium is being carried out by a team in the Metropolitan police dedicated to tackling crime associated with the games. Half of that taskforce is concerned primarily with working with Olympic organisers and the industry to tackle touting of Olympic tickets under the powers set out in section 31 of the London Olympic Games and Paralympic Games Act 2006, which builds on provisions relating to football tickets in section 166 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The 2006 Act decrees that no reselling may take place by unauthorised retailers, and sets up a ticket exchange facility whereby genuine fans can sell tickets on to other fans at face value. That is the ideal model, and could easily be replicated if the political will was there.
Officers from Operation Podium told me that the secondary market is estimated to be worth up to £1 billion a year-money that is not being used to support grass-roots sports, artists or investors in live entertainment. Much of it will not go to the Treasury, save for a bit of VAT on charges levied by the websites that the touts use. They also told me that as the previous Government and the then Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport had effectively given the measure the green light, it has been increasingly exploited by organised criminal networks, both UK-based and international, as a result of the vast sums of money on offer. The implication is that a large portion of that estimated £1 billion is being used to bankroll other crimes, such as drugs, trafficking, money laundering and so on. Tackling touting would therefore choke off a stream of income for those networks, which is just one reason for the measure that has been suggested to me since I began work on it.
The Minister for Sport and the Olympics (Hugh Robertson): I looked at this issue carefully when we were in opposition. It was alleged that ticket touting was used as a means to launder the proceeds of crime. I specifically asked the Metropolitan police about that about 18 months ago, when the then Select Committee and the previous Government were looking at it, and they said that there was no firm evidence to support that allegation. If the hon. Lady has that evidence, I urge her to bring it forward.
Mrs Hodgson: I certainly will do so, and I will pass on all the correspondence that I have received from the senior Operation Podium officer. I do not think he would want me to name him on the Floor of the House, but he has met officials from the Home Office-I know that that is not the Minister's Department-to discuss the issue. I am sure he would be delighted to meet the Minister and explain how things have moved on quite considerably since the then Government and Select Committee looked at them. I have used the term "green light". The decision that my Government, I accept, and the cross-party Select Committee made was seen as a green light to the criminal fraternity to begin to exploit the whole market. I am sure that the officer would meet the Minister in a flash, because the police need to get the situation right before the Olympic tickets go on sale in March. He would be thrilled to know that the Minister wanted to meet him.
Given the large amounts of money that could be made on premium tickets for major finals, the police do not believe that the sanction for individuals caught touting tickets for the Olympics-a level 5 fine, as I mentioned-is a sufficient deterrent. As I said, many people would regard it as just an occupational hazard, pay the fine and carry on straight away selling more tickets. That issue is addressed by clause 2(6), which emphasises prosecutors' ability to consider whether the case should be looked at by a Crown court under section 70 of the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002, so that touts know that £5,000 is not the absolute maximum that they can be fined.
Mr Nuttall: Is the hon. Lady saying that she has decided to restrict the offence to level 5 because of an order under the Proceeds of Crime Act? Why not a higher level?
Mrs Hodgson: It could be higher, but a level 5 offence is laid down in the Olympics legislation, which I have used as the basis for the legislative framework of the Bill. It was deemed an appropriate level. However, as I said, officers at Operation Podium have said they do not consider that strong enough. They would like to talk Ministers about the current legislation and the possibility of extending it to other entertainment industries, such as those I am speaking about.
Officers have also pointed out that the mainstream secondary marketplace-the websites that consumers tend to trust, such as viagogo, Get Me In! and eBay, as we have just heard-do not prevent professional touts from selling on their websites. A member of the public contacted me on Twitter when they heard about the Bill to say that they had once received an e-mail which was obviously intended for regular sellers on one of those sites, recommending that they buy tickets for certain events from the primary retailer purely in order to sell them on through such a site.
Whether that is true I cannot be certain, but there seems no reason for that person to lie to me. If it is true, it shows that at least one of those websites actively encourages touting and sees itself more as a broker than as a fan-to-fan exchange. Many of these organisations now call themselves ticket brokers. viagogo is the only one of those sites to get in touch with me about the Bill. Unfortunately I was not able to meet its representatives, but a member of my office, Mike Forster, did. They told him that a majority of their sellers sell fewer than six tickets a year so could not be considered big operators.
