The British constitution:
Britain has no formal constitution, there is no written booklet. There are of course constitutional rules and principles and some are contained in statutes such as the Magna Carta (1215), The Bill of rights (1689), The Parliament Acts (1911, 1949), and The Peerage Acts (1963).
No attempt has been made by parliament to codify or set down separately the constitutional laws and customs by which Great Britain is governed. The Britain constitution is nevertheless a reality. Although parliament may alter the Britain constitution by the passing of a statute in the ordinary way, constitutional changes are brought about only after considerable discussion and patient examination of the proposals.
There are 3 essential types of activity which must be carried out:
1. The legislature: This means the law-making body. Laws are made by the House of Commons and the Hose of Lords with the assent of the queen.
2. The executive: Laws are executed by the government. The nominal head of the government is the queen, but in practice actual responsibility rests on the Prime Minister who heads the cabinet which makes the policy by which the State is to be governed
3. The judiciary: It is the whole range of judges and magistrates engaged in the task of punishing offenders and settling disputes.
1. The legislature: The British parliament comprises:
a) The queen
b) The House of Lords
c) The House of Commons
It is sometimes technically described as the queen in parliament. The legislature is bicameral, it consists of 2 chambers: the House of Lords and the House of Commons
The House of Lords:
It is very much older than the House of Commons. The House of Lords can only delay, not prevent legislation. It consists of 4 main groups:
I. The lords spiritual: There are 26 spiritual Lords who hold office by virtue of being bishops of the Established Church of England.
II. Hereditary Peers: There are 750 Hereditary Peers of the United Kingdom or of Scotland.
III. Lords of appeal in ordinary: They are referred as the Law Lords. They are 11 and hold the rank of barons and are appointed for life. They perform the judicial work of the House of Lords when sitting as the final court of appeal.
IV. Life Peers: There are about 360 and they are men and women appointed to the rank of baron or baroness under the life Peerage Act (1958).
Functions of House of Lords: Although the House of Lords is not responsible to the electorate, the bulk of its members sitting by virtue of the hereditary principle, it has a number of important functions:
1.The examination and revision of Bills sent to it by the House of Commons
2.The initiation of non-contentious Bills. These receive detailed examination in the House of Lords and can then pass fairly speedily through the Commons.
3.Power to delay legislation
4.It is a forum for debate on matters of importance in the filed of home and foreign affairs.
5.It acts as the supreme court of appeal in the United Kingdom for both criminal and civil cases.
The House of Commons:
It is a representative assembly of men and women who are members of parliament. There are 635 seats in the House of Commons and are distributed as follows: England (516), Wales (36), Scotland (71), Northern Ireland (12).
Functions of House of Commons:
It has 3 essential functions: legislative, financial and critical (checking the work of government by questioning ministers).
2. The executive: In Great Britain it consists of the queen, her ministers, the civil service, Armed Forces, police and a wide variety of government agencies. It is responsible for formulating policy, for administration and for carrying out the law.
a) The Monarchy: Britain is said to be a constitutional monarchy, that I, a queen who rules in accordance with a constitution comprising law and convention. The queen´ s title to the crown originates from the Act of Settlement (1701) and follows the hereditary principle. By virtue of this Act, the queen cannot be or marry a Roman Catholic nor can a Roman Catholic succeed to the throne unless parliament amends existing legislation.
Duties of the sovereign: The queen by convention always acts on advice of her ministers and never vetoes a statute enacted by parliament. The queen reigns but does not rule.
1. To open and close parliament
2. To dissolve and summon parliament
3. To appoint a Prime minister
4. To be fountain of justice
5. To be fountain of honour
6. To be the head of the Commonwealth
7. To exercise the right to advise her ministers
8. To take part in the formal and ceremonial events observed in the constitution.
b) The Prime Minister: the first task of a Prime Minister on accepting office is to choose a cabinet from the leading members of his party or where a coalition is formed, he consults first the leaders of the other parties involved. He is expected to take part in all major debates in the House of Commons
c) The cabinet: It is the group of ministers chosen by the Prime Minister, who are collectively responsible for formulating policy and controlling the departments, subject to parliament approval.
d) Government departments: They are the main instruments for putting into effect government policy after parliament has passed the necessary legislation.
e) The civil service: A civil servant is a servant of the Crown, who is paid wholly and directly out of money voted by parliament and works in civil capacity in a department of government.
