Clause 19 - Power to impose conduct requirements

Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill – in the House of Commons am 1:51 pm ar 30 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Photo of Roger Gale Roger Gale Deputy Speaker and Chairman of Ways and Means, Deputy Speaker

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Lords amendment 12, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 13, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 19, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 26, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 27, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 28, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 31, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 32, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendment 38, Government motion to disagree, and Government amendment (a) in lieu.

Lords amendment 104, and Government motion to disagree.

Lords amendments 1 to 8, 10, 11, 14 to 18, 20 to 25, 29 to 30, 33 to 37, 39 to 103 and 105 to 148.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

It is a pleasure to bring this groundbreaking Bill back to the House. It will drive innovation and deliver better outcomes for consumers across the UK by addressing barriers to competition in digital markets and tackling consumer rip-offs. We believe it strikes the right balance, not deterring investment from big tech while encouraging investment from challenger tech. I thank Members of both Houses for their careful scrutiny and I commend the collaborative cross-party approach taken during the Bill’s passage to date.

I will start with the amendments that the Government made in the other place. They add vital new provisions to the Bill and I hope hon. Members will agree to them. Part 1 of the Bill establishes a new pro-competition regime for digital markets, which will be overseen and enforced by the Competition and Markets Authority’s digital markets unit. Following engagement with Members in the other place, we have bolstered transparency provisions to require the CMA to publish more of the notices provided to firms designated with strategic market status, or SMS.

All interested parties will now be able to access the information contained in those notices, ensuring that there is greater clarity on the DMU’s decisions relating to SMS designation, conduct requirements and pro-competition interventions. A number of hon. Members have called for provisions addressing asymmetry of information to be introduced to the Bill, so we hope this change will be welcomed.

On part 2 of the Bill, which deals with wider competition reforms, hon. Members will recall that on Report the Government added a provision on litigation funding, whose purpose was to restore the previously held understanding of the status of litigation funding agreements under the Competition Act 1998. Those provisions were important in providing a route to justice for groups with limited resources—for example, our sub-postmasters.

That step was taken in response to an earlier Supreme Court judgment that had made litigation funding agreements unenforceable. The Government have since acted by introducing the Litigation Funding Agreements (Enforceability) Bill, which will deliver on our commitment to addressing the impacts of that judgment in all types of proceedings. Consequently, the provisions in this Bill have been removed, as they are no longer required.

We also introduced new measures to part 2 to address concerns about the potential ownership of UK newspapers and news magazines by foreign states, as we heard very recently from the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport. The Government know that we cannot overstate the importance of those publications to our democracy and have therefore taken decisive action to preserve the freedom of the press. By establishing a new regime within the Enterprise Act 2002, the Bill will prevent foreign states from having ownership of, or control or influence over, a UK newspaper or news magazine.

The Government are extremely grateful for the support offered by Members of both Houses in the development of these new measures. In particular, we thank Baroness Stowell of Beeston and Lord Forsyth of Drumlean for their engagement, and my hon. Friend Alicia Kearns, who first secured a debate on the issue in January.

Parts 3 and 4 make important updates and improvements to UK consumer law. Having consulted on a series of reforms at the end of last year, the Government amended the Bill in the other place to introduce new measures that address fake reviews and drip pricing. Many hon. Members called for the Government to address those harms through the Bill, and I am pleased to say that we have been able to do so, following our public consultation.

We have also made amendments to further strengthen the ability of public bodies to enforce consumer law. We did so by extending so-called take-down powers to a wider range of enforcers. There has been a healthy debate in both Houses about the measures in the Bill aimed at tackling subscription traps. We listened carefully to the concerns expressed in the other place about the potential impact of those measures on charities and their ability to claim gift aid. In response, the Government amended the Bill to enable the Treasury to update gift aid rules. That mitigates any concerns about the Bill’s impact on charities. We are grateful to Lord Mendoza for highlighting the issue and for his engagement.

We also made a series of amendments to provide greater assurance and clarity for businesses about the new subscription measures, including addressing concerns about exiting contracts, cancellations, reminder notices and cooling-off periods. I hope that hon. Members agree that the amendments improve the Bill.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Liberal Democrats welcome the fact that the Government are finally acting on the CMA’s recommendation, but will the Government support amendment 104, which is backed by the Liberal Democrats? It is about imposing requirements on secondary ticket sites. Often, people purchasing tickets from the sites do so at huge mark-ups on the face value of the ticket, and the ticket in question does not actually exist. The amendment would address those issues, reducing the risk of fraud by requiring proof of purchase. Does the Minister agree that we must do everything we can to ensure that this legislation is as robust as possible, to crack down on this type of fraud?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention and for the amendment, which I will speak to in a moment. The Government have agreed to undertake a review of both primary and secondary markets, and I will deal with those issues later in my remarks. [Interruption.] I hear from the shadow Front-Bench spokespeople, but I think that is something that Labour proposed in earlier amendments, so obviously they have changed their position on that issue—not for the first time.

Finally, the Government made a number of minor amendments to the Bill in the other place. The majority are tidying-up measures, or otherwise small tweaks to the Bill, to ensure that it achieves its policy intent as effectively as possible.

I will now set out the Government’s position on the 11 non-Government amendments that were made to the Bill in the other place. The majority of the amendments seek to reverse or alter amendments made to the digital markets part of the Bill on Report in this House. There were three aims behind the Government’s package of amendments on Report in the Commons: first, to provide greater clarity to parties interacting with the regime; secondly, to strengthen the regime’s safeguards for the extensive new regulatory powers; and thirdly, to enhance the accountability of the regulator. The Government tabled the amendments following careful consideration of the views expressed by hon. Members across the House. We remain convinced that our amendments struck the right balance between the accountability of the CMA’s regulatory decisions and the flexibility to allow for targeted and proportionate action that tackles the unique competition challenges in digital markets.

Photo of Robert Buckland Robert Buckland Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, Chair, Northern Ireland Affairs Committee

My hon. Friend is right that the amendments that were agreed on Report in this House struck the right balance, and I am afraid that on this occasion I wholly disagree with the way their lordships characterised the matter in their debate. We are not arguing for a wholesale replication of the telecoms regime; we are simply making sure that, particularly with regard to penalties, which will be pretty onerous—and rightly so—there is proper discretion to allow a reviewing tribunal and reviewing court to consider the matter carefully, in a way that balances out the need for rigour and for temper when it comes to the power of the regulator.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade) 2:00, 30 Ebrill 2024

I thank my right hon. and learned Friend for his intervention and his earlier engagement, when he made his position on that point clear. He is right to say that penalties can be significant—up to 10% of global turnover—so it is fair that we allow organisations to challenge penalties on the merits of the case, but maintain the ability to impose pro-competition interventions and conduct requirements on platforms. The amendments made in the other place risk undermining that careful balance. For example, amendments to revert the appeals standard for fines to judicial review principles, to which my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Robert Buckland referred, would remove a valuable safeguard on the significant new powers that the Bill gives the CMA, as would the removal of the requirement on the CMA to act proportionately. Meanwhile, amendments to the countervailing benefits exemption risk making the exemption less clear for stakeholders. Consequently, the Government have tabled a motion to disagree with those amendments.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

The point about a “proportionate” response is relevant. In the original drafting of the Bill, the word used was “appropriate.” The Government changed that to “proportionate” on Report in this House, and the Lords have sought to reverse that change. What does the Minister think was disproportionate, if you like, about the word “appropriate”? What about it struck the wrong balance? Ministers keep saying that they think things strike the right balance, but they never really explain why.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

We have engaged significantly, throughout the Bill’s passage and before it was introduced, with large tech and challenger tech. Our understanding is that all those cohorts are happy with where the Bill is today. Certainly, during that engagement, concerns were raised about the term “appropriate,” but the clear position that we expressed to those who raised that concern was, “Of course, there is a requirement on the CMA to act proportionately.” Putting that in the Bill does not undermine its basic principles. In fact, we understand from the situation in the European Court of Human Rights, and the property rights emanating from it, that all those things are baked in anyway, so we do not feel that the wording weakens the legislation at all, but it does strike the right balance between those two different courts.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Ceidwadwyr, Kenilworth and Southam

It is clearly important that we understand what “proportionate” means in this context. Is the Government’s position that proportionality implies that there is more for the CMA to think about than just how effectively the imposition of a conduct requirement would fulfil the CMA’s requirements? If so, what can the Government do to make that clear, so that courts and tribunals that consider such cases do not fill in the gaps themselves? The words “appropriate” and “proportionate” could be interpreted quite widely if the Government are not clear about what they mean by them.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

My right hon. and learned Friend will know from his legal background that the term “proportionate” is well established in law. Of course, the courts play an important part here. We do not prescribe everything in our legislation; there is quite rightly the opportunity for people to challenge certain decisions by the CMA. Clearly, we are trying to reduce the ability of large tech to prevent investment from smaller tech. That is the balance that we are striking, but we do not want to discourage investment from big tech, so the requirement for the CMA to act proportionately is reasonable.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Ceidwadwyr, Maldon

The Minister suggested that stakeholders were now satisfied with the Bill. I can tell him that there is concern about the change from “appropriate” to “proportionate.” The fear is that it will enable the courts to look more broadly, and will allow more scope for challenge than was intended when the term “appropriate” was used. Can he confirm that that is not the Government’s intention?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

It is not our intention. Our intention is to strike a balance. As I have said, the courts’ approach to proportionality was set out by the Supreme Court in Bank Mellat v. Her Majesty’s Treasury (No. 2), when the Court described the elements to be considered, including, most notably,

“whether a less intrusive measure could have been used” and whether there is a fair balance between the intended objectives of the measure and the effects on the business that the measure applies to. That is a sensible balance to strike. Of course, some stakeholders want to go further in certain directions, while others do not want us to go as far, and we are trying to strike that balance. We welcome big tech’s investment in the UK, but we also welcome investment by challenger tech, and through this groundbreaking Bill—the only one of its kind in the world—we are striking that balance.

We have listened carefully to arguments relating to the Secretary of State’s approval of CMA guidance. Lords amendment 38, which was tabled by Lord Lansley, adds a timeline for the Secretary of State approving CMA guidance relating to the new regime. In response, we have tabled amendment (a) in lieu, which would achieve a similar effect by introducing a statutory 30-working-day timeline for the Secretary of State to approve the necessary guidance. We believe that that addresses concerns about the ability of the digital markets regime to start tackling competition problems without delay. We hope that hon. Members will support amendment (a).