That is fair enough, but I still question whether a person selling tickets to six events a year is doing so as a genuine fan who cannot go to those events. Perhaps some of them might have been unlucky, and things seem to crop up whenever they buy tickets for a gig, but I would hazard that many of them are simply amateur touts without the time and infrastructure enjoyed by some of the bigger operators. That leaves the rest of the traders who are selling tickets to more than six events a year-there can be little doubt that those people are doing it as a deliberate money-making exercise, rather than just disposing of surplus tickets.
The police officers I met also raised the issue of how some of the big operators acquire so many tickets. What they said echoed some of the reading that I have done on the subject. The more IT-literate Members among us will know what I mean by a botnet. For those who do not, it is a network of computers-maybe the ones that we all have at home-which have been infected by a virus that allows the originator of that virus to control the terminal. It is a valuable commodity for hackers. Sometimes they are hired to carry out denial of service attacks on websites, and direct so much traffic to a particular website that it buckles under the strain. Members may remember that an anonymous group used this tactic to bring down sites such as PayPal and MasterCard after these withdrew their services to the WikiLeaks website just before Christmas.
The same method can be used in conjunction with numerous credit cards and bank accounts to evade the systems that primary retailers have put in place to stop one person buying up lots of tickets. I read an article on the technology news website The Register in November, which chronicled the case of a gang of touts in the US using Bulgarian hackers to buy scores of tickets automatically to gigs such as Bruce Springsteen, as well as Broadway musicals and major league baseball games. They were eventually indicted on charges of hacking, but by that time they had been operating for seven years, selling an estimated 1.5 million tickets, earning them $25 million. That is not small change.
This practice is of course illegal, but the vast profits to be made mean that it is an attractive and simple way for professional touts to do business, and it is very difficult to detect amid the usual high levels of traffic that a primary ticketing website gets when it first releases tickets for a major event. That illustrates that fans and touts are not competing on a level playing field when buying tickets, which is why such large numbers of tickets reappear almost instantly on the secondary market. That also illustrates why it is difficult for primary ticketers to take the lead in preventing touting. They already do a lot that they should not have to do, such as limiting the number of tickets that can be bought in one go and using word-recognition software, but the problem keeps getting worse. If computer whizz kids can hack into the Pentagon and GCHQ, finding a way around security on a ticket website is child's play.
Those involved in Operation Podium have welcomed the Bill and see it as a necessary measure to tackle the criminal and organised elements that dominate the secondary market. They know that it can be policed-a point that I am sure Government Members are ready to bring up-because they are policing it now in preparation for tickets for the Olympics going on sale. They know that they can police it across borders because they are doing so now. The Olympics legislation does not limit jurisdiction to processes that happen solely on British soil, because the internet allows people to get around that easily. The Bill will follow that precedent. Those working in Operation Podium know that this is the right way to go, and I hope that their professional judgement will be taken into account by the Members.
Philip Davies: Does the hon. Lady not see that there is a potential problem with restricting the resale value to just 10% of the original ticket price? It is much easier to manage that on the internet than to do so for touts standing outside stadiums. There is no way to tell how much people in a local pub might have sold a ticket on for, so that the safeguards of the secondary market on the internet would be lost as the tickets were resold. We are not going to get rid of the secondary market-like prostitution, it will always be there-but it will just shift from the internet to the street, where there will be fewer safeguards for the purchaser.
Mrs Hodgson: As the hon. Gentleman says, we cannot get rid of the secondary market, just as we cannot stop people selling stolen goods, but because legislation says that receiving stolen goods is illegal, the vast majority of the general public do not participate in such activity.
Once legislation makes it clear what is allowed and what is an underground activity, public opinion and hearts and minds will change. That will happen with the Olympics tickets and the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that 10% is not fair, but the tickets for the Olympics that will go on sale will have no mark-up at all. They can be refunded through the Olympics authorities, in which case they will go to a fan on a waiting list and no mark-up will be allowed at all. The Bill recognises that there are sometimes other associated costs, such as postage or credit card fees, which is why it would allow the 10% level, which is what Queensland permits, too. If we were right to do that for the Olympics tickets, I cannot see why it is not the right thing to do for other ticketed events.
