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Life in the UK Test 3rd Edition Chapter 5: The UK Government, the Law and Your Role

The UK is headed by a monarch but is a parliamentary democracy. Let us see how this democracy evolved:

  • A democracy is a government ruled “by the people, for the people”. This is usually achieved by voting.
  • During the period from 1830 to 1840, a group known as the Chartists tried to achieve electoral reforms in the UK.
  • They campaigned for voting rights for all men, annual elections in which all regions would be represented, secret ballots, any man to be eligible to be a member of parliament and for members of parliament to be paid.
  • Although the campaign was considered a failure, most of these changes came into existence by 1918.
  • The minimum age for voting was reduced to 18 for men and women by the year 1969.

Constitutional Institutions

The different components of the government are:

  • the monarchy
  • parliament (the House of Commons and the House of Lords)
  • the Prime Minister
  • the cabinet
  • the judiciary (courts)
  • the police
  • the civil service and
  • local government

It is important to know a bit about the monarchy. Headed by the Queen, Queen Elizabeth II, she is the head of state of the UK and also of the British Commonwealth. She celebrated her diamond jubilee, completion of 60 years on the throne in 2012. Her husband is the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Phillip. The heir to the throne is her son, Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales). The Queen does not participate directly in making and enacting laws but is a stabilizing influence in the government. Governments change but the Queen continues to reign.

National Verses

The primary national verse is the national anthem entitled, “God Save the Queen”.

There is also the “Oath of Allegiance” which should be learnt and needs to be uttered by any person who becomes a British citizen.

The “Affirmation of Allegiance” is another oath which a new British citizen needs to utter which affirms allegiance to the Queen.

Parliamentary System of Government in the UK

The House of Commons

The government is divided into constituencies, each one headed by an elected member of parliament (MP). All MPs assemble in the House of Commons to discuss matters of government and important national issues. The House of Commons is headed by a Speaker who is an elected MP but who is neutral and maintains law and order in the House.

The House of Lords

This is an assembly of people called ‘life peers’ who are nominated by the Prime Minister and the monarch. They can amend and enact new laws as well as scrutinize laws passed by the House of Commons and in general acts as a control on the functioning of the House of Commons.

Government in Practice in the UK

The ruling party is headed by the Prime Minister who in turn appoints the cabinet. The Prime Minister resides at 10 Downing Street, London. The cabinet consists of about 20 MPs appointed by the Prime Minister who become ministers. The opposition is the second-largest political party. The opposition has the role of highlighting the shortcomings of the ruling party.

The Civil Service

This is an extension of the government. While the government formulates laws, it is the civil service that is responsible for developing and executing these laws. Members of the civil service are politically neutral and enter the organization through an application like in a regular job.

The Electoral Process

  • Residents over the age of 18 are eligible to vote.
  • It is mandatory for a person to be in the electoral register
  • Polling stations are set up where people can cast their votes

All citizens of the UK above the age of 18 are eligible to stand for office unless they are:

  1. Armed forces personnel
  2. Civil servants
  3. Criminals

National Insurance

All citizens in the UK usually are expected to contribute to National Insurance. This is an insurance programme run by the National Health Service. Employers pay into their employees’ accounts and self-employed people make their own contributions. Each contributor gets a National Insurance Number which is a unique personal number and a very important form of identification.

Life in the UK Practice Test