On secondary ticketing, a non-Government amendment —to which Sarah Olney referred—was made in the other place to the consumer part of the Bill. Amendment 104, which was tabled by Lord Moynihan, seeks to introduce additional regulatory requirements on ticket resale sites. Those requirements would cover proof of purchase, ticket limits and the visibility of certain required information, such as the face value of a ticket. Both Lord Moynihan and Mrs Hodgson have spoken passionately on that topic during proceedings on the Bill. We are hugely grateful for their work highlighting the malpractice in the resale market.

To be clear, the Government are absolutely committed to protecting consumers from fraudulent activity in the secondary ticketing market. However, it is our view that protections for consumers are already provided by existing consumer law. The law imposes specific information requirements in relation to secondary ticketing that go above and beyond those in general consumer law. That includes the requirement for all resellers—be they traders or consumers—and secondary ticketing platforms to inform a buyer about the face value of a ticket and the restrictions on its use. The Government’s position is therefore that the secondary ticketing market is already suitably regulated. That said, we recognise the strength of feeling on this matter, which has been expressed by Members of the other place and in certain quarters of this House, so we commit today to undertaking a review of ticketing practices and how they impact on consumers. The review will look at both primary and secondary markets—in other words, sellers and resellers. We believe it important to consider both markets together.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I know that we have debated this point before, and I will discuss it further in my contribution, but I make the point again that there may be legislation, but it is not working. There have been only two prosecutions in all the time since the Consumer Rights Act 2015 was passed. If further legislation was not needed, why did we bring in legislation to protect tickets for the Olympics?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

It is not right to say that there have been only two prosecutions—

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I will just finish this answer. There have been two sentences. Two people got a £6.1 million fine. There were four more successful prosecutions in Leeds Crown court only very recently, and sentence is due to be imposed on those individuals. The hon. Lady raises important points, and did great work on the all-party parliamentary group, and I will always listen to her. We are undertaking a review looking at primary and secondary markets, and she will have every chance to give her input to that review, just as anybody else will. I look forward to hearing her representations.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

The Government claim that they are doing enough, but that is just not the case. Here is an example for the Minister: on secondary ticketing sites, three tickets for the Taylor Swift show on 21 June are going for £72,000. They had a face value of £170 each. How is the market working?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I agree that some of the examples are shocking. The key question is what measures we will put in place to address them. Ireland, for example, completely banned secondary sales, yet the prices seen on the internet are equivalent to what the hon. Lady describes, so there is no perfect solution that has already been tried. However, we are very happy to look at the evidence, look at what might be done, and do something that is effective, rather than crowd-pleasing. That is what we are committed to doing.

The reality is that some organisers are simply much more successful than others at preventing large-scale unauthorised resales. The ticket market is clearly evolving rapidly. Our review will therefore consider evidence from businesses and platforms operating in ticketing and resale markets, as well as venues, artists, enforcers and consumers. The Government intend the review to take place over nine months, after which we will consider any appropriate further action. [Hon. Members: “You won’t be there.”] Members who are commenting from a sedentary position should beware of overconfidence.

I very much hope that hon. Members will support the Government’s position today. I especially hope that Members in both Houses will note our movement in two important areas: the Secretary of State’s approval of CMA guidance for the new digital markets regime, and secondary ticketing. These changes are considered and balanced, and I urge Members in the other place to consider their position on the other amendments that our motions today seek to reject. Throughout the Bill’s passage, the Government have listened carefully to the arguments presented, and in response, we have made a series of significant changes where we recognise that improvements could be made. It is important that we now reach full consensus on the Bill’s final form, so that it reaches the statute book without further delay.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

First, I pay tribute to my much-loved neighbour, my hon. Friend Alex Davies-Jones, who led for Labour during the last round of proceedings on the Bill, and to my hon. Friend Seema Malhotra, who led for us when the Bill was introduced.

Might I say a few words about the Minister? I do love the Minister. Members sitting on the Government Back Benches will not have been able to see the little wry smile playing on his face as he made his speech. Unfortunately, Hansard is not able to record that element of the way he presented his case. I will let the House into a secret: there are two versions of the Minister, or rather the Member. There is the Back-Bench Member, who I passionately agree with on nearly everything, and then there is the Government Minister, who has the Back-Bench Member sitting inside him somewhere, but has managed to lose him while taking on corporate and shared responsibility on the Government Front Benches. I bet that if he were in the Parliament that follows the next general election, and we debated these matters all over again, he would be articulating what I am about to say almost word for word, but today, he has articulated the Government position.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

Of course I will, to the right hon. Gentleman—another gentleman for whom I have a great deal of respect, and with whom I occasionally disagree.

Photo of John Whittingdale John Whittingdale Ceidwadwyr, Maldon

I just wonder whether the transformation that the hon. Gentleman describes, which occurs when somebody moves from the Back Benches to the Front Bench, applies equally to the Opposition and the Government.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

The right hon. Gentleman knows more about bobbing between the Back Benches and the Front Bench than most Members of Parliament in history, I think. It is obviously a problem; I do believe in shared responsibility of Government—we want Governments to act as a single body, and not irresponsibly—so I understand, but none the less, it is perfectly appropriate to tease the Minister when he has such a wry smile on his lips.

This Bill is a classic instance of how the Tory chaos of the past few years has been bad for Britain. It is long overdue, as the Minister said: it started in the Commons more than a year ago, on 25 April 2023, and it is so delayed that the carry-over motion had to be carried over. I cannot remember that happening for many years, but the Government had to do it last week. The Bill used to strike the right balance between the needs of different parts of the market, but Sir John Whittingdale was absolutely right to say that many stakeholders are certainly not happy with where the Government have landed. Intense lobbying of Downing Street from some parts of the market has led to the Government tabling amendments that would fatally undermine the Bill’s purpose and make it impossible for the CMA to do the job that we want it to do, namely, ensure fair competition in digital markets in the interests of consumers, investors and wider society.

I remind Members of what Sir Robert Buckland has said—it is good to see him in his place. He said that this is

“a market that is vulnerable—and, some would say, prone—to monopolistic abuse of market power.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2023;
Vol. 741, c. 58.]

During the first Second Reading debate on 17 May last year, the Minister said that

“competition must work hand in hand with consumer protections.”—[Official Report, 17 May 2023;
Vol. 732, c. 880.]

That is spot on, so why ruin the Bill? This is the nub of the matter. Saqib Bhatti said on Report that

“a small number of firms exert immense control across strategically critical services online because the unique characteristics of digital markets, such as network effects and data consolidation, make them prone to tip in favour of a few firms.”—[Official Report, 20 November 2023;
Vol. 741, c. 51.]

Again, he was absolutely right, but what the Government are doing today helps to tip the legislation back in favour of those few firms. It is a mistake. They pretend otherwise—the Minister has said that the amendments will not make any difference. In that case, why table them?

In an attempt to save the Government from themselves, the Lords have tried to return the Bill to its original shape with four sets of amendments, which I will now go through. The first set, Lords amendments 9 and 19, deals with proportionality. The original Government version of the Bill said that the CMA’s conduct in regulating digital markets had to be “appropriate”. The Government then changed that to “proportionate”. Lords amendment 9 would change it back to “appropriate”. I believe that the Government version would, in effect, render any challenge to the CMA’s conduct a test of the merits, rather than a judicial review, and provide big tech firms with limitless legal budgets with even more scope to tie the CMA up in lengthy legal wrangling. Jarndyce v. Jarndyce in the Court of Chancery would have nothing on the CMA in the High Court. The Government seem to be deliberately clipping the wings of the CMA, and Labour agrees with their lordships that in this area, the Bill should be returned to its original form.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Ceidwadwyr, Kenilworth and Southam 2:15, 30 Ebrill 2024

How would a tribunal consider the appropriateness of a CMA intervention without considering the detail and merit of it?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

The point is that either the change is necessary because a new and different measure is being adopted by the Government, in which case it is a lower threshold and therefore inappropriate, or the change makes no difference whatsoever, in which case it is unnecessary. The normal standards for deciding whether an amendment is appropriate would lead us to ask, “Is it necessary, or does it provide a good remedy?” I do not think that either is the case, which is why Labour does not support the Government’s wording.

The second set of amendments, Lords amendments 12 and 13, deal with countervailing benefits. Just to prove that Labour Members speaking from the Dispatch Box are very consistent with one another, my next sentence was effectively said by my hon. Friend the Member for Pontypridd in a previous debate: the countervailing benefits exemption allows the Competition and Markets Authority to close an investigation of a breach of a conduct requirement if a firm can demonstrate that its anti-competitive conduct produces benefits that outweigh the harm and are therefore indispensable. On Report in the Commons, the Government significantly reduced the threshold for that exemption, removing the word “indispensable” and merely requiring that

“those benefits could not be realised without the conduct”.

It sounds the same, but it is different—subtly but importantly different. The Lords amendments would remove that paragraph and alter the next line so that it reads

“the conduct is indispensable and proportionate to the realisation of those benefits”.

I will make two points in this area. First, as I think everybody accepts, the “indispensable” standard is a well-understood concept in UK competition law: it is used in the Competition Act 1998, which I do not believe to be as outmoded as some Members have suggested. Secondly, the courts would interpret Parliament’s deliberate move away from an existing, well-understood standard as intending to create a new, lower threshold, which again will inevitably allow the big tech firms greater scope to launch complex legal challenges.

If the Government really do not see any distinction between the two thresholds, the most obvious compromise would be to reinstate the word “indispensable” alongside the Bill’s new wording and to clarify, today at the Dispatch Box and in the Bill’s explanatory notes, that the “indispensable” standard and the new form of words inserted by the Government have an identical meaning. Otherwise, there is a risk that the courts will seek to explore further whether Parliament has deliberately created a new threshold and standard.

I simply say to the Minister that I remember, when he was on the Back Benches and we had lengthy discussions about the powers of Companies House, that he was very keen on making sure that Companies House had the powers it needed to do proper investigations. He regularly made the point that lots of people have very deep legal pockets, and that does not necessarily mean that the consumer always wins out. I would argue that it is the same in this case.

Lords amendments 26 to 28 to clause 89 and Lords amendments 31 and 32 to clause 103 relate to appeals. The Bill originally had judicial review as the appeal standard for all CMA decisions under part 1, but in the Commons the Government moved to merits appeals for penalty decisions. I accept that this is only about penalty decisions, but I none the less believe that it is dangerous because, while the new regime is intended to be collaborative, it is ultimately the threat of fines that will incentivise big tech firms to comply with the CMA’s decisions. If there is no prospect of a fine, whether large or small, those large tech firms may well decide to be less collaborative.