Sajid Javid (Bromsgrove) (Con): I am intrigued to know why the hon. Lady selected 10%, rather than 20%, 30% or 40%.
Mrs Hodgson: We had a long debate about that, and 10% was deemed to be sufficiently small that there would be no profit. The people we are talking about buy huge numbers of tickets, and I am sure that the hon. Gentleman can work out that the bigger the percentage, the more lucrative it is for the number of tickets they buy up. Keeping the percentage small restricts the amount of extra money they can make on top and so removes the incentive for touts to participate in that activity.
I must return to the substance of my speech, if hon. Members will allow me. The Bill also has wide-ranging support from the live entertainment industry. The hon. Member for Hove (Mike Weatherley) and I met several people involved in the business last night. In particular, I spoke to Rod Smallwood-the manger of Iron Maiden, no less-who has been trying to push the matter up the agenda for many years. He said:
"When Iron Maiden tickets went on sale late last year for an extensive arena tour of the UK this coming summer, thousands upon thousands of tickets at much higher average price than face value appeared across these secondary sites within days... Do they really expect us to believe that even a small number of these were bought by people who suddenly-the day after they bought the ticket-found they couldn't go to a concert some 9 months away?... This is one story of many...it is sheer piracy and must be stopped to protect the real fans and the performers."
Last night I also met the manager of the Arctic Monkeys, Ian McAndrew-
Philip Davies: Name-dropper!
Mrs Hodgson: I know. It was very enjoyable, and Mr McAndrew, who welcomed the Bill, summed up the situation succinctly, saying:
"Ticket touting is a substantial and thriving parasitical economy, which exploits both music fans and those stakeholders who are investing in putting on live entertainment."
I could not have come up with a better soundbite myself, and I like to think that I am a fully fledged politician.
I have also been working extensively with the Sport and Recreation Alliance, formerly known as the Central Council for Physical Recreation, because the issue affects sport as much as, if not more than, musicians and other artistes, and I thank Dom Goggins and James MacDougall for their help in putting the Bill together. For those Members who do not know, the Sport and Recreation Alliance is the umbrella organisation representing the national governing and representative bodies of sports in the UK, including the Football Association, the Rugby Football Union, UK Athletics, the Ramblers and the Royal Academy of Dance.
Touting mainly affects the big sporting showpieces, such as international games and tournament finals, which national governing bodies run, investing any surplus they make in promoting grass-roots and associated programmes that are aimed, in particular, at increasing participation and instilling healthy lifestyles among school-age children. Such bodies want those children to be able to experience top-class sport, like most live events, with their families, and that is why-to respond again to the hon. Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) and his point about the market price-they set the majority of their ticket prices artificially low.
Philip Davies: I am very interested to hear the hon. Lady say that sporting bodies set their tickets at ordinary prices that fans can afford. Does she not accept, as it emerged a couple of years ago, that the Rugby Football Union did not put any tickets at all on sale to the general public for the Six Nations matches? For someone who was not part of a local rugby club or one of the sponsors, there were no tickets available. There were no tickets for ordinary rugby fans to buy on the open market. That is hardly delivering much of a service to genuine fans.
Mrs Hodgson: I contest that point, because the reverse is true. That body would have released tickets to clubs throughout the country, and they are full of genuine fans-and full of genuine fans who participate in the sport. So that does give people the chance to access tickets and gives kids who play the sport the chance to watch their heroes, without the tickets going on to the open market, where the touts buy them up and sell them on to the highest bidder.
Ian Austin: Is my hon. Friend as perplexed as I am why Government Members would rather see touts buy up tickets in bulk, excluding ordinary fans from the market, than see those tickets available to ordinary fans through clubs? Is that not bizarre?
Mrs Hodgson: It is bizarre-but not surprising. I know that not all Government Members will agree, and if any who do not would like to intervene I shall be more than happy to give way.
