Record set straight on Irvine project

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The Independent Online
The controversial refurbishment of the Lord Chancellor's house was agreed upon after the general election, it was revealed last night. However, there were only two Labour peers on the 13-member committee which approved the pounds 650,000 project.

The works will mirror a redecoration of the Speaker's house conducted under the last government, even down to the same firms being employed to carry them out.

A written answer from Lord Boston of Faversham said Lord Irvine had been advised after the election that "it would be in the interests of his office" for him to reside in the House of Lords residence as his predecessors had done. Black Rod, the official overseeing such projects, subsequently put forward the proposals for a comprehensive restoration along the lines of the one carried out in the Speakers' house in the Commons.

"The Palace of Westminster is a Grade I listed building. Repairs and refurbishments are carried out to standards which are in keeping with the listed status of the House and in accordance with the needs of a Speaker's residence. The decoration has to reflect the original schemes designed by [Sir Charles] Barry and [Augustus] Pugin," Lord Boston said.

He said the refurbishment was not part of the 10-year programme prior to the general election, and was not included in the works' budget for the current year. However, savings made during the six-week election campaign, when the House did not sit, had allowed pounds 350,000 to be saved from elsewhere.

The work had now become part of the rolling programme. However, although pounds 21,000 was spent on carpets, pounds 51,000 on soft furnishing and pounds 96,000 on furniture, the carpet cost pounds 34 per square yard and not pounds 100 as previously reported, and the curtain fabric pounds 60 rather than pounds 200. The dining table, which would seat 16, not 10 as reported earlier, would cost pounds 9,600 rather than pounds 25,000.

The works were approved by the administration and works sub-committee, on which sit five Conservatives, four cross-benchers, two Liberal Democrats and two Labour peers.

Lord Boston added that the contracts, which contained clauses tying contractors into the Official Secrets Act, were standard and had been in use since 1990.

In a rebuke to firms who spoke to newspapers about the work, he added: "Details of contracts are commercial in confidence and contractors who work with the Palace of Westminster are not expected to comment to the press or other similar bodies without prior approval."