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THE POLITICAL SYSTEM OT THE U.K. OF GREAT BRITAIN AND NOTHERN IRELAND.
1) The Constitution oh the country.
2) Gr.Br. as Constitutional monarchy.
3) The House of Lords
4) The House of Commons
5) The Electoral System
6) The Parties
1) 2 characteristics of the British constitution confuse most foreigners: there is no written constitution; it is not contained in any single document. There are 2 kinds of rules by which Gr. Br. is governed: rules of law and rules of custom. The rules of law are those set out in such historic declaration as Magna Carta (1215) and the Acts of Parliament. Principles of the common laws or rules of custom are not established by any law. The example: the British sovereign can`t marry a Roman Catholic otherwise it would be breaking of the law.
2)"Her Most Excellent Majesty Elizabeth the Second by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of Her other Realms and Territories, Queen, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith is the official Head of State and, for many people, a symbol of the unity of the nation. For a thousand years England (and later the whole of the United Kingdom) has been united under one sovereign. The hereditary principle still operates and the Crown is passed on to the sovereign's eldest son (or daughter if there are no sons).
The Queen has a certain role in state affairs, not only through her ceremonial functions, such as opening Parliament, but also because she meets the Prime Minister every week and receives copies of all Cabinet papers.
Functions of the Sovereign are as follows:
— opening and closing Parliament;
— approving of the appointment of the Prime Minister;
— giving her Royal Assent to bills;
— giving honors such as peerages, knighthoods and medals;
— Head of the Commonwealth;
— Head of the Church of England;
— Commander-in-Chief of the armed Forces.
The powers of the monarch are not defined precisely, however. Theoretically every act of government is done in the Queen's name — every letter sent out by a government department is marked "On Her Majesty's Service"—and she appoints all the Ministers, including the Prime Minister. In reality, everything is done on the advice of the elected Government, and the Monarch takes no part in the decision-making process. Many members of the Royal Family undertake official duties in Britain and abroad. Their various responsibilities reflect tradition, their own personal interests and Britain's former imperial status. For example, among her many titles the Princess Royal (Princess Anne) is Chancellor of the University of London, Colonel-in-Chief of eleven Army regiments, and President of the Save the Children Fund.
The Royal Family's money comes from two sources: government funds and their own personal wealth, which is considerable. On the one hand the Queen is certainly one of the richest women in the world, while on the other her power is limited by the fact that so many of her expenses are paid for by government money. Parliament has had control of the monarch's finances since the seventeenth century.
A survey in 1989 found that 71 per cent of people in Britain thought that the Royal Family offered value for money. As many as 74 per cent thought the younger Royals should "get proper jobs".
3) The House of Lords has more than 1,000 members, although only about 250 take an active part in the work of the House, Members of the House of Lords are not elected, they sit there because of their rank, and do not receive a salary. There are 26 Anglican bishops (2 Archbishops and 24 Bishops of the Church of England), hereditary peers, 11 judges and 400 life peers. The chairman of the House of Lords is the Lord Chancellor, who sits on the Woolsack.
The Sovereign's throne is in the House of Lords, and the Queen sits on it once a year to make her speech, prepared by the Government, at the opening of an annual session of Parliament.
Members of the House of Lords debate a bill after it has been passed by the House of Commons. Changes may be recommended, and agreement between the two Houses is reached by negotiation. The Lords' main power consists of being able to delay non-financial bills for a period of a few months, but they can also introduce certain types of bill.
One of the oldest functions of the House of Lords is judicial. It works as the highest and final Court of Appeal. The House of Lords is the only non-elected second chamber among all the democracies in the world, and some people in Britain would like to abolish it.'"
4) The two Houses of Parliament, the Lords and the Commons, share the same building, the Palace of Westminster. The Lords occupy the southern end, the Commons the rest, which includes some hundreds of rooms, among which are the library, restaurants, committee rooms, and offices for MPs.
