Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Letter to the Minister for the Arts from the President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews

  We thought it might be helpful if we put on the record without further delay, our specific concerns. We both acknowledge that however much we may deplore the delay that has occurred so far; the lack of adequate or appropriate prior consultation; and other matters, which we shall set out hereafter, we must accept current realities. We wish to help the process forward. And the allegation that Greville—or, indeed, either of us—would wish to "sabotage" the process is both offensive and out of touch with the reality of our efforts in this process, over so many years.

  In the circumstances, we ask you please to take our concerns very seriously. The main ones are these:

  1.  We ask the Panel to recognise that each case must be treated on its own facts, but the overriding principle must be that where a claimant establishes ownership, that claimant should have the choice as to what happens to his or her property.

  If the claimant requires restitution, then we submit that the Panel should in principle seek to assist the claimant in the recovery of his or her property. We recognise that there may be legal difficulties involved, but with goodwill—and the correct approach from the Panel—we have no doubt that this objective can often be achieved.

  Equally, where the claimant who establishes ownership is content to allow his or her property to remain with the gallery or museum concerned, provided that there is a reasonable arrangement as to compensation, then we submit that the Panel should not only recognise that this would provide a satisfactory solution but do everything possible to ensure that it is achieved—and as swiftly as possible.

  2.  Assuming that the Panel accepts the above as both reasonable and proper, in the public interest and in that of the claimants, then we cannot understand why the terms of reference remain so as to make the alternatives apparently just that—one or the other. If a claimant is content to allow his or her painting to remain in the institution, why should part of the agreement not be that a plaque acknowledges its origin, as well as rewarding compensation?

  3.  Next: delay. We believe the Panel could and should have been set up months ago. That said, we are deeply worried in case there is further delay, as claimants may be elderly and/or unwell.

  4.  You will no doubt recall that when you saw us about the draft terms of reference, we expressed our dismay at the lack of prior consultation—not least because the press had been briefed on the draft before you saw us or we saw the draft. You have now—again, without consultation with us—sent out requests for comments to other distinguished individuals and organisations within the Jewish community. Each in turn has contacted either of us or both of us—and all share our concerns.

  In the above circumstances, please may we know the timetable upon which the Panel will work; what claims have been notified to you as a result of the publicity given to the (wholly appropriate) steps taken by the public museums and galleries.

April 2000

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