Campaigners for fair rents in private tenancies have been left dismayed after a committee of MSPs decided it was too busy to look at a bill that would impose controls on rent levels.

By five votes to two, the Local Government & Communities Committee decided its workload was too heavy to allow it to give proper time to scrutinising the Fair Rents (Scotland) Bill in the coming months, blocking the bill from progressing ahead of next year's Holyrood elections.

The member's bill, introduced by Glasgow Labour MSP Pauline McNeill, aims to improve the way rents are set in private rented housing, to reduce poverty and support low income tenants and their families. It would limit the amount by which a landlord can increase rent, and also allow a tenant to apply for a fair open market rent to be set.

Expressing her disappointment, Ms McNeill said: "I appreciate that time is tight between now and the end of this parliamentary session, but the bill proposed important measures to protect renters and improve housing affordability. The need for these measures was great before the COVID-19 crisis but lockdown has intensified the need for change in this sector."

She would be requesting that the bill be scrutinised by another committee instead, to give it a chance of becoming law before the election.

The bill was backed by Govan Law Centre, whose principal solicitor Mike Dailly said he was "astonished" at the committee's decision.

"They have binned the bill without any discussion", he complained. "A year of hard work ignored. Lockdown has meant a massive increase in rent arrears; what could be more important than discussing fair rents in Scotland?"

He added: "The Scottish Government don’t want to debate the difficult issues of rent controls in the run-up to next year’s Scottish Parliament elections, which is exactly when we should debate such important issues."