May I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests?
Let me start by saying that I strongly believe in both a bigger and better private rented sector. As with the housing market as a whole, as we heard from Frank Dobson, we need more homes in this sector and more homes to rent. That means securing substantial private investment into the sector, for the long term. As the Select Committee found, increasing supply is good not only for the market as a whole, but for tenants, as it gives them, finally, the opportunity to choose and that helps us to make sure that bad and mediocre landlords raise their game. Therefore, the argument for increasing supply is not just an economic one; it is a social argument on behalf of the existing tenants in the marketplace. That is why the Government were right in taking on and fully implementing the findings of the Montague report.
Emma Reynolds asked what the Government were doing to get institutional investors in, so I should mention the £1 billion Build to Rent fund and the up to
£11 billion in housing guarantees. They are crucial, not just because they involve large sums, but because they are long-term commitments to a sector that needs them. May I say to my former colleagues on the Front Bench that we could speed up the due diligence process on the Build to Rent fund? I have raised the issue with Ministers before, but if we are to get these homes under construction, we might speed up that process. I am sure that the Minister replying to this debate will want to set out where the Homes and Communities Agency has got to on this, because I know he shares my ambition to get those homes under way.
The Labour party is in danger of cutting off the very investment it claims it wants. The hopeless muddle—I am being polite—around the announcements from its leader’s office on rents caused many investors real alarm. There are responsible long-term institutional investors who want to invest and provide the quality of home and the longer leases that the Labour party has rightly been calling for, but by muddling rent indexation with rent controls and by part of its leadership playing to the gallery, the Labour party has left a large question mark over its housing policy. If, heaven forfend, we were to find next May that we had a Labour Government, that party and its Front-Bench team—I think they know this, given their chuntering—would need to clear up the muddle or they simply would not get the necessary investment and therefore the necessary supply.
Labour’s policy for a national register of landlords is just a gimmick. As we have seen in Scotland, such a policy would have little, if any, impact on standards, but we would see a rise in rents. The Labour Government checked what a national register would cost: it would be £300 million. Who would pay it? Would it be the landlords? No, it would be the tenants.