There is the even greater danger that merits appeals on penalty decisions bleed back across the Bill into regulatory decisions, giving big tech firms greater scope to frustrate and challenge the CMA’s decisions. While it is correct that the courts are generally able to distinguish between judicial review and merits elements of appeals—that point has been made in previous debates by the former Attorney General, Sir Jeremy Wright—it does not eliminate the concern about the two bleeding into each other, especially if the two streams take place together in the same case. If the Government are unable to reinstate judicial review appeals across part 1, as we would prefer, a clarificatory amendment should be inserted in the Bill to provide certainty that appeals on penalties cannot impact on other regulatory decisions to eliminate scope for speculative challenges.

It is worth bearing in mind that the chief executive of the CMA has made it clear that the authority wants the judicial review standard to apply. She welcomed effective judicial scrutiny of its decisions, but said:

“We think that the JR standard achieves that.”

She went on to say that her experience of merits appeals was that they result in

“very protracted litigation”, making it

“a lot harder to reach constructive, collaborative outcomes”, because

“all eyes are on that litigation process.”––[Official Report, Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Public Bill Committee, 13 June 2023;
c. 7, 8, Q4.]

Let me come on to the matter of ticket touting, and Lords amendment 104. I start by thanking Lord Moynihan—a Conservative peer, of course—for tabling this amendment and for his significant work across many years. When I have not agreed with every sentence from my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson on this subject, I have sometimes felt the scratches on my back from her very elegant fingernails, but she has also done enormous work, and I think she is much to be praised for it. There are many others in the House of whom that is true as well, including all those sitting next to her on the back row, who I am sure will catch your eye later, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I start from a very simple principle: the value of a ticket—whether for the rugby, the football or a gig at the O2—is created by the artists, the promoters and, above all, the fans. Yes, the secondary ticketing market can help all three, because sometimes people buy more tickets than they need or are unable to attend for whatever reason, but the abuse of the secondary market can lead to artists, promoters and fans all losing out, and abuse is rife.

I will take an example of a case that has already been through the courts. It is that of Lynda Chenery, Mark Woods, Maria Chenery-Woods and Paul Douglas, who bought and resold concert tickets worth £6.5 million. They bought them on primary sites, including Ticketmaster, before reselling them on secondary ticketing platforms, such as Viagogo, at inflated prices. They used endless tricks, including sending customers ripped envelopes to imply that the tickets had been lost in transit or using fraud juice, which involved the use of Tipp-Ex correcting fluid or more sophisticated digital methods, to amend tickets. They held their customers in open derision. Having scammed one person into paying £535 for a ticket for the Harry Potter west end show, they referred to him in an email as “another idiot”. These people are despicable parasites preying on fans, and we need to go far further to address this issue.

This practice prices many fans out of the market and adds no value whatsoever to the creative process, at a time when creators are in desperate need of making a living out of their craft. In 2016, one ticket for Adele at the O2 arena in London was listed on GetMeIn for £24,840, which is 290 times the face value of the ticket. Nobody in the Rhondda would be to afford such a ticket. Incidentally, Wimbledon faces exactly the same set of problems.

Viagogo is today selling two tickets for Pink at the Millennium stadium in Cardiff on 11 June for £498 each. I think the fans could perfectly legitimately start shouting:

“What about us?

What about all the plans that ended in disaster?”

It is not obvious what the original price was for those tickets. On Viagogo, people can get one ticket for Peter Kay at the O2 on 4 May for £302, or tickets for “The Book of Mormon”—it has been in the theatre for several years, and is a wonderful, hilarious show—on 4 May at £420 each. In a way, the one that upsets me the most is that tickets for the ballet “The Winter’s Tale” at the Royal Opera House on 3 May—a Friday night—are £1,006 each, but people can buy those tickets from the Royal Opera House for £140, because there is taxpayer involvement in supporting the Royal Opera House.

We could say the same of StubHub, on which two standing tickets for Doja Cat in Glasgow on 11 June with a face value of £162 are selling at £1,002. This is a pernicious industry. It is parasitical, it does nothing for the creative industries in this country and we must tackle it.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I waited until my hon. Friend got to the end of all those disgraceful, abhorrent examples. Will he clarify for me a fallacy that the touts often put around about me and my hon. Friends—they will say the same about him? They say that we want to stop people being able to resell their tickets when they cannot go—they have bought them in good faith and genuinely cannot go. Will he clarify that that is not what any of us seeks to do? I of course want people to be able to resell their tickets, but at face value. Does he agree?

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

I completely agree, and that is Labour party policy. I am used to fallacies being written about me, and I have seen many written about my hon. Friend as well. I am sure we will all get over it. Incidentally, that is why, as I shall come on to say later, it is very important that we have a free press that is able to say what it wants, free from the intervention of state owners from other countries.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Of course, it is perfectly legitimate for somebody who has bought a couple of tickets for Saturday night and who suddenly finds that they are ill, that they have to go to a family engagement or that they have bought tickets for the wrong night to be able to sell them on at face value, or perhaps for a little bit more simply to cover the cost of administration and things like that. However, this is a market that is not working. It is an example of market failure, not an example of market success.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

My fingernails are nothing like as bad. Does my hon. Friend agree that the problem is actually worse than just the prices he quoted, of which he gave some really good and powerful examples, because of the selling of tickets that do not actually exist—fraudulent tickets? I have heard from a number of venues about the selling of tickets that should go to carers or young people. People are turning up at events such as those at the O2 and other venues with these tickets and being turned away, often when they have travelled to London and paid for hotels. So there is all the disappointment and the financial loss of that on top of the ticket prices.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

I completely agree, and my hon. Friend is absolutely right. There are terrible instances of all sorts of different scams, and—this is the honest truth—remarkably few prosecutions. Whether the number is two, four or five, it should be in the hundreds. [Interruption.] Six—half a dozen—great!

The truth is that we all know instances from our constituencies of people who have faced precisely these problems. I have had constituents say to me, “I feel too embarrassed to own up to having bought these tickets.” I remember going past the Millennium stadium in Cardiff, or Arms Park in the old days, and we all despised the ticket touts, just as we did outside a Kate Bush concert or whatever. Sometimes, however, we were just so desperate that we bought the tickets, and they of course turned out to be fraudulent or non-existent, or they were allocated to specific kinds of people that did not include us. All those points are worth making, and I would add this one: all local authorities have trading standards offices but many are now so depleted because of the state of local government finances that it is very difficult for anybody to get proper recompense and a deal.

The Lords amendment—[Interruption.] I am sorry, I am not sure whether the Parliamentary Private Secretary, Alexander Stafford, was seeking to intervene. [Interruption.] Indeed, he is not allowed to, poor thing; he is silenced. Lords amendment 104 does the bare minimum. It would require facilities to accept postings only if they provide evidence of purchase from the primary market, it would limit the resale of more tickets than a single customer can buy on the primary market, and it would require clear information on the face value and trader’s business name and address on the first page of a secondary ticketing facility. That is simply not seen on any of these sites today.

If the Conservative Government refuse to act, Labour will. We will bring these measures in and go further, restricting the resale of tickets at more than a small set percentage over the price the original purchaser paid, including fees. Fans have been waiting for far too long. A Labour Government would end the pernicious and predatory ticket touting and put fans back at the heart of music, cultural and sporting events, where they belong. And if I might just say so, the idea of a review—

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

Well, we have moved on and it is about time the Government moved on—in fact I look forward to the day when the Minister moves on from Government Benches to here on the Opposition Benches. The idea of a review at the dog end of a Parliament and at the end of the regime is absolutely pathetic, and I am glad the Minister is laughing at himself for even presenting the suggestion today.

Let me end with an area of agreement. We were glad that the Government, under pressure, tabled Lords amendment 117 on mergers involving newspaper enterprises and foreign powers along the lines of measures that we and others, including a large number of Conservative MPs and peers, had called for. Of course the UK must remain an open economy; we welcome foreign investment in many sectors in the UK. But we agree that in this limited area, the state ownership of UK newspaper and media companies must be a matter for concern, which is why we support the Lords amendment. We will need to make sure in future years that it is adequate to the situation we find, not least bearing in mind many of the comments made earlier by Members on both sides of the House regarding the rather fluid world we are moving into, where newspapers are a rather outdated concept and social media and other forms of online media are far more significant. We will keep that under review, therefore, but we welcome the amendment the Government have tabled.

This long-delayed Bill could go forward with strong, unanimous support if the Government abandoned their tilt towards the few potentially monopolistic companies and set aside their objections to the Lords amendments. Those objections are either completely otiose or they are dangerous. The Minister says they make no difference, I say they do, but on either grounds they should go, so we support their lordships in their amendments.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

May I start by saying that this was and still is a good Bill? It does an enormous number of very important things and I am glad to see that it has broad acceptance and agreement on both sides of the House, although with some minor points of disagreement. It contains many of the measures that I personally called for in my Government-commissioned review of competition policy called “Power to the people” a little while ago, and it definitely updates and makes some much-needed changes to our competition and consumer laws. However, I share some of the concerns raised today about the Government’s opposition to four of the amendments that have come back from the Lords.

I do not have worries about the Lords amendments themselves because, as we have just heard from the Opposition Front-Bench spokesperson Sir Chris Bryant, they mainly seek to restore the effect of clauses that were in the Bill when it originally came to this House. What worries me is that the wrong people are clapping. The changes that the Government have made, in many cases by seeking to resist Lords amendments, seem to many people to be on the side of the big tech firms rather than on the side of consumers, of sharper competition, of more consumer choice and of standing up for the man and woman in the street. I therefore earnestly hope that the Minister will be able to channel his historical zeal for these things in his closing remarks and reassure me, and I am sure others as well, that that is not the Government’s intention and that they remain committed to those things—that the fire still burns brightly in his eyes to make them happen.

