HC Deb 20 October 1994 vol 248 cc512-9

Lords amendment: No. 154, in page 120, line 6 at end insert— ("(6) The Secretary of State may by order made by statutory instrument amend the provisions of this section so that they apply to any sporting event for which 6,000 or more tickets are issued for sale.")

Mr. Tom Pendry (Stalybridge and Hyde)

I beg to move, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.

Mr. Deputy Speaker

With this, it will be convenient to take Government amendment (a), in line 3, leave out from 'instrument' to 'sporting' in line 4 and insert

`apply this section, with such modifications as he thinks fit, to such sporting event or category of' Government amendment (b), in line 4, after 'sale' insert `as he thinks fit' Government amendment (c), in line 4, at end insert—

`(7) An order under subsection (6) above may provide that—

  1. (a) a certificate (a "ticket sale certificate") signed by a duly authorised officer certifying that 6,000 or more tickets were issued for sale for a sporting event is conclusive evidence of that fact;
  2. (b) an officer is duly authorised if he is authorised in writing to sign a ticket sale certificate by the home club or the organisers of the sporting event; and
  3. (c) a document purporting to be a ticket sale certificate shall be received in evidence and deemed to be such a certificate unless the contrary is proved.
(8) Where an order has been made under subsection (6) above, this section also applies, with any modifications made by the order, to any part of the sporting event specified or described in the order, provided that 6,000 or more tickets are issued for sale for the day on which that part of the event takes place.' Lords amendment No. 170.

Mr. Pendry

Clearly, we welcome the fact that Lord Donoughue's amendment was carried in another place with considerable cross-party support. I am glad that the Government have listened and accepted the amendment. However, what we want from the Government tonight is acceptance that the principles that lie behind it are with them as well.

Following the Home Secretary's speech in Bournemouth, I am sure that the Minister will wish to heed the calls from the Police Federation to outlaw ticket touting at all major sporting events by supporting the Lords amendment, as well as enacting it. That is what many hon. Members on both sides of the House wish to hear from the Minister tonight.

I understand that the All England lawn tennis club at Wimbledon, the Test and County Cricket Board, the Rugby Football Union and the Professional Golfers Association figure among those bodies which have written to hon. Members on both sides of the House with sporting interests—[Interruption.] If the Minister for Transport in London would be quiet for a moment, perhaps he might join us in supporting the amendment. Those bodies have written to Members on both sides of the House who entertain sporting interests. As I said on Report, this is a criminal justice Bill as well as a public order Bill. That is why we urge the Minister further to consider his position. There is clearly a criminal aspect, as well as a public order aspect, to ticket touting.

Similarly, we would urge the Minister to act on the overwhelming evidence pointing to the harm that ticket touting is doing to sports other than football, a point that the Government accepted earlier in the Bill's passage. According to the chief executive of the All England club at Wimbledon, ticket touting creates a market for criminally obtained goods". Two years ago at Wimbledon, tickets were stolen from the offices of the legitimate holder— [Interruption.] If the Minister for Transport in London and the hon. and learned Member for Burton (Sir I. Lawrence) will listen to me, they may learn something. Within 24 hours, the tickets in question had been sold through a number of different outlets, all ticket touts, to unsuspecting victims who lost their money.

In another place, my noble Friend Lord Donoughue eloquently described the illegal activities of touts at Wimbledon, before the Lords gave the Bill its Third Reading. The Minister will also recall similar examples that I gave on Report—the German gentleman who was ripped off to the tune of £50,000 buying tickets for Wimbledon. I and others will be happy to supply the Minister with many more such examples— [Interruption.] There are not many Tory Members in the Chamber, but they are certainly an unruly bunch, Mr. Deputy Speaker.

We should remember that Lord Justice Taylor made his recommendations more than four years ago. Only a few months ago, I was sent a letter by an official of a major premier league football club stating: In our view the typical ticket tout has changed significantly over recent years. Nowadays they appear much more aggressive when they approach our staff, and threats of physical violence or damage to their cars are common place. Customers approaching the box office are often intimidated into purchasing tickets on behalf of touts. If the Minister needs further proof that touting gives rise to real crimes in a number of sports, I and others can supply him with evidence that fraud, theft and intimidation are all commonplace in ticket touting.

In the past, the Government have maintained that they do not see the activities of ticket touts as criminal. Over the years, I have received many letters from Ministers claiming that the aspects of criminality so clearly associated with ticket touting can be dealt with under existing law. The Minister himself repeated that argument on Report. So why, in his report, did Lord Chief Justice Taylor say, in justification of creating a new offence after the Hillsborough disaster: Police should not have to stretch the law to deal with a public mischief. There should be a specific prohibition which the police can then enforce"? That is what the police want; it is what the sporting bodies want; and it is what many in this House want, as the Minister must by now have realised.

