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British Studies lectures.doc

Lecture 1. British Studies. A Short Survey of

the United Kingdom


  1. Introduction

  2. Wales

  3. Scotland

  4. Northern Ireland

1. On the North West coast of Europe lie a group (5000) of islands called the British Isles. The largest islands are Great Britain and Ireland. Since 1922 most of Ireland has been an independent republic which took the name Eire [eqrq] in 1937.The north east corner of Ireland, sometimes known as Ulster, sometimes as Northern Ireland, is a part of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Officially it is not a country but a province or a constituent region. Great Britain is divided into 3 countries: England, Scotland and Wales. The United Kingdom area is some 244,100 sq. km. The combined population of the British Isles is 59.5 million people.

It is widely assumed that the British is a relatively homogeneous society with a strong sense of identity. Most people call Britain ‘England’ as if Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were merely outer parts of England. The United Kingdom is a land of great diversity, partly in its landscape, but more importantly in the human sphere. All four territorial divisions carry a special sense of identity which is strongly affected by the tension between their own distinctive history and tradition and centralized government from London. As for the English they take for granted the United Kingdom: they never worry about the fact that London is the capital of both England and Britain, they contemplate Wales and Scotland as wonderful wild places for holidays and they consider Northern Ireland to be a miserable problem area. These countries are on the periphery; England is at the centre.

2. For the other countries in the Union, the ‘centre’ needs to be questioned. Wales is the mountainous area in the west of Great Britain. Wales is rich in mediaeval poetry and myth, and is the reputed home of King Arthur. Many mountains, caves and wild corners are associated with him, though it is not at all clear that he was an historical character. More important, the Welsh have their own language, which is still the first language of some hundreds of thousands of Welshmen, especially in the north west of the country. It is the language of teaching in many schools and some university colleges. However, the majority of the Welsh, especially in the industrialized southern coastal region do not speak the language. What they share is a strong sense of being not-English which derives partly from the fact that Wales was once an independent principality that was conquered by the English in the early fourteenth century, partly from their long poetical and musical traditions that are distinctly un-English. Wales feels like a distinct foreign country (and a very beautiful one) to the English.

3. Scotland has a long history of vigorous independence. When the Romans marched northwards across the country in 55 AD they found it impossible (or impractical) to subdue the Pictish tribes who lived in the north. The Kingdom of Scotland has existed for many centuries (think of Macbeth, based on a historical character in eleventh century Scotland!) and, despite repeated attempts by the English at conquest and endless border raids from both sides, the two countries were eventually united peacefully. In the early sixteenth century an England princess married a Scottish king, and a century later after the death of Queen Elizabeth of England, the Scottish James inherited the English throne as well. He was the son of Mary Queen of Scots about whom Russians, like Germans, are absurdly sentimental. Mary Queen of Scots was a menace to everyone including herself (this was the view of her son as well as almost everyone around her), capable of treason, murder and sheer stupidity. After James united the thrones in 1603, the two countries continued to be independent, and sometimes at war with each other until they were united in the Act of Union in 1708.

Scotland has its own legal and educational systems, and there is an autonomous Scottish Parliament since 1999. Scotland, like Wales, has much mountainous country and a central valley, once heavily industrialized but now suffering from unemployment and the decline of industry. Nonetheless, the Scottish Nationalists argue that Scotland produces and passes on to England more than it receives in goods and social benefits. They believe they would be better off if Scotland was independent and directly profiting from the fish, oil and gas in its coastal waters.

The Scots also insist on their national cultural distinctiveness, although the Highlands, a beautiful depopulated region of poor farmers and foresters among whom Gaelic (the old Celtic language) is still sometimes spoken, is culturally quite different from the lowlands, central valley and eastern coastal regions, areas of strong Protestantism and a tradition of hard, practical work. The Scots can certainly claim that they take education more seriously than the English: more of their pupils stay on at school, more go to University, and even today, the cities of this relatively poor country show great official respect for traditions of learning. Edinburgh and Glasgow are both cultured cities.

4. Northern Ireland with its mountains, lakes and wild sea coast is beautiful as Wales and the Highlands of Scotland are. The people are friendly and hospitable to outsiders, and show all the enthusiasm for language, poetry and fantastic stories of their fellow-Irish in Eire. But for the last quarter of a century, Northern Ireland has been synonymous with "the Troubles". The actual violence has been relatively small-scale, but the province has been occupied by the British Army for thirty years and a generation has grown up knowing that their lives are and will be defined by their identity as Catholics or Protestants. From an outsider’s point of view, the problem can be described as follows:

The English have been eager to colonize Ireland since the Norman Conquest (the eleventh century) and efforts were made to do so for centuries, although the Irish were always rebelling against the English rule imposed on them wherever it was more or less successful. Consequently, the Irish showed no interest in the conversion to Protestantism of the English in the mid-fifteenth century. Their Catholicism (and Catholic allies) became a crucial part of their defiance of the more powerful country. In the 1650`s Cromwell put down an uprising in the northern Irish province, Ulster, with considerable brutality, and then, to keep the region loyal, settled there large numbers of Scottish Protestants. In Ulster the descendants of these Protestants became a majority, whereas elsewhere in Ireland they were virtually non-existent.

When, after centuries of struggle, Ireland finally won the right to independence in 1922, part of the settlement with Britain was that the province of Ulster should separately decide whether it wanted to join the Irish Republic or stay with Britain. Since the majority of the population (about 60%) were Protestants who did not wish to join a Catholic Ireland where they would be a minority, they voted to join a ‘United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’. Under this arrangement the minority of Catholics in the province were badly treated politically and legally for many years, and the terrorist Irish Republication Army (which is not supported by Eire) gained considerable sympathy among the Catholic population. Eventually, in the late nineteen-sixties, resentment turned to violence and the British Army was sent in, originally to protect the Catholics and to keep order. They are still there. The Army is resented by both sides, and has added its own share of violence to the situation - but nobody knows whether things would be worse if it was withdrawn. Most people in Great Britain would be perfectly willing for Northern Ireland to be handed over to Eire; the province for outsiders is simply a `problem`, a running sore which will not heal, and few soldiers in the British Army enjoy their turn of duty in the area. But that is a democracy. If one part of the democracy consistently votes to stay in the United Kingdom, by what right can the other parts of the kingdom turn them out? There will always be a majority of Protestants in that Corner of Ireland. They have been there for 3 hundred years and more, so it is their home as much as it is the home of Catholics.