The House of Commons is made up of 650 elected members, known as Members of Parliament, or MPs. The Commons debating chamber, usually called "the House", has seats for only about 370 MPs. It is rectangular, with the Speaker's chair at one end, and with five straight rows of benches (divided by a gangway) running down one side along its whole length, and five rows on the other side, so that the rows of benches face each other across the floor. One side of the House is occupied by the Government and the MPs who support it, the other, facing them, by Her Majesty's Opposition — all the MPs who are opposed to the Government of the day. The arrangement of the benches suggests a two-party system.
The front bench up to the gangway, nearest to the Speaker's right, is the Government front bench, where ministers sit. Facing the Government front bench is the Opposition front bench, used by members of the shadow cabinet. There is a long table between the two front benches.
Each chamber has galleries, parts of which are kept for the use of the public, who are described, in the language of Parliament, as "strangers". It is usually possible to get a seat in the strangers' Gallery of the House of Lords at any time, but it is not so easy to get into the House of Commons Gallery, particularly in the summer, when London is full of visitors. In order to get a place, it is usually necessary to write in advance to an MP for a ticket. Television cameras were first admitted to the Chamber in 1989.
The House of Commons is presided over by the Speaker.
The choice of an MP as Speaker is made by vote of the House. A Speaker is customarily reappointed to his office in each new Parliament, even if the majority of the House has changed. As soon as a party MP becomes a Speaker he must abandon party politics.
The central rule of procedure is that every debate must relate to a specific proposal, or "motion". An MP moves (proposes) a motion, the House debates it and finally decides whether to agree or disagree with it. At the end of every debate the Speaker asks the House to vote on the motion that has been debated. If there is disagreement, there is a "division" and Members vote by walking through corridors called "lobbies", being counted as they do so. The "Aye" (yes) lobby runs down one side of the outside wall of the chamber, the "No" lobby down the other side, Six minutes after the beginning of the division the doors leading into the lobbies are locked. This practice of allowing six minutes before Members must enter their lobbies gives enough time for them to come from any part of the Palace of Westminster. Bells ring all over the building to summon Members to the chamber to vote. Members often vote without having heard a debate, and even without knowing exactly what is the question; they know which way to vote because Whips (or party managers) of the parties stand outside the doors, and Members vote almost automatically with their parties. The names of Members voting are recorded and published.
Except in holiday periods the House of Commons meets every Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday at 2.30 in the afternoon, and normally sits until 10.30 p.m., although it may continue to sit later still — often until eleven or twelve, and occasionally until one or two in the morning or even all through the night. On Fridays it meets at 9.30 in the morning and finishes at 3.30 p.m.
The life of Parliament is divided into periods called "sessions". A session normally lasts for about a year, from late October of one year to about the same date of the next year. MPs have holidays of about four weeks over Christmas, two weeks each at Easter and Whitsun, and about 11 weeks — from early August to mid-October — in the summer.
The beginning of a new session, called "the State Opening of Parliament", is a fine ceremonial occasion, beginning with the royal carriage procession from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster. The ceremony takes place in the House of Lords, with leading members of the House of Commons standing crowded together at the end of the chamber opposite to the Throne within the four walls of the room, but technically outside the "House of Lords" itself.
The Queen takes her place on the Throne and reads out the "Queen's Speech", which is a document, about a thousand words in length, prepared by the Government, in which the Government gives a summary of the things which it intends to do during the session which is about to begin.
Members of the House of Commons have been paid salaries since 1911. The rate has lately been nearly twice the average industrial worker's wage.
5) The United Kingdom is divided into 650 parliamentary constituencies, each with an electorate of about 60,000 voters. Each British citizen over eighteen has the vote (except prisoners, lords and the mentally ill). Each constituency is represented by one Member of Parliament in the House of Commons.
Any number of candidates can stand for election in each constituency. The main political parties are usually represented, and sometimes candidates representing minority parties stand. The winner is the candidate who gets more votes than any other single candidate, even if the difference is only one vote. This "first past the post" system is clear, familiar and simple, but it means that the candidate who comes second gets nothing. In 1987 for example, the Liberal/SDP Alliance received 23.1 per cent of the total vote but won only 22 seats (3.5 per cent) in Parliament.
