HL Deb 18 April 1990 vol 518 cc81-94

8 p.m.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what proposals they have to prevent the exploitation of tourists and of the public by ticket touts.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to have this opportunity tonight to bring this matter of ticket touts before your Lordships' House and to present various points to the Minister for his attention. Ticket touts are not what they were. The image of the casual, cheeky, cloth capped entrepreneur making a little on the side was rot too worrying. Now, the reselling of tickets for many times their face value has become big business, with an estimated turnover of £25 million a year. There is no way for the purchaser of, say, a theatre ticket to differentiate between a reputable or an undesirable place setting itself up to sell such tickets.

No one opposes legitimate business and legitimate profit. However, we must be concerned by the knowledge that there is now criminal involvement, and increasingly so. Forged and stolen tickets are also being sold to unsuspecting buyers. Totally illegally, we see instances of the resale of used tickets, not properly cancelled, bought or collected within a football ground and resold outside to people wanting to get in. Indeed, at the Pilkington game at Twickenham just weeks after the Hillsborough disaster, 3,000 extra people were admitted on that basis. That could have created a great danger. On that occasion the numbers were insufficient to cause danger, but they could have done so.

Corporate entertainment, which is arranged for many sporting fixtures, is sold at one price by the sponsor or arranger of the event and at a quite different price by someone who is making a killing. The money for the officially sold corporate hospitality goes back into the sport to improve standards. In that way it benefits all who wish to take part in the sport. The profit made by other people who have no entitlement to it whatsoever gives no benefit to the sport. It goes directly into those people's pockets. I do not think that anyone believes that he or she is paying VAT, but an element of VAT is included in the original ticket.

Tourists' magazines overseas, in particular in the United States, warn would-be travellers of the high price of London theatre tickets. The warning is based not on the actual theatre ticket price but on the artificially raised price that people pay through touts, as we know them, or scalpers, as they are known in the United States.

Until 1985, theatre tickets could be sold only through the Society of West End Theatres. Then the Office of Fair Trading intervened. There was a case before the Restrictive Practices Court: that opened up the market for anyone to sell theatre tickets. The black market—which is all that one can describe it as—is a problem. I was interested to hear yesterday that Wimbledon has a white market. Anyone who does not want a ticket can legally resell it back through the All England Lawn Tennis Club. That is very desirable because it is making more tickets available for those people who legitimately wish to attend.

We all know of the stories of the "Phantom of the Opera" tickets. Normally they cost £22-50: the going rate is £120 to £160 each. On the famous night of Michael Crawford's finale some tickets changed hands at £2,000 each but I believe that that was an exceptional circumstance. However, last year at Wimbledon tickets with a face value of £35 brought £650. That is quite out of line with the aim of getting as many people to see the tennis as possible at a price that is within people's reach.

I do not intend to make this a very long debate because I believe that the issue is very clear cut. However, when I see the name of the noble Lord, Lord Monson, on the list I know without doubt that he will say that there should be an absolutely free market, free for all. That sounds very attractive in theory. But in reality and in the way that the system works now it is not a free market. It is being taken over to too large an extent by a criminal element. Big money has become involved. If there were some system whereby people were licensed to sell tickets they would still be making a profit. It could still be an open market with tickets freely sold. But we would not have tickets being sold and resold for so many times their value.

I should like to refer to a letter that I have from the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. I love the title. An Australian such as myself simply refers to Wimbledon; that says it all. However, I was interested because the club had points that it felt were very important and should be considered promptly. It believes that there should be legislation in due course in line with that suggested by Lord Justice Taylor for football. I understand that next year it is quite likely that such legislation will be coming forward. If so, the opportunity should be taken to add to it.

The club believes that there should be guidance to the police to co-operate with, and support, any major sporting event organiser who introduces after consultation a self-help scheme designed to invalidate all tickets sold without a licence from the organisers and banning multiple applications. Much can be done in terms of self help. Now that everything has become computerised and bar coded, it should become fairly easy to identify the source of tickets and where they are going, in particular for sporting fixtures. The club would like to see licensing in due course. It is concerned about unofficial corporate hospitality. I have heard from other sources that although official corporate hospitality costs £215, other operators are selling it with lunch for £950. That is vastly different.

