THE Government’s chief legal adviser will be formally asked to approve the sale of two of Southampton’s art masterpieces.

Tory council leaders last night instructed officials to seek the Attorney General’s permission to sell the artwork to raise £5m towards a £15m heritage museum and expanded art gallery at the Civic Centre.

They must convince Baroness Scotland of Asthal it is in the “public interest” to sell a painting by British artist Alfred Munnings and sculpture by Frenchman Auguste Rodin from its renowned 3,500-piece collection.

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The funding will pave the way for a Titanic centenary exhibition in the new west wing of the Civic Centre in 2012. Council leader Alec Samuel said: “We don’t want to dispose of things but we feel that this is the only way in difficult circumstances to achieve this purpose.”

Opposition politicians have urged Conservatives to borrow the £5m but Tories say that would result in service cuts or higher taxes.

Campaigners have lodged a 2,500-name petition against the proposed sale, which has sparked a national debate.

Mary Lloyd from the Save Our Collection group said: “We trust the Attorney General will dismiss this application unreservedly.”

Baroness Scotland’s consent is needed because the proposed sale items are from a bequest by former councillor Robert Chipperfield, who in 1911 left funding for an art gallery.

As trustees, the council can sell the works but according to guidelines should spend proceeds on new works of art.

The Museums’ Association said the sale did not meet their strict code of ethics and the Tate gallery has also condemned the move.