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Irvine's refurb bill hits pounds 650K

LORD Irvine, the Lord Chancellor, was yesterday branded "a huge liability for the Government" by the Opposition as more evidence of his extravagant lifestyle emerged.

The Tories have produced the Lord Irvine Directory, a five-page dossier on the spectacular pounds 650,000 refurbishment of his apartments in the House of Lords, which includes :

n pounds 21,000 on carpets

n pounds 96,000 on soft furnishings

n pounds 60,000 on handpainted wallpaper

n pounds 9,640 on a Pugin-style oak dining table seating 16

n pounds 16,000 on two Pugin-style hand-carved beds

n pounds 56,000 on light fittings

n pounds 5,000 on ceramic tiles

n pounds 5,000 on blinds

n pounds 11,000 on domestic equipment and tableware.

Lord Irvine's curtains will cost pounds 200 a yard. They are being made from damask, a mixture of silk and wool, painstakingly produced on ancient looms by the Humphries Weaving Company in Essex, to a total cost of pounds 20,000. The weavers have been asked to sign the Official Secrets Act to avoid embarrassing publicity.

Controversy also rages over Lord Irvine's "looting" of 87 art works worth pounds 1m from the National Gallery of Scotland and other galleries to grace his apartments. He insists they are all from reserve collections.

"This spending is widely resented in the country," said a Tory spokesman. "The only thing that ensures his survival is that he is one of Tony's cronies, and the Prime Minister is determined to turn a blind eye to this unseemly extravagance."

The Opposition will step up its attacks on the Lord Chancellor at Westminster this week, while Downing Street continues to insist that the stories are not "particularly fair."

Some Labour MPs fear that Lord Irvine is becoming a political liability and have conveyed their anxieties to the Prime Minister. One back-bencher told Mr Blair last week :"The voters may not know very much about the public sector borrowing requirement - but they do know how much a roll of wallpaper costs."