It is a great pleasure to join this happy debate with a lot of consensus on both sides of the House. It is also a pleasure to follow Wera Hobhouse, who reminded us that success has many parents and that that is a happier position to be in than the orphan without any parents.
Much has already been said, so I just want to add two or three thoughts. Last year, I became, with my wife, an amateur landlord. As this Bill took shape, I spoke to constituents who were tenants, agents and landlords, and I looked it in the light of our own experience. I quickly came to the conclusion that the market was not acting as effectively as it should, fundamentally because tenants are not equal partners in the negotiations and lots of family landlords inevitably devolve decision making to agents. As both the current and previous Secretaries of State have said, and as the shadow Minister, Melanie Onn, said today, a small—I repeat, small—number of rogue agents have spoiled the situation. As the supply-and-demand equation has altered, so, in turn, tenants have become more squeezed.
Fundamentally, the role of agents in this process has changed. They are evolving quite radically from being an intermediary in an analogue age to a landlords’ compliance department in a digital age. Today, their fundamental role, which is very important, is to keep landlords and themselves out of trouble—indeed, even out of jail. The reason for this is not least the complexity of the law. Regulations need to be enforced. Most amateur landlords need high-quality agents to ensure, for example, that smoke detectors and fire exits work, that boilers are checked and that insurance is adequate. There is much more besides all the important environmental health provisions that councils are responsible for ensuring do not get breached. I believe that the role of agents therefore is to focus on keeping landlords within the law and providing a good service to tenants. A commission agent is fundamentally different from a compliance department.
I welcome the Bill and everything that Ministers have announced. I note one or two caveats from colleagues. I think that the fundamental goal of saving some £240 million a year in unnecessary fees will be welcomed across the country. The compromise on capping security deposits at six weeks’ rent—it is eight weeks in Scotland—seems sensible, but no doubt there will be further debate on whether it should be five or six weeks.
The Bill will not solve all the problems—the supply of housing is still too small and the prices are still too high for many tenants—but it is a chance for agents to adapt their business model in the way I have suggested, for landlords to get their properties in order and for tenants to help keep landlords straight. Because rents have risen, there is a risk of poor and even dangerous homes being rented by landlords who are cutting corners to tenants who are trying to cut costs. I urge Ministers to look at how they can work with local authorities to ensure that that risk is not increased and that local authorities seize the opportunity to levy fines where they are needed and to provide the resources for their housing departments to keep housing of the quality that we, and above all tenants, deserve.