Controversial proposals for a sell-off of Land Registry operations could face defeat in parliament, a government minister conceded today.
Responding to a barrage of concerns from across the house, George Freeman MP, minister for life sciences, said that with a government majority of 12 'it does not require many people to take a different view... in order for us to assess the likelihood of getting a measure through'.
A consultation on a proposal to transfer Land Registry operations to a 'NewCo' in private ownership closed in May. The plan prompted widespread concern about threats to the integrity of the register and potential conflicts of interest. In theory, the government is due to respond this autumn.
The debate on a motion opposing sell-off was proposed by Labour MP David Lammy. He accused the government of 'looking to sell off the family silver to turn a short-term profit, to try and make their sums add up'. He noted that satisfaction with the agency is currently running at 96%.
'Far from being a basket case of public sector inefficiency, it is a shining example of a successful public service being run efficiently and effectively. I must state in the clearest possible terms that privatising it would be daylight robbery and a national scandal.'
A Conservative MP, former solicitor Will Quince, said that in proposing the move, the government has 'misunderstood what the Land Registry is fundamentally about'.
He said: 'It is more than just a data provider or an authority for recording title. It registers title, guarantees rights to land and provides guarantees pre and post completion searches. The reliability of the register is vital to the property market, and any loss of confidence in the register would significantly affect the property and mortgage markets and, therefore, the economy as a whole.
'While the Land Registry can, at times, feel clunky and hugely frustrating for property professionals, at its heart it is based on the principles of integrity and impartiality, and I fear it is that that we put at risk if we accept the proposals to privatise.'
Freeman told the Commons that the government had no intention of selling ownership of Land Registry data or creating a private monopoly. 'We have heard the concerns expressed loud and clear,' he said.
Lammy said the minister had 'made a case for looking again, but not made a case for privatisation', which he said would not command a majority in the house.
Any row-back by the government would echo the fate of a privatisation plan floated by the last government, which was abandoned in 2014.