However, it has to be appreciated that there is not a free market in the sense that the noble Lord, Lord Monson, would like. It is not a case of unlimited tickets, however many people wish to go. The tickets are very limited in supply. It is a limited market. By buying up large quantities of tickets and reselling them in this way, people prevent others buying an individual ticket and using it as they wish.

Wimbledon is concerned that the championships are coming into disrepute, in particular in the eyes of the many thousands of visitors some of whom are led to believe that Wimbledon itself gives a degree of acceptance to unofficial corporate hospitality. I very much liked its comment that it would like to see the tickets go to true tennis lovers. As one, I certainly support that. I can remember queuing up years ago for standing room when I first arrived in this country. Wimbledon has a magic: people from all over the world wish to go there.

The club is genuinely concerned about the increasing use of strong arm methods and the theft and forgery of tickets by the criminal element now involved to some extent in this business. It is concerned that such activities will become even more prevalent as the number of tickets available is further reduced following the changes required of the championship to meet the new safety at sports ground requirements. Until I received this letter I had not appreciated that Wimbledon was going to lose space rather than gain space, as other sporting activities are often able to do. Because of the safety requirements there is a loss of revenue and of the number of seats. Presumably the price of the tickets will have to be increased in order to offset that. There is a loss of standing room for 2,000. The club points out that the championships do not attract violence. I am sure that everyone is impressed by the orderliness of those waiting patiently in long queues outside Wimbledon. I hope that the championships never will attract violence.

The club plans to introduce a self-help scheme this year aimed at invalidation of any ticket sold on. It believes that if the police give support to the scheme it could work well. Ryder Cup tickets have been dealt with in the same way, there being a refusal to allow any to be sold on. The scheme was challenged in court and upheld.

Several courses of action can be taken immediately. First, all tickets should have printed on them the face value. A code of practice exists recommending that, but it is not mandatory to print the price on the ticket. If the ticket shows a price of £10 but someone is asking £150, at least it would be purchased with full knowledge and awareness.

The problem affects not only overseas tourists. It is of great concern to everyone in the country who wishes to obtain tickets but cannot. If one knows the price of a ticket one also knows the mark-up that is being asked. At present one can obtain totally different prices from two different theatre agencies.

Secondly, there must be proper cancellation of used tickets. There should be no way in which people can use a ticket to enter an event and then send it out to be re-used. Tickets must be properly cancelled by being stamped, defaced or torn in order that they cannot be re-used.

I should also like to see local authority licensing. This has been effective in the United States. Ticket touts were doing big business in New York. However, when licensing was introduced they were cleared out to New Jersey. When licensing was introduced in New Jersey, they were cleared out to another state. Now they look to Britain and to London as an easy target. They are moving here because we have so little control.

All noble Lords appreciate that the legislative programme is crowded. I believe that it would be appropriate to add such provisions to legislation already being discussed. No one, including myself, wishes to see more legislation than necessary. However, ticket touting is becoming out of hand. It damages the tourist business and often defrauds innocent people who wish to enjoy a sporting event or show. I hope that the Minister will at least assure the House that the matter is under serious consideration. I am sure that many organisations which are worried about the recent developments will be happy to provide the Government with all the evidence that they have collected.

8.13 p.m.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, the noble Baroness is to be congratulated upon raising the Question and I support her from this side of the House. There is a mistaken philosophy which, until recently, was popular on her side of the House. Except for a few remaining cases, the notion that the market is the be-all and end-all of everything and can do no wrong is being shed even in government quarters.

Ticket touting is now completely out of hand. Until 1985 the ticket tout was the odd man out and could be regarded as a kind of sporting vagabond making a bit on the side. However, in 1985 the agreement reached between the Society of West End Theatre Managers and the leading ticket agencies was outlawed as being a restrictive practice. That had a disastrous effect not only in relation to the theatre. The view was taken that if that was a restrictive practice there could be no restrictions anywhere. The floodgates were opened not only in the theatre but particularly in sport. The inevitable result was that what had been controlled became totally uncontrolled.

