Grace... but should they still be in favour?

Perhaps there will be Federation Ale on tap and take-away orders for fish and chips at Chequers under new Labour.

Mr Blair has been enjoying weekends at Chequers with his wife and three children, it emerged yesterday. Despite his revelation during the general election campaign that he liked nothing better than a pint of "Fed" and Gladiators on the telly in his Sedgefield constituency home, the new Prime Minister has had little time for such pleasures since his election.

Instead, he holds meetings and relaxes with his wife Cherie and their children in a Tudor mansion set in 1,250 acres of Chiltern countryside, an aide confirmed. But yesterday a Labour MP called for the grace and favour mansions, set aside for senior ministers, to be put to new and better uses.

Paul Flynn, member for Newport West, has suggested that the Government could open up the residences for pensioners' day trips or to give a break to the families of the sick and disabled.

His parliamentary question to Mr Blair on the subject fell on stony ground.

"I expect these houses to be effectively used for the purposes for which they were designated, including for official entertainment and for conferences," the Prime Minister replied.

Senior ministers may have other plans, though. Neither Robin Cook, the Foreign Secretary, nor Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, have visited their residences - at Chevening in Sussex and Dorneywood in Buckinghamshire - though both have taken up government residences in London.

Yesterday a spokesman for Mr Brown said he hoped Dorneywood would be put to better use than under the Tories.

"Gordon Brown will be using Dorneywood for meetings and conferences. But it seems it was a bit wasted before and we want to use it more effectively," he said.

The house could not be sold, he explained, because it was owned by a trust, and would revert first to the Lord Mayor of London and then to the American Ambassador, if the Chancellor did not want it. Kenneth Clarke visited Dorneywood occasionally, but Norman Lamont spent almost every weekend there.

The Foreign Secretary will use Chevening for meetings but will not spend time relaxing there. "Mr Cook has not been there and is not planning to use it for residential purposes," a spokeswoman said. Malcolm Rifkind spent just 18 days at the house in Sussex last year, though Geoffrey Howe is said to have been heartbroken when he was forced to leave.

The only minister to have rejected a London residence in favour of his old home is the Home Secretary, Jack Straw, who will continue to live in south London. John Prescott is to move into Michael Portillo's former flat in Admiralty House, and Margaret Beckett and the Secretary of State for Defence,George Robertson, will also live in the building.

Mr Brown will live in Number 10 Downing Street while the Prime Minister and his family will live in the more spacious accommodation in Number 11. Mr Cook has already moved in to his official residence at Number 1, Carlton Gardens.

Mr Flynn has other ideas, though: "I could think of 101 uses," he said. "Perhaps they could be used for holidays or for respite care."

Country joys

Chequers, Buckinghamshire.

Prime Minister's country residence.

Background: Tudor mansion bequeathed to the nation in the 1920s. Set in the Chilterns amid 1,250 acres, the estate was mentioned in the Domesday Book and is stuffed with works of art. Edward Heath, it is claimed, spent half a million pounds on garish wallpaper.

Cost to the state: pounds 466,000 in the last financial year.

1, Carlton Gardens, London.

Foreign Secretary's residence.

Background: Once occupied by Prince Louis Napoleon, it was built in the 1820s, just off The Mall, and is one of the best examples of a John Nash terrace.

Cost to the state: pounds 342,000 in 1995-6. In addition, pounds 1.5m was spent on a total refurbishment of the state rooms, which are used for official functions, between 1992 and 1994.

Chevening House and Pleasure Gardens, Sussex.

Foreign Secretary's country residence.

Background: Vast neo-Classical mansion built in 1630, set in 3,500 acres on the North Downs. The floors are marble, the spectacular circular staircase is "magnificent beyond dreams", according to one MP, and the chimney-piece of the tapestry room is copied from one by Vanbrugh.

Cost: Borne by a trust, though there are tax exemptions.

Admiralty House, London.

Three flats will be occupied by the Deputy Prime Minister, President of the Board of Trade and Secretary of State for Defence.

Background: The front of the building is on Whitehall, the back looks on to Horseguards' Parade. It was built in 1786-88 as a residence for the First Sea Lord, a role it performed up to the Second World War, when Sir Winston Churchill lived in it.

Cost: pounds 723,000 in running costs in 1995-6.

Dorneywood, Buckinghamshire.

Chancellor's country residence.

Background: Parts are Queen Anne, though the house was rebuilt after a fire in 1910. It is more modest than other ministers' country houses with just nine bedrooms, four reception rooms and 200 acres of grounds. The dining room has silk curtains which were sent to China to be hand-painted; the library boasts a 17th Century Flemish tapestry and the walls are adorned with comic drawings by Sir John Tenniel.

Cost: Administered by a trust and paid for out of its former owner's estate, though there are tax exemptions.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive or Senior Sales Executive - B2B Exhibitions

£18000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive or Senior Sal...

Recruitment Genius: Head of Support Services

£40000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Warehouse Team Leader

£22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This industry leading company produces h...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £40,000

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT provider for the educat...

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory