Ashcroft takes his seat in the Lords

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The billionaire Conservative Treasurer Michael Ashcroft finally claimed his seat in the House of Lords yesterday after more than a year of controversy over his appointment.

The billionaire Conservative Treasurer Michael Ashcroft finally claimed his seat in the House of Lords yesterday after more than a year of controversy over his appointment.

William Hague's plan to ennoble Lord Ashcroft, as he will now be known, was rejected by the peers' Scrutiny Committee in June last year on the grounds that the businessman did not live in Britain. He was told earlier this year that he would be granted a peerage, but only if he moved his main residence from Florida to the UK.

Lord Ashcroft has made a fortune through business interests based mainly in Belize, ranging from banking to bananas. Since 1997, when he became Treasurer of the Conservative Party, giving it around £1m a year, he has spent an increasing amount of time in this country. He has bought a large house close to Westminster.

Even after the Political Honours Scrutiny Committee approved Lord Ashcroft's peerage, with conditions attached, there was further controversy after he said he wanted to be known as Baron Ashcroft of Belize. Yesterday's public ceremony was surrounded by secrecy; the businessman's spokesman would not confirm even the night before the event that he was to be sworn in.

Some senior Conservatives have criticised the ennoblement of the Tory Treasurer. Sir Edward Heath, the former Prime Minister, described the peerage as a "disgrace".

Yesterday Lord Ashcroft's spokesman said he did not know whether the peer had sold his Florida home. It would be "daft" to move his businesses here, the spokesman added. "A business that has interests in bananas would hardly relocate to Britain. What would be the point of moving the Belize Bank to the Mall?"

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