Mike Weatherley (Hove) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that what my hon. Friend the Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) just said reinforces the point that those who have the creative talent should be the ones who utilise the tickets in such situations? That is an exact example of our point regarding ticket touts: the person who provides the creative talent should have some control over who goes to watch such events. I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making that point on our behalf.
Mrs Hodgson: Definitely. I do not think that the hon. Member for Shipley (Philip Davies) quite realised he was helping our cause when he made that intervention, but I thank him for doing so.
The situation to which I referred opens up the market to touts. They buy tickets at the low price that the governing body has decided to sell them at, and by selling them on at a profit they deprive fans of lesser means of the opportunity to enjoy top-class sport.
Sarah Newton (Truro and Falmouth) (Con): Does the hon. Lady agree that in this House we sometimes struggle to find issues of relevance to young people and their families? Here we have an issue that is incredibly important to teenagers who are passionately involved in sport, which we hear many Members applauding and wanting to promote. Those interested in the creative industries are also relevant. Is it not vital that we listen to and encourage those young people and reflect their concerns in the legislation that we make in the House?
Mrs Hodgson: Definitely; I certainly agree. I am so grateful for that intervention. If the hon. Lady wants to make any further interventions, so that it is not just my voice that everybody hears today, I would be grateful.
Faced with this situation, it would be no surprise if sports simply put up their prices to squeeze the touts out, but they do not want to do that-and as we have heard, we do not want them to do that and teenagers do not want them to do that. Sports need to create a sustainable level of interest, and pricing the vast majority of families out of top events would certainly negate that ambition.
What sports want is to be protected by a regulatory scheme such as the one set out in the Bill. Only the sports that experience problems with touts would opt in to be covered. That would mean that it would not be the overarching, top-down imposition on the industry that some Government Members may try to argue it is. It would mean the Government doing what the Government should do: stepping into the market when they are needed to ensure that it operates in the best interests of the majority, especially of young people.
Tim Lamb, chief executive of the Sport and Recreation Alliance, summed up the position from the perspective of the sports that he represents. He said:
"Ticket touts are simply exploiting sport and their gain is everyone else's loss."
He could not be more right. I have also had positive feedback from Festival Republic, best known for putting on the Reading and Leeds festivals every August, which has been campaigning prominently on this issue for years, and from See Tickets, a major primary ticket agent. See has worked with the organisers of the Glastonbury festival to ensure that passes for the festival are impossible to sell on, by requiring pre-registration and photographs of the ticket holder to be printed on the ticket. That is effective, but completely impractical for the vast majority of live events and not something that organisers should have to invest in.
The interesting thing about See is that it has nothing to gain from the Bill. It gets paid for selling tickets, whether to touts or genuine fans, yet it still sees the huge unfairness in how the secondary market has developed. Rob Wilmshurst, See's chief executive, said:
"The live entertainment industry provides cultural and economic benefit to the UK and needs support. Ignoring this issue again will further diminish customer trust in the market and therefore the contribution the industry makes in general to the country."
Again, that is an insightful comment from someone who knows the industry better than any of us in the Chamber, as has been the case with all the feedback that I have relayed to hon. Members today. If those figures and their peers support the Bill or any action to make the situation fairer, it is incumbent on the Government to listen to those calls and at least re-examine the impact that the secondary market is having on live entertainment.
Simon Davies, chief executive of the Teenage Cancer Trust, was also at the meeting that I had last night. I also met him and his team late last year to discuss the Bill. I put on the record my sincere thanks to them for their support and input into the process. For those Members who are unaware of the work done by the Teenage Cancer Trust or who think that it is fair for touts to take money away from such work, I shall explain. The trust funds and builds specialist units in the NHS that cater for the specific needs of young people and teenagers who suffer from cancer, bringing them together so that they can socialise with and support each other through the most difficult time that one could ever imagine. On top of that, the trust funds a network of teenage cancer specialists and nurse consultants, to pool knowledge and expertise and provide tailored support to the young people. I am sure that all hon. Members would agree that it is an exceptionally worthy cause.
Philip Davies: May I intervene on that very point?
Mrs Hodgson: I shall be interested to see how the hon. Gentleman is going to explain his opposition to that.
