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Sunday, February 22, 1998 Published at 18:30 GMT

UK: Politics

Irvine apartments 'may be used for entertaining'
image: [ One of the
One of the "quite small" staterooms at Number 10

A Downing Street spokesman says Lord Irvine's apartments, recently refurbished at a cost to the taxpayer of £650,000, may be used by Number 10 for governmental entertaining.

"It's an idea we have been looking at for some time," the spokesman said, and claimed, "it pre-dates any press coverage of the refurbishment."

[ image: The main dining room at No 10]
The main dining room at No 10
"There are restrictions in terms of Downing Street itself, although it is quite a large building the actual state rooms are quite small."

An opposition spokeswoman riposted: "Downing Street has been good enough for every British prime minister but it seems it is not good enough for Mr Blair."

She suggested this was a "belated attempt" to support the "accident-prone" Lord Irvine.

The idea of entertaining guests from Number 10 seems to have taken the Lord Chancellor's own department by surprise.

A spokesman there said, "It's not a big place, you would be pushed to get 25 or 26 people, it would not be for big dinners."

[ image: Embattled Lord Irvine]
Embattled Lord Irvine
The refurbishment has attracted criticism ever since the £650,000 cost was revealed - £189,000 of which has already been spent.

On Friday it emerged that artworks worth £1m would be borrowed from Scottish galleries to decorate the chambers.

The Director of the National Galleries of Scotland, Timothy Clifford, defended that decision and said it was "standard practice".

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor added: "none of the works are currently on display anywhere."

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