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Letter: Unseen art hoard in Whitehall

Sir: The news (report, 12 April) that a catalogue of the Government Art Collection is being published is welcome, but what is less welcome is the fact that no steps are being taken to provide members of the public with access to the items in the collection.

Surely double standards are being adopted here: the so-called "V&A List" is a catalogue of the works of art and other objects of national importance in private hands which are conditionally exempted from capital taxation. It is available for inspection by members of the public at major national museums, on a computer disk which can be purchased from the Inland Revenue for pounds 10, and on the Internet. Members of the public have a right to require access to any item in this list on request to the owner or agent named in the list.

These are items on which the Government has deferred a capital tax charge (which would otherwise have been levied as a percentage of the value of the object) in return for the provision of public access. Should not therefore items the whole cost of which has been borne by the public purse be made all the more readily available for inspection by members of the public?

It is all very well for the Government to adorn the walls of ministry offices with original works of art, thus acting as a patron of contemporary artists and, one hopes, also making a good investment; but if private owners who benefit from public financial commitment to our artistic heritage have to provide public access by appointment, so, too, should the Government itself.