The soundness of the principle behind my noble Friend's amendment caused Lord Ferrers to admit in the course of opposing it, on 19 July, that the Government were "in some difficulty". That difficulty can be avoided tonight by a clear-cut commitment on the part of the Minister to the effect that criminality in ticket touting will be carefully monitored with a view to enacting the new powers. We shall not oppose the Home Secretary's measure tonight, as we agree that there is likely to be a need for a discriminatory use of the powers. After all, the Home Secretary's modifications mean that he will be left to act as he sees fit. If he wants to add to his long list of duties and responsibilities, who am I to disagree? I hope that when he does act, his actions will be based on the real situation, not on the situation that he wishes existed.

We should also appreciate clarification from the Minister of how the clause will be implemented. How will he protect the ordinary, honest fan from possible prosecution if he buys a ticket for a friend? As the Bill stands, the fan who asks a friend to buy him a ticket in advance and then pays for it at face value on the train to a match or in another public place will be asking his friend to commit an offence. I am sure that that is not the Minister's intention, but what direction will he give the police and courts for such circumstances? These measures are designed to protect genuine sports fans; there should be no possibility, therefore, of their suffering as a result of the measures.

I trust that the Minister will be able to clarify the matter and to assure us that the wider powers will be enacted. I should add that we do appreciate the Government's movement on this issue since last we debated ticket touting. All we now ask is that the Government show rather more determination in future to eradicate the growing menace of ticket touts.

8.45 pm
Mrs. Teresa Gorman (Billericay)

Originally the clause was intended to deal specifically with football, but the amendment seeks to extend its powers. If we agree to the amendment, as the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) says, the powers will extend to all sporting activities for which 6,000 or more tickets are issued for sale. That covers practically every large sporting event in the country.

In the hon. Gentleman's remarks just now we heard a great deal of envy and all the old stuff about hard cases making bad law. We always hear that when the subject of ticket touts comes up. As I have often said in this House, ticket touts are street traders. They are not necessarily especially nice people; they may be reprobates, but what they are doing is not illegal and by and large it causes no offence—except to people who seem to object to touts making extra profits. That is pure envy.

My objection to the amendment is that it will widen the scope of the original intention far more than anybody anticipated. The clause was drawn up specifically with the Hillsborough tragedy in mind, when it was suspected that the sale of tickets on the day to opposing teams' supporters, who then got mixed up in the ground, might have been a contributory factor in the disaster. In fact, as I understand it, the tragedy was largely due to late entrants to the game and to crushing, not to internecine warfare between the two groups of supporters.

The point is that there has been a huge growth in the perfectly legitimate business of the sale and resale of sporting event tickets through agents. The amendments, however, will require all agents to be licensed or authorised in writing by a home club or by the organisers of a match. That virtually gives the people running a match control over the whole sale process. We do not accept that for other industries or businesses. Someone making socks in a factory does not control everyone who sells the socks on or distributes them—so why should we apply such rules to this industry?

A lot of hospitality entertaining goes on at football matches and at Wimbledon, and I imagine that some of our colleagues in this place have benefited from it on occasion. Unfortunately I have never had that privilege, but I still believe that the original wording was too loose, and that the measure should surely be restricted to the sale of tickets on the day, to enable those trading in tickets legitimately before a match to continue to do so. We should certainly not extend the idea to other sports. There is no evidence of the sort of disorder that the clause was intended to deal with being caused by the resale of tickets by street traders.

I believe that we have given the Home Secretary a dangerous extension of his powers. He will be able to make decisions by order and by statutory instrument. We all know that that means that he can more or less do what he likes on the nod without having to come back to this place. We know, too, that there are plenty of hon. Members who will always speak against street traders and touts, but very few who will stand up for their rights. But the point about a democratic system is the fact that even those of whom we do not necessarily approve still have the right to do what is legitimate, lawful and harmless. I disagree with the legislation and with the amendments, which would massively increase the powers that I have described. I urge the Government, who are dedicated to reducing restrictions, licensing and controls, not to go down that path and to reject the amendment.

Mr. John Carlisle (Luton, North)

My hon. Friend the Member for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman) spoke with her usual eloquence and clarity. She is absolutely right, as it seems remarkable that the Government, who have rightly been set on the path of deregulation, have seen fit to bring before the House—as they have done on a previous occasion—an amendment and a clause which will regulate the sales of tickets for sporting events. Frankly, such sales have nothing to do with us and for that, among other reasons, I regret that this debate had to take place.