But no matter whether the person, living in the UK, is English, Scottish, Welsh or Irish, in the face of outsiders he/she is inevitably British.
Lecture 2.1. National stratification

of the British population.


  1. A mixed population

  2. Religious and ethnic diversity in Scotland

  3. Religious and ethnic diversity in Northern Ireland

  4. Family

1. The streets of London are full of white, black and brown people, who originated from all over the world. In previous centuries, Britain, like all European countries from Ireland to the Urals, was shaped by mass movements, conquest, settlement and reconquest. Even in more peaceful times whole populations have moved in response to industrial development, technological change, agricultural catastrophe and political and religious conflicts, so that every country in Europe has a constantly shifting mixture of peoples, whatever its current national aspirations.

In Great Britainб less immediately affected by some of the wars, they have been able and, until recently, willing to accept refugees from conflicts on the European mainland. Large groups of Protestants from France in the seventeenth century, small groups of French Royalists after the Revolution, and individual radicals and revolutionaries of all kinds in the nineteenth century have settled there. Irish Catholics emigrated in their hundreds of thousands to Britain after the Great Famine of the 1840’s, bringing with them a Catholic culture which is quite different from English Protestantism in its traditions, values and family patterns of upbringing. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries many Jews from Poland and Russia came there, often working as whole communities in the clothing trades of east London.

This “mixed population” is traditional enough, with counterparts of the groups mentioned here found all over Europe. But Britain has also been a colonizing power. Living on an island with many national resources and instant access to the sea, British traders, from the sixteenth century onwards, established contacts with the Indian subcontinent, with Africans and Arabs, and the settlers in North America. Trading soon meant colonization. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, Britain built up a powerful Empire which was ruled from London. To run this Empire they needed a foreign Civil Service, a “Colonial Service” – to which many young men were recruited. Consequently, thousands of people left Britain to work as administrators and officials in the Empire, and as civil engineers, teachers, farmers, missionaries and traders. Emigration was always greater than immigration in this period. Very few of the colonized peoples had an opportunity to settle in Britain until after the Second World War.

After 1945 Britain suffered from a shortage of labour, especially in unskilled, poorly-paid jobs. West Indians, and then Indians and Pakistanis were invited to come and work in the country. Between 1955 and 1962 about a quarter of a million West Indians and rather fewer from the Indian subcontinent arrived in Britain. Such numbers alarmed many of the white population, partly because they feared for their jobs and housing, partly because they disliked these non-white people coming into “white” Britain. In 1962, the Government, in response to this panic, passed the first of a series of laws restricting right of entry into Britain and changing the status of British Commonwealth citizens. Commonwealth immigration was much reduced, though the families of those already there continued to arrive throughout the seventies and early eighties. Small groups of Hong Kong Chinese, Africans and Vietnamese were also accepted into the country during these years. But as people move around all over the world, Britain has become notably less welcoming. The island is heavily populated. Now non-white population is about 5% of the population at large.

During the last thirty years Britain has undergone a sometimes painful education about people, race, colour, prejudice and different cultural values. There have been victims, mostly among the black and Asian groups, but also among the poorer white groups who have felt their own way of life to have been utterly changed by the arrival of the immigrants. Blacks and Asians have suffered higher unemployment, poorer living conditions and discrimination of many kinds. Nevertheless there is much good in this story because the experience of living in a multi-racial society has undoubtedly changed people’s attitudes. Anybody who reads the literature knows that the colonized black peoples were regarded as less capable, less intelligent than the white people, more like children than adults. It is impossible to continue holding such opinions when children of all races grow up together.

Meanwhile, white British expectations of what is normal have broadened. They eat different kinds of food; enjoy different kinds of parties, music, festivals. They learn directly about different religions and traditions. They are simply less narrow than older generations. Racial prejudice still exists and occasionally flares into violence, but somehow the British have become a society of mixed races.

  • 2. In Scotland the total minority ethnic population is just over 100,000. This is an increase of 62.3 per cent in the last decade.

  • The largest non-white group is people of Pakistani origin, with 31,793 people - two thirds of a per cent (0.63 per cent).

  • The second largest non-white group in Scotland is people of Chinese origin - 16,310 people - one third of one per cent (0.3 per cent).

  • 28 per cent of people in Scotland describe themselves as not religious.

  • 65 per cent of the population describe themselves as Christian. 45 per cent of people in the Church of Scotland denomination are aged 50 or over, compared to 32 per cent of Roman Catholics.

  • The second largest religious group is Muslim, despite accounting for less than one per cent of the Scottish population.

  • Muslims have the youngest age profile of any religion in Scotland, with 31 per cent aged under 16 years.

  • There are 6,400 Jews.

  • 3. There are 14,279 non-white people living in Northern Ireland from a population of 1.68 m - less than one per cent.

  • There are 737,412 members of the Catholic community as defined by upbringing (43.8 per cent).

  • Protestant faith communities, defined by upbringing, number 895,377 (53 per cent).

  • Chinese are the largest non-white community, numbering 4,145 people.

  • Asian communities - including Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi - number 2,679, while Black communities number 1,136.

  • There are 234,800 people who either speak, read, write or understand Irish.

4. “There is no such thing as society,” Mrs. Thatcher once said. “Only individual men and women, and families.” Many people disagree with her, but there remains a strong feeling that the immediate or ‘nuclear’ family is the basic unit of society, and that traditional family values remain the mainstay of national life.

The nuclear family is usually pictured as a married couple, with two children, ideally a girl and a boy, and perhaps their grandmother, or ‘granny’, in the background. As a picture of the way most British live, this becomes increasingly unrealistic each year. If the picture includes the traditional idea of the man going out to work while the wife stays at home, it is probably true of less than 10 per cent of the country. Even without such a limited definition, only 42 per cent of the population live in nuclear family households, and even within this group a considerable proportion of parents are in their second marriage with children from a previous marriage. In fact, it is expected that by the year 2005 only half the children born in Britain will grow up in a conventional family with parents already married when they were born and remaining married after they have grown up.

