Who may hold the ultimate title?

We do not have a system of registration of title in this country. What we have is a system of title by registration. The Land Registry does not list any random interests we care to invent. It has strict rules around what it will register. What it offers the buyer is thereby a guarantee of title to land and the ultimate title for the freehold owner.
 
Such a system provides a safe and secure haven for our investment and security for our capital raising. It is this combined with the shortage of residential property in our country that attracts foreign investment bringing  vast benefits to our economy. It is estimated that some £122 billion of property in England and Wales is owned by offshore companies.
 
The National Crime Agency claim that certain property markets are skewed by laundered money. The London property market especially requires large scale investment and is the perfect place for criminal organisations to place funds by way of anonymous shell companies. This dirty money is what the Prime minister wishes to extinguish, as not only does it accommodate funds derived from exploitation, crime and corruption it fuels house prices placing them out of reach of our impoverished taxpayers.
 
His aim is to make offshore ownership of property more transparent by seeking that the Land Registry publishes data of 100,000 or so titles owned by foreign companies. This would be the first step in a process to further improve transparency. We may eventually be in a position to understand the beneficial ownership that lies behind the corporate veil.
 
But we have to get this into perspective. Foreign investment is assessed to be just 2% of property ownership. It has long been a feature of property markets in the free country we are fortunate to live in and we must be careful not to create restrictions that dissuade it.
 
Lawyers and surveyors are bound by strict codes of conduct designed to ensure that in the purchase of property, buyers and their funds are identified and legitimate. Law enforcement plays a role in investigating movements of capital from overseas highlighted by banks under existing regulations.
 
We should not run away with the notion that we will be bidding against a Russian mafia keen to buy the semi detached home in Maidstone we have set our heart on. Indeed it is doubtful that many property markets are skewed by laundered money. Neither should we believe that because the identity of a buyer is concealed that there is some illegitimacy underlying the transaction.
 
Our Land Registration system is one of the unheralded triumphs of our nation. It is right that we do not allow the very benefits it provides to lead to its abuse. But we should tread carefully to avoid sending a message to foreign investors that they may not hold the ultimate title.

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