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Wednesday, March 4, 1998 Published at 01:39 GMT

UK: Politics

Anger over Lord Irvine's wallpaper defence
image: [ Lord Irvine said the wallpaper is not like something from a DIY store ]
Lord Irvine said the wallpaper is not like something from a DIY store

The BBC's Robin Oakley reports for the BBC's Nine O'clock News (3' 12")
Opposition MPs, newspapers and DIY stores have joined forces to attack the Lord Chancellor after he described spending £650,000 of public money on decorating his flat as a "noble cause".

Lord Irvine of Lairg said the investment on his official apartment in the House of Lords would be appreciated by future generations.

The BBC's Robin Oakley gauges reaction to the story among MPs (21")
Conservatives accused him of political naiveté and hypocriscy.

Former chancellor Kenneth Clarke said: "He might acknowledge that it was rather unwise to rush into a programme of this kind."

[ image: The Lord Chancellor's residence at Westminster]
The Lord Chancellor's residence at Westminster
Lord Irvine told the Commons Public Administration Committee on Tuesday he had no reason to apologise for spending £59,000 on wallpaper.

He said he had recommended the work but had not had a say in whether it was carried out.

The Shadow Trade President, John Redwood, said: "Yet again Lord Irvine has tried to claim that the decision to spend £650,000 on refurbishing his residence was nothing to do with him.

"By saying that the criticism of his extravagance was simply 'a storm in a teacup' and that no apologies are due, Lord Irvine has shown again that power has gone to his head."

And Conservative MP David Ruffley accused Lord Irvine of "hypocrisy" in requiring contractors working on the refurbishment programme to sign the Official Secrets Act and commercial confidentiality clauses when the government was drawing up freedom of information legislation.

"It seems to gag and conceal the amount of information contractors are allowed to discuss about the costs and details," said Mr Ruffley.

Wallpaper industry 'insulted'

The DIY industry was angered when the Lord Chancellor said about his wallpaper: "You are talking about quality materials which are capable of lasting for 60 or 70 years.

"You are not talking about something down at the DIY store that might collapse after a year or so."

The Wallfashion Bureau, which represents the industry, said this "an insult" and demanded an apology.

Bureau chairman Terry Langstroth said: "We would be happy to hang our commercially-produced paper alongside his considerably more expensive hand-printed product any day.

"These remarks suggest he is completely out of touch. As an industry we produce top quality products which can cost a fraction of the price he is paying."

Newspapers poke fun

Britain's press also seized on Lord Irvine's remarks, in particular about the DIY chain B&Q.

The tabloid Sun said B&Q rolls of wallpaper started at £3.99. Lord Irvine paid £400.

The Guardian's political sketch-writer Simon Hoggart said: "He [Lord Irvine] treated the committee like a headmaster inspecting the debating society."

But he concluded: "The trouble is that even though the Lord Chancellor is more pompous than it is possible to imagine, he may be right."

The personal attack on Lord Irvine continued in The Daily Mail. It headlined its story: "Sneering, dismissive and condescending".

Public interest defence

Lord Irvine defended the spending, saying the public would be able to visit his office.

He said charities like Breast Cancer Care and the Leonard Cheshire Foundation were queuing up to arrange tours of the apartments when they open.

And he said former Prime Minister Baroness Thatcher had described the Palace of Westminster as a "priceless building".

Lord Irvine gives his defence (30")
He added: "The residence is part of the Palace of Westminster. This palace is the mother of parliaments. It is a Grade I listed building.

"It should be refurbished to the highest possible standards because it is part of our national heritage."


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