I start by saying that the Government have already done some of that work with amendment (a) in lieu of Lords amendment 38—they have replaced the Lansley amendment with a version of their own—dealing with the amount of time that the Secretary of State can take in dealing with guidance put forward by the CMA to make sure it is not unduly delayed. That is extremely welcome and a very good measure, and I enthusiastically support it. However, we have already heard about two other things in particular. One is the role of judicial review in dealing with penalties. I share the concern that in moving away from a judicial review standard for penalties to a full merits review we may get bleed-across—that clever lawyers working for big tech firms may effectively be able to broaden the scope through clever use of legal techniques to prolong their attempts to walk backwards slowly and prevent justice from being done. I therefore devoutly hope that my good friend the Minister will be able to clarify that he expects to be able to show to us—either from the Dispatch Box now, or in guidance or another kind of clarification in due course—that it will not be possible for bleed-across to happen and he will be able to take any steps that may be needed.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I am very happy to make that commitment. We believe the Bill draws a clear distinction between infringement decisions and penalty decisions. After taking legal advice on this matter and looking at previous competition case law considering similar issues, the Government consider that neither the Competition Appeal Tribunal nor the higher courts will have any trouble making that distinction for digital markets appeals. We have clarified that in the explanatory notes, which I hope provides reassurance that there is little risk of bleed-back from the merits appeal standard for penalty appeals to appeals on other types of decisions.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

I thank the Minister for that intervention and, emboldened by my success so far in getting him to front up, I move on to my second point, which has similar concerns around it: the issue of countervailing benefits. We have heard from the Opposition spokesman about that, so I will not go through it all again, but it would be enormously helpful if, either now in a further intervention or in his closing remarks, the Minister could be clear about the new wording, which we have already heard about in his speech. I hope he will make it clear—again, either through clarifications now or in guidance—that it is not intended to be in any way a lower standard than what we had before when this Bill first came to the House, and that it is either the same or tougher. I am pausing just briefly to see whether he wants to intervene.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

He does, which is marvellous.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

The revised wording did not change the effects of the clause. Strategic market status firms will still have to prove that there is no other reasonable and practicable way to achieve the same benefits for consumers with less competitive effect.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

We are making marvellous progress and ending up with changes being confirmed on the Floor of the House in a way I do not think I have seen before, so let us keep going.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

I am sure this will be an equally constructive intervention, of course.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

Would it not be even more helpful if the Minister were to say he would change the explanatory memorandums as well?

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

I am sure the Minister will grab that opportunity in his closing remarks, if he so wishes. At least he has taken the opportunity to stand up and give us public reassurances on the record about the standard that is intended. It is clear that it is no lower than it originally was, which is an important change.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

The shadow Minister and I are having this debate vicariously, but I just note that the wording in the explanatory notes has not changed.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

I am on a roll here.

The final of the four issues in question is proportionality. We have had the debate already, so I do not propose to repeat the concerns, but it would be helpful if the Minister, either now or in his closing remarks, clarified that the new and amended standard that is to be applied is no lower. I think he said something to that effect earlier to the former Attorney General, my right hon. and learned Friend Sir Jeremy Wright, but it would be helpful just to nail that one down and drive the nail home, if the Minister can. It is important for everybody to understand whether that new standard is any lower at all; it should be the same or higher.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

The Minister is nodding, but I do not know whether he intends to intervene again.

Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Ceidwadwyr, Weston-Super-Mare

We will have to preserve our souls in patience for the Minister’s closing remarks. I will declare victory very shortly. It has been a helpful set of interventions, and I thank him for that.

My final point is not related to these Lords amendments, but to a commitment that the Minister made at the Dispatch Box on Report in response to an amendment on better regulation that I had tabled with the support of a great number of parliamentary colleagues. He made a commitment that a set of conclusions, matching a set of standards whose wording he and I had agreed in advance, would be in place before the Bill receives Royal Assent. Clearly we are getting close to that date—I hope very close—and I understand that a Government White Paper may be in the offing, but I am not sure whether that will arrive before Royal Assent. My point is intended not to delay Royal Assent, but to bring forward the White Paper or whatever document the Government may be thinking of.

Based on conversations I have had so far, I am also concerned that not all the commitments the Minister made from the Dispatch Box may be in that White Paper. I therefore urge him to make sure that between now and Royal Assent, he works assiduously with his fellow Ministers to make sure they have got the memo that should gone round after he made those commitments.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Trade), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Business)

Scottish National party Members continue to support this Bill, and we support each of the Lords amendments. Notwithstanding the rather dizzying pinball rattle of interventions that went on between the Minister, the shadow Minister and John Penrose, I will be a bit of a traditionalist stick-in-the-mud and stick to the wording in the amendments and the Bill, no matter what references might be made subsequently to the ghosts of debates past in Hansard.

On Lords amendment 9 and “proportionate” versus “appropriate”, it might seem to people outside this Chamber that we are dancing on a pinhead, but such distinctions matter. It is important that decisions of the Competition and Markets Authority should be allowed to stand wherever they deserve to, but that means not allowing unnecessary wriggle room to creep in for entities with deep pockets to challenge decisions not on the basis of principle, but on the grounds of what those entities consider proportionate. We consider that replacing the word “proportionate” is appropriate in this case, and we support the Lords amendment on that basis.

Lords amendment 13 reinserts the word “indispensable”. As the shadow Minister said, that term is well understood in competition law, but it also happens to be proportionate and appropriate in this case. It is entirely possible to envisage anti-competitive behaviour that can bring about consumer benefit either as a direct or indirect consequence, but we are clear that any benefits that arise should be such that they cannot be done without or forgone and that the test should be set accordingly.

With Lords amendments 26, 28, 31 and 32, we have believed throughout the Bill’s passage that the judicial review level is the appropriate appeals standard, rather than a full merits review. That is why we support those Lords amendments.

Finally, amendment 104 would introduce new requirements on secondary ticketing. We have heard in a number of interventions about the frankly astronomical, larcenous, almost confiscatory charges that are put on some tickets for certain events in the secondary market. It is important to note that it is not just about the price of the ticket; a considerable set of other economic choices go on around the purchasing of a ticket, including travel to and from the gig, the other tickets that people are buying, accommodation and food and drink. It is a huge financial and emotional investment for many families to go to some of those events, whether they are the highest profile events or something just of particular interest to that family or friendship group. We should be doing our utmost to provide the best protections for people who seek to achieve these experiences when spending their hard-earned money.

The Minister has announced a review of secondary ticketing to report in nine months’ time. I will not be as churlish as the shadow Minister; I can muster at least two cheers for that, although Alex Davies-Jones was right that this Government are unlikely to be in place to carry through the recommendations if they report on a nine-month timescale. The House should be in doubt that the course of action before us today that could have the greatest impact on the secondary ticket market would be to pass the modest, reasonable recommendations before us in Lords amendment 104.

I will draw my remarks to a close. I hope that this is the last time we see this Bill coming through this Chamber. As I say, we support the Bill, but it is not beyond improvement, even at this late stage. In our view, it could certainly be improved, were the Government simply to do the right thing and accept the amendments before us today.

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee) 2:45, 30 Ebrill 2024

I will speak briefly on the question that I raised earlier in the debate about the change of language from “appropriate” to “proportionate” and follow on from the remarks of my hon. Friend John Penrose. On one level, what the Minister is saying now—similar to what the Minister in the House of Lords, Lord Camrose, said in the debates there—is that proportionality is implicit in the law anyway and that the rights an organisation would have under article 1 of the European convention on human rights would apply anyway. Ministers are saying that bringing this language into the Bill is therefore a tidying-up exercise that re-emphasises rights that people already have. On another level, Ministers are also saying that this change creates a better balance, which means that there will be some change in how things work. It is important at this point that the House is clear about what is intended with this change.

There is a concern that the change effectively opens up a full merits appeal basis, which we have been keen to avoid doing in all the debates on this Bill as it has gone through both Houses. The Government have rightly resisted calls from big tech companies to bring that in, because it is a recipe for multiple and lengthy litigations, just as with every single measure of tech regulation that exists as a whole. That is not the intention.

Let us say that a company may be guilty of overcharging in an app store, but the cost to the consumer is relatively low. Would an intervention from the CMA be proportionate? Overcharging in the mobile app market may exist, but ultimately companies are happy to pay it and it is a relatively small charge. Would a big intervention by the CMA be a proportionate response? There are so many competing priorities, and often the individual consumer cost of some of these measures would be low, but there is the business significance of a company self-preferencing a service to the exclusion of other companies from the market. The company might say, “There is no particular consumer detriment to this, because the price is relatively low”, but it drives strategic market status. We have already seen in the European Union with the Digital Markets Act that the companies are challenging the designation of strategic market status, and they are looking for grounds to challenge at every opportunity, and we must expect that they will do the same thing here as well. That is why we should be clear that we are clear about what we mean.

My hon. Friend the Member for Weston-super-Mare invited the Minister to say that effectively, in terms of enforcement and how the courts should interpret it, the change should not make any difference from the original drafting. He invites the Minister to say that we should not be concerned that moving from “appropriate” to “proportionate” is moving from saying that the regulator should do what is within its rights to do—it is appropriate because it has the power to do it and it has made an intervention based on that power—to saying, “Even if it was appropriate for it to do it, it should not have done it, because it was disproportionate.” What would the grounds for that disproportionality be?

It is really important that the guidance to the legislation makes clear what we should expect on how the CMA can determine to find what it believes are proportionate responses, with that not being easy to dismiss on the grounds that the cost to consumers may be relatively low or the impact limited to a certain area of business.

Photo of Jeremy Wright Jeremy Wright Ceidwadwyr, Kenilworth and Southam

My hon. Friend is, as ever, making a good case. As he knows, I agree with him about the need for the Government to be clear about what these terms really mean. One thing that we are not talking about today but which is linked to the question of definitions is what we mean by “consumer benefit”. Does he agree that there may be a difference between benefit to the current consumer and a benefit to the future consumer and that we should be clear in the Bill, should we not, that “consumer benefit” includes future consumers as well as current ones?

Photo of Damian Collins Damian Collins Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee), Chair, Draft Online Safety Bill (Joint Committee)

My right hon. and learned Friend makes an important point. We could have a digital service provided for free, self-preferenced by a big company, offering a new service to its customers—how could there be a consumer detriment in that? But a consequence of that could be constriction of the market and the driving out of other businesses. The mobile mapping market is a really good example: Google Maps and Apple Maps totally dominate a market that used to have multiple competing companies in it. Now it does not, and there could be future consumer detriment in that.

That is why it is important that this is an ex-ante regime, which anticipates not just the detriment that may exist now, but future consequences. That is such an important principle for digital markets, which have tended to see the consolidation of market power in the hands of a relatively small number of players, who often do not compete against each other directly but dominate certain sections of the market, be it through the mobile ad market, search and retail.

There are only in effect two app stores, and given the lack of interoperability, they are virtually monopolies. We see those things already, and the development of large language model systems and the massive acquisition of data required for AI to run them is consolidating that market largely into the hands of the five or six companies that have enough data to be effective operators within it. That means that, in the future digital market world, any challenger tech developer will have to access its market and customers through the services provided by a relatively small number of companies. That is important.

