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The concession is being introduced as part of an attempt to tighten the law and trace hundreds of thousands of missing works, many of them taken from public sites.

While those caught breaking the law in future face up to six years in jail, Government ministers are holding out an olive branch as an incentive for those with illegally held works to come forward.

While some will be expected simply to hand over what they have to the authorities, others may be allowed to keep hold of them if they allow public access to the works at regular intervals to be decided by the state.