HC Deb 18 November 1968 vol 773 cc216-7W
89. Mr. A. Royle

asked the President of the Board of Trade whether he is aware that an official of his Department was informed on the telephone, by the solicitor to the Society of London Art Dealers, on 23rd August, 1968 of the circumstances surrounding the sale of the Duccio painting in March, 1968; and what steps his Department then took to inform the National Gallery.

Mr. Dell

I have seen a report in the Press that a firm of solicitors carried out instructions from the Society of London Art Dealers on 23rd August to inform the Board of Trade of the circumstances of the sale of the Duccio painting, and to ask it to convey the information to the National Gallery.

The Board has been in correspondence with the solicitor concerned about this report. A letter dated 15th November from him confirms that he did not disclose the circumstances surrounding the sale of the Duccio, but that the Society was anxious to inform the Board of these circumstances, and would do so on 30th September, the earliest date on which it could meet the Board. The solicitor goes on to say that he told the Board that the painting was under offer to the National Gallery, and that the Society thought that the appropriate authorities should be informed.

The official concerned in the Board has no recollection that the National Gallery was mentioned. The Board of Trade was, however, already aware at the time from applications received for export licences that Mr. Weitzner had bought the painting at Aldwick Court in March, and that he wished to export it to the United States. This information had been passed to the National Gallery in June.

The solicitor also states that his conversations with the Board of Trade left him in no doubt that the Board was already aware of all the allegations concerning this picture and that what was required was concrete evidence. In fact, until the Society came to see my officials on 30th September, they had no more information than was contained in the export licence application.