Ticket touting is now an established racket with a turnover of millions of pounds a year. The noble Baroness said that it was £25 million but I believe that that is the minimum. It is one of the many unacceptables faces of capitalism. The rake-off is enormous. A £35 ticket for the men's final at Wimbledon is being sold for £950 including lunch. It is a mark-up of criminal dimensions —

Lord Graham of Edmonton

There is no such thing I as a free lunch!

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, tickets for "Phantom of the Opera" have a top price of £22-50 but regularly sell on the black market for between £150 and £160. That is ridiculous, is it not?

Great damage is being done and tourists are being exploited. When they are sold inferior tickets at inflaled prices they gain a wrong impression about the price of London entertainment. Some of the agencies are verging on criminal behaviour and they defraud clients by selling non-existent or forged tickets. The enormous profits readily available now appear to be attracting robbery and violence to a scene already of doubtful legality. The law must be strengthened, as was recommended by the London Tourist Board.

There must be licensing and the Government can be assured that, if they take such a measure, they will enjoy universal praise, which will be a nice change for them. Such legislation is now widespread in the United States. There the illusion that the market needs no control is confined almost exclusively to the incorrigible Professor Milton Friedman. Perhaps that view is shared by the noble Lord. Lord Monson —we shall see.

Restrictive practices which prevent exploitation, whether of the employee or the consumer, are necessary if capitalism is not to degenerate into unbridled greed and then into crime. Most people are aware of that and I hope that the Question will receive the positive, affirmative and encouraging Answer that it deserves. I am happy to support the noble Baroness and I hope that she will receive the affirmative Answer that she so richly merits.

8.19 p.m.

Lord Monson

My Lords, it was significant that the Question appeared on the Order Paper on a day when there were also two short debates. The first dealt with the chaos prevailing in the market for rented farmland, which led to the virtual drying up of that market, as a result of governmental interference in arrangements freely negotiated between willing lessee and willing lessor. No doubt on the strength of my sitting where my noble friend Lord Harris of High Cross normally sits, the noble Baroness twice in the course of her speech attacked my speech with great vigour before I had even begun.

It is true that I believe in the primacy of the market. As my noble friend Lord Marsh said earlier today, the market always wins out in the end. However, I believe in it not for abstract ideological reasons but for pragmatic ones. I hope that when the noble Baroness has heard what I have to say she may agree that there is some merit in some of the points that I make, just as I intend to endorse strongly one particular suggestion of hers.

The noble Baroness asked what plans Her Majesty's Government have to prevent the exploitation —and that is the key word —of tourists and the public by ticket touts. I do not defend the ticket touts who use the strong arm tactics to which the noble Baroness referred. Law abiding ticket touts may be capable of annoying members of the public, at any rate the more hypersensitive among them. However, those touts acting within the law are not capable of exploiting the public except on the very rare occasions when they manage to corner in advance every ticket on the market so that all potential customers have only one source of supply; namely, a tout.

Even in those unusual and, I venture to say, improbable circumstances, it is doubtful that exploitation is taking place because, although the noble Baroness spoke about criminal elements —and they may exist—we are not talking about latter-day Harry Limes peddling penicillin in an up-dated version of the devastated, war-torn Vienna of the late 1940s. We are not talking about a black market in necessities but about a black market in luxuries. Those who are willing to pay excessive prices for tickets on the centre court at Wimbledon, the Cup Final or an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical suffer no serious harm or deprivation. They have the option of switching to another, albeit less popular, show or sporting event or even staying at home and watching television or engaging in some other indoor pursuit.

Always providing that they are acting within the law, the touts fulfil the useful, indeed Thatcherite, function of bringing supply into line with demand —a point made by the honourable Member for Billericay, Mrs. Theresa Gorman. In a sense touts can be compared with jobbers in the City of London, although with one essential difference which understandably irritates people; that is, that whereas the jobbers take risks and accordingly can lose money if they happen to misjudge the market, ticket touts very rarely lose money. As the noble Baroness said, they make a killing. They are not left with unsold tickets on their hands.

