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Works Of Art (Export)

Volume 975: debated on Monday 3 December 1979

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asked the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster if he is reviewing his policy on the potential export or loan of major works of art, in the light of both the case of the 1740 Dresden cabinet, loaned by Mr. Axel Springer, and the Michaelangelo Ton do, which he did not allow to be loaned to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics.

The reviewing committee on the Export of Works of Art is currently considering whether a procedure specifically designed for tem- porary exports could be incorporated into the export control regulations. However, neither of the two cases referred to by the hon. Member bears directly on the reviewing committee's consideration. In the case of the Dresden cabinet, the owner is the Victoria and Albert museum which, as a Crown body, is not bound by the export control regulations. In the case of the Ton do, the reason for refusing an export licence lay in its unique quality.

In this admittedly complex field, is there not a danger that if one country introduces export control regulations and assumes that they will be adhered to other countries will, tit for tat, play the same game? Although I do not suggest that the Federal Republic will put an embargo on the Dresden cabinet, as a matter of principle are there not great dangers for the future?

I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman's fears are well founded. The Federal Government have given us a specific guarantee that they will facilitate the return of the cabinet. As to the Tondo, the advice that it should not be given a licence came to me from the reviewing committee within a few weeks of my assumption of office. Unless there had been clear indications to the contrary, it would have been imprudent for me to overrule that advice.