The leader of the party with most seats becomes Prime Minister and forms a government, which can remain in power for up to five years. The second biggest party becomes the official Opposition. Its leader forms a "Shadow Cabinet".
The Prime Minister chooses the date of the next General Election, but does not have to wait until the end of the five years. A time is chosen which will give as much advantage as possible to the political party in power. Other politicians and the newspapers try very hard to guess which date the Prime Minister will choose.
About a month before the election the Prime Minister meets a small group of close advisers to discuss the date which would best suit the party. The date is announced to the Cabinet. The Prune Minister formally asks the Sovereign to dissolve Parliament. Once Parliament is dissolved, all MPs are unemployed, but government officers continue to function.
Party manifestos are published and campaigning begins throughout the country, lasting for about three weeks with large-scale press, radio and television coverage.
Voting takes place on Polling Day (usually a Thursday). The results from each constituency are announced as soon as the votes have been counted, usually the same night. The national result is known by the next morning at the latest.
As soon as it is clear that one party has a majority of seats in the House of Commons, its leader is formally invited by the Sovereign tо form a government. The modern government is arranged in about fifteen departments each with a minister at its head. Normally, all the heads of departments are members -of- the House of Commons, though sometimes one is in the House of Lords. They form the cabinet, which meets about once a week in Number 10 Downing Street, a rather ordinary-looking house which also contains the Prime Minister's personal office.
Since 1945 the Conservatives and Labor have been either the Government or the Opposition. Margaret Thatcher dominated British politics throughout the 1980s: she was Britain's first woman Prime Minister, leader of the ruling Conservative Party and the longest-serving Prime Minister of this century.
6) The British democratic system depends on political parties, and there has been a party system of some kind since the 17th century. The Conservative and Liberal Parties are the oldest and until the last years of the 19th century they were the only parties elected to the House of Commons.
The Conservatives,often called the Tories,have always been the party of the Right, the party of big business, industry, commerce and landowners. It can broadly be described as the party of the middle and upper classes although it does receive some working class support. Most of its voters live in rural areas, small towns and the suburbs of large cities. Much of its financial support comes from large industrial companies. The party represents those who believe, in private Enterprise as opposed to state-owned undertakings. There is some division within the party itself: the more aristocratic wing and the lower-middle-class group. The Tories are the most powerful party and are often called a party of business directors. (The word "Tories" is an Irish name for thieves and was applied to the Conservatives by their opponents, but later they adopted the name to describe themselves).
The Tories were opposed by the Whigs, a rude name for cattle drivers. In the middle of the 19th century the Liberal Party(or the Whigs) represented the trading and manufacturing classes. Its slogan of that time was "Civil and Religious Liberty". During the second half of the 19th century many working people looked at the Liberal Party as an alternative to the Conservatives and their policy. At the end of the 19th century and in the first two decades of the 20th, the Liberals lost the support of working-class voters.
Around 1900 the Labor Partywas formed as the political arm of the trade unions. It was the party that drew away working people's support. In 1906 the Labor Party managed to get twenty-nine representatives elected to Parliament, but it wasn't until 1945 that Britain had its first Labor Government. At this election the number of Liberal MPs was greatly reduced and since then Governments have been formed by either the Labor or the Conservative party. Usually they have had clear majorities — that is, one party has had more MPs than all the others combined. The Labor Party has always had strong links with the trade unions and receives financial support from them. While many Labor voters are middle-class or intellectuals, the traditional Labor Party support is still strongest in industrial areas.
In 1981 some Conservative and Labor MPs left their own parties to form a new "left-of-centre" party—the Social Democratic Party(SDP) —which they hoped would win enough support to break the two-party system of the previous forty years. They fought the 1983 election in an alliance with the Liberals, but only a small number of their MPs were elected. In J-987 the two parties of the Allianceagreed to merge to form a new party, the Liberal Democrats,although some Social Democrats preferred to remain independent.