Why do they make a killing? Because the wares which they have for sale tend to be grossly underpriced in the first place. If that were not so, the ticket tout would hardly think it worth the risk. One reads—and the figures I have are slightly different from those already quoted this evening—that people are prepared to pay £130 for good stall seats at "Phantom of the Opera" with a face value of £22-50. I think that such people are raving mad, as I think are people who are prepared to pay several hundred pounds for a 20-minute flight on Concorde over the English Channel. But after all, it is their money. If the pleasure they derive from a short trip in Concorde or two or three hours at "Phantom of the Opera" is worth to them a three-digit sum, so be it. It is none of our business.

Surely the solution is to let the initial price of the ticket reflect the demand just as the price of old masters, Impressionists or first, second, third, fourth or fifth growth clarets reflect the ebb and flow of demand, and let a due proportion of the additional profits made by increasing the prices be paid over to the Treasury in corporation tax to the benefit of the rest of us.

This may not be totally germane but conversely let us see prices for an unpopular production —whether stemming from a bad review or otherwise—be sharply dropped to the extent necessary to fill the theatre. For example, let us say £5 for a good stalls seat or 50 pence for the upper circle. That is where I wish to endorse what the noble Baroness suggested as regards printing the price on the face of the ticket.

After all, everybody likes a bargain and this would help to shift unwanted tickets. Of course it is also right that those paying over the odds should know what is the face value of the ticket, because the market cannot function effectively without both buyer and seller being fully informed.

Your Lordships may ask whether or not that may benefit unduly corporate customers since companies can entertain clients on expenses at Wimbledon, Wembley and the West End, to the detriment of private individuals. This may well be so. In that case it is up to the government of the day to alter the fiscal system so as to redress the balance in favour of the private individual.

Where there are potentially, say, 2 million people anxious to see a spectacle at which only 100,000 seats will be available over a two-year period, there must be rationing of some sort. There is no alternative. After all, you cannot issue a coupon which gives a person the right to see part of "Phantom of the Opera" between 7.25 and 7.30 p.m. on a Tuesday in September 1994. There must be rationing. Everybody cannot go. There can be rationing by price, or by queuing—in other words by a first come first served system, which can be rather hard on the elderly or the housebound. There can be rationing by lottery, or there could even be rationing, as suggested by the noble Baroness, by identifying, by a means as yet undevised, who is and who is not a true tennis lover. I suggest that ultimately rationing by price is bound to prevail given the temptation to which those first in the queue or successful in a lottery will be subject if the face value of tickets is kept artificially low in relation to the overall demand for those tickets.

Therefore if one wishes to eliminate the unsavoury type of ticket tout one must encourage the promoters to get their prices right in the first place.

8.27 p.m.

The Earl of Winchilsea and Nottingham

My Lords, I apologise to the House because my name is not on the list of speakers. I indicated my desire to speak in this debate but due to an oversight or problem my name was not included.

I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for raising the subject this evening. I wholeheartedly support everything she said. I should like slightly to widen the subject matter to include a problem which is strongly allied to this; that is, taxi touts. Those people are not licensed Hackney drivers but are private hire drivers who station themselves outside our mainline railway stations and airports. In collusion with hotel staff they carry on their activities in selling tickets to the unsuspecting overseas tourist or indeed a member of the general public.

That lamentable practice completes the evening for an innocent person who is out for an evening's entertainment in London. He is subjected to a rip-off operation throughout the evening. Those members of the hotel staff who are in collusion with the taxi drivers then take their share of the ill-gotten gains. I do not profess to have an answer to the problem except perhaps to offer a suggestion that the activities of those people be posted on a suitably sized notice prominently displayed in West End hotels and theatres to warn people of that activity. That may just have a warning effect.

