Aristocrats who have enjoyed an automatic right to sit in the upper chamber of Britain's Parliament have voted themselves out of office, ending 700 years of tradition. The House of Lords will be reformed under a government plan that was finally approved in what became a bad-tempered and often emotionally charged debate. The leader of the upper house, Baroness Jay, said the time had come to wish hereditary peers well and say thank you and goodbye. Reform was long overdue and a necessary first step to remove the profoundly undemocratic element that hereditary peers represented, she said. But the opposition leader in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde, had called for members to abstain from the vote on Tuesday that saw their positions abolished. 'A long chapter of history is being closed. The tale is now told. The past is done. The glass is shattered and it cannot be remade. The Prime Minister has taken a knife and scored a giant gash across the face of history,' he told members of the House of Lords. 'The past is no longer the point. The point is the future. The future of this house. The future of our Parliament.' Under parliamentary convention the members had no option but to pass the legislation as it had been included in the manifesto of the Labour Party which was elected with a majority in the House of Commons. Until now peers have commanded an automatic right to a seat in the second chamber of Parliament where they are able to scrutinise legislation and pose amendments. The mostly conservative hereditary peers have been able to amend legislation and often used their positions to delay bills from being passed into law. But the Labour Government has pledged to reform the second chamber to make it more democratic despite opposition from mostly elderly peers who have fought to hold on to their seats. At present there are 759 hereditary peers - including dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts and barons - along with 26 bishops who automatically have a right to sit in the upper house. A further 500 or so life peers who have been appointed by governments for their service to the community also have seats in the upper chamber. Under the new proposals the life peers will retain their seats along with 92 of the hereditary peers elected by members of the House of Lords. A full reform of the upper chamber is expected to follow after a review by a royal commission that could propose an elected second chamber, thus bringing about a major change to British politics. It is expected to be in place by 2002.