3. The judiciary: English law has several sources:
a) The primary source is the common law made up of a body of criminal and civil laws which has been developed throughout the centuries.
b) Statute law: This is the law made by parliament and it is used to create new laws and to amend existing laws.
c) Case law: This system of law is based on the practice of courts following previous rules and decisions.
d) The Courts: They are divided into 2 main groups: civil and criminal. Civil law relates to disputes between individuals concerning their rights, the aim being to redress the wrong by means of the payment of damages in the form of compensation or the performance of a duty. Criminal law relates to those cases where the state accuses someone of having committed a crime which offends against as a whole. The aim of a criminal law is the protection of the community by means of punishment of the wrongdoer on being found guilty of actions considered harmful to the public. The House of Lords is the final court of appeal for the United Kingdom in civil and criminal cases.
e) Judges: The appointment of judges is made by the Crown. The most senior judicial appointments are made by the Prime Minister on the advice of the Lord Chancellor, the remainder are appointed by the Lord Chancellor.
f) Judicial independence: It is the right of judges to decide cases as they think should be decided in accordance with the law, without fear of consequences to themselves and irrespective of the wishes of the government of the day.
g) The law officers of the crown: There are 2 types:
I. The Attorney-General: It is the chief legal advisor to the government departments
II. The Solicitor General: He assists the Attorney-General in scrutinizing Bills at the drafting stage and in the performance of his other duties.
h) The Lord Chancellor: He is by convention a member of the cabinet. He acts as Speaker of the House of Lords and is the head of the judiciary, though he rarely sits as a judge. He has a wide range of functions of a political, judicial and miscellaneous nature. He is the principal legal advisor of the crown.
i) Justices of the peace: They are appointed by the crown on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor who, in turn, is assisted by local advisory committees, which are composed of magistrates.
j) Juries: It is a common method of trial. They have to reach, if possible, a unanimous veredict but they may record a majority veredict in certain circumstances.
k) A minister of justice: In the United Kingdom the functions performed by such a Minister in other countries are distributed among the Lord Chancellor, the Home Secretary and the Attorney-General.
The foundations of the electoral system were laid in the Middle Ages. Since then numerous Acts of Parliament have modified the system but never in a systematic way. Fundamentally, the system has its ancient form, with each community electing its own representative to serve as its Member of Parliament until the next general election. If an M.P. dies o resigns his seat, a by-election is held to replace him.
Any British subject can be nominated as a candidate for any seat on payment of a deposit, though peers, clergymen, lunatics and felons in prison are disqualified from sitting in The House of Commons. There is no need to live in the area or to have any personal connection with it. There are usually more than 2 candidates for each seat, but the one who receives most votes is elected.
The franchise (right to vote) became universal for men by stages in the 19th century. Women´ s suffrage came into 2 stages (1918 and 1928) and in 1970 the minimum voting age was reduced to 18.
Two changes were introduced in 1984. Until the any candidate who received more than 12 ½ per cent of the votes has his deposit of 150 pounds returned to him, otherwise he lost his deposit. When the figure of 150 pounds was first used it was more than a man´ s average wage for a year, enough to deter irresponsible candidatures. By 1984, because of inflation, it was about a week´ wage. Under the new arrangement the deposit was increased to one thousand pounds but any candidate with more than 5 per cent of the votes would get his money back. Another small reform made it possible for a person to vote by post if he had already arranged to be away on holiday before the announcement of the date of the general election.
Voting is not compulsory, but in the autumn of each year every householder is obliged by law to enter on the register of electors the name of every resident who is entitled to vote.
The Conservative and Labour parties:
1. The Conservatives: have always been the party of the right identified with the existing social order. The party´ s M.P.s alone elect their leader. The party´ s leader, once in office, is accepted as the director of its policies. As Prime minister, he chooses and dismisses ministers, moves them from one department to another. When in opposition, he does the same with his shadow cabinet. The MPs are expected to observe discipline and to vote with the party at whipped votes on several nights a week. Outside parliament the party ha more than one million individual members who pay annual subscriptions with an association for each constituency. The most important function of an association is to choose the party´ s candidate for the next election.
