Government: Great Britain

Great Britain comprises the countries of England, Wales and Scotland, which along with Ireland (Northern Ireland from 1922) make up the United Kingdom. England and Wales share a local governmental and legal system, but Scotland’s systems are substantially different.

The United Kingdom is a constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy with a bicameral Parliament. The members of the House of Commons are elected every few years by all males over the age of 21 and, since 1918, all females over the age of 30. All citizens over 21 receive the vote from 1928. Each member (with a few exceptions) represents an individual territorial constituency and is elected by a ‘first past the post’ system. The House of Lords is the upper house and is composed of hereditary peers (barons, viscounts, earls, marquesses and dukes), Church of England bishops and a few appointed senior judges (Law Lords). It has only limited powers and mainly serves as an oversight and reviewing body for legislation passed by the Commons. King George V (‘the Crown’), who reigns from 1910 until his death in 1936, has little real power, but is a figurehead for Britain and the Empire and enjoys huge respect from most of their people. He must sign all bills before they become law, but this is a mere formality. He does, however, appoint and advise the Prime Minister, and all military personnel, judges, magistrates and police officers swear allegiance to him and him alone. The prime minister is usually the leader of the party which has won most seats in the House of Commons and then appoints a Cabinet, all of whom are traditionally members of one of the two Houses of Parliament.

The whole of Great Britain is divided into counties: 49 in England, 13 in Wales, and 33 in Scotland. Those in Wales and Scotland are generally smaller than those in England. Each is administered by an elected county council, which sits in the county town, the capital of the county. Below this level of government, local government organisation differs substantially in England and Wales and in Scotland.

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