Social attitudes and behaviour are undoubtedly changing. The number of people living alone has risen significantly, from one in ten in 1951 to one in four forty years later. At the beginning of a new century it is expected to rise to one in three. In the same period the proportion of households containing five or more people has dropped from one in five to fewer than one in ten. The British are clearly becoming a more solitary nation in their living habits. This will have social implications, for example, housing needs in the future.

There is an ever increasing proportion of men and women living together or “cohabiting” before marriage. Marriages are as popular as ever, with 400,000 weddings yearly. But the divorce rate is high, and this has risen to be the highest in Europe. In fact, more than one in three first marriages ends in divorce, one quarter of first marriages failing in the first five years. One inevitable consequence of the climbing divorce rate has been the rise of single parent families. These families often experience isolation and poverty. The great majority of single parents are women. Children, of course, are the main victims.

There has also been an increase in babies born outside marriage. It is a sign of both increase in numbers and changing social attitudes that these babies, once described as `illegitimate`, are now described officially as `non-marital`.

Lecture 2.2. Social stratification

of the British population.


  1. Social classes of the British society.

  2. Implications of belonging to a social class.

1. Britain has a deeply individualistic society. Nevertheless, it is also described as having a class-ridden one. Is it really true? The answer is not simple. Undoubtedly Britain is a class-conscious society. Not only the Royal Family, but also the surviving titled families and old land-owning families are treated with greater deference than might be expected in a democracy. There can be no doubt that they enjoy special status.

But such people are a very small minority of the population. Most people are classified according to their work occupations, falling into two broad groups, as in other industrialized societies, the middle class (or white-collar workers) and the working class (or blue-collar workers). The kind of work done not only indicates education and how much is earned, but also the kind of social contact that is usual. Most people generally mix socially with the same kind of people as those with whom they work. Manual workers tend to mix with each other, as do professionals (doctors, lawyers and senior civil servants) and managers.

Many people move from one category to another or increase their level of responsibility during their working lives. More importantly, the working class is rapidly declining. In 1911 three out of every four employed or self-employed people were manual workers. By 1950 that proportion had fallen to two out of three, but since then has fallen to only one in three. Since the 1950s there has been a massive growth of the middle class.

The middle class embraces a range of people from senior professionals, for example, judges, senior medical specialists and senior civil servants, through to clerical workers – in other words, almost all people who earn their living in a non-manual way. To this extent, the middle class embodies much variety and cannot claim a single identity. The sense of social class or group is affected by social circle, education and comparative wealth, although these do not necessarily work together.

Most British people are familiar with this account of the society. If you ask them, these are the terms they will use. But if you continue asking questions, you will find people are quickly dissatisfied with this account. There are many new kinds of work and new relationships between jobs; and then there are new methods of organizing and controlling employment. There is a more up-to-date classification which was devised in the early nineteen-seventies, by two British sociologists. May be it is not quite `correct` or `official` but it is useful and is used by many sociologists. There are seven basic classes:

  • CLASS 1 includes large property owners, managers in large establishments, higher-grade administrators in government and large enterprises; and higher-grade professionals such as lawyers, most doctors, university lecturers, senior architects, etc.

  • CLASS 2 includes lower-grade administrators and officials, managers in small businesses and industrial establishments; lower-grade professionals (school teachers, junior doctors, journalists, social workers) and higher-grade technicians.

These two classes represent the `service` class of modern capitalist society. They are essentially the large-scale employers, the bureaucracy and professionals who together exercise power and expertise on behalf of the major ruling bodies of the society. These people have high incomes (higher in Class 1), job security and the expectation of incomes likely to rise steadily over their lifetimes. The jobs either involve significant exercise of authority, or considerable freedom to choose how to do the work.

  • CLASS 3 includes clerks and other office workers, salesmen, people who work in shops and in similar services.

  • CLASS 4 includes small businessmen including farmers, self-employed skilled workers (plumbers, carpenters, decorators, etc. working for themselves), and those in similar occupations who employ a few workers.

  • CLASS 5 includes the supervisors of manual labour, and lower-grade technicians; people who have some degree of authority (more, say, than many of those in Class 3) but who are unlikely to make the jump from `manual` responsibilities to management responsibilities.

Classes 3, 4 and 5 are grouped together as `intermediate` between the `service class` and the `working class`.

  • CLASS 6 includes skilled manual workers in all branches of industry including those who have had some training before starting work, and those who have acquired special skills during the course of their work.

  • CLASS 7 includes unskilled and semi-skilled workers in all branches of industry, and agricultural workers.

Classes 6 and 7 together comprise the working class and although those in Class 6 tend to get higher wages, both groups sell their labour power specifically for wages, and both groups are placed in an entirely subordinate position and subject to the authority of the employer or his managers.

2. What are the implications of belonging to one of these classes? What are they saying about British citizens? First of all, there is a wide disparity of incomes. This is more than simple payment for work: some jobs have pensions. Some jobs have allowances for housing, travel and other expenses. People in such jobs, which are typically in Class 1 and sometimes in Class 2, end up with much more money than those in Classes 6 and 7 who are paid simple wages. A wage is normally paid weekly, for labour. A salary is normally paid monthly, and is perhaps considered rather differently – as payment for a whole job involving complicated commitments on both sides. In higher-paid jobs, people tend to get more and more money as they get older and more experienced. Even without `promotion` university teachers will continue to have an annual increase in their salaries until they are in their early forties. Wage earners – the working classes – cannot expect to improve their wages much, if at all.

Then there are conditions of work. Again, these are most pleasant in Class 1 and Class 2, not surprisingly, since these are the people who make decisions about what the work conditions will be. In the other classes, it is much less clear-cut. Many people feel that routine clerical and sales work (Class 3) has extremely depressing conditions – long hours, overcrowded offices or shops, little comfort and dull work. Skilled workers in some industries may have better conditions – but they may have a lot worse. As for the self-employed and the small employers in Class 4, conditions for them may be terrible, but as a class, they are usually working in that particular job because they want to do so; and in general they will have a lot more freedom of action than most.

