Sharon Hodgson MP

Working hard for Washington and Sunderland West.

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Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill 28.11.16

As part of her long-standing campaigns against ticket touting and on improving access to free school meals, Sharon spoke during the Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill on two amendments, which would ban the misuse of bots when buying tickets and also on sharing data between local authorities and schools to improve the take-up of free school meals, which have been proven to be beneficial to a child's life. 

You can read Sharon's speech here: Sharon Hodgson MP Report Stage of the Digital Economy Bill 28.11.16

Speech pasted below:

I want to speak for my two or three minutes in support of new clause 19 and new clause 31. I welcome these two new clauses after my many years of campaigning to put fans first and to improve access to free school meals.

Hungry children struggle to learn in school, and they fall behind their peers. That is why it is important that we improve the provision that is on offer and the access to it, and new clause 19 will do just that. This policy proposal was first introduced by my right hon. Friend the Member for Birkenhead (Frank Field) as a ten-minute rule Bill earlier this year. I have fully supported this policy change, and I congratulate my hon. Friends on the Front Bench on bringing it forward. It is estimated that having a child on free school meals can save a family up to £400 a year. A school will net £1,320 a year for each child who is currently on free school meals or who has been in receipt of free school meals in the previous five years. The proposed changes are simple and have been tried and tested by Calderdale Council and Greenwich Council, which have both used data sharing to improve the take-up of free school meals and, in turn, pupil premium in their boroughs.

I want to speak briefly to new clause 31. I thoroughly welcome this new clause, which has been introduced by the hon. Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Damian Collins) on behalf of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee after its excellent short inquiry into bots and ticket touting a few weeks ago—I had the pleasure, as I said earlier, of witnessing it at first hand—following the amendment originally tabled by the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams) and supported by the Labour Front-Bench team and me. The new clause would take us one step closer to sorting the market out, but it is not a silver bullet; far from it. Alongside the new clause, we need the enforcement of existing legislation, such as the Consumer Rights Act 2015, and the implementation of the Waterson review recommendations on the secondary ticketing market.

Over the years, like the Minister and the hon. Member for Selby and Ainsty, I have heard about examples—I have experienced it myself—of people trying to buy tickets but finding that they were already sold out, and within minutes finding those tickets up on the secondary market. I never relented; I refused to buy any tickets from touts, but one can only deduce that there is a serious issue about how the tickets get on to the secondary market so quickly. One way in which they do so is definitely through the use of bots. Fans are not getting a fair crack at getting tickets, just as the Minister and other Members have not had a fair crack at getting them.

In the past 18 months, there has been a massive escalation in the number of tickets harvested by the aggressive software used by touts, with these attacks becoming more and more sophisticated. Attacks appear to emanate from all over the world, but the majority of ​attacks on ticketing systems are orchestrated by UK-based and UK-resident touts. Some 30% to 50% of tickets for high-demand events are harvested by aggressive software and immediately placed for resale on viagogo, GetMeIn!, StubHub and Seatwave, despite the best efforts of the industry, which has tried to police itself and to bring in technical solutions. The industry has tried to sell tickets through fan clubs, but even those are attacked. Where tickets are sold by ballot, there are ballot bots. Where fan club registration is required, there are email-generating bots that flood systems with thousands of false identities. There is not one single way to offer tickets for sale to the public for which there is not already a bot out there that will attack the system.

The situation is deteriorating. Primary ticket sites have to detect an attack, examine the data, identify the software used, reverse engineer it and develop measures to prevent a further attack. That process can take months. In the meantime, a tout can simply pay a coder overseas a few hundred pounds to develop a new bot to circumvent the new security features. Bots can be coded to attack a specific ticketing system in as little as a day.

Although legislation is in place in the form of the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which has broad applications that could be used to address bots, it is 25 years old and it is yet to be tested in this regard. This is an arms race that the primary ticket sellers simply cannot win. The secondary market has already shown its blatant disregard of civil remedy legislation, such as the amendment to the Consumer Rights Act 2015, which is flouted daily. The only effective deterrent is a very clear criminal offence, with appropriate punishment on conviction, and that would be provided by new clause 31.

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