8.30 p.m.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, speaking almost at the end of this Unstarred Question it is perhaps difficult to avoid repeating what has already been said but I shall try to do so in so far as is possible. I should like, first, to thank the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, for introducing the debate and deciding that this was the subject she wished to discuss on this occasion. As one who has long been involved with the work of the London Tourist Board it gives me particular pleasure that she should raise the subject this evening.

The noble Baroness and other noble Lords pointed to bad examples of touting, and it would certainly be possible to add to what they have said this evening. However, before doing so I should like to say a word with regard to the needs and desires of tourists generally and not specifically overseas tourists. When tourists visit a city they want value for money; they want to see a clean city and do not want to feel that they have been ripped off. Those are some of the things that they hope will accompany their visit to a particular city.

This particular problem was first brought to my attention rather vividly when I attended a meeting of the American Bar Association in Chicago some years ago. Members of the American Bar were due to visit London the following year and great efforts were made on that occasion to sign people up for their visit. I recall that there were lots of forms to be filled out by Americans for tickets for West End theatre seats. We noticed that the price was expressed in dollars, but when we started to work the prices out we realised that they were around three times the price of the sterling value of a theatre ticket at that time.

Lord Monson

My Lords, the noble Lord has put his finger on it. He said "sterling value" but he meant "sterling price". Value and price are two different things, are they not?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, if the noble Lord wishes I will say "sterling price". However, the point is that that was more than just a booking fee, which in a sense every visitor expects to be added to the price of his ticket. A booking fee may be 20, 30 or even 40 per cent. but not several times the price of the original ticket.

Major and popular events are subject to monopoly supply—this may already have been said. There is not an expandable supply. As we know and as the noble Baroness pointed out, the needs of safety led to a decrease in supply at certain sports stadiums and for all I know in certain theatres.

The noble Lord, Lord Monson, said that law-abiding ticket touts were not capable of exploiting the market because people could go elsewhere. However, they exploit the market for their personal benefit and not for the benefit of the industry as a whole. Very often they also escape paying tax.

Noble Lords referred to particular aspects of ticket touting. I fear that it is something which appears to affect almost every quarter of the entertainment business. I have a quotation which has not been mentioned this evening so perhaps I may read it. It concerns rugby football. In the Newcastle-upon-Tyne Journal, and repeated in many other newspapers, Dudley Wood, secretary of the rugby union, said: Already, we cannot send tickets out for our internationals through the post. We have to use private vans. The police do not have adequate powers to combat what is a growing industry, a criminal industry. In Scotland at the weekend police were able to arrest touts because they did not have a trading licence". The Daily Express said: Wood said the law was different in Scotland and a police spokesman told him that six touts, who had £16,000 on them, were arrested at Murrayfield on Saturday". That related to the recent match at the end of March. It would appear therefore that the law in Scotland is slightly tighter and possibly easier to administer than this area of law in England, because that could never have been achieved on this side of the Border. The noble Baroness asked for licensing to be considered. If we brought our law more in line with Scotland we may move some way in that direction.

The other matter referred to was the problem of unofficial corporate hospitality —that is where a tent or temporary building is erected outside a site and people are provided with a package at some great price. Noble Lords quoted such large prices as £950 for lunch, a ticket and hospitality. The real iniquity of such a scheme is that those operations probably go through without tax being charged or paid but the profit from the operations goes into private hands, whereas the profit from official operations goes back into the industry. By allowing that unofficial hospitality one is depriving the industry of some of its much-needed funding.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, spoke of crime syndicates in New York being replaced by the judicious introduction of licensing. I only hope that when the Minister replies he will be able to promise that the Government will seriously consider the introduction of a licensing system so that anybody found selling a ticket could be asked to produce a licence in the same way as any street trader when selling his wares can be asked to produce a licence to show that he has the right to sell those wares.

Lord Monson

My Lords, I am sorry to interrupt the noble Lord again, but is he suggesting that someone who wants to sell their ticket and advertises in The Times should also need a licence?

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, that is a very interesting question. One often sees in The Times individual tickets advertised by people who wish to sell them. He is suggesting that a way round a licensing system may be found if people are able to advertise through the press on that basis. I think that that is something which should be looked at. If it is a way round a licensing law, then it is not something which is acceptable.

