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Government retreats from Land Registry sale



Criticisms from Conservative MPs force rethink on controversial plan to sell of the registrar of land and property in England and Wales

A Conservative revolt appears to have killed off controversial Government plans to privatise the Land Registry.

Ministers slammed on the brakes after facing fierce criticism from a succession of Tory backbenchers in a Commons debate held against the turmoil of the party leadership race.

It leaves a final decision in the hands of a different prime minister and chancellor, after the resignation of David Cameron and almost certain departure of George Osborne.

Labour MPs sponsored the debate, but Conservatives also demanded a rethink, warning the sell-off would undermine the registry’s impartiality, hike fees and fail to create competition.

John Stevenson (Carlisle) said: “If the Government were to bring forward privatisation proposals for the Land Registry it would, in my opinion, be a privatisation too far.”

Will Quince (Colchester) said: “I share the concern of many that privatising the Land Registry would undermine impartiality, lead to fees for customers increasing and act as a considerable risk to the integrity of the organisation.

“I've not heard from any stakeholders in the property industry calling for this change or even warmly welcoming it. In fact, they all criticise it.”

Monopoly threat

Criticism also came from Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton), who warned of a “new private sector monopoly”. He added: “There can be no effective competition in prospect if the Land Registry is privatised.”

Richard Drax (South Dorset) added: “With all that's going on now in the country I very much hope this can be shoveled into the side grass.”

Faced with the backlash, Minister for Life Sciences George Freeman stressed the Government had merely held a consultation into the future of the Land Registry, which closed a month ago.

He said: “I am aware, as all of us painfully are on this side, that the majority is 12. It doesn't require many people to take a different view of the Government of the day in order for us to assess the likelihood of getting a measure through.

“I have no idea what those currently looking to form the new administration will want to do when they are in office, but I think anyone reading this debate today will have seen loud and clear the views of those who have spoken on all sides of the House.”

Thumbs down

Labour MP Angela Rayner (Ashton-under-Lyne) tweeted: “Land Registry privatisation even getting the thumbs down from many Conservative MPs, so it really must be a non-starter. Stop sell-off now.”

The Land Registry turned a profit of £100 million last year and was expected to fetch a sale price of £100 billion. But the British Property Federation, which represents commercial property investors, has warned against the sale, arguing that any perceived threat to the security of property ownership could “spook” investors.

In addition, the Open Data Institute, the Government-sponsored body that promotes the reuse of public sector data, has cautioned that the registry could be open to fraud and manipulation if it were privatised.

Labour said a sell-off would also defeat steps to tackle institutional tax avoidance, with a private company able to shield data.

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