Former Chief Land Registrar lays into Government over plans to privatise Land Registry


John Manthorpe, the former Chief Land Registrar has criticised the government over it’s plans to privatise Land Registry.

The government published the consultation at 5pm on Thursday 24th March, before the long Easter weekend.

Writing to both the government and shadow ministers, the former Chief Land Registrar said: “The Registry’s independence from commercial or specialised interests is essential to the trust and reliance placed on its activities. It would not be possible for actual or perceived impartiality to be maintained or public confidence sustained, if a private corporation or institution (particularly if such a body had conveyancing, financial or land holding functions) were to assume responsibility for the granting of legal estates in land and the maintenance of a public register.

“None of this massive and daily movement of guaranteed interests in land, between citizens, business, public bodies and financial institutions, on which the market economy depends, could function without an impartial and trusted system of land registration.

“The Land Registry is self-financing operating at no cost to the public purse. It has an excellent record of holding and reducing its costs, and its fees to customers. It pays an annual dividend to the Exchequer. It is highly regarded by those who depend on it as a provider of trusted, prompt services.

“Land registration is not an activity that any responsible Government can transfer to the private sector.”

According to the consultation document, five different options are being considered: Do nothing, privatisation with contract between HMG and a private operator, an operating concession, a mutual joint venture or a full privatisation with independent economic regulation.

The Department for Business Innovation and Skills has stated that option one, privatisation with contract is the preferred option.

The consultation document states: “Under this model, all the core statutory functions would be transferred out of government. Whilst the Registers will remain with government, the rights to use the information held within the Registers; the existing employees; and agreed tangible assets of Land Registry would be transferred to a private sector operator (NewCo) in which the investor would buy shares (leading to a receipt for Government). Government could choose to retain some level of ownership of NewCo, and/or to pass some ownership to the workforce.

“The model is one which has, broadly speaking, been implemented successfully elsewhere, for example in Canada. Management of important national services by privatisation and contract is also a model widely adopted in the UK.”

In Canada, land tenure systems and providers vary region to region. For example, Ontario and Manitoba provider Teranet’s affiliate Do Process LP also provide a transaction management application, planning data and risk management services for mortgage brokers and lenders.

A petition against the proposal, which was initially mentioned in the Chancellor’s autumn statement, has so far gathered 27,506 signatures at the time of writing.

The full document can be viewed here.

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