Life in the Uk Crib Sheet Chapter 5

The UK is a parliamentary democracy with the monarch as head of state

In the 19th century Members of Parliament (MPs) were men who were over 21 years of age and who owned a certain amount of property.

1830-1850 the Chartists wanted 6 changes:

  • for every man to have the vote
  • elections every year
  • for all regions to be equal in the electoral system
  • secret ballots
  • for any man to be able to stand as an MP
  • for MPs to be paid

1918 MPs – women over 30

1928 MPs – men and women over 21

1969 MPs – all over 18

The British constitution is unwritten.

Parts of English government:

  • 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
  • local government.

Governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the power to legislate on certain issues.

Queen Elizabeth II is the head of state of the UK and the monarch or head of state for many countries in the Commonwealth and has important ceremonial roles. 

The UK has a constitutional monarchy.

Prime Minister is the leader of the party with the largest number of MPs or the leader of a coalition between more than one party

The monarch can advise, warn and encourage, but the decisions on government policies are made by the Prime Minister and cabinet.

The Queen has reigned since 1952, and in 2012 she celebrated her Diamond Jubilee.  She is married to Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh.  Her eldest son, Prince Charles (the Prince of Wales), is the heir to the throne.

The National Anthem:

‘God save our gracious Queen!

Long live our noble Queen!

God save the Queen!

Send her victorious,

Happy and glorious, 

Long to reign over us, 

God save the Queen!’

Citizenship ceremony – new citizens swear or affirm loyalty to the Queen.

Each MP represents a parliamentary constituency. They responsibilities:

  • Represent everyone in their constituency
  • Help to create new laws
  • Scrutinize and comment on what the government is doing
  • Debate important national issues

Until 1958, all peers (Members of the House of Lords) were:

  • ‘hereditary’, which means they inherited their title, or 
  • senior judges, or
  • bishops of the Church of England.

Since 1958, the Prime Minister nominate life peers just for their own lifetime.  Life peers are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister. 

Since 1999, hereditary peers have lost the automatic right to attend the House of Lords.

The House of Commons has powers to overrule the House of Lords.

The Speaker, chosen by other MPs in a secret ballot, is neutral and does not represent a political party.

General Election is held at least every 5 years.

If an MP dies or resigns, there will be a by-election, in his or her constituency.

MPs are elected through a system called ‘first past the post’.

Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) are elected every 5 years through a system of proportional representation.

MPs, AMs, MSPs and MEPs are listed in BT The Phone Book, Yellow Pages, local library and from

You can contact MPs by letter or telephone at their constituency office, or at their office in the House of Commons.

The Prime Minister appoints the members (~20) of the cabinet .

  • Chancellor of the Exchequer – economy
  • Home Secretary – crime, policing and immigration
  • Foreign Secretary – relationships with foreign countries
  • Secretaries of State – education, health and defence….

Prime Minister’s Questions takes place every week while Parliament is sitting

Anyone aged 18 or over can stand for election as an MP of Conservative Party, the Labour Party, the Liberal Democrats, ‘independents’, or one of the parties representing Scottish, Welsh or Northern Irish interests.

Civil servants are accountable to ministers, chosen on merit and are politically neutral.  People can apply to join the civil service through an application process.

Local elections for councillors are held in May every year

Policy and laws governing defence, foreign affairs, immigration, taxation and social security are under central UK government control.  Other are controlled by the devolved administrations.

The Welsh National Assembly at Senedd in Cardiff has 60 members and elections are held every 4 years using a form of proportional representation. All of the Assembly’s publications are in both languages.

The Scottish Parliament has 129 members, elected by a form of proportional representation and was formed in 1999 at Holyrood in Edinburgh.

A Northern Ireland Parliament established in 1922, abolished in 1972, shortly after the Troubles broke out in 1969.

The Northern Ireland Assembly established after Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and has 108 elected members elected with a form of proportional representation at Stormont in Belfast. The UK government suspended this Assembly several times.  However, the Assembly been running successfully since 2007.

Proceedings in Parliament are broadcast on television and published in official reports called Hansard

To be able to vote, you can register in the electoral register. In Northern Ireland operates individual registration and all those entitled to vote must complete their own registration form

Commonwealth citizens aged 18 can stand for public office.  Exceptions:

  • Members of the armed forces
  • Civil servants
  • People found guilty of certain criminal offences.

The Queen is the ceremonial head of the Commonwealth, which currently has 54 member states. The Commonwealth has no power over its members, although it can suspend membership.