The licensing system we need should be administered by the local authority under regulations laid down by the Secretary of State. That is possibly the only way in which we will be able to tackle this problem. If when the Minister replies he feels that the Government are not in a position to move to a licensing system, I hope that what the noble Baroness and other noble Lords have said this evening will make him feel that his department should hold an inquiry into the matter.

8.40 p.m.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, it has been a pleasure and of great interest to listen to the views of all who have spoken tonight, particularly so because noble Lords obviously have an enormous amount of experience on this issue and also a certain strength of feeling and variety as to how we should go ahead. However, I feel that the subject is essentially a complex one and I should like to deal with all the points that have been made, or at least as many as possible.

First, it is most important to decide exactly what the law currently states. Ticket touting—that is, as normally understood, the sale of numbers of tickets for an event at more than the set price for commercial gain—is not an offence as such. However, there are some aspects of current legislation which have a bearing on the matter. Under the Consumer Protection Act, a code of practice for traders on price indications was introduced in March 1989. This recommends that those selling tickets should show the face value of the ticket so that customers can ascertain the profit margin and at that stage decide whether they are getting value for money. Although contravention of this advice is not an offence in itself, it is factor that could be taken into account in any proceedings deciding whether an offence had been committed.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, mentioned the law in Scotland. I know that the noble Lord has a great deal of experience and knowledge of this subject as he was president of the London Tourist Board. Perhaps I may explain more fully exactly what is the situation in Scotland. Section 55 of the Civic Government (Scotland) Act 1982 makes it an offence for anyone touting for business (or attempting to buy a ticket) to cause annoyance. The burden of proof for an offence under this Act is high. The injured party must report to a policeman that he has been offended, importuned or insulted by another person. The person who committed the offence is then in breach of the Act if he does not move on, having been told to go by the police. This legislation does not affect the sale of tickets through an advertised address and so it is relevant to only part of the activity of touting. It also has little to do with permits, as the noble Lord suggested it might.

Criminal activity per se, such as acts of violence or fraud, are punishable under the normal existing criminal legislation, as are various acts of disorder or obstruction. My noble friend Lady Gardner referred to stolen or forged tickets and used tickets.

The law already acts where there has been theft or forgery. Used tickets are something which the individual sports grounds themselves must take into account and endeavour to stop, as indeed they have been advised to do in the report of Lord Justice Taylor to which I shall refer shortly.

There have been many calls for the Government to legislate further to restrict touting. Unattractive though this activity may be in many respects, there are, however, dangers inherent in restricting what many would see as legitimate commercial activity in perhaps unduly limiting the scope of genuine ticket agencies to operate.

I now refer to the specific issue of football where Lord Justice Taylor has recommended that ticket touting outside football grounds should be made an offence. He makes clear in his report, however, that he considers the case of football to be unique in that he believes that the activities of touts are relevant to the public order problems that have beset football. His recommendations are being considered by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

In general, however, I must say that I believe that the main responsibility for reducing the scope of the ticket tout to operate must lie with the organisers of major sporting and other entertainments. It is the ease with which tickets can find their way on to the black market that leads to many of the difficulties that we have discussed this evening. There are many measures which organisers can take to control the issue of tickets and I know that, on occasions, they attach great importance to doing so as they usually wish to ensure that the people who obtain tickets are the genuine fans who sustain a sport.

I was therefore very interested to hear of the scheme which the PGA used last year to prohibit the resale of tickets at the Ryder Cup. My noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes referred to the scheme. The PGA and its approved ticket agency issued tickets which were valid only if issued by themselves and successfully obtained an injunction against a company which was advertising tickets. These tickets, by being sold other than through the approved outlet, were thereby invalid and the sellers were potentially defrauding their customers.

