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Irvine `demanded costly wallpaper'

THE LORD Chancellor has been accused of making misleading statements over Lords reform and the expensive refurbishment of his grace-and-favour apartment in disclosures by the wife of a former Cabinet minister.

A "killer memo" proved that three days after Labour won the general election, Lord Irvine of Lairg demanded the refurbishment of his apartment with Pugin wallpaper, furniture and fittings, though he later denied responsibility for initiating the face-lift.

Among the shopping list of improvements he wanted, Lord Irvine called for a regular supply of flowers and the clock from the Prime Minister's office in the Commons.

Extracts from a diary by Lady Jones, the wife of Lord Richard, the former Labour Leader of the Lords, who was sacked by Tony Blair so that he could promote Baroness Jay, allege Lord Irvine bullied officials in the Lords into "covering for him".

The internal Lords memorandum, dated 4 May 1997, was headed "Refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor's Residence". According to extracts of the diary published in the Sunday Times, it said that the Lord Chancellor had made it clear that he regarded the refurbishment of his residence as an absolute priority.

Lady Jones recorded that a reply to a Lords question about the Lord Chancellor's wallpaper had been drafted by Black Rod, General Sir Edward Jones, and other senior officials. But Lord Irvine rejected the form of words. "Black Rod and co know Derry started [the refurbishment]. Derry - solo - says it was a prearranged part of a rolling programme of restoration," she wrote.

The diaries also disclose a Cabinet split over Lords reform. Jack Straw, the Home Secretary, and other ministers wanted an appointed upper chamber. But Lord Richard was authorised by Tony Blair to negotiate with Lord Cranborne, the Tory peer, for a House that was two-thirds elected and one-third nominated, after the end of the hereditary peerage.

Yet when Lord Irvine appeared in front of the Commons select committee on public administration he said there had been no discussions about Lords reform.