May I address some remarks to the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde (Mr. Pendry) who is an old foe but has been promoted to what is known as shadow Minister for Sport. He showed tonight that he is the shadow Minister for Spoil-sport. He intended to try and stop those poor souls who—unlike him and me—do not have the privilege of access to tickets to sporting events. We have shared in attending notable sporting events at the behest and gratuitous request of other honourable bodies. I shall not say which commercial interests they might have represented. If the hon. Gentleman wishes to state which sporting events we have attended and who has been our host on those occasions—be they possibly tobacco companies—that is entirely up to him, but I shall not press that point.

The hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde and I have enjoyed such events, but he is seeking to spoil other people's enjoyment and to tell them that they cannot get a ticket because those available are not legitimate and they cannot go to an authorised agent. The rugby fan from Wales who uses his life savings, or sells the tiles off his house, for the chance of buyi[...]g a ticket in a public house outside Twickenham to see his beloved team soundly beaten by the English side—as they usually are—would be denied that opportunity by the Bill, and more particularly by the provisions of the amendment.

I must briefly declare an interest, as I am a member of the Marylebone cricket club and also of a rugby club. I suppose that some might say that in sporting terms I am the Stan Flashman of the House of Commons. Several hon. Members—I see one has just arrived in the Chamber—have asked me if I could, quite legitimately, obtain for them tickets for certain sporting events. I confess that I have not declared that interest in the Register of Members' Interests because I gained no financial advantage for so doing. I did it on the basis that I felt sporting interest should spread throughout colleagues on both sides of the House. I note that my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay said that she had missed out on my generosity and will certainly try to put that right.

On the basis of the amendment and the clause before the House I fear that my activities will not merely be curtailed but may cease altogether and many hon. Members would be extremely disappointed if they were no longer able to obtain tickets for such events.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay said, there is a worry that, as a result of the Government amendment, the Secretary of State will be able to take powers to extend the provision beyond the range of football. That is a great worry. My hon. Friend the Minister of State and my right hon. and learned Friend the Secretary of State would not even consider that such powers might be necessary during the lifetime of this or any Conservative Government. Should the shadow Minister, the spoil-sport, ever be in a position of power, however, and see some disorder at a boxing match—perhaps like the disorder that the chairman of the Conservative party described so eloquently a few weeks ago as a minor difficulty within the crowd—he would immediately say that tickets could be sold only by authorised agents.

I am not totally against tickets being sold through authorised agents. The Rugby Football Union, which the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde mentioned, has a good system whereby it sells tickets through clubs and has virtually cut out the chance of criminal activity through ticket touting.

I object to our having to pass legislation to ensure that only authorised agents can sell tickets. If the sports wish to sell tickets in that way, that is up to them. It is not for us to direct them in that way. That is why my hon. Friend the Minister of State is right to reject the Lords amendment. He knows that several of us do not like the clause in any way. If he can say anything to mitigate the damage to many companies, especially corporate hospitality companies—my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay was right about that—and the fact that genuine sportsmen will not be able to watch the events, I hope he will respond.

This is an ill-thought-out proposal, prompted by the Opposition in jealousy and envy because they cannot get the tickets that we legitimate sports fans can get hold of and it should have been rejected before now.

Mr. Maclean

I much [...]njoyed the speeches by my hon. Friends the Members for Luton, North (Mr. Carlisle) and for Billericay (Mrs. Gorman). How spot on they were on so many issues. I have often had to disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Billericay—whether on salmonella, when I was an environment Minister or, at times, on law and order issues—but I agreed with almost every word that she said tonight.

In the Lords, we accepted the amendment that powers to deal with ticket touting be extended to other sporting events for which 6,000 or more tickets are issued for sale. We accepted it purely on the basis that it did not undermine Government policy on ticket touting per se, since any decision to extend the offence by means of the order-making power would be taken only should those public order and public safety considerations, which we all agree apply to football, become a feature in other sporting areas. The Government's position in that respect was made clear during debate on the amendment.

I want to make the position clear. The essential feature of the clause is not to deal with ticket touting per se, or with some of the problems that sporting organisations should be controlling. They are not going to pass the buck to the Government and order police resources to be used to control tickets for their matches when they should be doing that job themselves. The Government will become involved and will use the powers when we witness public disorder, or when public disorder begins to increase at any other sporting matches which necessitates action in the same way that it necessitated action at football matches. I hope that I can reassure my hon. Friends on that point.