Authority over others is another attraction in a job. Most people in Class 1 and many people in Classes 2 and 5 have authority over other employees. But those in Class 2 and Class 5 are also themselves subordinate to those further up the hierarchy. So they will always be looking over their shoulders, keeping an eye out for the boss! In general, responsibility is a very important part of the evaluation of a job – and taking responsibility is likely to increase income, status and opportunities for promotion.

Then there is job security. Very few jobs in Britain are totally secure. Employees, whether in a private company or working for the state can almost always be `sacked` (the popular word for being sent out of job).

All these conditions define the place in the society.
Lecture 3.1. The system of governing. Monarchy.

The state government.


  1. The System of Governing

  2. The Monarchy

  3. Whitehall – the Seat of Government

1. Britain is a democracy, yet its people are not, as one might expect in a democracy, constitutionally in control of the state. The constitutional situation is an apparently contradictory one. As a result of an historical process the people of Britain are subjects of the Crown, accepting the Queen as the head of the State. Yet even the Queen is not sovereign in any substantial sense since she receives her authority from Parliament, and is subject to its direction in almost all matters. In short, she ‘reigns’, but does not rule. Technically, if confusingly, British sovereignty collectively resides in the three elements of Parliament: the Crown, and Parliament’s two chambers, the House of Lords and the House of Commons.

This curious situation came about as a result of a long struggle for power between the Crown and Parliament during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In 1689 Parliament won that struggle, because it controlled most of the national wealth. It agreed to allow the Crown to continue to function within certain limits, and subjects to Parliament’s control. No constitution was written down either then or since, and the relationship between Crown, government, Parliament and people – and their respective constitutional powers – has been one of gradual development. The state – itself sometimes called the Crown – operates on precedent, custom and conventions, and on unwritten rules and assumptions.

2. The reigning monarch is not only head of state but symbol of the unity of the nation. The monarchy is Britain’s oldest secular institution, its continuity for over a thousand years broken only once by a republic that lasted a mere eleven years (1649-60). The monarchy is hereditary, the succession passing automatically to the oldest male child, or in the absence of males, to the oldest female offspring of the monarch. By Act (or law) of Parliament, the monarch must be a protestant.

In law the monarch is head of the executive and of the judiciary, head of the Church of England, and commander-in-chief of the armed forces. However, since 1689, the monarch’s sovereign powers have been formally limited by the idea that national sovereignty resides in ‘the Crown in Parliament’ – the idea that the Crown is only sovereign by the will of Parliament.

The remaining powers of the monarch are basically to summon, prorogue (or suspend until the next session) and dissolve Parliament; to give royal assent to legislation passed by Parliament; to appoint government ministers, judges, officers of the armed forces, governors, diplomats and bishops of the Church; to confer honours, such as peerages and knighthoods; to remit sentences passed on convicted criminals; and finally to declare war on or make peace with an enemy power. In practice, of course, with the exception of a few honours she is free to decide herself, the monarch discharges all these functions on the direction of the government.

3. ‘Her Majesty’s Government’ governs in the name of the Queen, and its hub, Downing Street, lies in Whitehall, a short walk from Parliament. Following a general election, the Queen invites the leader of the majority (or largest, in the absence of an overall majority) party represented in the Commons, to form a government on her behalf.

The number of ministers in the Government may vary from 80 to 100? all the ministers are members of either of the two Houses, but the majority of them are members of the House of Commons. Naturally, the Prime Minister cannot belong to the House of Lords. Functionally ministers may be classified as:

1) departmental ministers who are in charge of government departments (they are also known as Secretaries)

2) non-departmental ministers, or ministers "without portfolio". They include the holders of traditional offices: the Lord Privy Seal, the Lord President of the Council, the Chancellor Of the Duchy of Lancaster;

3) ministers of State — usually appointed as subordinate to government departments where the work is particularly heavy or complex and where it involves frequent travelling abroad;

4) junior ministers, or Parliamentary Under-secretaries — assistants of Secretaries of State.

The central institution, the core of the British Government is the Cabinet. The Cabinet is composed of about 20 ministers personally selected by the Prime Minister, who is the directing head and force of the Cabinet as well as of the whole government. Cabinet-making is a very important part of a Prime Minister's job and a Cabinet remains very much the expression of Prime Minister's personality. He not only appoints ministers but can require their resignation. He can replace a minister or break up the entire Cabinet. He controls the agenda of business to be dealt with at Cabinet meetings. He can dissolve the House of Commons and thus bring about a General Election at any time.

The Prime Minister can introduce peers, and if necessary make peers. He can bring in ballast and he can — up to a point — demote his rivals. In the middle of the 19th century the doctrine of collective responsibility was accepted. That means that the policy of ministers must be consistent (in agreement) with the policy of the Government as a whole. Once the Government policy on a particular matter has been decided each minister is expected to support it. If he cannot agree with it or if he lost the confidence of the majority of his colleagues a Cabinet minister has no choice but to resign.

The Cabinet is the most powerful and strongly rooted organ of government in Britain. The powers of the Cabinet are immensely large in every sphere of government. The Cabinet of Ministers introduce legislation, control finance, arrange the time-table of the House of Parliament, conduct foreign affairs, control the colonies, exercise supervision over every department of administration.

The Cabinet meets in private and its proceedings are strictly secret (confidential). Its members are bound by their oath not to disclose information about its proceedings. Publication of the Cabinet or State papers is forbidden (only after 30 years of being in existence they may be available for inspection or publication). The Cabinet meets for a few hours once or twice a week during parliamentary sittings and less frequently when parliament has vocations. Much of the work of the Cabinet is done through committees which are the "engine-room" of government. Government secrecy is widely discussed and criticized. While in opposition, Conservative and Labour MPs have called for more open government but almost without exception they have all maintained secrecy when in power.

