Government insists ministers need more time to ponder controversial privatisation plans
Plans for a sell-off of Land Registry have been dropped from the legislation that was supposed to usher in privatisation – but government sources today insisted that no decision has been made about the industry’s future.
In May the Queen's speech announced that the outcome of a consultation on the second attempt to privatise Land Registry would be taken forward by a Neighbourhood Planning and Infrastructure Bill. The measure, its title shortened to Neighbourhood Planning Bill, was introduced by the Department for Communities and Local Government today.
Its main purpose is to encourage communities to draw up neighbourhood plans and to clarify the law on compulsory purchase. The bill will also allow the government to require local planning authorities to record prior approvals for permitted development rights on the planning register to improve the collection of data on building new homes. However the bill contains no provisions for privatising Land Registry.
A government source said today: “No decision has been taken on the future of the Land Registry. A consultation on the Land Registry’s future closed in May and we are carefully considering our response. It is only right that new ministers take time to look at all their options before making a decision.”
The consultation, which proposed transferring Land Registry operations to a “NewCo”, attracted a wave of opposition from unions and conveyancers. A sign that this was hitting home appeared in July when industry minister George Freeman told Parliament that the government had “heard the concerns expressed loud and clear” - and conceded that privatisation would face a rough ride in Parliament.
Following today’s announcement, opposition spokesman David Lammy MP called for privatisation to be formally scrapped. “The prime minister has made clear her determination to crack down on corruption and it would clearly not be in the public interest for the government to sell off the Land Registry to a private company,” he said.
Arbitrary time frame
The Law Society, which represents solicitors, said that privatising Land Registry would create a range of serious risks. “All implications must be fully considered before any decision on whether to sell is made,” said Robert Bourns, president. “The government previously indicated they would carefully consider the vocal feedback they have received from the legal sector and beyond on this issue, and it is pleasing to see them following through on this commitment rather than rushing to keep an arbitrary time frame.”
Part of the government’s rationale for private ownership is to enable Land Registry to become an all digital organisation. Last month it announced a crucial step by revealing that pilots had begun of an all-digital process to create, sign and register mortgage deeds, using the GOV.UK Verify system.