Speech on Tenancy Deposit Protection Scheme, Scottish Parliament 18 June 2008

It is important to congratulate groups such as Shelter, the NUS and Citizens Advice Scotland that persist in highlighting a range of issues that they want us to take up—I am grateful for the written and verbal briefings that were provided today.
I also congratulate the constituents who continue to bring cases to us.
As Jim Tolson said, the problem with deposits affects not only students.
The problem is largely invisible, but it can cause great difficulties for vulnerable members of our communities.
It is right that the Government should respond to it in the context of communities issues.
In a previous life, I was a schoolteacher, and I am always looking for object lessons.
The proposal in the Housing (Scotland) Act 2006 for a mandatory deposit scheme was an object lesson in how the Parliament can work effectively.
We hear a lot of talk about consensus.
There is a huge amount of rewriting of the history of this Parliament, but we built consensus around a number of significant issues.
The proposal was not originally included in the legislation as introduced to Parliament.
It was the work of committees and members of all parties, supported by groups outside the Parliament, that put it on the political agenda.
Members of all parties reflected on the scheme, and Christine Grahame, Tricia Marwick, Lib Dems and Labour members—I cannot remember the Tory position—all pursued the matter with me as the then Deputy Minister for Communities.
They raised it with me not to gain party advantage, but because they believed that it needed to be done.
At stage 2, the decision was taken that the proposal as it had emerged was to be supported. Nobody claimed victory or said that there were U-turns, but a little bit of political business was done to ensure that we could take it forward.
Acting in that way was important, because it gave a message about the importance of the Parliament's walls being breached by those who really understood how policy should be developed.
I hope that Government back benchers will recognise their role in challenging their own front bench members.
If I were still the minister, and if I were operating at the pace of the current Minister for Communities and Sport, I would not wait to be chided by the Opposition to act—Labour's own back benchers have a record of doing that.
It has been said that we need research and consultation, but there is concern about the pace.
I understand that the working group that was set up has met only once since May.
I understand the need for research, but there must be action.
The argument has been made that we already have landlord accreditation and registration, but we cannot be in a position where the argument is that if everything cannot be done, nothing can be done.
Mr Maxwell has my permission to disregard the commitments that I have made and to act more quickly.
Stuart McMillan identified problems with the scheme down south—in that case, other options should be consulted on.
We need a driver and a commitment.
The private sector has an important role to play, particularly in times of credit crunch, in meeting housing needs and homelessness targets.
The landlord sector needs to be open and transparent, and we want the sector itself to recognise the damage that has been done to its reputation.
Good landlords have nothing to fear.
I urge the minister to recognise that simple steps should be taken, such as bringing forward a timetable and committing to a mandatory scheme.
We will ensure that there is consensus in the Parliament in dealing with consultation in parliamentary committees and in our communities.
That will give students and families confidence as they make decisions about their accommodation ahead of the academic year.
The important small step of building consensus in the Parliament will make a difference in our communities.
I urge the minister to make the commitment tonight.