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Monday, November 15, 1999 Published at 09:24 GMT

UK Politics

The Lords' last day

Over 600 peers are having their last day in Parliament

BBC reporter Jonny Dymond looks on as centuries of British history come to a close.

British aristocrats or most of them at least, have spent their last day as members of Parliament's upper house, the House of Lords.

When the upper chamber re-assembles next week more than 600 peers who inherited their right to sit and vote simply through being their fathers' offspring will no longer be allowed in.

Lords Reform
The Labour government has banished the hereditary peers from the House of Lords.

One hereditary peer Colwyn Philipps is packing up his office.

In the room there are bits and pieces belonging to the 16th Baron Strange, the 25th Baron Hungerford and the 15th Baronet of Picton.

Click here to listen to Jonny Dymond's report
These are not other people who share his workspace in the House of Lords, just a selection of his titles.

He has five in all, one stretching back to the 13th century. In the Lords he is simply known as Viscount St Davids.

Later in the day he will finish his packing, say goodbye to the doorman and then leave the Lords for the very last time. So is it a day of regrets?

"Yes, sadness," he told me. "And I think also sad as one doesn't now know where it's going to, what it's all been for.

"I mean, we know that the proposed reforms of 1910, 1911, 1968, we know that the Labour Party have had in every manifesto since the war that they would remove the hereditary peerage.

"If I feel any anger it's that we've started on a journey not knowing actually where we want to go to."

That was the way that the hereditary peers survived before - by asking what would follow if they were abolished.

No-one could answer that question properly and so the crafty Lords and Ladies survived.

But no more. The Labour government side-stepped the question by saying they would think about it later. And at the end of Thursday hundreds will leave never to return.

Some of their families have sat for decades in the Lords, some for centuries.

[ image: Lord Rowallan packs away his things]
Lord Rowallan packs away his things
They have had a say in running the UK for as long as there has been a Parliament. Lord Rowallan, one of those to be thrown out, fears for the health of some of his acquaintances once they are stripped of their power.

"I feel extremely concerned. I know that some of them just live for this place and everything it's for, you know, that it does, and that they're suddenly finding themselves without that reason and I am concerned that some of them will just vegetate very quickly or get senile."

But parliaments, however bound up in tradition, are not supposed to be health farms for the ultra-privileged. So is this really is it? It is out with the old and in with the, well, not quite so old.

At next week's state opening of Parliament the absence of the hereditary Lords and Ladies will be the only change in a tradition-bound ceremony - trumpeters, courtiers, men walking backwards in front of the Queen, it will all be reassuringly familiar.

That will be scant comfort for Lord Rowallan and Viscount St Davids. For the first time ever they will have to listen to it on the radio.

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