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Works Of Art (Export)

Volume 389: debated on Tuesday 25 May 1943

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asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that there is a steady drain to the United States of America of the richest treasures of this country in furniture, pictures, plate and the like; and whether he will lock into this situation and take the action best calculated to bring it to an end?

No articles more than 75 years old, nor any work of art, may be exported without a licence from the Board of Trade. When, in any particular case, my officers are in doubt whether export is in the public interest, they consult the Museum authorities and only issue a licence with their concurrence.

Does the right hon. Gentleman deny that there is an important outflow of objects of art from this. country, and does he not think, whatever private reasons may apply to a sale, there are solid public reasons for retaining for the nation these quite irreplaceable products of the crafts of a former generation?

I should be very grateful if the Noble Lord would give me examples of these rich treasure that are being exported. The answer that I have given suggests that there are sufficient safeguards, and the Museum authorities ought to be good judges of what it is in the public interest to retain in the country.

Does not the right hon. Gentleman think there is, and has been, a considerable inflow of American money into this country and that to do a thing like this now would be one of the most foolish things we could do?

Does the right hon. Gentleman realise that unless snobbish Americans buy the furniture of aristocratic houses, we shall not be able to pay for a Ministry of Social Security?

Does my right hon. Friend include in the export of treasures to America the Prime Minister?

I am afraid that I have failed to make myself cleat. There is a ban in the sense that an export licence from the Board of Trade must be obtained before any work of art is exported. That is a ban unless I raise it, and I keep it down if the Museum authorities want me to keep it down. I consult them on all cases of doubt.