Philip Davies: The hon. Lady talks about the Teenage Cancer Trust, but as she is probably aware from her research, where tickets are sold for a charity event and the charity contacts a company such as eBay to point out how much money is going to the charity, it can request that eBay insists that the seller passes at least 20% of the profit back to the charity. The Teenage Cancer Trust is one charity that has done that with eBay, gaining a kick-back and an increase in its income from the secondary market-more than it would have done if the tickets had simply been sold on the primary market.
Mrs Hodgson: They should not necessarily have to raise that issue with eBay to get the money back. What is more, the charity told me last night that it does not want venues to be full of people who can afford to pay the prices that the touts charge for tickets. That is not the purpose. It wants genuine fans to come along-not venues full of elites, paying hundreds and hundreds of pounds.
Mr Nuttall: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs Hodgson: No, I am going to carry on.
A large part of the fundraising activities to support the trust's wonderful work is the running of a series of live entertainment events at the Royal Albert hall, featuring major artists and comedians who give their time for free to support the trust. Last summer, in its 10th year at the Royal Albert hall, it put on nine spectacular gigs featuring Suede, the Who, Noel Gallagher, the Arctic Monkeys, Jimmy Carr and Noel Fielding. As a big fan of talent TV shows, I would particularly have enjoyed seeing JLS, Diana Vickers and Lemar perform on the same night. I see that some Conservative Members are looking confused about some of these names. If they see me afterwards, I will certainly explain any pop culture references that they do not get. I might even be able to put together a compilation CD for them.
All these artists freely give their time-as well as that of their support crew-their energy and their talent to support what they view as a worthy cause, but it is not simply a case of artists giving up a night off. Doing a gig in London lessens demand for any other gigs in London that they might have planned close to that date. It could be that they cannot perform in London again for a few weeks or even months, so their participation is a genuine expression of their desire to help the cause. These big names could easily have done other things to earn money on the night they performed. The very fact that they are involved means that demand for tickets is huge.
Even though the Teenage Cancer Trust knows that demand for its events could allow it to sell the tickets at a higher price, it wants the events to be affordable to the average fan. As at almost all live entertainment events, tickets are sold at a price below what the market will bear, because organisers recognise the fact that the sustainable approach to putting on live events is to allow as many genuine fans as possible-and especially as many young people as possible-to attend. Quite apart from any moral or ethical consideration, that makes good business sense, building a long-lasting relationship with fans, which could not be achieved if they felt that they were being ripped off or could not even begin to get on the first rung of the ladder.
Regular-priced tickets to extraordinary events run by the Teenage Cancer Trust are put on sale with all the standard technological measures in place to combat touts. Like all other big events, they sell out in the space of a morning-sometimes in an hour or two. On the same day, without fail, hundreds of those tickets reappear on secondary websites at massive mark-up prices-well over double their face value.
Sajid Javid: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs Hodgson: No, I am going to carry on.
Assuming that about half the face value of the ticket represents the profit that the Teenage Cancer Trust makes on these events-by profit, I mean, of course, the money that goes to help young cancer sufferers-we can conclude that a tout selling for double the face value is making double the amount that the charity is making. Double face value, of course, is a conservative estimate. That price might be got by buying from a tout outside, part way through the gig, but anyone buying through internet channels either just after the tickets go on sale or just before the gig would be extremely lucky to get one for just double the price. Simon Davies said last night that some of the premium tickets went for four times their face value, meaning that the tout got six times the amount raised by the charity.
Do hon. Members really think that a situation in which private touts can earn more than the charity is satisfactory? Do they really think it right for individuals to be able to exploit the demand created by freely given hard work, the good will of a charity and the selfless giving of artists? I do not, and I would be interested to learn whether any hon. Members can intervene to explain why that is right, other than by just repeating what they have already said, which is, "It's the free market."
On that basis alone, I ask any hon. Members who have turned up to talk out the Bill with frivolous and self-indulgent speeches to think again.
Philip Davies: Speak for yourself!
Mrs Hodgson: I do not think that I am making a frivolous or a self-indulgent speech.
