HC Deb 11 March 1997 vol 292 cc127-8
3. Mr. Tony Banks

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence how many works of art are missing from his Department's art collection; and if he will make a statement. [18037]

The Minister of State for Defence Procurement (Mr. James Arbuthnot)

As a result of inadequate record keeping and controls in the past, 105 works of art are missing from my Department's collection. New control procedures have been introduced and efforts continue to try to find the missing works.

Mr. Banks

I did not realise that there were so many art lovers among the armed forces. I thought that their job was to go around shooting at people, not nicking paintings. The National Audit Office identified 190 pictures as stolen or missing. Is the Minister telling us that some have been recovered? Where were they recovered from? He said that efforts were being made. Will he describe those efforts? For example, has he been visiting Ministers' pieds-à -terre to see whether any paintings have ended up there? Why does not he declare an amnesty so that we can at least recover the paintings, which are worth something like £100,000 of taxpayers' money?

Mr. Arbuthnot

It beats me how the hon. Gentleman, of all people, has the gall to ask such a question. It was he who in 1986 purloined £50,000 worth of silver from the Greater London council. He asks where I have been looking: I should have been looking in his loft, which is where the GLC silver ended up. It absolutely astonishes me that he has the gall to ask that question.

Mr. Tracey

My hon. Friend knows that only the best security can protect works of art, as the Public Accounts Committee investigation proved. Is he aware that the artefacts that disappeared from county hall during the chairmanship of the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) have still not been recovered? Only code marking could have ensured their recovery.

Mr. Arbuthnot

My hon. Friend is no doubt right, although I have not kept track of the GLC silver; perhaps I should have. Perhaps the hon. Member for Newham, North-West (Mr. Banks) should instigate a search of his loft so that he can tell us what has happened.