Signaling an end to six centuries of tradition, Queen Elizabeth II opened Parliament today by announcing a government bill to strip aristocrats of their right to vote in the House of Lords, Britain's unelected upper chamber.
Elected lawmakers crowded at the back of the chamber while the queen read out to the ranks of bluebloods a 22-bill legislative program that included their political demise.
The aristocrats or hereditary peers are mainly Conservative scions of ancient families, some of whose titles go back centuries. They sit alongside peers who are appointed for life.
"A bill will be introduced to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords," the queen said, reading the 20-minute speech written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor government.
"It will be the first stage of a process of reform to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative."
Confrontations between the government and the Lords -- where the Conservatives have a built-in majority -- have increased since Labor came to power 19 months ago. The Lords, who can delay legislation for up to a year, have defeated 38 government bills.