The Law Society has added its voice to the chorus of disapproval over the government’s plans to transfer Land Registry's operations to the private sector.
In its response to a consultation by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS), Chancery Lane says that privatisation could create conflicts of interest and threaten security, putting the integrity of the title register at risk.
Further, under a commercial owner, 'non-core' services could become the most important part of the business to its shareholders. 'This could result in resources being diverted to these parts of the business rather than being invested in the main registration services which underpin the property market,' the Society says.
The response questions the government's assertion that private investment is necessary to help the registry modernise.
It says: 'The current leadership of Land Registry seems to be fully embracing change and has a business development plan which appears to be being implemented successfully. Land Registry is taking steps to digitise information and to improve the process.
'There are constant improvements being made to registration and conveyancing processes generally across the property market.'
It is also 'not at all clear' whether the one off capital receipt from a sale would provide more value for the taxpayer than future revenues from a Land Registry that remained in the public sector, the Society says.
Law Society president Jonathan Smithers said: 'The Law Society is not convinced, from the information supplied to date, that sufficiently robust safeguards will be imposed and successfully enforced if the Land Registry's operations were sold off. Without solid assurances on these issues, the Land Registry should remain in public ownership.'
The response says the safeguards must be spelt out within primary legislation, as well as in the contract or regulatory licence. It suggests that these safeguards could include restricting sales of shares on the grounds of a buyer's financial instability, or offshore tax status.
The consultation has now closed. Last week, a petition signed by nearly 300,000 people opposed to the sale was handed in to BIS.
A spokesperson for the department said: 'The consultation process was open for nine weeks and although government has set out a proposed model, no final decisions have been made.
'We cannot pre-judge what any final model will look like. However, under the proposals currently being considered, the Land Registers for England and Wales would remain under Crown ownership to ensure the integrity of the register is maintained.’