I ask such Members whether any of them have talked to their constituents about their intention to block this Bill. If they have, I would be interested to know what they heard. If they spent their Fridays out and about meeting their constituents, rather than habitually causing parliamentary mischief, they might have a better idea of what their constituents sent them to Parliament to do.
Philip Davies: I commend the hon. Lady for leading with her chin on that particular point, because all the surveys carried out on this issue fly in the face of what she thinks. I do not know whether her constituents are a rare breed compared with the rest of the country, but in an ICM poll of 1,000 people, 86% agreed that if they have a ticket to a sporting event, concert or other event, then they should be allowed to resell it. It is therefore the hon. Lady who is flying in the face of public opinion, not me.
Mrs Hodgson: My Bill would not stop them from being able to resell a ticket. My Bill would allow them to resell that ticket if they have genuinely bought it and genuinely cannot go to that gig or other event, and it would even allow them to resell it with a 10% mark-up for their trouble.
To bring my speech to a conclusion, my Bill sets out a blueprint for addressing the pernicious issue of ticket resale.
Graham Jones (Hyndburn) (Lab): Will my hon. Friend give way?
Mrs Hodgson: I would love to give way to my hon. Friend.
Graham Jones: I have wanted to make the following point for quite a while. There is a tax revenue issue in respect of secondary selling that needs to be addressed. A lot of the people concerned are operating in the black economy, making substantial amounts of money. The secondary market needs to be dealt with; we need to do something about it. Some of these people can be very friendly, but they are making an awful lot of money, and I make the assumption that certainly those who sell tickets outside venues do not pay any tax; rather, they are simply operating for themselves, cash in hand.
Mrs Hodgson: I thank my hon. Friend for raising that point. I did not address it at length, although I did touch on the fact that the Exchequer was not receiving any revenue from this billion-pound industry, apart from a small amount of VAT that some of the exchange sites levy. Every working person in the country has to pay tax through Pay-as-you-earn, but these touts, some of whom are making huge sums of money, are certainly not paying any of it.
Sajid Javid: Will the hon. Lady give way?
Mrs Hodgson: I will not. I suspect that the hon. Gentleman might want to say, "Therefore, we should regulate touting and get these people to offer to pay pay-as-you-earn on their income."
Sajid Javid rose-
Mrs Hodgson: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, in order to hear what he has to say.
Sajid Javid: I thank the hon. Lady for being so generous with her time and giving way for a second time. First, I want to say that this is the first Friday on which I have turned up. I am not going to make a habit of it, but I am very glad that I am present today, because the hon. Lady has made this a very exciting afternoon, whereas I was a bit worried that I might have been bored.
I want to say what my constituents might think of this proposal. I think they would believe that if they have genuinely and honestly come by a ticket and they wish to sell it, Government should impose no restrictions on what price they can sell it for, and on how they can sell it.
Mrs Hodgson: Well, such restrictions are law of this land now; that is what will happen for Olympics tickets. Someone who buys an Olympics ticket will not be able to sell it on for however much they choose, even though it is theirs. The Government have decided that those are premium tickets which are so desirable that they cannot just go to the highest bidder, and that instead they must be redistributed. A precedent has already been set, therefore.
Hugh Robertson: On a matter of fact, for a small number of major international tournaments it is a requirement of the bid that ticket touting is outlawed. For the Olympics, it is an International Olympic Committee regulation that has to be agreed to as part of the bidding. I am pretty sure, although we have not bid formally for a cricket world cup, that the same regulations would apply to an International Cricket Council 50-over cricket world cup. The same applies to football competitions, but that is for reasons of security, not ticket touting.
Mrs Hodgson: I thank the Minister for that clarification. If the IOC made that stipulation, it will have been for very good reasons. I sincerely hope that Members and the Government will consider those reasons, because they are as valid for the IOC as they are for this great country of ours.
We should remove the financial incentive that drives the activities of the major operators and give the police a way to go after those whom they suspect are involved in other criminality. The Bill is sufficiently light touch, I believe, not to harm any promoter, artist or other investor who does not wish their event to be covered. If they do not opt in to the scheme, or if they come to a commercial arrangement with a secondary retailer, the fans will know that that is an active decision. Nobody will be forced to opt in and have such regulation covering an event. If a commercial arrangement with a secondary retailer were made, at least some of the mark-up would go back to the artists or the sport.
