Paintings requested in advance by Irvine

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LORD IRVINE of Lairg had persuaded art galleries to lend pictures for his refurbished apartment a month before the work was approved, it was revealed last night.

The publication of a letter written on 1 July last year seems to contradict a statement by the Lord Chancellor this week that the pounds 650,000 restoration was not his idea.

He told Black Rod, the most senior House of Lords official, that he had already secured the help of some distinguished art historians as well as the loan of a number of "major works of art." However, Lord Irvine also added that he and his family had no need to live in the apartment, and would be happy to see only the public rooms refurbished if the committee responsible were to decide on a phased programme of works.

"We live in central London in the house which has been our family home for the past 25 years and whether or not we were able to reside at the residence, we would retain and maintain our family home," he wrote, in a letter published today by the Times.

A statement from the Lord Chancellor's Department last week said he had been advised that it would be appropriate to live in the House of Lords apartment, as his predecessors had done so.

In a statement on Monday, Lord Irvine said responsibility for the works rested with three committees. They chose the wallpaper, furniture and fittings and he was not personally in charge when a decision to use wallpaper costing pounds 59,211 was made.

In his letter to Black Rod, Lord Irvine said: "The plan ... is to restore it so far as possible to its original appearance." He added, though, that he was concerned by the high cost of estimates for the works, which he had just seen.

"What in my view is, however, plain is that these proposals are only worth implementing to a very high and historically authentic standard ... The new furniture, light fittings and decorations will last for a very long time and will benefit future generations."

However, if the committee found the costs were too high he suggested that the first phase should be confined to the State Rooms. Lord Irvine's letter also explained that he and his wife had a "lifetime's interest" in fine art. "We have a collection of paintings built up over 25 years and, as a result, we have many friendships in the museum and fine art world. Most of our paintings have been sought at one time or another for major public exhibitions."

He had therefore taken steps to secure the help of some of his friends in the art world. Among those who had given their services for nothing were Peyton Skipwith, deputy managing director of the Bond Street Fine Art Society, Clive Wainwright, a leading curator at the V&A and an expert on the parliamentary architect Augustus Pugin and Richard Ormond, curator of the National Maritime Museum. Mary Anne Stevens, Curator of Paintings at the Royal Academy, had also agreed to secure the loan of major paintings and sculptures from an appropriate period.

The letter also detailed plans to open the apartment to the public once the work was finished.