Government and Politics

The organs of government in the United Kingdom are: l)the legislature, which consists of the  Queen in Parliament, and is the supreme authority of the realm; 2) the executive which consists of   a) the Cabinet and other ministers of the Crown; b) government departments, c] local authorities and d) statutory boards; 3) the judiciary which determine common law and interprets statutes.

PARLIAMENT

1. General:

"The King in Parliament" is the supreme legislative authority in the UK, the King and the two Houses of Parliament (the House of Commons and the House of Lords).

The sovereignty of parliament: during its life a Parliament may make or unmake any law; its supremacy is absolute. There is no distinction between normal legislation and constitutional law.

The Life of Parliament: five years maximum. It begins after a general election and ends with a dissolution (proclaimed by the sovereign, on the Prime Minister's advice). On the average the Parliament has 160 sitting days each year beginning with the Opening of Parliament (October - November).

2. House of Commons: Members of Parliament are elected by universal adult suffrage. 650 members   ( M.P.s ) are elected either at a general election (following a dissolution) or at a by-election if a seat becomes vacant.

M.P.s receive a salary and have a number of allowances.

Personalities:

The speaker: chosen from the members (after consultation between the two main parties); but, once elected, is no longer considered a party man; his role: chairs the debates, authority and prestige ( Symbol of the House).

The Leader of the House: formely the Prime Minister himself now a prominent member of the government.

The Leader of the Opposition receives a salary like a minister.

The Whips are members responsible to theii leaders for party discipline on important divisions.

Functions of the House: 1. Legislation; 2. Finance; 3. Criticism and contra, of the government in office (which is practically exercised during the Question Time when M.P.s may ask questions on any aspects of the government's activities).

A Typical Day's Work of the House of Commons:      

Morning - committees, private discussions, departmental work.

Afternoon: 2.30- prayers and minor preliminaries. 2.35-3.30 – Question Time Parliamentary questions (PQs) are sent through the Speaker to the minister in writing. Two or three days later the minister or his parliamentary secretary will come to the House and reply. 3.30 – Miscellaneous items (first readings etc.). 4.00-10.00 – Main business of the day. 10.00 - Adjournment motion, speech of the adjournment

From a Bill to an Act.

First reading - a formality, the printed text is then published. Second reading - principles are discussed in a wide debate followed by a vote.

Committee Stage - examination clause by clause. Report stage -in the House itself.

Third reading - discussion on the text as it has emerged from   the earlier stages. It is the final stage in the House. The Bill is sent to the Lords for similar discussions. Royal Assent: the King (or Queen) gives his assent (no veto used since 1707) and the Bill reaches the statute book, it is then called the Act of Parliament

3. House of Lords:

-Parliament Act of 1911: the Lords can delay a bill for two years. They have no authority on "money bills".

-Parliament Act 1949: the Lords can delay a bill for one year only.

-Life Peerage Act 1958: created a new category, the Life Peers and admitted women.

The presiding officer of the House of Lords is the Lord Chancellor who is a member of the Cabinet. The Lord Chancellor's seat in the House of Lords is the so-called Woolsack.

Composition of the House:

-800 hereditary peers (approx.);Lords Temporal: dukes, marquesses, earls, viscounts, barons.

-26 Lords Spiritual: the archbishops of Canterbury and York, 24 bishops of the Church of England.

340 Life Peers (approx.).

Attendance and Representation of Parties:

1) -300 never attend

-300 come very rarely ("backwoodsmen")

-230 come occasionally

-250 come regularly

2) 30 Labour

30 Liberal or non-party

The rest: Conservative (i.e. there is a permanent Conservative majority in the House of Lords)

Functions of the House: Discussion of bills coming from the Commons, veto is hardly ever used; introduction of bills; supreme court of appeal.



GOVERNMENT AND CABINET

The Cabinet: a small body (of approx. 20 persons) of ministers selected by the Prime Minister. Cabinet meetings are private and confidential. Cabinet never votes - the Prime Minister's decision is final. Responsibility is, on the other hand, collective: if the Prime Minister resigns the whole Cabinet resigns, too. The powers of the Cabinet are great, and it frequently takes major decisions of policy independently of Parliament itself. "Parliament has no control over the Executive: it is pure fiction" (Lloyd George).

The Government includes: the Prime Minister, head of the government, appointed by the Crown, non-departmental Ministers who have no departmental duties, but may be entrusted with special duties (the Lord President of the Council, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, the Lord Privy Seal), departmental Ministers, known as Secretaries: Secretary of State for Home Affairs (Home Secretary), etc., also some special titles: Chancellor of the Exchequer (finance). Total: approx. 100 persons. The Civil Service.

A civil servant in Britain is a servant of the Crown. The term is used to cover 'non-industrial' members of the staffs of various government departments. A change of ministers does not involve a change of permanent staff. The administrative class of the civil service is extremely selective and is closely connected with the ruling families.

THE MONARCHY

The oldest secular institution in the United Kingdom: a continuous line since Egbert (829) except for a short period in the 17th century (1649-1660). There have been five dynasties since 1066: Norman, Plantagenet, Tudor, Stuart, Hanover, now called Windsor. The last monarchs: Victoria (1837-1901), Edward VII (1902-1910), George V(1910-1935), Edward VIII (1936), George VI (1936-1952), Elizabeth II (1952-). In law the Queen is the head of the executive, integral part of the legislature, head of the judiciary, commander-in-chief of all armed forces, temporal head of the established church. In practice, she reigns but does not rule (the UK being governed by Her Majesty's Government in the name of the Queen). The Queen concludes treaties, declares war and makes peace; confers peerages, baronetcies, knighthoods and other honours; summons and dissolves Parliament. All this is done on the advice of the Prime Minister. She opens the new session of Parliament; Speech from the Throne (the speech is usually written by the Cabinet). She appoints the Prime Minister (usually the accepted leader of the party that wins a majority in the House of Commons).The Queen gives her Royal Assent to bills passed by Parliament (no veto used since 1707).

THE ELECTORAL SYSTEM

The country is divided into constituencies (650 at present) of approximately equal size, each returning one Member to Parliament.

Election is by simple majority, the candidate that secures more votes than any other in the constituency being returned to Parliament. As a consequence, large parties almost monopolise representation in Parliament, whereas small parties with sizable minorities in a good number of constituencies are practically unrepresented.

Are entitled to vote: all adults (over 18), men and women, except aliens, lunatics and peers.

Can stand for election: all voters (defined above) except judges, civil servants, armed forces and police, clergy of the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church. Voting is secret and personal.

Polling stations are open for 12 hours during the same day throughout the country (a week day, usually Thursday). NB: Only in 1928 were women finally enfranchised at the age of 21. Political parties include:

The Conservative Party (Tories), the Liberal Party (Whigs), the Labour Party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP).

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