Watch Sharon's speech here >
Sharon Hodgson MP spoke in the Chamber on the 20th November 2023, in the debate at the report stage of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill. Drawing on several of the tabled amendments, notably on drip pricing, she highlighted the potential role of the CMA in tackling concerns in the primary and illicit secondary-ticketing markets.
Read Sharon Hodgson MP's contribution in Hansard here >
Mrs Sharon Hodgson (Washington and Sunderland West) (Lab)
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. We all have that image in our head now, of which particular supermarket you are talking about.
As other hon. Members have said, this Bill is much needed and will help in so many ways. Hon. Members have sought to address a number of vexed issues in this legislation. This includes an attempt, through our Opposition amendment 225, to address drip pricing, which I know as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse is especially prevalent in the primary and secondary ticketing markets. In these markets, customers often have to wait until the payment screen to see a complete price breakdown. In the secondary market, customers are often drawn in by Google-paid ads to professional looking sites such as Viagogo, which are selling tickets for many times their face value and engaging in illicit business practices. Initial prices, while eye-watering, are present, but there is no breakdown of the exact amounts for service charges or VAT.
The consumer is left in the dark about what they are actually paying for until it is time to pay, usually after having navigated many more time-wasting pages on the website and almost losing the will to live and the power of rational thought. Even then, the prices are often still estimates when the customer eventually hits “Buy now”, after feeling that they will lose the tickets if they do not make the decision quickly. Lots of customers still get a nasty surprise when the payment confirmation email comes in and they see the actual amount that has been taken from their bank account or credit card.
Moving on more broadly to the Competition and Markets Authority, I am aware that the CMA made its recommendations on tackling abuses in the ticketing market to the Government in August 2021, which the Department for Culture, Media and Sport then sat on for over 18 months before making an outright rejection of them. Principally, these recommendations called for stronger laws to tackle illegal ticket resale, and this Bill could and should have been—and could still be—the perfect place to introduce those powers. I am therefore very disappointed that the Government are still resisting these modest calls from the body set up to regulate our markets.
I support efforts in the Bill to ensure healthy competition online, but why not extend it to tackle online ticket touts? Sites such as Viagogo have been allowed to grow and gain a monopoly over ticket resales while being accused of benefiting from the illegal bulk buying of tickets and the wholesale speculative selling of tickets that they simply do not have. This includes Viagogo sellers attempting to sell thousands of festival tickets that they had not purchased and did not have the title to, as well as something known as the golden circle, an online rent-a-bot group illegally buying masses of tickets for the upcoming tours of Beyoncé and Taylor Swift, even when artists such as Swift actively speak out against touting and take measures to protect their tickets from ending up in the hands of touts instead of fans.
Bodies such as the CMA need to be empowered to address this abuse. However, some Tory Back Benchers are today seeking to tie the hands of the CMA by forcing through new clause 31, which would require the CMA to spend more time on compiling economic impact reports than on protecting businesses and consumers. New clause 31 would reduce the CMA from being our strongest statutory enforcement agency to a toothless information-collation and report-writing quango. Surely these reports should be compiled by a body such as the Regulatory Policy Committee, not by the statutory enforcement agency.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady heard my earlier remarks, but let me reassure her that new clause 31 would not reduce the CMA just to that; it would still have all its other powers. In fact, the total number of staff employed by the RPC to do this at the moment is relatively small. I also mentioned that if the Minister were able to come up with alternative ways of delivering a fully independent and therefore much more objective way of doing the RPC’s job—perhaps by strengthening the RPC—I would be delighted to accept that instead.
I agree. I am sure that would be a much better way. I definitely do not think that the CMA should have to do what the new clause is seeking to do.
I have it on good authority that professional touts now number anywhere from 3,000 and 3,500. In all the time I have been campaigning and speaking on this issue, which is getting on for 15 years, those numbers were in the tens, the fifties and the hundreds. It shocks me to know that we are now trying to deal with this level of professional touts. They are attacking everywhere, from stadium gigs to local venues and, increasingly, football games. They should not be able to tout tickets for football games, but they do. Yet according to Home Office figures, the yearly arrests of football ticket touts have been decreasing, dropping from 107 in 2011-12 to only 28 in the 2019-20 season.
In my opinion, the lone conviction of just two touts nearly four years ago, which we discussed with the Minister in the last debate on this Bill, is not a strong enough deterrent, especially as it relied on outdated legislation such as the Companies Act 2006 and the Fraud Act 2006, rather than the purpose-built Consumer Rights Act 2015, which I was substantially involved in, or the Digital Economy Act 2017.
I appreciate the efforts in the Bill to protect consumers online, and I can see that there are measures in the Bill to be welcomed, but for me, ticket touting and the widespread fraud that comes with it must be properly addressed and regulatory bodies must be fully empowered to tackle these sites. I will leave my remarks there.
Read the whole debate here >