I would be grateful if the Minister said in winding up whether he believes that the Bill offers a better balance. Has that balance changed, or has it not, and it is just a question of language and interpretation of meaning? What does it mean? I hope we all agree that, through making this change, we are not seeking to open up the legislation to wider judicial challenge, with more ruling through the courts, more lengthy delays and costs to try to bring forward the CMA’s interventions.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I rise to speak against the Government motion to disagree with Lords amendment 104. As we have already heard, the amendment seeks to safeguard fans from fraudulent abuse, which is rife in the secondary ticketing market. It is an important amendment on an issue that, as we have heard—it is worth saying again—has had much work invested in it by my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson and her colleagues on the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse. It also had great attention in the music industry, which is loud in its support for tackling ticket touting. Anyone who has tried to buy a ticket for a popular concert knows the frustration of losing out on tickets, only then to see the same tickets at 10 times the price on the secondary market.

Touting goes deeper than mere frustrations: it prices fans out of attending music, cultural and sports events; it damages the relationship between venue, artist and fan; and it undermines confidence in our live music industry. Yet, despite the calls of major UK music industry bodies, including UK Music and Live music Industry Venues & Entertainment, the Government have consistently failed to act.

Last year, the Government rejected the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority to strengthen legislation and protect UK consumers from illegal practices in the secondary ticketing market. At the time, the CMA warned that unless there was reform, illegal reselling prices would become worse. Lords amendment 104 would implement the recommendations of the Competition and Markets Authority to provide safeguards for consumers. Those are basic protections, such as ensuring that a reseller cannot sell more tickets than they can legally purchase on the primary market, and ensuring that tickets cannot be sold without proof of purchase. It is deeply disappointing that the Government cannot commit even to those basic safeguards.

Under the Government’s watch, the situation has become much worse. In 2007, there were an estimated 150 full-time ticket touts in the UK. Now there are about 4,000 touts attacking ticket systems for UK events, using bots to harvest tickets in bulk. Instead of being used as a resale platform for fans who can no longer make it to an event, ticketing websites are increasingly being used by large-scale touts who harvest tickets on the primary platform—using bots to skip the queue—and sell them on at many times the original price, sometimes speculatively. Ordinary fans do not stand a chance against that; they are the ones who are losing out. The situation has become so bad that police forces in some areas are having to launch public awareness campaigns warning about ticket touts after hundreds of reports of ticket fraud.

Lloyds Banking Group was recently forced to issue a warning to its customers about the risk of buying resold tickets after 600 of its customers reported being scammed when they tried to buy resale tickets for Taylor Swift’s Eras tour. It has been estimated that resale for the UK leg of that tour alone has led to more than £1 million being lost to fraudsters so far. That is happening despite clear messaging from the promoters of the tour that resale tickets bought outside approved channels will be turned away at the door.

As I said earlier, the Government can claim that they are doing enough, and the Minister seems happy with that, but he should look again at those secondary ticketing sites, where he will see three tickets for Taylor Swift’s show on 21 June going for over £72,000. That obviously shows a completely malfunctioning, dysfunctional market.

The Minister cannot claim that the market is functioning for fans and artists—it is actually functioning for touts and the platforms they use. Lords amendment 104 is just one measure that would begin to counter the damage done by ticket touts. I am glad to say that Labour has now committed to going a step further.

Labour would significantly strengthen consumer rights legislation to restrict the resale of tickets at more than a small set percentage over the price the original purchaser paid for it, including fees. Labour would limit the number of tickets that individual resellers can list to the number that individuals can legitimately buy via the original platform. Labour would make platforms accountable for the accuracy of information about the tickets they list for sale, and would ensure that the Competition and Markets Authority has the powers it needs to take swift and decisive action against platforms and touts in order to protect consumers.

The Minister cannot keep sticking his head in the sand. As the Competition and Markets Authority warned in 2021, illegal reselling practices have become worse due to a lack of action. We are now getting to a situation where artists and venues are on the cusp of losing the ability to sell tickets to genuine fans at an affordable price, and working families are being priced out of seeing their favourite artists or their favourite sports team.

Music, culture and sports events must not just be for the elite—the people who can afford thousands of pounds. How can the Government and the Minister justify their opposition to Lords amendments that would keep open access for fans to sport, to arts and to culture? I hope that he will listen to Opposition Members and not press the motion to disagree with this reasonable and modest amendment.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

I welcome the opportunity to speak in this debate, and it is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Barbara Keeley, who is doing some great work in this area, formulating our policy for when we will hopefully be in government after the election. I am speaking in the debate in my capacity as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse and to support Lords amendment 104, which relates to the secondary ticketing market.

Before I begin, I reiterate that the sole purpose of the amendment is to protect British consumers from organised crime and to reduce the harm caused by the unlawful and exploitative activities of online ticket touts. Aspects of the amendment have already been recommended by the Competition and Markets Authority, which recognised back in 2021 that the UK needs stronger legislation to tackle the resale of tickets. It is not just me who has been banging on about this since forever—the CMA is also calling for it, having looked at the market for many years.

It has to be said that Lords amendment 104 will not come with any cost to the UK taxpayer either. If it fails to become law, the only beneficiaries will be scammers, fraudsters and the overseas websites that they operate from. So Members will be voting either in the interests of the British public or in the interests of ticket touts.

The Minister said in his opening remarks that all Opposition Members are doing is crowd-pleasing; I am sure I heard his words correctly. I think he will find that the crowd all have votes. This has been a fan-led campaign. Perhaps pleasing the crowd is not always a bad idea. We are here to represent the people, after all. For too long, this Government have allowed an online black market for ticket resale to thrive via websites such as Viagogo, StubHub, Gigsberg, Ticombo and Seatsnet. The public—the crowd, as the Minister called them—are sick to death of it.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care) 3:00, 30 Ebrill 2024

I commend my hon. Friend for all her work over a very long period on this important issue. It is important to support the Lords amendment because so many of our constituents are deprived of even the chance of getting a ticket for a sports match, pop concert or whatever, as they cannot beat the bots. Is that not the inherent unfairness?

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

It absolutely is. It is not a level playing field at all. I was going to come to the bots, and the fact that nobody has yet been put behind bars for having used bots, even though they are illegal, and are the tool that touts use to harvest tickets, so that they can scam the rest of the population and all our constituents. I am happy to stand here and crowd-please—I will do it until my dying breath—because that is what we are here to do. We should do the right thing for the public, and they are calling for us to regulate this market.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

I do not want my hon. Friend’s dying breath. Did she notice that the lovely Minister did not even present a single argument against any of the elements in the Lords amendment? He did not make the argument on why the Government do not support it, even though it is a patently obvious and sensible measure.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

That is a good observation. To hazard a guess, the Minister probably agrees with the Lords amendment. He is a decent chap, and I think he sees the right in it, but he is sitting on the Government Benches. He is always welcome to come and join us on these Benches—it is quite a popular thing to do lately. If he wants to come over here, we will sort this out. It would be great if he was part of that, which is probably deep down what he would like to do.

All the websites that we are talking about are based outside the UK. They employ, essentially, no British staff—maybe a handful at most, but it is hard to check. They all masquerade as marketplaces where fans can buy and resell with other fans, but we know that is not true. All are dominated by large-scale online touts committing criminal offences to harvest tickets in bulk, as my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne said in his excellent intervention. That has led to a highly lucrative resale market worth hundreds of millions of pounds.

This is not small fry anymore. Face-value tickets are syphoned away from genuine fans and sold back to them at highly inflated prices. My hon. Friend Barbara Keeley said in her excellent speech that the number of touts has gone from hundreds to many, many thousands. It is getting out of proportion. This is best summed up by Chris Allison, the former deputy assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan police. Following a four-year investigation of touts post the Olympics—those tickets were protected in law, as I mentioned earlier—he stated:

“Touts are part of organised criminal networks often involved in other crimes”.

In recent years, enforcement bodies such as the CMA, National Trading Standards and the Advertising Standards Authority have tried, with varying degrees of success, to intervene in this broken market, either to prosecute the touts who are unlawfully defrauding music and sports lovers, or to force the ticket resale websites to comply with consumer protection legislation. And, oh my, the CMA has tried so hard to force those websites to comply, using the measures that it has to hand, which are not enough. It has even asked for further measures; as we heard in the last debate on this subject, the Government rejected that.

This has become an increasingly complex situation to sort out. That is why the Labour party is seeking to follow the examples of countries such as Ireland, France and Australia by capping the price at which tickets can be resold. Let me draw the House’s attention to my private Member’s Bill in 2011, which sought to do just that: cap resale at face value plus 10%, as the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Sir Chris Bryant, said. That would allow someone reselling tickets to reclaim extra costs, such as booking fees.

Contrary to what has been written about me over many years, I do not want to stop any fans from reselling their tickets if they can no longer go to the event. I just want the industrial-scale, parasitic scalping to stop. However, until we get to that point—and while the Conservatives are still in government—it is important that current legislation is made as effective as possible. They could ensure that now. The small measures that we are talking about do not go as far as we plan to go, but they would be a start in preventing consumer harm and making it harder for bad actors to thrive.

I support Lords amendment 104, introduced by my friend and co-chair of the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse Lord Moynihan, with the assistance of Lord Clement-Jones, Baroness Jones and others. We have Lord Moynihan to thank for the amendments to the Consumer Rights Act 2015 that got through small measures that we hoped would be the panacea for all the problems in the secondary market, but nine years later, that Act has not fixed this broken market. That is why we need this amendment.

In the amendment, proposed new section 92A(1) of the 2015 Act would compel touts to provide proof of purchase to the ticketing facility, or evidence of title to the tickets offered for resale. That is common sense, pragmatic and cost-free. The provision would target traders and businesses only, and as my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South said, would eliminate the speculative selling that is endemic on platforms such as Viagogo, and the emotional devastation and physical risk that comes with it. I have seen numerous cases of what she spoke about: people being turned away, after having travelled from one end of the country to the other at great expense, and having booked overnight accommodation. They find that they cannot get into the theatre, the O2, the concert or whatever it may be, because they have invalid tickets.

Someone wrote to me recently who got in touch with Viagogo before the event because they feared that they had an invalid ticket. They were told to try their luck on the door, regardless of the fact that it was an invalid ticket. They knew that they would be turned away at the door with this Taylor Swift ticket, but were told, “Just try your luck. If you can’t get in, we’ll give you a refund.” They would have to fight for it first, and it would take six months if they were lucky. This person was also told, “Why not sell it on? List it again, and we won’t charge you a fee.” It is outrageous that she was supposed to pass it on. I have emails between her and Viagogo to back this up. She was being encouraged to sell on a ticket that she knew was invalid, causing more victims. Those are the sorts of practices that these websites use.

In August 2022, an ITV investigation based on data from FanFair Alliance found that two thirds of festival tickets on Viagogo were fraudulently listed by just three individuals. These resellers are relatively few in number but account for 90% to 95% of the tickets sold on platforms such as Viagogo. Let us think about that: just three major touts were selling 90% to 95% of festival tickets. Other platforms, such as Gigsberg, are 100% reliant on businesses and traders, many of whom my APPG and the CMA believe are acting illegally.

