I will try to keep my comments brief—apparently time is pressing—although there is much I would like to say about the Bill. I draw the House’s attention yet again to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I am in principle and in practice very supportive of the Bill—I have been right from the start—despite my business interests and despite the extreme consternation within the industry at my support. It is absolutely right that there be a firewall around a tenant’s ability to shop around when they have found a house or flat they want to rent. We are right to believe in free and competitive markets. This was not a free and competitive market, and it is right that we act in this area. It is right that landlords pay for their own tenancy agreements, inventories and referencing. I support all those things. I also want to put on the record my support for the Minister. She has done a great job on the Bill and engaged with me and other colleagues who have had concerns about some of its provisions.
I would like to touch on two things: deposits and default fees. I will begin with Lords amendments 36 and 37. To say that three weeks would be an appropriate deposit length, as Melanie Onn has done, shows a complete misunderstanding of the issues. She is absolutely right to want to protect tenants—everyone in this place wants to protect tenants—but to do that we must be fair to landlords as well. She asked how a longer deposit period would help tenants. It would not help tenants not to be able to find properties to rent. If we deterred landlords from entering the marketplace, as a three-week cap would do, that would not help tenants.
I speak as somebody who has been in this business for 30 years. When I started, the only thing I could find in the marketplace was a shabby, damp, dark terraced house in the middle of York. It was not like today’s marketplace; tenants now have a breadth of choice, and that is because landlords have invested because they are treated fairly. The hon. Lady wants to treat tenants fairly, as I do, but we would not be treating them fairly if our policies resulted in their being refused tenancies by landlords worried about not getting their rent, not regaining possession of a property that had had significant damage done to it or not having enough deposit left for the remedial work. Her proposals would potentially put landlords in that situation, given that many tenants use their deposit as the last month’s rent, meaning there would be nothing left.
I still have concerns about restricting the deposit length to five weeks. As we know, it is eight weeks in Scotland. The average deposit in London is five and a half to six weeks, and in the rest of England it is not far below that, so the Bill will mean a change for many landlords, and we will have to keep this under review to make sure it does not have adverse consequences for tenants—that is the principle. Landlords are happy as long as they keep their properties well maintained and the rent is paid. If that is not the case, landlords will exit the market, which is not good for the tenants the hon. Lady looks to protect.