I think that that example shows that a legal remedy therefore exists at present for organisers of major events to take action to establish control of these events and ensure that the tickets go to those whom they wish to attend. I understand that the authorities at Wimbledon are looking at the possibility of a similar arrangement for next year's lawn tennis championships. I welcome the fact that the Wimbledon authorities have seen that the solution to the problem, if they feel they have one, lies firmly in their own hands. I know that my right honourable friend the Home Secretary is looking in detail at the PGA scheme and its further implications. I shall certainly convey to him the views that I have heard tonight.

My noble friend Lady Gardner and the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, referred to the high price of theatre tickets that are advertised abroad. It was a delight to hear the noble Lord, Lord Monson, intervene with a breath of fresh air. If someone can manage to sell tickets overseas at a price, that is thoroughly enterprising; but I must ask why the West End theatres themselves are not involved in selling tickets overseas and obtaining the price that they want rather than letting private entrepreneurs do it for them.

The noble Lord, Lord Jenkins of Putney, offered me, rather seductively I thought, universal praise if we were to introduce legislation on this matter. I am not certain that legislation would actually work. My noble friend Lady Gardner and noble Lords opposite suggested licensing. I do not believe that licensing would work. It is not a solution. We would have to divide individuals from corporate entities that might be indulging in this operation. It would mean even more work for local authorities which already have difficulties in carrying out their existing duties and I am not sure that it would be entirely fair to those people who legitimately want to set up and sell tickets.

The noble Earl, Lord Winchilsea, said that there should perhaps be signs in hotels to warn people of taxi and theatre ticket rip-offs. That is, essentially, probably a very good idea if people need to be warned.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said that unofficial corporate entertainment deprived industry of its funding. Again, I feel that the solution to the problem —if the industry feels that there is a problem in that money is deing diverted to other sources—is for the industry itself to act and endeavour to provide that the supply of tickets goes to the right kind of people so that they receive the return rather than the middleman.

In all of this discussion I feel that there is one fundamental problem —that is, that ticket touts, or whatever we choose to call them, provide for a demand. There will always be that demand. I carried out a certain amount of research this morning. If I had wanted to see "The Phantom of the Opera" this evening I would have had to pay between £125 and £195 for a ticket. However, at least I had the choice of going this evening and if I did not want to pay I could not go. As it happens, the show has already started and I am still here.

Perhaps I may sound a note of caution to those who seek legislation. The reason why London theatre tickets are so expensive when sold by a third party is their ease of supply, and because of the theatre's popularity. I would not wish to be here answering to a debate, promoted perhaps by the same people, about complaints that visitors were not coming to London because they could not get tickets by legitimate means because they had already been previously sold. That is always a danger of government muddling, if I may borrow the words of the noble Lord, Lord Monson.

I think the situation that we have at present is essentially a good one. The sports, cultural and entertainment promoters themselves can help solve the problems by being more particular to whom they sell tickets. I suspect that that is the problem in the long term.

Lord Jenkins of Putney

My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord would at least consider making a recommendation to his right honourable friend that the provision under the Consumer Protection Act be changed to a regulation so as to give it statutory functions and make it more possible to issue proceedings with a chance of succeeding.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I am certainly happy to pass on that request to my right honourable friend the Secretary of State. I would just make one point about the code of practice and whether it should be made statutory. The recommendation is that the price be put on the face of the ticket. I think that most people already do that. But if a person is willing to spend £100 on a ticket, I suspect that whether the ticket originally cost £10, £15 or £20 is probably irrelevant.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede

My Lords, I apologise for getting up again before the noble Lord sits down, but I do not think he answered the point which both the noble Baroness and I made, that if he was not prepared to consider legislation perhaps he might consider an inquiry into the problem.

Lord Strathclyde

My Lords, I do not really think an inquiry is needed. There has not been a great deal of fuss about this matter. Certainly, neither I, as Minister for Tourism, nor my department has received a single letter from an individual complaining about ticket touts or about being ripped off or exploited. I know the anxieties of the London Tourist Board, but I suspect that the best way to deal with the problem is to talk directly to the promoters and make sure they understand that there may be a problem in the way that they issue tickets.

House adjourned at seven minutes before nine o'clock.