Graham Jones: When it says on a ticket that it is not transferrable, can that be enforced in law? If that is the case, are the Conservative Members who have spoken encouraging people to break the law? The tickets that I buy pretty much always say, "This is not transferrable." Can my hon. Friend clarify?
Mrs Hodgson: As far as I am aware, tickets for the major charity events all have on them "not to be resold" or "not for resale". Some will say that they are non-transferrable. Yes, such people probably are breaking the law-certainly in the case of charity tickets-but there is no mechanism for bringing them to book.
Philip Davies: Will the hon. Lady give way for a helpful point?
Mrs Hodgson: Oh, a helpful point.
Philip Davies: The hon. Member for Hyndburn (Graham Jones) has made a fair point. Some tickets do say that they are non-transferrable and it is for those promoters, if they wish, to take to court anybody who they find in breach of that to enforce the non-transferrable status. The hon. Lady and the hon. Gentleman might want to reflect on the reluctance of promoters to do so. They might discover that that reluctance is born out of the fact that a court would probably find such an approach to be a restriction in trade and that the term "non-transferrable" was not enforceable.
Mrs Hodgson: That would be because there is no legislation on the statute book to say that that is a criminal offence. That is why people feel that they are powerless, and they are looking to us to do something about it.
Of course, I would prefer a blanket ban, like the one for Olympics tickets, but having consulted as widely as possible, I accept that it should be for individual stakeholders in the sector to decide how they want their tickets to be sold. I accept that there is a role for a secondary market, but that secondary market must operate in the interests of fans, not touts. Should the Bill go into Committee, I would be more than happy to talk to the Government about whether a different approach might work better. After all, the Minister has vast resources and scores of able minds, including his own, at his disposal. I am certainly open to working with him and his officials on a way forward, provided that the outcome is fairer to fans, artists and everyone else who invests in the live entertainment industry. I hope that he will not reject their concerns out of hand today.
If the Minister does reject those concerns, and if this Bill is not successful, the bad feeling about the secondary market, which is damaging the reputation of the entire sector, will not go away. The situation will not get better without Government intervention-and that of the Minister, I hope. I know that because I have seen how far the situation has developed since the Labour Government and the Select Committee last considered it and effectively, as I have said before, gave the touts a green light to continue by doing nothing to stop them. The Government and Parliament were wrong to come to that view, and I hope that a fresh set of Ministers will come to a different conclusion.
As touts got that green light, the primary market has naturally adapted to step in to the secondary marketplace -and why should it not do so? I do not condone the practices of Get Me In and Ticketmaster, if they are true, and I do not like the fact that artists such as Madonna auction premium seats or that some sports give their premium seats directly to secondary retailers, but one cannot blame them given the situation. If a tout can make that money, why should it not go to the people who put on the event? Indeed, it would be preferable to have it that way, particularly in the sporting world, where extra money means extra grass-roots investment. That is not an abstract hypothesis about how the primary market will go. That is what is happening right now, with many events at the O2 arena selling premium tickets at much higher prices than regular tickets.
My Bill seeks to limit the involvement of touts in the ticket market, which will provide less of a reason for anyone in the industry to feel that they must resort to such practices, thereby increasing the likelihood of a genuine fan being able to buy a ticket at face value with their saved-up pocket money. The only people who benefit from the current situation are a few professional touts. Whether they are linked to other crimes, and whether they use hacked computers or other underhand methods to buy their tickets, is beside the point. However they do it, they are manipulating the supply of tickets to exploit demand created by the talent, hard work, good will and investment of everyone involved in putting on live entertainment. Despite contributing nothing, they reap vast sums. As the manager of the Arctic Monkeys has said, it is "a parasitical economy". It is the most distasteful expression of free market capitalism, because it creates a few big winners and countless big losers. If enacted, the provisions would be popular, because they are a proportionate attempt to redress that imbalance. I commend the Bill to the House.