The Cabinet is constitutionally responsible to Parliament and can be forced to resign but in practice it is the Cabinet that dominates Parliament. Its ministers are front-benchers in Parliament. The final decision on all the questions of policy rests with the Cabinet. Every matter of first class importance goes before the Cabinet for final decision or approval.

While a Prime Minister must give strong leadership, he or she must allow for each minister to exercise responsibility within their field and should encourage collective decision-making on controversial issues, particularly ones beyond the responsibility of one ministry.

Because of the enormous increase in government business, all senior government ministers – most of whom have the title of Secretary of State – have junior ministers (Ministers of State or Parliamentary Under-Secretaries) to help with the workload. They are all subject to the rules of collective responsibility and must not disagree publicly with government policy.

Although government is essentially political, it depends upon a permanent body of officials, the Civil Service, to administer the decisions of ministers, and to keep the wheels of government turning. The Civil Service, employing almost 600.000 people is expected to discharge its responsibilities in a politically impartial way. Civil servants must be as loyal to an incoming government as to the outgoing one; however much as private individuals they may be pleased or dismayed at the change of government. Those civil servants wishing to stand for Parliament must first resign from the Civil Service.
Lecture 3.2. The Parliament


    1. General characteristic of Parliament

    2. Parliamentary Procedures

    3. The House of Commons

    4. The House of Lords

1. Her Majesty’s Government, in spite of its name, derives its authority and power from its party representation in Parliament. While the government machinery is frequently referred to as ‘Whitehall’, Parliament is known as ‘Westminster’, since it is housed in the Palace of Westminster, once a home of the monarchy. Like the monarchy, Parliament is an ancient institution, dating from the middle of the thirteenth century.

Parliament is the seat of British democracy, but it is perhaps valuable to remember that while the House of Lords was created in order to provide a council of the nobility for the king, the Commons were summoned originally in order to provide the king with money. The more money a king demanded the more the Commons questioned its use. Because of its financial power, its ability to raise or withhold money, the House of Commons eventually – from the seventeenth century onwards – gained power not only in matters of finance but also of legislation over both the monarch and also the Lords.

Parliament is the supreme legislative body of the state. Free from the constraints of a written constitution it may make any laws it pleases. It could even prolong its own life without consulting the electorate, if it chose to do so. Thus Parliament, rather than the will of the people, is clearly the real sovereign power in the state. The only guarantee against parliamentary tyranny is the sense of the tradition and reasonableness of its members.

Furthermore, in practice it is not Parliament as a whole which is sovereign, but the government of the day and its supporters, since they almost invariably from a majority in the Commons. For the duration of its normal term, five years, the government of the day may enact or implement its policies, so long as it can ensure party support in the Commons.

Parliament’s functions today are to pass laws, to raise enough money through taxation to enable the government to function, to examine government policy and administration, particularly its financial programme, and to debate or discuss important political issues.

The life of a Parliament is not fixed, and the government of the day may call for a general election at any time during its five-year term. Each Parliament is divided into annual sessions, running normally from October to October with breaks for public holidays and for a long summer ‘recess’ (usually late July until October).

2. Each parliamentary session begins with the ‘State Opening of Parliament’, a ceremonial occasion in which the Queen proceeds from Buckingham Palace to the Palace of Westminster where she delivers the Queen’s Speech from her throne in the House of Lords. Her speech is drafted by her government, and describes what the government intends to implement during the forthcoming session. Leading members of the Commons may hear the speech from the far end of the chamber, but are not allowed to enter the House of Lords. During the next five or so days, the government and Opposition debate aspects of the Queen’s Speech in the Commons and vote on the amendments which the Opposition proposes. Since the speech is a statement of policy, defeat on any such vote would oblige the government to resign.

For most of the year the Commons adopts a routine of meeting each weekday afternoon, and ‘sitting’ until about 10.30 p.m. although it sometimes sits beyond midnight. On Fridays the Commons sits from 9.30 a.m. through to 3 p.m., rising early in order to allow MPs to return to their constituencies for the weekend, where they must make themselves available and accessible for local matters, complaints and attendance at formal functions. The proceedings of Parliament are public, and space is available for a small number of people, especially the press, to listen.

The manner in which business is conducted is the result of custom and precedent, from which have emerged ‘standing orders’ which govern the details of practice in each House.

Each day begins, after brief opening formalities, with Question Time, lasting approximately an hour. MPs are able to ask ministers or other MPs questions on any point they may choose. On two afternoons each week the Prime Minister will answer questions on general policy matters. After the question time, the main debate of the day takes place.

The process of passing a bill is similar in both Houses. Its publication in printed form is announced in the chamber, and this announcement is called its ‘first reading’. Its ‘second reading’, usually a few weeks later, is the occasion for a full debate in the House, unless there is general assent that a debate is unnecessary. If necessary the bill is passed to a committee which considers whether amendments would be desirable in the light of MPs’ criticisms or concerns. At the ‘third reading’ the revised bill is considered in its final form, and a vote taken if necessary. The bill then passes through the Lords in a similar fashion. Once a bill has completed its parliamentary procedures, it is sent to the Queen for royal assent, by which it passes into law as an Act of Parliament. Royal assent has not been refused since 1707.

3. There are 650 members in the House of Commons. There are only seats in the Commons debating chamber for 370 members, but except on matters of great interest, it is unusual for all members to be present at any one time. Many MPs find themselves in other rooms of the Commons, participating in a variety of committees and meetings necessary for an effective parliamentary process.

The shape of the Commons debating chamber makes an important comment on the political process in Britain. Unlike many European chambers which are semicircular, thus reflecting the spectrum of political opinion in their seating plan, the Commons is rectangular, with the Speaker’s (the Presiding MP) chair at one end, and either side of it five rows of benches running the length of the chamber. On one side, to the Speaker’s right, sits Her Majesty’s Government and its supporters, and on the other Her Majesty’s Opposition, composed of all Members who oppose the government. The front benches on either side are reserved for members of the Cabinet and other Ministers, and Opposition spokesmen, known as the ‘Shadow Cabinet’, respectively.

Behind them sit MPs from their own party, known as ‘backbenchers’. The layout implies two features of British political life: that it has traditionally been a two-party system and that the process is essentially adversarial (indeed, a red line on the floor in front of each front bench still marks the limit – a little more than two swords’ lengths – beyond which a Member may not approach the opposite benches).

