Is the Government about to U-turn on its plans to privatise the Land Registry?

Friday 01 July 2016

On Thursday 30 June 2016 Members of Parliament (MPs) debated the Government’s plans to move the operations of the Land Registry to the private sector and a possible U-turn is in sight.

David Lammy the Labour MP for Tottenham had secured the back bench debate and received cross-party support with contributions from MPs from all sides of the House of Commons. Opening the debate Mr Lammy said, “…the Government are looking to sell off the family silver to turn a short-term profit to try to make their sums add up.” Adding “There is no economic rationale for this privatisation” and “Satisfaction with the Land Registry is currently running at 96%.”

Long serving Conservative MP Sir Peter Bottomley said, “Whatever safeguards the Government want to build, commercialisation should be the Land Registry’s decision, not the decision of some commercial owner of the Land Registry.” And “that many of us here want the Land Registry to have the opportunity of creating innovative, value-creating enterprises? It should not be sold off for that to happen—it is not necessary.”

During the debate Caroline Lucas the Green Party MP for Brighton, Pavilion raised her concerns that “privatisation would give the new owner essentially a monopoly on commercial valuable data, with no incentive to improve access to it?” and, “that information about land and property ownership is vital for local communities and that they should have more access to it, not less? 

Not to be out done Margaret Ferrier the SNP MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West said, “Just last week, it was announced that the Ministry of Defence is set to privatise the repatriation and burial of war casualties—an idea that I find abhorrent. Does my hon. Friend agree that that is a clear sign that the Government’s privatisation agenda is ideological?” 

Co-founder of Hunters Estate Agents and now Conservative MP Kevin Holinrake, who spoke at ARLA Conference in April, made an extremely important point and said, “The Government have introduced new initiatives on beneficial ownership, including consideration of a public register to make sure that foreign companies disclose the true ownership of UK property. That is revolutionary in that it is trying to tackle money laundering, corruption, crime and tax evasion. Those are all reasons why it is better for the Land Registry to be in the public sector than the private sector.”

In response to the debate Minister George Freeman said, “What would be the rationale were the Government to take privatisation of the Land Registry forward? Well, I can confirm that the Government have absolutely no plans for this.”

He added, “We have carried out the consultation and we are in the process of hearing, loud and clear, what is said. For those watching from the Gallery and wondering why it is even being considered, the rationale would be to create a basis on which the Land Registry, if it needed it, could raise substantial extra investment that the Government could not provide.”

The motion for the debate was passed unanimously. Following the strength of opposition against the proposals it does not seem likely that the Government would have the support of a majority of the House of Commons if they were to go ahead.   

The Government’s consultation, ‘Land Registry: moving operations to the private sector’ ran from 24 March to 26 May 2016. The Government is currently analysing feedback and we await their response.

A transcript of the debate can be found here