2. The Labour´ s party internal structure is in most ways like the Conservatives´ but bigger differences arise from Labour´ s attempts to give much more real power to ordinary members. Labour´ s annual conference is the supreme policy-making body of the party, and the parliament leaders are expected to follow its general policies, when in power or in opposition. During each annual conference, the sections of the party choose by vote their 28 representatives on the National Executive Committee (N.E.C) which make decisions week by week.
Education is compulsory for everybody between the ages of 5 and 16.
1. Primary education: Between the ages of 5 and 8, we have the infant school and between the ages of 8 and 11 we have the elementary school
2. Secondary education: From 11 to 16. They can choose between a secondary modern school or a grammar school when children want to benefit from a fuller academic education. There is also a small group of secondary technical schools. At the age of 15 to 16 they can take the Ordinary level, usually in 7 or 8 subjects. After this many of them lave but several stay on to the sixth form and spend 2 years preparing for the Advanced level. They will now specialize in either Arts or Sciences and usually take 3 subjects in the exam.
3. Further education: Many pupils leave at the age of 18 and get jobs. Those who continue may go to:
a) Technical colleges: especially for sciences
b) Teacher training colleges: a three-year course after which they will be qualified to teach in elementary or secondary modern schools but not grammar schools.
c) The University: if they are lucky enough to get a place. To qualify for admission they will have to have good marks in 3 A-level subjects and may also have to pass an exam, set by the particular university to which they apply.
The Church of England is the established church of the English nation, though perhaps a quarter of the people belong to other religious denominations and many other cannot be said to have any religious attachment.
The queen is the head of the Church of England and was crowned by the Archbishop of Canterbury in Westminster Abbey. The doctrine of the Church of England was set out in the 39 articles, agreed upon by convocation of clergy in 1562 and finally ratified in 1571 and this statement of doctrine is still authoritative, without alteration today. Another great reform of the 16th century allowed priests of the Church of England to be married. England is divided into 42 dioceses, each with a bishop. Every diocesis has a cathedral as its central church.
English people tend to be rather conservative, a little more than most other. This conservatism consists of an acceptance of things which are familiar and an inclination to be suspicious of anything strange or foreign. This conservatism may be illustrated by reference to the public attitude to the Monarchy, an institution which is held and reverenced by nearly all English people.
Apart from the conservatism on a large scale, England is full of small-scale local conservatism, regiments in the army, municipal corporations, schools and societies have their own private traditions which command strong loyalties. Such groups have customs of their own which they are very reluctant to change, ad they like to think of their private customs as differentiating them from the rest of the world. Changes in attitude are rather slow.
London is the great centre of commerce, administration and culture which with its suburbs contains a fifth of all English people, amore than the whole of Scotland and Wales together. Like most capital cities, London is taken by many foreigners to represent the whole country, and yet is untypical of the whole.
Leisure and private life:
Industrial workers have only 2 weeks´ holiday with pay each year, and most professional workers a month.
The coast is the most popular objective of English people for their annual holiday and seaside resorts have many hotels. Foreign travel is within reach of most working people.
Sport is very important in everyday leisure. The English are great lovers of competitive sports. The game particularly associated with England is cricket. Many other games are English in origin (like football) but have been adopted with enthusiasm in other countries.
The theatre is mainly concentrated in London, where there are at least 40 theatres functioning. Cinemas are also widespread. Orchestra concerts are given regularly in London by several first-class orchestras which are based there. Everywhere there are plenty of pubs in which people play darts, talk and drink. Much social contact takes place in people´ s homes: middle and upper class tend to favour dinner and cocktail parties. After dinner people often play cards, usually bridge.
Many people attend evening classes connected with their hobbies such as photography, painting, folk-dancing, archaeology, local history, car maintenance etc.
The standard working week is generally between 41 and 44 hours. For factory-workers, the working week is often spread over 5 days, Monday to Friday, with each day beginning at about 8 a.m. and interrupted by one or 2 tea-breaks and a longer interval for lunch in the middle of the day.
Offices and shops are usually open from 9 a.m. to 5 or 5.30 p.m. Except in small towns, few people can go home in the middle of the day, as they have long distances to travel from home to workplace. Many large organizations provide canteens where their staffs can get lunch quickly and cheaply. The greater part of British industry is in the hands of public companies, each owned by a large body of shareholders.
Wage-earning workers are paid weekly, usually getting their wages handed to them in cash. Most workers belong to trade unions.