Artful move for Lord Chancellor's redecorations

Even critics of "Derry" Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, have to admit he never misses a trick.

Controversial plans for a pounds 650,000 facelift of Lord Irvine of Lairg's official Palace of Westminster residence were yesterday given the final go-ahead.

Amid howls of protest from Tory MPs, reactivated this week after Lord Irvine denounced members of his own profession as pounds 1m-a-year "fat cats", the Lord Chancellor's Department insisted that the proposal to refurbish and restore the apartment was being considered on the basis of a memorandum submitted by Black Rod, "who is independent of the Lord Chancellor".

And while critics have been busying themselves accusing Labour of "hypocrisy", Lord Irvine has quietly gone about proving that no smart move escapes him.

A wealthy art lover with an impressive private collection of his own and whose wife is a history of art graduate of the Courtauld Institute, he has persuaded the National Maritime Museum, the Royal Academy, the Imperial War Museum and the National Gallery of Scotland to lend important works of art for display at the residence, which, the Lord Chancellor, says should be open to visitors with a "genuine interest" in historic buildings and art.

The leading figures in these institutions, of course, all know "Derry" personally. "The attraction of the Official Residence to the curators of these institutions is that it is a discrete part of the Palace and, with its Thames views, is a fine showcase for paintings," his department said yesterday.

Patricia Wynn Davies

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