Art lovers are being given a chance to take part in a great debate over whether masterpiece paintings should be bought for the nation for millions of pounds to save them from being exported.

Three national experts are to give their views about the controversy and then answer questions at a meeting in Barnard Castle, Co Durham, this month.

They will talk about how the Duke of Northumberland's Madonna of the Pinks by Raphael was bought by the National Gallery for £22 million to ensure that it did not go overseas.

They will also discuss how a Titian portrait of a young man, owned by the Earl of Halifax, may be auctioned after the rejection of a private sale to the nation for £55 million.

Elizabeth Conran, former curator of the Bowes Museum, who is helping to organise the event, said yesterday that the Titian painting, about 500 years old, is on a list of 25 works of art considered so important that they should never leave the country, even for exhibitions.

She added: "How do auction houses estimate sale prices like this? Should export be refused as a principle? Who's got whom over a barrel? If you think the art world is dignified and decorous, think again. Despite the polite language this is eyeball to eyeball business."

The experts who will talk about the masterpieces, at an event organised by the National Art Collections Fund on Tuesday October 18, are Lord Inglewood, Sir Timothy Clifford and Mr Ian Lowe.

Lunch will be served at the Bowes Museum - at which Madonna of the Pinks was on display last spring during a national tour - and the discussion will take place later at Addison's Saleroom in the town.

David Barrie, director of the fund, will be chairman for the discussion, which has the title: "Export licences for works of art - right or wrong?"

The all-in price for the day is £23, which includes a donation to the National Art Collections Fund. Tickets are available from Mrs Conran at 31 Thorngate, Barnard Castle, DL12 8QB, tel 01833-631055.