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Nobles May Lose Inherited Seats, Queen Says

November 25, 1998| From Associated Press

LONDON — Surrounded by pageantry, Queen Elizabeth II opened a new session of Parliament on Tuesday with a starkly untraditional announcement: The government plans to strip aristocrats of their 600-year-old birthright to vote in the House of Lords.

Rows of lords in ermine-collared scarlet robes broke with another tradition after the speech, when instead of listening to the monarch in silence they let out muted growls.

The move is part of a legislative program for the coming year that the queen, reading out a speech written by Prime Minister Tony Blair's Labor government, described as focusing "upon the modernization of the country."

The agenda the queen laid out--the second since Labor swept the long-ruling Conservative Party from office 19 months ago--also included a shake-up of welfare benefits designed to make things tougher for the work-shy, a reform of legal funding and greater protection for rape victims.

But one item promises to provoke the most debate.

"A bill will be introduced to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords," the queen intoned. "It will be the first stage of a process . . . to make the House of Lords more democratic and representative."

The House of Lords is composed of lords who inherited their titles and of life peers, who are awarded titles.

A panel is due to report within two years on a restructured chamber.

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