Subsection (2) of proposed new section 92A would crack down on the industrial harvesting of tickets by preventing resellers from selling more tickets to an event than they can legally purchase from the primary market. That is just common sense, surely. This was first recommended by the CMA in August 2021, almost three years ago. It made the proposal after a six-year enforcement investigation that concluded, as I said, that the CMA needed “stronger laws” to tackle illegal ticket resale. This change would make it easier for genuine fans to access tickets instead of professional touts looking to make a parasitical profit.

Despite the fact that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish said, using bots and other malicious software is illegal, touts do so without fear of prosecution, as no one has yet been prosecuted for using bots for the industrial harvesting of tickets. Artists such as Ed Sheeran and Taylor Swift have repeatedly stated that they do not wish for their tickets to be touted. Artists get upset when their loyal fans blame them for not protecting them from touts, even though they do try. Both Taylor Swift and Ed Sheeran have gone to great lengths to try to protect their fans from the touts.

Subsections (3) and (4) of proposed new section 92A force touts to clearly state the face value of any ticket listed for resale—again, surely that information should be provided—and to ensure

“the trader or business’s name and trading address are clearly visible, in full, on the first page the ticket is viewable on.”

The information

“must not be hidden behind an icon, a drop down menu or other device”, which is what actually happens. The Consumer Rights Act states explicitly—these are Lord Moynihan’s reforms, which were added to the 2015 Act—that platforms must legally provide buyers with seat locations, face-value prices and restrictions, for example. They should be provided

“in a clear and comprehensible manner” and

“before the buyer is bound by the contract for the sale of the ticket.”

Before they purchase, consumers have a right to know what they are buying, and who they are buying it from. That is in current law, but Viagogo has a track record of hiding face value behind what we call “hover text”, or small, tiny icons marked “FV”, so you have to know what you are looking for to find it. It obscures trader identities behind a tiny star icon, and only reveals a trader’s identity after the user enters their credit card details and has gone through the CAPTCHA process, so the user has often committed to buying before they know who they are buying from and what the face value is. That is in straight contravention of the 2015 Act.

On 99.9% of other websites, CAPTCHA is used to protect consumers. On Viagogo, it is used to protect the identity of its commercial suppliers—in other words, touts. Details of any ticket restrictions—for example, the information that resale is only allowed at face value—are provided in an unclear and incomprehensible manner, and are often buried in the middle of other small print, and then negated by claims about Viagogo’s “guarantee”—that is a very loose term if you are on Viagogo’s website.

Those practices are purposely misleading for most, but even more so for those who are visually impaired, tourists who do not speak fluent English, or older people without niche technical skills, who could be buying tickets for a grandchild’s birthday. I have had lots of grandparents in touch with me. As someone said—I think it was my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South—they then feel stupid. I have had such a number of emails from people saying, “This is my fault. I was stupid. I should have known better. I should have checked.” We should not allow companies to exist that do this in such a big way. They say, “Buyer beware”; that is Viagogo’s motto, I think. It is probably hidden on its website. What is happening is not right, and it is up to us to protect consumers; that is what Parliament is for. We should not allow this to happen on such a scale.

Furthermore, experts involved with the all-party parliamentary group on ticket abuse have found that large numbers of sellers are based abroad, or have links to forms of organised crime all the way up to convicted drug dealers, money launderers and bank robbers. The secondary ticketing market is not full of “classic entrepreneurs” as a former Chancellor and former Culture Secretary, Sir Sajid Javid, would have us believe. They are serious criminals. If Members want to see when he said that, it was in 2011 when he was helping to talk out my private Member’s Bill.

However, convictions are extremely few and far between, despite thousands of professional touts operating. It is important for the Minister that I clarify the numbers. There have been only two major cases, involving six convictions, against touts. When I spoke of two cases, that is two court cases with six convictions. It is not six cases. I just want to make sure that that is clear on the record.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care) 3:15, 30 Ebrill 2024

My hon. Friend is making a really important point. She rightly points out the degree of criminality at the highest end of the organisations that are responsible for the touting industry, and the lack of prosecutions. It is actually quite a good business proposition for them, is it not? It is relatively risk-free. They are probably more likely to get sentenced for being an international drug dealer than for selling the tickets.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

It is very interesting that my hon. Friend has come to the same conclusion I have. I have made that exact point in many interviews over the years: why would anybody go out and rob banks or do any sort of crime for which they might get caught, when they could just be a ticket tout? They’ll make a fortune and nobody will come after them, not even the taxman. There will be no hand of the law on their shoulder. There have been only two cases and six prosecutions in all the time I have been campaigning on this issue. So yes, it is time we sorted it out. It is just not acceptable.

The recent case that I think the Minister referred to earlier involved individuals being convicted for buying and reselling tickets worth £6.5 million—£6.5 million. They have been caught, but that is because they are right up at the top end. There will be people making £1 million, half a million pounds, £2 million or £3 million who have not been caught. There are so many touts. The case involved using multiple, often fake, identities to buy large numbers of tickets with multiple credit cards. However, convictions are extremely few and far between, despite thousands of professional touts operating.

Finally, those who trade in the UK must be subject to UK laws—surely we all agree with that. Subsection (5) of proposed new section 92A states:

“A secondary ticketing facility must make it clear to traders and businesses based overseas that sell tickets to UK consumers and target UK consumers through paid or sponsored advertisements”— in some cases using Google and trusted publications, or even sponsoring podcasts by trusted influencers—

“or paid infomercials that they are subject to UK legislation.”

The vast majority of suppliers to Viagogo and other secondary platforms are commercial businesses. A significant proportion are based outside the UK, as I said, but they target UK events to derive the highest possible profit. Likewise, none of the websites have offices in the UK. There are no UK jobs at stake, apart from a handful. It has been quite hard for me and my team to check and be sure of the numbers, as these companies are all registered in tax havens and overseas. However, the damage and exploitation occur in the UK at the expense of artists, athletes and fans, without any fear of the current toothless UK law.

Viagogo has already had its wings clipped, partially, by CMA orders over the years, but in my opinion it is nowhere near enough. It has repeatedly shown that it cannot be trusted to mark its own homework. For instance, elsewhere Viagogo was fined 7 million Australian dollars for misleading consumers, €20 million for breaking the law in Italy and €400,000 in France for breaking the law around rugby world cup tickets. Yet we heard the Minister’s colleague, the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries, spouting the Viagogo lines of defence from the Dispatch Box just a couple of weeks ago—go figure! This is all on the record, because my hon. Friend the Member for Worsley and Eccles South raised it in a point of order a couple of weeks ago, just after the Minister for Media, Tourism and Creative Industries did it.

Unless legislative action is taken to stop this black market, it will continue to grow and cause further damage. This modest amendment effectively plugs loopholes in legislation, and ensures that music and sport fans of all ages have the information that they need before they make that purchase. I implore everyone here today to please support Lords amendment 104 and start putting fans first—or else move aside so that we can do so.

Photo of Alex Davies-Jones Alex Davies-Jones Shadow Minister (Domestic Violence and Safeguarding)

It is an absolute privilege to follow my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson—my good friend—who has been a tenacious campaigner on this issue for so many years, and I implore Ministers to listen to her and note her expertise. I ask them please to back Lords amendment 104. A review is not good enough in the dying days of a failing Government; we desperately need action now.

It is a pleasure to speak in the debate. I proudly saw this Bill through part of its Commons stages in my previous role as the shadow tech and digital economy Minister, and it is fantastic to see it so ably steered through the House today with the support of my good friend and neighbour, my hon. Friend Sir Chris Bryant.

As we have heard, what was draft legislation for so long has been woefully slow to materialise. It had sat on the shelf since 2018, so it is nice to finally see it brought back to the House today and to see the Government taking action. I welcome it, as does the Labour party more widely, having led the way in calling on the Government to ensure that large tech companies are governed by proper regulations to allow for competition in our digital markets. Labour has long called for measures to protect consumers, enhance innovation and promote competition in digital markets in order to unlock growth and level the playing field for smaller businesses. In the midst of a Conservative cost of living crisis, this measure could not be more timely, and the need for it has been constantly confirmed in conversations I have had with constituents in Pontypridd.

Let us not forget that it is been over a year since the legislation was first proposed here. Owing to internal chaos and conflict, the Tories have long delayed the Bill, and it is disappointing that we are now being given a watered-down version of the original Bill and that its delay is causing us to fall behind our European partners. The UK has the potential to lead the way, but the Government have instead chosen to take a back seat and to be led. To say that the Bill is overdue is an understatement. Since it was promised, we have seen the digital world continue to change, grow and expand at an incredible and exponential rate. We have seen a significant growth in artificial intelligence technology hitting the mainstream, and tech is becoming more and more central to our homes, jobs and social lives. Our post-covid world has adapted to hybrid, tech-dependent working styles, and jobs in all sectors have accommodated that preference.

Whether it be for work, shopping or our social lives, we are all spending more time online. I see that—sadly—in my own habits, as well as those of my colleagues and constituents. I believe we can all agree that a thriving digital economy in which all sectors and all businesses become digital is vital for the UK’s economic growth, but the Government have nevertheless failed to keep up. Now that they have finally decided to deliver this albeit watered-down legislation, it is up to them to ensure that it survives and, if it does, to protect it from further watering-down changes. So far, I am not convinced that that will be the case. The Government have tabled an amendment in lieu of one of the Lords amendments, but they are ignoring the remainder. While most of the disagreement relates to different semantic interpretations of the wording, it is important that we get the wording right so that the Bill works in practice and not just on paper.

I am afraid that these frustrations are not new. Many of them are not dissimilar to those that my colleagues and I raised during the Committee stage of the Online Safety Act 2023. Let us be clear: while big companies have a significant impact on our economy, that power should never be extended to our legislative process. The process of forming and scrutinising legislation should be entirely independent from any private company interest. Parliamentarians and our Government should not be influenced in any circumstances, because we as public servants should be here for our people—our constituents— rather than being here to promote and advance the interests of big companies and big tech. What is more important to the Government: appeasing big companies or acting for the good of the people they are supposed to represent? If it is not appeasing big companies, why will they not revert to ensuring that the CMA’s interventions are appropriate rather than proportionate?

We all know that this change will have a significant impact on the scope of the big tech firms to challenge CMA decisions under judicial review. Given that courts have to navigate these new and broader grounds for judicial review appeals against those decisions, big tech firms are provided with huge, limitless legal budgets and bottomless pockets to tie up the CMA in lengthy legal disputes. It is imperative that the Lords amendments remain in their original form to hold big tech firms accountable, to limit their scope to appeal and to reduce the ambiguity in relation to court interpretation about which we have heard today.