The EU was set up in 1957.  The UK became a member in 1973.

The Council of Europe is separate from the EU, it has 47 member countries and is responsible for the protection and promotion of human rights with no power to make laws.

United Nations has  more than 190 countries as members set up after WWII.  There are 15 members on the UN Security Council.  The UK is one of 5 permanent members of the Security Council.

NATO is a group of European and North American countries that have agreed to help each other if they come under attack.  It also aims to maintain peace between all of its members.

The police are organised into a number of separate police forces headed by Chief Constables.  They are independent of the government.

In November 2012, the public elected Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) in England and Wales.  These are directly elected individuals.

Police officers are supported by the police community support officers (PCSOs).  PCSOs have different roles according to the area but usually patrol the streets, work with the public, and support police officers at crime scenes and major events.

Anyone can make a complaint about the police by going to a police station and writing to the Chief Constable of the police force involved.  Complaints can also be made to an independent body: the Independent Police Complaints Commission in England and Wales, the Police Complaints Commissioner for Scotland or the Police Ombudsman for Northern Ireland.

The judiciary – judges all together.

If judges find that a public body is not respecting someone’s legal rights, they can order that body to change its practices and/or pay compensation.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, most minor criminal cases are dealt with in a Magistrates’ Court.

In Scotland, minor criminal offences go to a Justice of the Peace Court.

Magistrates and Justices of the Peace (JPs) are members of the local community. 

In England, Wales and Scotland they usually work unpaid and do not need legal qualifications

In Northern Ireland, cases are heard by a District Judge or Deputy District Judge, who is legally qualified and paid.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, serious offences are tried in front of a judge and a jury in a Crown Court

In Scotland, serious cases are heard in a Sheriff Court with either a sheriff or a sheriff with a jury. 

The most serious cases in Scotland, such as murder, are heard at a High Court with a judge and jury.

A jury is made up of members of the public chosen at random from the local electoral register.  In England, Wales and Northern Ireland a jury has 12 members, and in Scotland a jury has 15 members.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, for person aged 10 to 17, the case is normally heard in a Youth Court in front of up to 3 specially trained magistrates or a District Judge

The most serious cases will go to the Crown Court

In Scotland a system called the Children’s Hearings System is used to deal with children and young people.

Northern Ireland has a system of youth conferencing to consider how a child should be dealt with when they have committed an offence.

County Courts deal with civil disputes.

In Scotland, most of these matters are dealt with in the Sheriff Court

More serious civil cases are dealt with in the High Court of England, Wales and Northern Ireland. 

In Scotland, they are dealt with in the Court of Session in Edinburgh.

The small claims procedure is a way of helping people to settle minor disputes without spending a lot of time and money using a lawyer for claims of less than £10,000 in England and Wales and £3,000 in Scotland and Northern Ireland

The Human Rights Act 1998 incorporated the European Convention of Human Rights into UK law.

Forced Marriage Protection Orders were introduced in 2008 for England, Wales and Northern Ireland under the Forced Marriage (Civil Protection) Act 2007. 

Similar Protection Orders were introduced in Scotland in November 2011.

Tax has taken by system is called “Pay As You Earn” (PAYE) or a system called ‘self-assessment’.

A National Insurance number is a unique personal account number and all young people in the UK are sent a National Insurance number just before their 16th birthday by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

You must be at least 17 years to drive a car or motor cycle and you must have a driving licence to drive on public roads or to be at least 16 years old to ride a moped.

Drivers can use their driving licence until they are 70 years old.

Your car or motor cycle must be registered at the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA), must have valid motor insurance, must take car to the Ministry of Transport (MOT) test every year.

People on the electoral register (18-70) are randomly selected to serve on a jury.

School governors, or members of the school board in Scotland, are people from the local community who wish to make a positive contribution to their children’s education.  They have 3 key roles:

  • Setting the strategic direction of the school
  • Ensuring accountability
  • Monitoring and evaluating school performance.

Members of political parties work hard by handing out leaflets in the street or by knocking on people’s doors and asking for their support.  This is called ‘canvassing’.

Age UK – older people

National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC)) – children

Crisis, Shelter – homeless

Cancer Research (UK) – medical research

National Trust, Friends of the Earth – environmental

People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) – animals

National Citizen Service programme gives 16- and 17-year-olds the opportunity to enjoy outdoor activities, develop their skills and take part in a community project.