Bim Afolami: I rise in support of this Bill and my hon. Friend the Minister. During the Bill’s passage, he has conducted himself, as I think everybody in all parts of this House has already recognised, with the utmost sincerity and courtesy to all parties, both inside and outside the House.
I served on the Bill Committee—entirely voluntarily, of course, Madam Deputy Speaker. Having listened to the exchanges in Committee and today, it strikes me that there are a couple of points where there is complete agreement in all parts of the House. There is agreement that the average letting agent fees have gone up by 60% over the past six or seven years, and that there is a growing problem of tenants feeling that they are less empowered in relation to their tenancies and letting in the private sector market.
Contrary to what my hon. Friend Daniel Kawczynski said about a comment made by an Opposition Member, there is general agreement that the private sector has a key role to play in this area. I do not think any Member would countenance that not being the case. I know that my hon. Friend the Minister truly believes in business. He is a pro-business Conservative, as am I, and I know that he would not countenance anything that he felt would limit the market for the private sector.
I would like to take on a couple of the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham, and I ask him to intervene if he thinks anything I say is unfair. He said that certain letting agents feel that there might be a rise in rents or a diminution in the quality or number of properties available for rent. I would argue that the whole point of a private market is that the market regulates those things, and I see nothing in the Bill that will undermine that market or fundamentally stop those things being regulated in a private sector manner. I would add that if any of the regulations alluded to by my hon. Friend Bob Blackman could do so, I expect that he, the Minister and I and lots of Government Members would ensure that that was not the case. I do not believe that anything in the Bill will undermine the market in that regard.
I would like to make a broader point. In this House, we spend a lot of time talking about very grand, big things that make newspaper headlines, but a lot of what we do here—I look at the people in the Gallery and think of anybody watching this on television—is quite practical. It is day-to-day, and it affects real people doing real things and living real lives. This is an example of legislation that can really make a difference to individual tenants up and down this country. It will not make the front pages, but this sort of stuff shows this Government, this Minister and this Department delivering for what my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister calls the “just about managings”. We should not lose sight of the fact that people out there will be practically better off and will benefit as a result of this legislation. That is very important.
Lastly, I read somewhere—it was in a newspaper, so I am sure it is true—that by 2021, roughly 5 million households in this country, or 20% of the total number, will be privately renting. That is a significant number of the constituents who send us to this place. These concerns must be paramount in our minds. Bearing in mind the rise in fees over the last few years, we need, dare I say it, to ensure that the balance that my hon. Friend the Member for Shrewsbury and Atcham talked about between landlord and tenant is tilted back a bit more in favour of the tenant in this particular regard. In addition to the many other measures the Government are taking, such as trying to encourage longer tenancies, that will empower our tenants and make them feel safer and more in control of their own lives and tenancies.
We need a system that we can trust. Landlords need a system that they can trust. Above all, tenants need a system that they can trust. This Bill will help the Government to achieve that, and I am happy to support it.