Moving beyond those concerns, this Bill is still absolutely necessary, which is why it has the support of the Labour party, as do the Lords amendments. We all know that the digital economy has opened new markets for businesses and has given consumers access to new information, but with rivals unable to compete with the world’s most powerful global companies, they do not sit on an equal footing. Google has a more than 90% share of the 7.3 billion search advertising market in the UK, and Facebook has over 50% of the £5.5 billion display advertising market. That is completely unfair, and constitutes both a challenge to businesses and a detriment to consumers.

This means that everyday consumers have little to no autonomy over their online choices, or in how much data they have to give out. As for businesses, this is limiting their innovation, as their ideas are likely to be quashed by an algorithm and they are therefore unable to compete by any reasonable and fair means. For example, Amazon’s use of its position as a marketplace, a publisher and a bookseller has been detrimental to the potential and work of independent booksellers who are pushed aside because they cannot compete with these huge companies and the advantages that the marketplace affords them. I am glad to see that the Lords amendments recognise the importance of user choice, autonomy and independence from the big companies that are pushing an agenda and escaping scrutiny.

Why, then, have the Government shied away from this? If, as they claim, the wording maintains the same high threshold, why will they not clarify the fact that the “indispensable” standard and the new standard are equal? What exactly are they afraid of? Big tech must be held accountable, and must not be able to complicate legal proceedings and escape scrutiny. Surely that point should not cause disagreement. Why have the Government again moved to a merit appeals approach to penalty decisions? This is completely unworkable. Proceedings must take a judicial review approach, which means that a decision will be judged on the basis of its lawfulness rather than its correctness or the views of a tribunal. This approach will fail to incentivise big tech firms to comply with CMA decisions.

While the Tories’ watering down of the Bill may initially appear trivial, in fact it will only encourage big tech to challenge the decisions of the CMA. If we want the Bill to be workable—to be worth the paper on which it is written—we must ensure that it is clear, precise and unambiguous. Given that the judicial review and merits elements of appeals could bleed into one another—which is causing concern—ambiguity is already rife in this Bill.

The Government must reverse their watering down of this all-important legislation or, at the very least, clarify exactly what the changes to the wording represent. That is exactly why the Lords amendments are so necessary. I urge the Government to reconsider them with the seriousness that they deserve and, at the minimum, to make efforts to compromise, as they have done with one of them. The same must be done for the other three in question.

The Lords amendments would bring small businesses on to a level playing field, and protect the autonomy and pockets of our consumers. If the Bill fails to do that and is watered down any further, it will not be worth the paper it is written on. The Government can do the right thing. They should take the opportunity to do so, and I implore them to do so.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

Today I want to speak in support of Lords amendment 104 and the Lords amendments relating to foreign state ownership of UK newspapers, and I will raise some questions about the Lords amendments relating to consumer protections against unfair subscription practices and the use of fake reviews. I will start by setting out my overall support for the Bill and establishing a bit of context for why it is so important to get the regulation of the digital economy right.

Over the past decade, our economy has obviously been transformed by digital change. In many ways this has brought benefits but, equally, it has brought new harms—new ways that unscrupulous individuals and companies can exploit us all. People in our communities are affected by the failures of existing digital regulation, and I would argue that it is often communities like mine that bear the brunt. In Newham we have significant digital exclusion, and massive damage has been caused to family finances by the cost of living crisis.

It is all the more damaging for someone to be ripped off when their income barely manages to pay the bills already. It is more than that, because in times of stress and when people are working long hours to make ends meet, they hardly have the time or the energy to read through often opaque terms and conditions before purchasing. They are less likely to have the capacity to go and search for all the deliberate barriers that can be set up in order to find out how to cancel a subscription that is costing them dear. I have to say that, even with assistance from younger members of my family, I have personally failed to cancel a number of subscriptions that I was absolutely assured had gone. We have to get this right—not for me, but for others—so that people have the capacity to search for all the deliberate barriers that can be set up in order find out how to cancel their subscriptions.

This Bill and many of the Lords amendments make welcome progress on some of these issues. I will start with ticket touting, which, as we know, is one of the most egregiously exploitative practices. I think we can all agree that it is simply wrong to buy tickets in bulk and then charge a huge mark-up fee for resale. It creates massive barriers to accessing culture, particularly for people on lower incomes, and the revenues go not to our hard-pressed musicians and venues, but to grifters who add absolutely no value of their own.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care) 3:30, 30 Ebrill 2024

It comes back to the point about bots. Even the most tech-savvy person cannot beat the bots, and once those bots get going, they sweep away all the tickets and genuine fans cannot get them. That is so unfair—almost as unfair as the extortionate prices that these companies charge for the tickets they have swept up using those bots.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We have families struggling to buy tickets for their children who are desperate to go and see x band or y band, and then they find themselves ripped off and unable to have that treat, which was massively looked forward to.

I give huge credit to my hon. Friend Mrs Hodgson for her years of dedicated campaigning in this area. Her work has helped to bring this issue to the forefront of debate, and to make it clear that legal change is necessary to protect our cultural industries and consumers from the touts. We on the Opposition Benches have a clear policy to stamp out ticket touting so that no one is able to charge a large mark-up on resold tickets.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

Is it not important to emphasise that this issue needs legislation? Lots of venues have tried their level best to get it right. For instance, the O2 Arena only endorses the use of its reseller, AXS, which is only allowed to sell tickets at 10% above the original price—precisely what we are saying should be available to everybody else—but the venue cannot stop other companies effectively nicking all the tickets because of the use of bots. That is why we need legislation.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs)

I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend. We have tried to nip this in the bud by bringing it to the public’s attention, putting pressure on individuals and encouraging action to be taken, but we need legislation to stamp it out.

I like the fact that in Labour’s proposed legislation there will be an upper limit on the number of tickets that an individual can resell, in order to make organised ticket touting an unprofitable practice. People who honestly buy tickets and then find that they cannot attend should absolutely be allowed to sell their tickets on—that is in the consumer’s interest and the best interests of our constituents—but culture and sports fans should no longer be gouged and exploited. Thankfully, there is a Lords amendment before us today that would ensure that very thing. It was put forward by none other than the Conservative Lord Moynihan. It would go some way to implementing these protections, but despite that the Government seem determined to oppose change and go no further in protecting consumers from ticket touts, even though they acknowledge that the problem persists.

Frankly, I know that my constituents will want to understand why the Government appear determined to stand in the way of greater protections even when they are being put forward by one of their very own noble Lords. Why are the Government ignoring the voices of fan organisations and creatives who want a fair, properly regulated market in event tickets? I think the Minister might have a job of work to do in convincing my constituents that this is about sound regulation rather than the failed free market ideology of the former Prime Minister, Elizabeth Truss. We in this House must not forget the importance of protecting Britons from unfair practices, and we must always remember to put them first.

We know that this is far from the only area where poor regulation of our cultural and media markets poses serious risks to consumers and communities alike, so I want to say a few words about the large number of Lords amendments on the state ownership of our newspapers. I thank my Opposition Front-Bench colleagues for demonstrating leadership and pressing for action on this issue, and I welcome the Government’s amendments in the other place following those calls. It is important that there is now something like cross-party consensus on this, because we live in a world where distrust is stronger and misinformation thrives.

I know that many of us share the fear that genuine, honest journalism is becoming a rare commodity, and the impacts of that are massive right across our society. Failure to promote a trustworthy media landscape fuels conspiracy theories and extremism, and it distracts attention from the genuine, massive challenges that face us as a country and as a world. We should all fear becoming a society that is riven by division, because all our communities lose out from that. I believe that only scammers, extremists and tyrants ultimately benefit.

I am not saying that foreign state ownership of UK newspapers would lead directly to those media outlets spewing division, hate and lies, but I am seriously worried about the further impact it would have on public trust in our media. We all need to recognise the greater potential for interference in our democracy from foreign states if they own media outlets directly.

We cannot just act to block foreign state takeovers of papers—our agenda needs to be wider than that. We need to support impartial and independent public interest journalism through the BBC, including the fabulous World Service, which is so important and currently in significant financial difficulty. We need, obviously, to continue acting to improve the regulation of online social media spaces where, as we know, trust is near extinct and where so much harm is done to the most vulnerable in our communities. Amendments against foreign ownership of newspapers are only a tiny part of the solution, but they are a step forward. I welcome the action taken on this issue in the other place, which has improved the Bill.

Finally, I will speak to some of the wider amendments made in the other place to better protect consumers from scams and exploitation. As we know, the abuse of subscription services by hiding cancellation options affects people in every part of our country. People are steadily losing money, month after month, to services that they do not want but do not know how to cancel. Citizens Advice estimates that £300 million a year is being spent on unwanted subscriptions. Obviously this is of even more concern where people are not completely digitally literate, so I hope the Minister might tell us more about what work is being done to monitor and update the digital inclusion strategy. It is a bit of a shock that there has been no update for about 10 years. According to Age UK, nearly 6 million older people, including many of my constituents, cannot use the internet.

One constituent recently told me about how they missed a hospital appointment because they lost the message telling them about it. We all know that this is all too common, and that it creates unnecessary and unfair barriers to accessing so many of our public services and just taking part in everyday life.

Frankly, the examples I have seen show that anybody can be impacted, because it is often massively harder to cancel a subscription agreement than to enter one. That is just blatant and egregious, and it is difficult for any of us to navigate. Additional protections in law simply cannot come soon enough, and there is widespread recognition that greater clarity is needed in regulations. Regulators will obviously need to be more active in holding the providers of subscription services to account where they use exploitative tactics against consumers. The test is whether the Bill will deliver that.

I welcome the debate in the other place on how this will be implemented in law and, slightly unusually, I give credit to the Minister in the other place for rightly engaging with probing amendments and for seeking to maintain stronger protections for consumers. I hope the Minister here today will say more about where the Bill ultimately stands. Will the regulator have the clarity and confidence it needs to start enforcing against exploitative practices, or will we be back here in a few years after the regulations have been tested and found sadly wanting?

I argue that the lack of a clear prohibition on creating fake reviews was an omission from the original Bill. Shadow Ministers and Opposition colleagues have called for greater clarity on that since Second Reading, almost a year ago, so I welcome the measures that have now been included. In our everyday lives, when we look for goods and services online, many of us have little alternative but to rely on reviews. Fake reviews are clearly a massive threat to genuine competition, and they are effectively an open door for scammers and cowboys to rip people off further. Again, I hope the Minister might say a little more on the final position.

