British government signals re-think on Land Registry sell-off – Metro US

British government signals re-think on Land Registry sell-off

By Paola Totaro

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – The British government has signaled that its controversial plan to private the UK Land Registry is likely to face defeat in parliament after a debate in which lawmakers on all sides spoke passionately against the sell-off.

George Freeman, a minister in the department of business, conceded that the government had heard “loud and clear” the views expressed by all parties, including an observation by an opposition MP who argued: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”.

Britain’s June 23 vote to leave the European Union has triggered a leadership contest in the ruling Conservative party and turmoil across the political spectrum that is likely to slow the passage of new legislation.

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

The Land Registry, established more than 150 years ago, is a record which holds and maintains the data for around 24 million property titles across England and Wales.

The debate, held on Thursday afternoon, was proposed by an opposition Labour MP, David Lammy, who said the registry had made a surplus over 19 of the last 20 years, paying 120 million pounds into the public purse in 2015.

He accused the government of trying to make a short-term profit, despite warnings from experts that any privatization would have serious consequences for transparency in the UK property market, hindering efforts to crack down on money entering the property market from offshore tax havens.

Business Secretary Sajid Javid, when announcing the privatization plan in April, said it was a bid to make the Land Registry more efficient.

But at a London seminar on land and corruption in April, Geoffrey Payne, an international adviser to the World Bank, said publicly owned land registers were essential to fostering trust and could be powerful tools to combat land corruption, particularly in developing economies.

(Reporting by Paola Totaro, Editing by Ros Russell; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit news.trust.org)