HC Deb 10 November 1966 vol 735 cc1526-7
35. Mr. Robert Cooke

asked the Secretary of State for Education and Science what steps he proposes to take to prevent the export of national treasures of historic interest of a monetary value of less than £2,000.

The Joint Under-Secretary of State for Education and Science (Miss Jennie Lee)

Machinery already in existence provides adequate safeguards for items of national importance as defined by the Waverley Committee.

Mr. Cooke

Is the right hon. Lady aware that we have this arbitrary financial line? How does she propose to prevent the break up of collections of national interest and their export as individual items falling well below the limit? Will she look seriously at this matter again?

Miss Lee

That does not arise because £2,000 in present purchasing terms is less than the original £1,000 of the Waverley Recommendations and many safeguards have been built in.

Mr. Strauss

Is my right hon. Friend aware of the recent scandal in which an important public body, the Royal College of Surgeons, sold two important pictures by Joseph Wright to an American purchaser by private treaty without asking whether any British gallery required them and that this was followed by the Reviewing Committee permitting the export of the pictures on the irrelevant and indefensible grounds that there are two similar pictures in private collections? Will she do something to prevent that sort of thing recurring?

Miss Lee

My right hon. Friend has brought up a rather controversial matter in which the facts are in dispute. The distinguished American who bought these two pictures has very kindly given one of them on indefinite loan to the Tate Gallery. I would add that the recommendation here is that the National Portrait Gallery should be asked for advice on portraits by persons whose names appear in the Dictionary of National Biography, so that we are doing our best to safeguard national treasures. But we must keep in mind that London is also a very great art centre and that a total closed shop would not necessarily be in the national interest.