9 pm

I must inform the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde that we shall not be telling the police what they should do in this matter. The law is perfectly clear. It does not penalise the individual who plans to go to a match, discovers that he cannot go and passes his ticket to a friend. The law does not catch such people. So I hope that on that basis I have been able to reassure my hon. Friends that we are not introducing measures that we intend to use merely to clobber ticket touting, out of some anti-market feeling or spite. We are introducing powers that I will advise the Secretary of State to use only if we should witness public disorder at sporting events similar to the disorder that we have witnessed at football matches.

On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friends will not vote against the amendment and that they will be happy to agree with their lordships in the said amendment.

Government amendments (a) to (c) made to the Lords amendment.

Lords amendment, as amended, agreed to.

Lords amendment: No. 155, after clause 147, to insert the following new clause—Touting for hire car services— .—(1) Subject to the following provisions, it is an offence, in a public place, to solicit persons to hire vehicles to carry them as passengers. (2) Subsection (1) above does not imply that the soliciting must refer to any particular vehicle nor is the mere display of a sign on a vehicle that the vehicle is for hire soliciting within that subsection. (3) No offence is committed under this section where soliciting persons to hire licensed taxis is permitted by a scheme under section 10 of the Transport Act 1985 (schemes for shared taxis) whether or not supplemented by provision made under section 13 of that Act (modifications of the taxi code). (4) It is a defence for the accused to show that he was soliciting for passengers for public service vehicles on behalf of the holder of a PSV operator's licence for thos[...] vehicles whose authority he had at the time of the alleged offence. (5) A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding level 4 on the standard scale. (6) In this section— public place" includes any highway and any other premises or place to which at the material time the public have or are permitted to have access (whether on payment or otherwise); and public service vehicle" and "PSV operator's licence" have the same meaning as in Part II of the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981. (7) In section 24(2) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (arrestable offences), after the paragraph (i) inserted by section 137 of this Act there shall be inserted the following paragraph— (j) an offence under section (Touting for hire car services) (touting for hire car services) of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994;". Motion made and Question proposed, That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said amendment.—[Dr. Liam Fox.}

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Mr. Geoffrey Lofthouse)

With this, it will be convenient to take Lords amendment No. 167.

Mr. Simon Hughes

I shall say a supportive word on the introduction of the clause. I expected to see other hon. Members standing up to protest against the illiberal proposition that one clamps down on people who are breaking the law. In London in particular—it may apply elsewhere—touting by vehicles for hire has become a pest in many public places, most commonly at railway stations and pubs and clubs late at night. It is not just a pest—or illegal—but it often puts together poor drivers, who do not know what they are doing and are out to rip people off, and people who have just arrived or who are not as capable as they might have been at other times of the day and who are most able to be ripped off. That is the real mischief. It is also important—this is a less frequently-argued point—that such touting adds to the nuisance and noise disturbance in an area. A load of minicabs queuing up around a block or station to take people away does not add to the general orderliness and civility of an environment. I welcome the fact that the Government—and in particular the Minister for Transport in London, whom I welcome to the debate—listened to the pleas which came in this case mainly from respectable taxi drivers and reputable minicab firms. Both have parts to play, and the Minister will be deliberating further on exactly what parts. He will not tell us tonight, but he and I know that his proposals are awaited with keen interest outside this place.

If we manage to clobber those who have been touting illegally, we will be making progress. I hope that, as soon as the measure is law, there will be a noticeable clampdown on the people responsible. I hope that the Minister will talk with his colleagues, to the Home Secretary in his role as the police authority for London and to the Commissioner and make it clear that the law will now be enforced. I ask the Minister to make sure that we have a tough few months so we deal with a problem that has been a plague, particularly in London, for months. These people must be put out of business, and they must be nicked on the occasions when they break the law. I welcome the law, and the public will be better served by it.

  • Lords amendment agreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
  • Lords amendment No. 157 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
  • Lords amendment No. 160 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
  • Lords amendment No. 163 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
  • Lords amendment No. 169 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
  • Lords amendment No. 175 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
  • Lords amendments Nos. 188 and 189 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to [some with Special Entry].
  • Lords amendments Nos.335 and 316 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to [some with Special Entry].
  • Lords amendments Nos. 335 disagreed to.
  • Subsequent Lords amendments agreed to.
Committee appointed to draw up Reasons to be assigned to the Lords for disagreeing to their amendments Nos. 1, 2 to 5, 7, 8, 10 to 18, 21, 79, 125, 131, 157, 160, 163, 169, 175, 188, 189, 315, 316 and 335 to the Bill: Mr. Nicholas Baker; Mr. Derek Conway; Mr. John Fraser; Mr. David Maclean and Mr. Alun Michael; Three to be the quorum.—[Mr. Maclean.]

To withdraw immediately.