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Last Updated: Monday, 20 March 2006, 13:12 GMT
Paying for the privilege
By Alan Connor
BBC News

Lords
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.

Twists

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.

Tony Blair
Blair is embroiled in cash for peerages row
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.

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 na