The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a parliamentary democracy with a constitutional monarch, without a written constitution set out in a single document. The set of rules has been developed over many centuries: it is made up of Acts of Parliament, common law and conventions. British sovereignty consists of three elements: the Crown, and Parliament’s two chambers, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.
This oddity is a result of a long struggle for power between the Crown and Parliament during the 16th and 17th centuries. Parliament won that struggle, but it agreed to allow the Crown to continue to function within certain limits.
The monarch is not only the head of state but also a symbol of the unity of the nation. British monarchy is over a thousand years old. The monarch has very little power and can only reign with support of parliament. 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 honoures such as peerages, knighthood, medals;
- Head of the Commonwealth;
- Head of Church of England.
The present British monarch is Queen Elizabeth II, who succeeded to the throne in 1953.
The legislative power is exercised by the Houses of Parliament. The British Parliament is the oldest one in the word. Its functions are:
- making laws;
- getting money for government through taxation;
- examining government policy, administration and spending;
- debating political questions.
The Parliament consists of the House of Lords and the House of Commons. The House of Lords consists of more than 1000 lords and peers. About 70% of them are hereditary peers, because their fathers were peers before them. The other 30% are “life peers”, whose titles are not passed on to their children. They are officially appointed by the Queen. The House of Lords has very little power. Its function is debating a bill after the House of Commons. The Lords can’t veto a bill, but they can delay it for a maximum of one year. The House of Lords works as the highest and final Court of Appeal. The chairman of the House of Lords is the Lord Chancellor who sits on a special seat, called “Woolsack”.
The House of Commons is the only one that has true power. The House of Commons is made up of 650 elected members, known as Members of Parliament (or MPs). They are elected from the constituencies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Parliament elections must be held every 5 years. The functions of the House of Commons is introducing and debating the Bills. The chairman of the House of Commons is the Speaker. The political party which wins the majority of seats in the House of Commons forms the Government and its leader usually becomes Prime Minister (PM). The functions of the PM are:
- leading the majority party;
- running the Government;
- appointing Cabinet Ministers and other ministers;
- representing the nation in political matters.
The PM chooses about 20 MPs from his party and forms his Cabinet of Ministers. Each minister is responsible for a particular area of government. The chief ministers are the Home Secretary, the Foreign Secretary and the Chancellor of the Exchequer. So, the executive power is exercised by Prime Minister and his Cabinet. The Cabinet meets at the Prime Minister’s house - №10 Downing Street. The Cabinet works as a team and all ministers must accept the decisions of the “group”. If a minister can’t agree with all the others he usually resigns from the Cabinet. Cabinet meetings are held in private and the details must remain secret for at least 30 years.
The largest minority party becomes the Opposition with its own leader who forms a “Shadow Cabinet”.
The two leading parties in the UK are the Conservative Party (the Tories) and the Labour Party. No other party has been in office at all since 1945 and there have been no coalitions. The third long-established party, the Liberal Party, enjoyed moments of success, but no member of this party has held government office since 1945.
The two Houses of Parliament, the Lords and the Commons, share the same building, the Palace of Westminster.
common law – общее право Англии (как совокупность прецедентного и статутного права)
convention – соглашение, договоренность
sovereignty – верховная власть
the House of Lords – Палата Лордов (верхняя палата)
the House of Commons – Палата Общин (нижняя палата)
oddity – курьёз
the Sovereign – монарх
Royal Assent – королевская санкция (одобрение монархом законопроекта)
bill – законопроект
honoures – почести
peerage – звание пэра
knighthood – рыцарское звание, дворянство
Church of England – англиканская церковь
Court of Appeal – апелляционный суд
Lord Chancellor – Лорд-канцлер (спикер Палаты Лордов)
Woolsack – набитая шерстью подушка, на которой сидит председатель (Лорд-канцлер) в Палате Лордов
constituency – избирательный округ
Home Secretary – министр внутренних дел
Foreign Secretary – министр иностранных дел
Chancellor of the Exchequer – канцлер казначейства (министр финансов Великобритании)
in private – конфиденциально
be in office – быть у власти
hold government office – занимать пост/должность в правительстве