Mounting concern over government plans to privatise Land Registry has prompted the Law Society to say it hopes the government will reach a sensible decision over what is a ’vital piece of national infrastructure’.
‘It’s no surprise to us that concern over the idea of selling off Land Registry is growing - we’re talking about a vital piece of the national infrastructure,’ Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said.
‘Whatever the political and ideological debates around privatisation, Land Registry is not a commercial operation which can be easily privatised. Placing the Land Registry in private hands presents unique challenges and risks, which would have to be addressed should any form of sale proceed.’
Major concerns raised by the Law Society in its submission to government included:
• the vital role that public trust and confidence in the Registry plays in the smooth operation of the property market;
• privatisation could hinder efforts to combat the laundering of illicit funds through the property market in England and Wales;
• the risk of fee increases to generate profits for private owners, at the expense of property buyers;
• the loss of the potentially huge future value of the information held by the Registry; and
• the great difficulties in ensuring a newly privatised natural monopoly couldn’t act in anti-competitive ways.
‘Last week a debate in the House of Commons made it clear that these concerns are felt across the political spectrum,’ Jonathan Smithers said.
‘If these widely-held concerns are not carefully addressed, we fear that the public will be the real loser from any sale.’
The Law Society has also set out a number of legislative safeguards that would be necessary to protect the public interest should Land Registry be sold.
‘With so many problems, costs and risks to the public to be carefully managed, it’s pleasing to hear the government say that they intend to listen to concerns raised during this consultation,’ Jonathan Smithers said.
‘Decisions on the future of Land Registry should place the public interest in this vital institution first.’