The Speaker is chosen by a vote of the entire House, although in practice the party leaders consult their supporters in order to achieve informal agreement beforehand. The Speaker is responsible for the orderly conduct of business, and is required to act with scrupulous impartiality between Members in the House.

Unlike peers, who can only claim expenses, MPs are paid salaries, approximately twice the average national wage, but substantially less than most MPs could earn outside the Commons.

4. There may be other constitutional monarchs around the world, but nowhere is there anything quite like the upper Chamber of the British Parliament, the House of Lords. In fact, it is difficult to talk about it in present tense, as it is in the process of being radically changed. In the 1997 election, part of Labour’s manifesto was a promise to reform it - hardly surprising if one looks at the extraordinary nature of the House of Lords before these reforms began.

The function of the upper Chamber is to act as a brake on the government of the day. Its members take a long, cool look at new legislation prepared by the Commons. They discuss it, revise it and sometimes send it back to be reconsidered. Their power has for a long time been very limited. Even before the 20th century it was accepted that the Commons was the real seat of power; but from time to time the Lords tried to take control.

The problem was that the permanent Conservative majority in the Lords opposed the Commons when it was in the hands of its enemies, the Liberals. In 1909, the Liberals tried to introduce a radical People’s Budget increasing taxes and benefits. The House of Lords did its best to stop the budget going through, and the Commons lost its patience. A law was passed to limit the powers of the upper Chamber: the Parliament Act of 1911. From then on, the House of Lords could only delay new laws for a fixed period, and it could not alter budgets (normally the most important of government measures).

The problem of the Conservative majority did not, however, go away. It was still the main reason for Tony Blair's promise to reform the Lords in 1997. The origin of this built-in, permanent Conservative majority was the bizarre and medieval composition of the House of Lords. Most members were from the ancient aristocracy: dukes, marquises, earls, viscounts and barons. These are hereditary titles, like the monarchy, passed on from father to son through the generations.

In recent years, it has been the practice to create new lords, known as life peers. Senior politicians such as ex-Prime Ministers, and other important public figures were given titles (for example, Baroness Thatcher) and a seat in the House of Lords. But the relics of feudalism were still in the majority; and they were joined by many more Conservatives among the life peers. In the 1990s, the Lords consisted of about 750 hereditary peers, 26 bishops of the Church of England, nine senior judges and about 500 life peers. You can see from the figures that another problem was the size of the membership; luckily, only a small proportion of them ever came in to work. The future of the House of Lords could be included in a new written constitution.

Following the House of Lords Act 1999 there are only 92 peers who sit by virtue of hereditary peerage. The majority of members are now life peers and the Government has been consulting on proposals and attempting to legislate for further reform of the Lords.

There were 751 peers in total on 1st November 2006.
Lecture 3.3. Constitution. Elections.

Major parties. Local government.

  1. Constitution

  2. Elections

  3. Political parties

  4. Local government

1. Constitution is a document or a set of documents which set out how the country is to be governed. Britain is said to have an ‘unwritten constitution’ because, although there are many documents, such as the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679, which guaranteed certain basic freedoms for the citizens (it made it illegal to hold a man in prison without trial); a Bill of rights of 1689, which established Parliament as the central body of government (to be more exact, it established the right of the people through their representatives in Parliament, to depose the King and set on the throne whomever they chose); the Great Reform Bill of 1832 (it took away the right to elect MPs from 56 ‘rotten boroughs’, gave the seats to counties or large towns hitherto unrepresented in Parliament, and gave the vote to householders) or the Parliament Act of 1911, which deal with constitutional matters (it limited the power of Lords) and others, there is no single document which sets out the constitutional machinery of Britain, and such written documents as the Great Reform Bill make sense only against the background of the unwritten customs and traditions which have grown up in Britain over the centuries. A new written constitution might deal with all sorts of problems in one go; for example, the future of the House of Lords, the status of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and the problem of the voting system. Now might be a good time to abolish or at least reform the monarchy, which has lost much of its popular support. The question of Britain’s relations with the EU also needs to be resolved.

Also, there is a fundamental point missing from Britain's unwritten constitution - human rights. These rights only exist in a sort of negative form at present: you can do whatever you like if it is not against the law. In the Thatcher era some very basic rights seemed to be under threat; for example, unions were banned at GCHQ, the government's electronic spy centre, and in 1984-5 the police were used as a political force against striking miners. In 1988, a group called Charter 88 started a campaign for a written constitution. But the idea of a written constitution is still rather alien to the British; perhaps it would actually make it harder to reform institutions rather than easier.

2. For electoral purposes the United Kingdom is divided into constituencies, each one of which elects a Member of Parliament to sit in the House of Commons. Today there are 650 seats in the Commons, one seat on average for every 66,000 electors.

All British citizens may vote, provided they are aged eighteen or over, are registered, and are not disqualified by insanity, membership of the House of Lords or by being sentenced prisoners. Voting is not compulsory, and a general election normally attracts about 75 per cent of the electorate. The candidate in a constituency who gains most votes is returned as Member to the Commons.

If a Member of Parliament (MP) resigns, dies or is made a peer during the lifetime of a Parliament, a by-election must be held in his or her old constituency to elect a new member. No candidate requires the backing of a political party in order to stand for election, but today no independent candidates succeed in being elected. MPs are normally chosen by the constituency branch of the party, from a list of suitable candidates issued by the party headquarters.

3. The political party system has evolved since the eighteenth century, and since the first half of the nineteenth century has been essentially a two-party system. Today, this two-party contest is between the Conservative Party (still known by their previous nickname, the ‘Tories’) and the Labour Party, which emerged at the end of the nineteenth century as a result of the introduction of universal male suffrage and the decline of the Liberal Party.

The Conservative Party is the party of the Right, identified with the idea of economic freedom. It has successfully portrayed itself as the party of patriotism. Its support tends to lie with the wealthier classes, receiving much money from major business and financial institutions. It gives emphasis to the importance of law and order, and the maintenance of strong armed forces to protect British interests. It is highly disciplined and accepts the direction of the Prime Minister. Conservatives tend to be reluctant to express dissent from the leadership publicly.