There are also some other parties: The Green Party, the Communist Party, the National Front, the Scottish National Party, and the Welsh National Party.
7) Throughout British history religion has been closely connected with kings, queens and politics. England was a Roman Catholic country until 1534. Why did this change?
In 1525 King Henry VIII decided to divorce his queen, Catherine of Aragon who, at the age of forty, was five years older than Henry. Also, she had only given him a daughter, and Henry wanted a son. He fell in love with Anne Bolleyn who was younger, but when Henry asked the Pope for permission to divorce Catherine, he refused. Henry was so angry with the Pope that he ended all contact between England and Rome, divorced Catherine of Aragon without the Pope's permission and married Anne Boleyn. In 1534 Parliament named Henry head of the Church of England. This was the beginning of the Anglican Church. This quarrel with Rome was political, not religious. The Anglican Church did not start as a Protestant Church and Henry certainly did not regard himself as a Protestant. In fact, the Pope had given Henry the title of "Defender of the Faith" in 1521 for words he wrote attacking Martin Luther, the German Protestant. (British kings and queens still have this title, and you can see the letters FID DEE or F. D. on British coins today). However, the Protestant movement in Europe was growing very strong at this time. When Henry quarreled with Rome and ordered the Bible to be translated into English, the way was open for Protestantism to spread in England. Over the years many people changed to this new religion.
In 1533 Mary, Henry's daughter by Catherine of Aragon, became Queen of England. Because she .was a Roman Catholic, the country re-entered the Roman Church. While Mary was Queen, many Protestants were burned at the stake for their beliefs. She also put her non-Roman Catholic sister, Elizabeth (the daughter of Henry and Anne Boleyn), into prison in the Tower of London. Protestants were glad when Mary died in 1557 and Elizabeth became Queen. Elizabeth also became Head of the Anglican Church, like her father, and Roman Catholicism was never again the established (official) religion in England.
After Elizabeth became Queen, a group of Protestants wanted to "purify" the Church of England of all Roman Catholic influence. These people were called Puritans — they were the English Protestants. They dressed very simply and believed that all pleasures, such as fine clothes and the theatre, were wicked.
When James I was King (1603 — 1625} the Puritans were often put in prison and sometimes even killed. Some of them decided to leave England to find freedom in a new country.
They sailed from Plymouth in 1620 in a ship called "Mayflower", and these "Pilgrim Fathers" — as they were called — started a new life in America.
Under the rule of James I's son, Charles I, the Puritans were treated even worse. Many people sympathized with the Puritans, and the Court was unpopular because it was suspected of being a centre of Roman Catholicism. (This was because Charles's wife was a Roman Catholic). This religious split between the Puritans and the Court was one cause of the outbreak of civil war in 1628 and the eventual execution of Charles I. Following this, from 1649 to 1660, Britain was a republic for a short while.
The Church of England — or the Anglican Church — is still the established church in England, and the British king or queen is still head of the Church. There are, however, many other churches to which people belong: for example Roman Catholics (6 million) and the basically protestant Methodists (1,150,000), Congregationalists (372,000), Baptists (338,000) and other smaller groups. The Methodists and Baptists are particularly strong in Wales.
In Scotland the Presbyterian Church (called the Kirk) is the established church and it is completely separate from the Church of England. The Presbyterian Church is based on a strict form of Protestantism which was taught by a French reformer, Calvin, and brought to Scotland by John Knox.
Although there is a complete religious freedom in Britain today, there is still tension between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland, where religion is still caught up with politics.
Britain's immigrants have also brought with them their own religions which they continue to practice. There are Muslims, Hindus, and Sikhs from the Indian subcontinent, Rastafarians from the West Indies, and the largest group of Jews living in Europe.
In spite of the great variety of forms of worship, only a minority of people regularly go to church in Britain today. Most people see Sunday as a day for relaxing with the family or for doing jobs around the house and the garden.