Lords pay for their robe hire
Why would anyone pay £1.5m for a peerage when enterprising companies are offering the same for £995? Welcome to the market for baronetcies - not to mention knighthoods, princeships, dukedoms...
The peerage has been "reduced to the level of a bazaar", according to Labour donor Chai Patel.
The talk in Westminster is of democracy devalued, though in denying wrongdoing the prime minister last week said that being a party donor should not preclude someone being given an honour.
So how could a humble "Mister" with lordly designs get the same privileges as a business tycoon? Various enterprising firms are offering cut-price "lordships". But it's not just the price that's different.
For real Lords, your starting package is a daily accommodation allowance of £81.50, plus travel and secretarial expenses. You also get your choice of seat, a large parchment signed by the Queen with the Great Seal, unlimited stationery, free post and access to the subsidised dining room - one of the most clubbable eateries in London. You have to pay for robe hire yourself.
By contrast, the small ads and websites selling "genuine titles" tend to offer a certificate, sometimes made of "antiqued Egyptian papyrus" and a Tufty Club-style card. But the ads claim the perks are the same: automatic upgrades when flying and one firm even promises the best rooms in hotels - "often with complimentary fruit or wine".
The big difference is that store-bought peerages are unlikely to get you access to the Palace Of Westminster or even the tiniest legislative powers.
So what exactly are you buying? Most of the businesses sell a wide array of titles, from contessas to czars.
Their peerages, of course, are not endorsed by any monarch. Most involve your buying a one-metre-square plot of land in Scotland. Scottish landowners are known as "lairds" and through some twists of logic and language, the businesses suggest that the word "lord" will be better understood and means more or less the same thing. It doesn't.
And since you can rename your tiny piece of sod whatever you like - York, say, or Westminster - you can become the "lord" of whatever impressive place name appeals to you.
Blair is embroiled in cash for peerages row
Another market is in the rights to be a Lord Of The Manor. This isn't a title, it's a way of describing land ownership. It is the reason boxer Chris Eubank can call himself Lord Of The Manor Of Brighton (replete with 4,000 herring and three cows), but is not able to scrutinise British legislation.
And there's also a business which finds the names of manors which no longer exist, registering them as trademarks and selling "lordships" of these non-existent plots.
All of which might leave you wondering: if you want to be a Lord that much, why not just change your name by deed poll, or even just start calling yourself one? Count Basie and Duke Ellington never inherited their titles, so what's the danger of doing it the easy way?
None whatsoever, according to the Lord Chancellor, who says "there is nothing to prohibit any individual from describing himself as a peer of the realm, for any purpose not unlawful".
The sale of real peerages might be illegal, but no-one gets prosecuted for selling either the real or the imaginary ones: the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act of 1925 hasn't been used since 1933, when the spy Maundy Gregory was fined £50 and jailed for six months.
There are those who think selling fake ones shouldn't go unpunished, though, and those people naturally include some real Lords.
"Personally, I think it's fraud, but they never prosecute," says the Earl of Bradford, a man whose real title has led to him being called "Mr The" at airports.
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His website, FakeTitles.com, aims to lift the lid on scams from eBay, the ads in society magazines and enterprising American title touts, and he mentions prices of up to £50,000.
The Earl puts it down to a consumer spirit which expects anything can be bought. And for once, the Earl and the businesses he's campaigning against are in agreement. Enthusiasts for British democracy may wish to look away now because Feudal Titles, a web-based firm, is jubilant.
"If the allegations made in The Sunday Times article are to be believed, then Prime Minister Tony Blair is just another title seller and the whole peerage titles business little different from our own - costs notwithstanding," it says.
While wandering around the internet, I found a website that for $30 would sell a one foot square piece of land on some estate, therefore giving me a title. Another link offered a chance to buy a small piece of land on the moon or Mars. It's rather ridiculous.
Kelly, Chicago, USA
I know one sad individual who bought a title and now answers his phone with 'Lord xxxx'. How pathetic. If someone feels that they need a title in order to command respect or feel good about themselves, then they need more help than they realise!
How could you run this article without mentioning The owner of the Rupali curry house in Newcastle's Bigg Market, Mr Abdul Latif, aka "The Lord of Harpole" Bangladesh's first peer. He's even got his heraldic arms above the door!
A simpler way, surely, to ensure a measure of dignity and respect for your children at least is to include words or names like Earl, Lord, Count, Duke, in their birth certificates, before the family name. Or otherwise their foreign equivalents if that leads to objections from the registrar. My parents missed the chance to have me called yours truly James Lord Ward.
j. p. ward, vlaardingen/NETHERLANDS
I know of someone who certainly plays on his surname "Lord" when he is overseas, and who always gets upgraded to posh suites in hotels in the Far East!!
I really do think that these people who effectively make up titles for themselves are desperately sad individuals.
Baron St-John Mozalini of Greater Outer Huffington, Greater Outer Huffington
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