The Labour Party is less disciplined but possibly more democratic, with more open disagreements between the leadership and other party members. Labour is preeminently the party of social justice, though its emphasis is less on equality than on the achievement of wellbeing and opportunity for all members of society. It tends to put the collective wellbeing of society above individual freedom, in the economic sphere at any rate. Traditionally it has been committed to public ownership of major industries, and to economic planning. The trade union movement, which founded the Labour Party, remains influential in the evolution of party policy.

The Liberal Party, which traces its origins to the eighteenth century ‘Whigs’, merged with the new Social Democratic Party in 1988 to become the Liberal Democrats. It seeks to attract the votes of the middle ground between Labour and the Conservatives.

3. England (with the exception of Greater London) and Wales are divided into fifty-three counties, within which there are 369 districts. Forty-seven of these counties, which are ‘non-metropolitan’, and all districts, have independent and locally elected councils. In Greater London itself the local government authorities are the councils of thirty-two London boroughs. In mainland Scotland there are nine regions, divided into fifty-three districts, and there are three all-purpose authorities for the island groups, Orkney, Shetland and the Western Isles. In Northern Ireland much is administered by area boards. But local services are provided by twenty-six district councils.

These county (or regional), district and borough councils provide the range of services – health, education, waste disposal, police and fire services – necessary for everyday life. The county councils usually look after the wider and larger responsibilities like planning, transport, highways, traffic regulation, health, education, and fire services. In principle, the local authorities have control over the local police.

It is the basic principle of local government that local people can devise a better system for the local context than can central government. As a result there is no standard system, since in each county the local authorities have the freedom to organize and administer services as they think will best suit the area. Closely related to this efficiency principle is the democratic one – the right of people to organize community affairs as they think best.

Lecture 4. British economy

  1. Free trade.

  2. Natural resources.

  3. Manufacturing and services.

  4. A fading economy?

  5. Risks and opportunities.

  6. Women in the workforce.

  7. A different perspective.

1. For a very long time Britain has been a trading nation - importing, exporting, investing abroad and receiving foreign investment. The Scottish philosopher, Adam Smith, argued in The Wealth of Nations (1776) that protectionism, putting up trade barriers between countries, was bad for everyone in the end. His ideas became the accepted orthodoxy, and during the following 100 years Britain got rid of its protective tariffs, and embraced free trade. The national economy is still mainly based on free markets.

One change in recent times is the list of Britain’s trading partners. Joining the EU has meant a major move away from old markets and suppliers in the Commonwealth (members of Britain’s ex-empire), and towards new markets closer at hand, though the USA is just as important as ever. Britain imports most goods from Germany and the USA (12-14 per cent each of the total), then France (10 per cent) and the Netherlands (7-8 per cent). The top four export destinations are the same countries in the same order. About half of Britain’s visible trade is now with the EU.

There have been other changes in every sector of the British economy: in primary, secondary and tertiary industries.

2. Primary industries are those that exploit raw materials: agriculture, fishing, mining, oil extraction and so on. Agriculture is a small part of the economy, employing less than 2 per cent of the workforce, and producing less than 2 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The low level of employment in agriculture is explained by a high level of efficiency: British farms are big (though not by the standards of those in the USA or Australia) and highly mechanised. This efficiency has a downside. Parts of East Anglia have been turned into vast, featureless food-producing units, with an enormous reduction in wildlife populations.

Fishing has always been a natural activity for an island population. But this sector, too, employs only a fraction of the number of people it used to, due to increased mechanisation and bigger boats with smaller crews. However, there are other limiting factors which mean that the British fishing fleet only catches two-thirds of the fish eaten by the nation. Membership of the EU has obliged Britain to allow European partners to fish closer to British coasts and share the fish in nearby waters. Iceland has prevented foreign boats from fishing in its waters, which were important for the British. In addition to this, stocks have been depleted by pollution and over-fishing: there simply are not enough fish to meet the demand. Workers in the industry complain bitterly about quotas (official limits on the numbers which can be fished within a certain period), but if the industry is not carefully controlled, there will be no future for the workers and no fish left.

Cheap, available energy was a major contributor to the industrial revolution 200 years ago, and it is just as important today. Britain has more energy resources than any other EU country. Previously, that energy came from coal: at its peak in 1913, more than one million miners were employed in the coal industry.

Most of the mines have now been shut down: today about 18,000 miners are employed. However, since the 1970s huge quantities of gas and oil have been extracted from fields in the North Sea. The discovery of these fields was a stroke of luck for Britain, whose economy was, in other respects, doing rather poorly. Britain is now the world’s sixth largest producer of oil, with an average output of over two million barrels per day, some of it exported. (Most of the oil comes from Scottish waters, and this has been a factor in Scotland’s calls for independence.)

3. The term secondary refers to manufacturing and construction, and tertiary to service industries. It is in the balance between these two industries that one of the most striking changes has occurred in the British economy. At one time one of the world’s greatest manufacturing centres, Britain has largely given up producing goods in favour of other kinds of economic activity. In 1983, the country imported more manufactured goods than it produced for the first time since the industrial revolution. As manufacturing declined, so the service industries expanded. Many people have been worried by this change: how can it be economically viable to stop building ships and open restaurants instead? But tourism, transport and telecommunications are all important growth areas: in 1997, 25.5 million overseas visitors came to Britain.

Financial services such as accountancy, insurance and banking are very big business too. Britain is now the world’s second largest service exporter at 6 per cent of the total - ahead of both France and Germany, and just behind the USA. The contribution of service industries and their invisible exports means that the balance of trade (between imports and exports) is just about even, and the country is not heading for economic disaster - at least not in the short term.

