Government in Britain

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We often say “England” when we talk about the British isles, but it is only one of four countries: Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and England. Wales, Scotland and England form the Great Britain. Great Britain and Northern Ireland form the United Kingdom.
In Scotland there is a separate Scottish Parliament. In Wales and in Northern Ireland there are separate Assemblies.
The United Kingdom is a monarchy which means that a king or queen is head of State. Elizabeth II° has been Queen since 1953 and she can trace her royal line back for more than a thousand years. Nowadays, the Queen has no real power and she can’t make any laws herself, but she still has special duties to perform. For example, she signs new laws passed by Parliament and she approves the choice of Government ministers. She “opens” Parliament every year and makes a long speech explaining what the Government ministers; the Queen has no power to influence the decisions of Parliament.
The British Parliament is one of the oldest parliamentary systems in the world. In the 14th century it was divided into two Houses of Parliament: the House of Commons and the House of Lords. In the House of Commons there are approximately 630 Members of Parliament (MP). Each MP represents a small area of the Country (a constituency) and he or she is elected by the people living there. There is a General Election every five years and every man or woman over eighteen can vote.
The members of the House of Lords are not elected. They are there because of their aristocratic birth or as a reward for public service.
Both Houses can propose a new law (a Bill) although it is usually the Members of Parliaments in the House of Common who do this. When a new Bill has been discussed in the Houses and approved by a majority of members, the Queen signs it and it becomes law. The Queen, in fact, has the right to refuse a Bill but she never uses this power because she accepts the decision made by her Government. The House of Lords cannot refuse a Bill which has been passed by the House of Commons but it can postpone it for a year and suggest amendments.
Most Members of Parliament belong to one of the three main political parties:
1. the Conservative party: the party of the Right which believes in private enterprise and moderate taxation;
2. the Labour Party: the party of the Left which believes that the big industries should be controlled by the State and that high taxation is the way to reduce the differences between the rich and the poor and to pay for Social Services (education, housing, medicine, etc.);
3. the Liberal Party which sees itself as the party of “moderation” and takes some of its policies from the Right and some from the Left.
After a General Election, the party with the highest number of votes becomes the new Government and its leader becomes the Prime Minister. The Party which is second becomes the Opposition and its leader is called the Leader of the Opposition, an official position paid by the State.
Most countries in the world today have got a written Constitution, a document which contains the fundamental laws of the country, but Britain has never had a written Constitution. It is true that many laws Parliament has made are written down in a statute book, but some laws are not written down at all. However, long ago, in 1215, before Parliament existed, a famous document was composed, called the Magna Carta (The Great Document). It was formulated by the powerful Barons of England, who wanted to limit the King’s power. It is often considered to be one of the first written agreements between the Head of State and the people. The Magna Carta wasn’t concerned with the rights and freedoms of ordinary people, but it did one important thing: power was divided between the Barons and the King, so that the King no longer had the right to rule the country in the way he wished without their consent.1

The British people have had a monarchy for over a thousand years. The relationship between the monarch and the people has suffered some serious crises in the country’s history, but the monarchy always seems to recover. The biggest crisis in the monarchy’s history came in 1649 when the king Charles I was condemned to death by Parliament. He wanted the monarchy to have more power and dismissed the Parliament and ruled for 11 years without it, but in 1642 a civil war broke out, the King was executed and England was a Republic till 1660.
In 1861 Queen Victoria’s husband died and she suffered a terrible depression. She retired from public life and for over 20 years she performed no national duties.
In 1936 George V died and his heir, Edward, was in love with a twice-divorced American woman. He was forced to choose between his love and the throne and he chose to abandon the throne.
In 1997 the famous and popular Princess Diana died in a car crash and many people accused the Royal family of treating her badly during her marriage with Prince Charles, but during the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002 people responded again with love and respect to the Queen.2

Imagine you’re English - N. Goodey D. Gibbs
Across culture Elizabeth Sharman - ED. LONGMAN - 2004
1 N.Goodey – D.Gibbs - Imagine you’re English - ed Mondadori - 1976
2 Elizabeth Sharman - Across culture - ed Longman - 2004