Right of Reply: The Earl of Leicester

The chairman of the Historic Houses Association replies to a leading article on access to art
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The Independent Culture
YOU POINT out that public access to works of art that are conditionally exempt from inheritance tax is dependent on the "By Appointment" system, and that this has been abused by some owners of works of art. You then suggest that the Chancellor is quite right to amend the law now in order to require owners to provide open access at fixed and advertised times.

We have no quarrel with the open-access proposals as outlined in last year's Budget for future agreements. Owners will know the requirements and will be able to decide whether they wish to opt for conditional exemption and house-opening, or whether they would rather pay the tax and not open their houses to the public.

We do, however, take issue with the retrospective nature of this legislation. Prior to last year's Budget, owners could opt for conditional exemption and agree, with the Inland Revenue, to access by appointment. If they had known that the terms of access were to be varied, many of them would perhaps not have entered the scheme in the first place. There may well be a few owners who have not complied with the spirit of the "By Appointment" legislation, but surely the correct course would have been to make that legislation work.

There is no doubt that many of those affected will do their best to open for the required 25 days. For others, there are logistical and security difficulties that, with the best will in the world, will preclude them from complying with the access proposals except by prior appointment.

It is not crying "wolf" to suggest that inevitably some works of art will be put on the market and possibly go abroad. Neither is it intended to be blackmail to suggest this is the case.