The loss of factory-based jobs has increased the old north-south divide - the disparity in wealth between the rich south of England and the less prosperous north of England and Scotland. The heart of the prosperous zone is London itself, and in the heart of London is the headquarters of the successful financial services sector - the City. This financial centre has expanded east into the developing docklands area of Canary Wharf, where 25,000 people now work. Today, the City is one of the world’s biggest financial centres, and handles 59 per cent of international equity (share) trading. Another huge change took place in the 1980s, under Margaret Thatcher’s Conservative government: the privatisation of certain state-owned companies. Previous Labour governments had been keen to nationalise parts of the economy - in some cases (as with the car industry), simply to save them from disappearing. This sort of interventionism was anathema to Margaret Thatcher and her free market philosophy. So she sold off car makers such as Jaguar, the steel and shipbuilding industries, the defence specialists British Aerospace, and the state-owned bus companies, including long-distance coach lines and local city buses. The Conservative Government also denationalised enterprises which were state owned in most countries (other than the USA): the telephones, railways and the national airlines, including British Airways. Finally, there was the unpopular sale of the public utilities: the gas, electricity and water suppliers became private companies, with their prices controlled by government regulators.

4. Privatisation has caught on around the world. Margaret Thatcher and British business people are often given the credit for starting the trend (although in reality they were only following the American model). But in other respects the British economy is seen as a story of long-term decline interrupted by occasional bursts of recovery.

Two hundred years ago the British economy seemed invincible. Great wealth had been established from a protectionist market within its Empire, from the slave trade and colonial resources, and from the exploitation of workers and children. Using the capital built up in this way, and the huge wealth of the land-owning aristocracy, Britain managed to have its industrial revolution before any other country. By the time of the Great Exhibition of 1851, after decades of staggering economic growth, Britain was way ahead of its international competitors. Britain’s railways, shipbuilding, and its coal, iron and textile production were all world leaders. But by the early 1870s, Germany and the USA were challenging this economic power, and Britain has never recovered its position. From having the world’s highest GDP per capita, it fell to third place by 1913 and today hovers around seventeenth place. In 1913, it still had a 32 per cent share of the world’s manufactured exports; today the figure is nearer to 5 per cent.

The reasons for economic decline have long been a favourite topic of debate in Britain. It is a complex subject and several factors are commonly blamed. Not enough investment: industries have slowly but surely fallen behind the competition as they failed to take on or develop new methods and machinery. Short-termism and speculation: the money men in the City who make the investment decisions have looked for immediate profits worldwide, not the long-term development of local industry. Labour problems: in the 1960s and 70s, management and workers were often in conflict, and Britain, together with France and Italy, became associated with strikes and other types of industrial action, although this is no longer the case today. Welfare and military spending: in the middle years of the 20th century Britain had a more expensive health and welfare system than its competitors and, though defence commitments have diminished since the end of the Empire, funding for the military has remained high. Education: schools and universities have not given technology the attention and status it needs.

All these factors have probably played a part in the country’s economic decline, but there is one other general point to remember: Britain started ahead of its rivals in the industrial race, and it was natural and inevitable that others would catch up and overtake.

5. For the British economy today the picture is a mixture of positive and negative. On the plus side, inflation seems to be under control at around 2.6 per cent, especially when compared to its high point in the 1970s of over 25 per cent per year. Productivity used to be rather low, but in recent years it has grown faster than in most countries. There is a great deal of inward investment: American, Japanese, Korean, French and German companies have bought British firms or set up their own factories. Some consider inward investment as a failure, with the issue of foreign control; but this must be weighed against outward investment. Britain is also a major investor overseas, and many British firms buy foreign companies.

The financial services are a strong point, as are creative industries such as publishing, TV and especially pop music: revenue from film and television exports has been increasing at around 7 per cent a year. On the minus side, manufacturing shows little sign of re-establishing itself as the powerhouse of the economy. In most areas the technology has fallen behind that of Britain’s main competitors.

Unemployment was, until recently, a major problem (as in most EU countries) with 10 per cent of the population remaining jobless for most of the past 15 years. Recent economic improvement, helped by a devaluation of the British pound in 1992, has reduced the unemployment rate to below 5 per cent for the first time in 20 years.

Among those with jobs, Britain has a relatively deregulated and flexible labour market, with trade unions weakened by tough laws introduced by the Conservatives, but left in place by the Labour government. However, whilst this flexibility may help to create employment, such jobs tend to be low paid and are often temporary contracts, leading to growing economic inequality and uncertainty for many working people. A minimum wage (£ 3.60 for those aged 22 or over) introduced in 1999 may help to prevent very low levels of pay.

6. For a long time the number of women in paid work has been high in Britain. Right through the 19th century women went out to jobs in factories and offices. But that did not mean that they worked on equal terms with men - far from it. Women finally got the vote in 1918 (subject to certain restrictions), after repeated campaigns by the suffragette movement in the 19th century. But it was not until 1975 that employers’ unfair treatment of women was outlawed by the Equal Pay Act and the Sex Discrimination Act. The latter also protected women in education, housing and other aspects of life. The legal changes have been reflected in social life, with women asserting themselves in all sorts of ways, and challenging traditional gender roles. Unemployment among women is now lower than among men.

However, there is still a very clear-cut division between the sexes in some areas. The sciences, for example, are male dominated: only 5 per cent of university physics teachers are women; and around 20 per cent of women hold positions in government and parliament - approximately half as many as in Scandinavian countries. In most areas of work, women are still not getting the best jobs.

There is often said to be a glass ceiling, an invisible barrier to promotion. This fact is reflected in average earnings: women only receive 73 per cent of the average man’s pay. Women also often have two full-time jobs: one at home with a family and house to look after, and one to bring in a second income.

7. In looking at economic statistics, it is easy to forget the wider picture. Growth is, of course, important to the economy: the twin aims are always higher efficiency and higher production. Efficiency is a good thing in itself, if it means that work is done as cost-effectively as possible. But what if improved efficiency is at the expense of jobs, so that some benefit from it at others’ expense?

The great American economist J.K.Galbraith has admired the British for choosing quality of life rather than maximum economic growth. The government has taken up this idea and started to publish annual quality of life indicators - these are similar to economic statistics but cover such things as education, health, housing quality, pollution and diversity of wildlife. In 1998, the best places to live in England, according to these indicators, were North Yorkshire and the north-east. The idea is to measure things other than GDP which positively contribute to people’s lives.

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