Derry Irvine's new curtains: Draw a lace veil over the Lord Chancellor

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It is time people started to think about the Lord Chancellor's human rights - like everyone else he is entitled to a right or two. It really is too bad everyone giving him stick over a scrap of wallpaper and some alleged curtains. I have to say "alleged" because it appears that the curtains - allegedly - are covered by the Official Secrets Act and I do not want to end up in the Tower, not unless of course the Lord Chancellor is going to furnish my cell.

It's too much. Being accused of profligacy is a serious matter for a Scotsman, almost as bad as being called generous. As for looting his homeland's art treasures ... just because he is borrowing a skip or two of pictures to deaden the impact of all that wallpaper.

The cancellarial apartment in the House of Lords overlooks the River Thames and it goes with m'lud's job. Some people get a Rover and some people get luncheon vouchers ... the Lord Chancellor gets robes, black stockings, the right to sit on a sack of wool and an apartment.

So there you are with this apartment some 50ft above the ground and you obviously need curtains. Admittedly it's not quite like the housing estate where one spent one's childhood in abject poverty and where the neighbours and others could look in and see you changing your socks. But there is a risk of being seen by helicopters and people in airliners on the flight path to Heathrow with binoculars or a telescope and a yen to have a quick peer. So obviously you need curtains for a bit of privacy. A Lord Chancellor has to take off and put on his trousers all through the day because he has to dress up for the House of Lords.

So there is this great need for curtains. But you can hardly expect the Lord Chancellor to go for the suburban lace variety from John Lewis (never knowingly undersold). Bearing in mind the size of the windows you would need sheets of the stuff and even if you crinkle them up and sew in a bow or two you are still talking about a lot of lace.

Then, of course, there is the heritage point. The Lord Chancellor's apartment is part of our National Heritage. If you are going to be made into a judge or if you are a judge who is going to be rebuked you will be invited to this gracious apartment and there you will have an opportunity of savouring part of our patrimony. Wouldn't it be uncomfortable if one suspected that the Lord Chancellor did not have a bit of privacy for all the dressing and undressing he has to do? The fact is that a bit of decent material is needed - not some cheap smutter from Petticoat Lane.

It is the same with the wallpaper. You can hardly stick up Laura Ashley on bits of the national heritage - you don't see that at Windsor Castle or even the Palace. Although flock wallpaper sends out the right ethnic message we could not really have the Lord Chancellor's pad looking like the local tandoori. So really do we have any choice other than to go for a thousand rolls or so of the hand-engraved stuff.

This has to be a good use of public money. What people do not realise is that with this quality of merchandise you do not leave the leftovers in the garage - this is stuff you could sell to some Eastern potentate or the French to paste up in Versailles.

And now if that is not enough there is all this fuss about having a Ritzy bed. Do we really expect the Lord Chancellor to wake up in the morning surrounded by 15ft high curtains with pulls and gold knobs on and Grecian urn type wallpaper, in a convertible sofabed from a mail order catalogue? No, no. In these surroundings you need something grand and celestial: something you can ascend into at night and descend from in the morning.

It is not fair to compare the cost of all this with the cost of providing legal aid certificates. People who want legal aid do not have the responsibility of looking after a bit of the National Heritage: all they are doing is embarking on some selfish litigation just to get some compensation for some injury or other they allege they have suffered. It is quite different and comes under a different budget altogether.

Nor do ordinary people understand the skill involved in getting money out of Her Majesty's Treasury to pay for curtains. And after that you have to get clearance from the spin doctors et al. Life is not easy. Cardinal Wolsey did not have such trouble when he was doing up Hampton Court.

The Lord Chancellor is entitled to privacy like everyone else - see Clause Eight of the European Convention on Human Rights. The amount people spend on curtains or wallpaper or even cushions is a matter for privacy. Who knows how much William and Ffion spent on their curtains?

These are all private matters and they should be sensibly tucked away in the accounts as immaterial items under the heading of sundries or something like that. An Englishman's home is his castle and so's a Scotsman's apartment.

It was to be hoped that the Human Rights Bill would ensure privacy with respect to the cost of a person's curtains and wallpaper. Sadly this may not be so. In such circumstances the use of the Official Secrets Act is an obvious choice. You never know what devices could be attached to the folds of expensive curtain material. There is an obvious security risk. The history of espionage is full of examples of secret policemen and security operatives stuffing microphones behind wallpaper.

You, private citizens, would not like to read about the cost of your curtains and wallpaper on the front page of a daily newspaper, would you? Let us lend our support, then, to the rights of my Lord Chancellor.

Anthony Scrivener QC is a former chairman of the Bar.

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