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Friday, February 20, 1998 Published at 19:41 GMT


Anger at art 'looting' by Lord Irvine
image: [ Critics argue that the Scottish public will no longer be able to see works of art ]
Critics argue that the Scottish public will no longer be able to see works of art

Anger has been growing in Scotland over the revelation that the Lord Chancellor is to take art works reported to be worth £1m from Scottish galleries to his London home.

Scores of works will be removed to decorate Lord Irvine's luxurious official Palace of Westminster residence which he will move into in April following refurbishments worth £650,000.

[ image: Lord Irvine has borrowed busts like these]
Lord Irvine has borrowed busts like these
Earlier this week it emerged that £189,000 had so far been spent on furnishings. But the "looting" has been condemned by art critics and has infuriated political parties.

Chief Executive of the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Willie Rennie, said: "These paintings are for people to see. Unless the Lord Chancellor can stretch his large expenses budget to free flights to his London palace for people in Scotland then he should return the paintings.

"Tony Blair's new slogan should be - For the few, not the many."

Among the eight paintings borrowed from the Scottish National Gallery in Edinburgh are two important McTaggarts, a Geddes, a Wilkie and a Boudin.

Some 19 plaster busts and 10 rare prints from the gallery have also been lent. From the National Gallery a number of 18th and 19th century prints of luminaries from politics, science and arts have been lent.

[ image: Timothy Clifford: 'standard practice']
Timothy Clifford: 'standard practice'
Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, Timothy Clifford, defended the move and said it was "standard practice".

"I don't think we have ever refused any government body before. We lend to the Secretary of State in Scotland at Bute House and Dover House and to the Prime Minister."

Mr Clifford said the loans were agreed to in September and the Lord Chancellor and his wife had visited the galleries last summer to look at the works.

Leader of the Scottish National Party Alex Salmond described the move as one of "unbelievable arrogance".

[ image:  Alex Salmond: 'unbelievable arrogance']
Alex Salmond: 'unbelievable arrogance'
"Derry Irvine is displaying a breathtaking arrogance which is entirely in character. His looting and pillaging of Scottish art works will cause great anger both in the artist and academic worlds."

But a spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's department insisted that none of the works were being taken down from galleries.

"None of the works are currently on display anywhere. There are 80 pieces of art being provided from the Royal Academy, the National Maritime Museum, the National Gallery of Scotland and the Imperial War Museum.

But Mr Salmond added: "There are plenty of public buildings in Scotland which could house these items and thereby ensure genuine public access.

"Taking them down to Derry Irvine's house in London is nothing to do with access but everything to do with self aggrandisement."

Tory reaction

Shadow Culture Secretary Francis Maude said: "Power has gone to his head. Not to mention his furniture. It is not surprising his colleagues are getting fed up with it all."

But Downing Street has come to the aid of the Lord Chancellor, A spokesperson said the story had been overblown and that press coverage of Lord Irvine's activities had been consistently unfair.

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