There was significant debate in the other place on probing amendments that questioned whether stronger provisions were needed, particularly on the responsibilities of platforms and internet service providers that host fake reviews. Is the Minister absolutely confident that those platforms are clear about the actions they must take to stop their services being abused by fake review scammers?

I am not entirely happy with everything in this Bill. I remain seriously disappointed by the Government’s inaction on ticket touting. I hope that the Minister will look again and find it in his heart to support amendment 104. I echo many of the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda about some of the ways in which the general enforcement and appeals provision in the Bill have been weakened. I fear that there has been some heavy lobbying of the Government by big tech companies, which has had an impact. The people of West Ham will not be pleased to hear that, as it generates understandable concern that the provision might prove too weak and riven with loopholes to do the job that Members on both sides of this House want to see, although the Bill has been improved in other areas by hon. Friends and colleagues here and in the other place. It contains welcome provisions that will help to protect my constituents from exploitation online. I hope we will see it in force as soon as possible.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade) 3:45, 30 Ebrill 2024

With the leave of the House, I will respond to some of the points raised in this fruitful, constructive debate. I reassure the shadow Minister that I have lost none of my mojo or ambition to ensure a fair and level playing field for businesses. That is a vital part of this legislation. At times I may smile when I am at the Dispatch Box and there are a couple of reasons for that; not only am I generally a happy guy but I am pleased to see this groundbreaking legislation being brought into effect. It is probably one of only two major pieces of legislation around the world that does what it does. We should welcome that and the fair and level playing field that will result from it.

I do not accept what the shadow Minister says about the Government having caved in and weakened some of the Bill’s provisions. It is fair to say that some of the platforms would like us to have changed the Bill radically from how it was when it was presented to Parliament. We think we have very much held the line on its provisions and how it will ensure that consumers and smaller businesses get a better deal. We do not accept that it will bring about “bleed back”, as he puts it, between the on-the-merits provisions of penalties and other regulatory decisions. We have been clear on that and our legal advice is of the same mind.

Secondary ticketing is a key part of the debate, having been raised by various Members. We absolutely see that there is good practice in some primary markets, where there is control as to resales. We should learn from best practice, such as ID requirements on the resale of tickets. That is within the gift of those in the primary markets, so we are keen to develop the review to ensure that we look at both the primary and secondary markets, as the Opposition called for in an amendment tabled earlier in the Bill’s progress.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

I am grateful to the Cheshire cat for giving way. Does he oppose the Lords amendment on ticket touts because of the proposed new subsection stating that there needs to be “proof of purchase” for secondary ticket marketing, or because details of the “face value” of the ticket have to be provided? It is difficult to determine why the Minister opposes the Lords amendment other than because it is an inconvenience to government.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

We believe that those measures, such as on the face value of the ticket, are already covered by the current legislation and enforcement. The Government have certainly gone a lot further than previous regimes have: we strengthened the terms and guidance in 2017; we banned ticketing bots—the hon. Gentleman mentioned that but did not seem to understand that it had been outlawed in 2018; and we improved enforcement action by the regulators, as we have seen six successful prosecutions under the new regime. I remind him that where other jurisdictions have supposedly gone further in banning resale, such as in Ireland, no prosecutions have taken place. We are trying to ensure that we have a balance and that our provisions work well.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I will address the hon. Lady’s points in a moment, as I am keen to respond to some of them.

Photo of Chris Bryant Chris Bryant Shadow Minister (Creative Industries and Digital)

If the Minister goes to the Viagogo website and tries to buy a ticket, he will see on the first page that it says the ticket is £420 or whatever. Can he see the original value of the ticket? No. Can he see whether it is a validly purchased ticket? No. That is the problem that the amendment would solve. It would be simple for the Government to agree to the amendment and then we can get the Bill through.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

We believe those provisions are already there. I have quite happily used Viagogo on many occasions, as other people have when reselling tickets. Of course we will keep looking at the primary and secondary markets, and at the interaction between the two, so that we can develop the right way to regulate the market, in a future Parliament.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I will come to the hon. Lady’s points in a moment.

On the things we are doing to hold big tech to account, I can assure my hon. Friend John Penrose that the fire burns brightly in me. I do not think we have moved away in any material way from ensuring that this legislation is fit for purpose and does what it sets out to do. As I said in response to his earlier intervention, we do not believe there is any bleed-across between the merits-based approach to penalties and other regulatory interventions. The revised wording about the countervailing benefits exemption did not change the effects of the clause and did not change the guidance in the explanatory notes.

As my hon. Friend is aware, we are doing a lot of work on regulation. We have engaged on regular occasions to ensure that gets to where he wants. On costs and benefits, he will have noticed we brought forward the growth duty for our economic regulators quite recently, as well as the smart data road map. I know he waits with bated breath for the White Paper that will come forward shortly.

I thank Richard Thomson for his support for the legislation. We do not think the change from conduct is indispensable to the benefits; benefits could not be realised without the conduct materially changing the position in any way.

My hon. Friend Damian Collins said that we had moved to a different balance. I do not think I said that; I am happy to clarify my remarks about proportionality. We have provided more certainty and clarity around that position, which we always thought was part of the way the CMA would make its decisions. He made points about how the regulator would view, for example, the significant charges made across the Xbox platforms, which both charge 30% to the people who have e-commerce through those payment systems. As he said, businesses might not think that is too much, but we both know that it is not businesses that pay that ultimately, but consumers. The requirement for the CMA to make interventions for the benefit of consumers is in its very DNA, so I think it would act in those situations.

Barbara Keeley talked about the secondary ticketing position. I hear her points, and the points raised by Mrs Hodgson, very clearly.

Photo of Barbara Keeley Barbara Keeley Shadow Minister (Cabinet Office), Shadow Minister (Culture, Media and Sport)

I counsel the Minister against what he is doing. As his colleague in the Department for Culture, Media and Sport team did recently at oral questions, he is repeating the arguments that the platforms use. It is sad to hear Ministers repeating the same lines that a global chief officer of Viagogo came out with when they were over here. In Ireland, fraud activity has not increased—because the legislation is working., and that is why there are no prosecutions in Ireland. We would be in that situation if we had that legislation. As my hon. Friend the Member for Washington and Sunderland West probably wants to point out, it is alright to say that the use of bots is illegal, but nobody is being prosecuted for the illegal use of bots to wholesale-buy tickets; it is happening, so I counsel the Minister and his ministerial colleagues’ against their constant repetitions, which are not plausible to anybody outside.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

The hon. Lady is right to say that there is a difference between legislation and enforcement. We urge the authorities that have responsibility to enforce those provisions to make use of them. In Ireland, where the resale of tickets has been banned, inflated prices are still a feature of the ticket markets. Tickets for Taylor Swift’s Dublin shows are selling well in excess of their face price on the internet in Ireland, but no prosecutions have been made.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

May I make it clear that I was not accusing the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South of crowd pleasing? As I said in my earlier remarks, and as I will say to the hon. Member for Washington and Sunderland West before she intervenes, we should not simply take measures that are crowd pleasing in the hope they will work but they are ineffective. That is not to say that we do not think further measures are required.

Photo of Sharon Hodgson Sharon Hodgson Chair, Finance Committee (Commons), Chair, Finance Committee (Commons)

On the point about Taylor Swift and whether any of her tickets have been sold on the secondary market in Ireland, I challenge the Minister to take another look at that rather than taking the word of his officials or whoever has told him. I have been told that no Taylor Swift tickets are on sale on Viagogo in Ireland. She has stated that her tickets will not be valid if they are resold on a secondary platform, so they will not be found on a secondary platform in Ireland.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

Yes, I have just googled sellers of tickets in Dublin, and people can buy tickets well in excess of face value on the platform. I could not find them on Viagogo, but other platforms are selling those tickets. We are trying to do something that is effective. I am very happy to continue to engage with the hon. Lady, as she makes a very compelling case. I shall continue to look at what she says and continue to engage with her. I am very keen to ensure that we get to the right place, so that we protect consumers, but allow a fair, free market to work properly.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

I am very grateful to the Minister for giving way. I want to take him back to his comment that what was needed was not new legislation, but better enforcement. The enforcement authorities would presumably be trading standards. What is the reason there are not the prosecutions that we would all like to see? Is it because trading standards has been run into the ground and does not have the capacity to do the job that he is expecting it to do? Is it because of the complexity of the market? And which trading standards is responsible: the one where the platforms are based, the one where the person who bought the ticked is based, or the one where the concert is being held? That makes enforcing this measure really difficult.

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank the hon. Member for his points. I said not that legislation was not needed, but that there was no point in having legislation without enforcement. There have been six successful prosecutions by trading standards, but is he saying that he wants to fund trading standards to a greater degree? I understand some of the pressures on local authorities across the country; there are pressures on the public finances generally. If he has a solution to that and can provide lots more money to local authorities, he should have a word with his Front-Bench team, because that has not been Labour’s policy.

Photo of Gen Kitchen Gen Kitchen Llafur, Wellingborough

Unlike with trading standards, many cash-strapped families and young people fall for online scams, because they are on the hunt for bargains on Facebook Marketplace and, to a lesser extent, on eBay and Vinted. They are often at the mercy of being ripped off with very little protection and little to no help from local trading standards because of that confusion over whether it is where the buyer is or where the seller is. In particular, that is because they are for more casual and lower-value transactions. Can the Minister confirm whether that will be in the review as well?

Photo of Kevin Hollinrake Kevin Hollinrake Minister of State (Department for Business and Trade)

I thank the hon. Lady for her intervention. She makes a very good point. I am happy to look at the concerns that she raises. We will look at the concerns raised by all stakeholders, Members of this House and people further afield to ensure that, when we carry out this review, we get to the right place.

Alex Davies-Jones seems to think EU legislation is stronger than ours. Let me point out that appeal standards consider the merits across the piece in the European Union; they do not in the UK, as they are confined to a very small element of it.

Finally, I am pleased that Ms Brown supports the Bill and very pleased that she supports freedom of speech. Digital inclusion is very important. The Under-Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology, my hon. Friend Saqib Bhatti is working very hard on social inclusion and social tariffs of broadband through the cross-ministerial group. We are very keen to ensure that reminder notices for subscriptions are very clear for all our consumers.

To conclude, I urge all Members on both sides of the House to carefully consider the amendment that I have proposed in lieu of those made in the other place. I hope that all Members will feel able to support our position.

Rhif adran 141 Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill: motion to disagree with Lords Amendment 9

Ie: 274 MPs

Na: 160 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


The House divided: Ayes 273, Noes 159.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Lords amendment 9 disagreed to.