John Penrose questions Ministers about Ticket Touting, where bots are being used to buy large numbers of tickets for sell-out events. These tickets are then sold on for huge profits at the expense of fans who are desperate to attend...
John Penrose (Weston-super-Mare) (Con)
My right hon. Friend mentioned earlier that there are possible industry-based solutions. I am reminded of the way the Government handled the 2012 Olympics, when it was not possible to get tickets without providing photo ID, and it was an end-user sale in the first place, which effectively meant the bots could not buy large numbers of tickets in the way he has just described for the V Festival, or indeed for a Paul Simon concert. Does he believe that the solution therefore lies with the sporting and entertainment industries, and that they could have done this several years ago, and it is peculiar that they have elected to come to this place asking for a legislation-based solution when there is a software answer out there right now?
I have a lot of sympathy with my hon. Friend on that. I was fortunate enough to attend one of the greatest concerts of all time—the Led Zeppelin reunion at the O2—where exactly that system was introduced. People had to produce the credit card used to purchase the ticket in order to get the ticket; they did not get the ticket until they arrived at the venue. There are ways around this problem, but that imposes quite a considerable additional burden on the ticket purchaser, either to supply a photograph or to take a credit card. Of course, it does not then assist when there is a legitimate reason why somebody might want to transfer their ticket to another person because for some reason they are not able to attend. We do not want to stop the secondary market working in a way that is wholly legitimate, which is the case in such circumstances.
I want to ask the Chair of the Select Committee whether, in among the penetrating questioning that we have heard about, anyone on the Select Committee asked the people they were interviewing why they were not installing any of the safeguards that are already available. They are already being successfully used in sporting and entertainment events. If those safeguards already exist, why should we be expected to introduce a red tape-heavy legislative solution to a problem that the industry could solve for itself? Indeed, it could have solved it several years ago had it cared to do so.
Those issues were covered in the Select Committee hearing; they are there in the transcript for all to see. Some venues have introduced direct selling technology, and it can work. However, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Maldon said, it would be unacceptable to many consumers if our blanket response to this crisis in the ticketing industry was to say to the industry, “Solve it yourself.” That would place large costs and burdens on the venues, and it would be particularly unfair on the smaller ones. This problem affects not only the blockbuster events at the O2 or the Royal Albert Hall but events at small venues all around the country. I even saw tickets for a comedy event next year at the Winter Gardens in Margate being sold at three or four times their face value on the secondary market. This is affecting all sorts of venues.
More seriously, however, it is not in the interests of some of the primary ticketing sites to report the problem, because they own the secondary sites that are making the massive profits. The profit growth in the secondary market stands at between 30% and 40% a year. It is true that at the moment more tickets are sold through the primary market—through companies such as Ticketmaster —but very large profits are being made in the secondary market.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend on the diagnosis of the problem. I think everyone here shares the sense of injustice and iniquity that he is ?describing. My concern, however, is that it is not just the punters who go to see these events who are being affected. The talent—the musicians, the actors and the sportsmen and women—are also losing out because they are getting less money from the initial ticket sale when the ticket is sold on at an inflated price. They and the punters could all win if more of that value could be captured for the talent and if the punters were able to pay less. Both sides therefore have a huge interest in cutting out the middle man, and I do not understand why they are not doing it.
And later (HC Deb, 28 November 2016, Volume 617, Column 1342) the Minister accepts the Penrose point and decided to hold a round table meeting on Weds about it:
I now turn to the much discussed issue of ticketing. New clause 31 seeks to deal with bots that harvest tickets for resale in the secondary market. We have heard very powerful explanations of the scale of the problem and its breadth, and I can confirm that I had great difficulty in buying Paul Simon tickets. Initially, I failed to buy ?them despite having my finger hovering on my mouse the moment they went on sale, and so I had to buy them at a much greater price in the secondary market. They were worth every penny, but that in a way makes the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare (John Penrose) makes: the gap exploited is between the level at which the artists wants to sell their tickets and the amount that they represent in true value to the customer. I was still happy to pay hundreds of pounds for my Paul Simon tickets, but the point is that they were meant to be on sale for £75 so that everybody could get them. I am persuaded by the arguments and we shall be holding a round-table meeting on Wednesday to discuss the best way to tackle the problem
The Government will give full consideration to what is said at these round tables, in Parliament and in the Waterson report on the issue of ticketing bots and the harvesting market. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Selby and Ainsty (Nigel Adams), who has made a huge amount of the running on this issue. He has made the argument powerfully and, as has been said, the Olympics showed that this can be done.
I am not normally reassured by the advent of a round table, but I am enormously reassured in this case because the Minister is a very persuasive man and I am sure that he will have around that table representatives from the sportsmen’s agents groups, from Equity, the actors’ union, and from all sorts of UK music organisations and various others. I am talking about the people who represent the talent, who are currently being ripped off because they are getting only the face value when these things go on sale, when they are bought by the bots, and not the eventual secondary market value. They are the people with a huge interest in getting this done so that they get a larger proportion of the eventual value and customers are not getting ripped off, too.