British Values – Democracy

British Values – Democracy Share

Something a little different from us this week, as we’re starting a series of blogs on British Values, as part of our commitment to our students’ spiritual, moral, social and cultural development. And what better place to start than the topic of democracy.

There’s been quite a lot of talk on both sides of the Brexit debate recently in relation to democracy – if and how it is being upheld throughout the process. We won’t be getting into any details about Brexit here, but rather we’ll discuss the basics of how democracy works in the UK, so you’re more aware of the processes involved what certain terms mean.

Democracy and the UK Parliament

The United Kingdom (UK) is a democracy. A democracy is officially a country where the people choose their government. In the UK there are too many people to ask and too many decisions to take, therefore representatives are elected to make decisions on their behalf.

The UK Parliament has two parts – the House of Commons and the House of Lords, plus the monarchy.

The House of Commons

Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected every five years at a General Election. For the purposes of the General Election, the country is divided into 650 constituencies. Each constituency elects one MP to Parliament.

One role of MPs is to represent their constituents in areas where the UK Parliament takes decisions that affect the whole country. MPs either debate or ask questions in the House of Commons or they work in smaller groups known as committees. Other important roles of MPs in Parliament are to help make laws and to scrutinise (check-up on) the work of the government or investigate issues.

The House of Lords

The House of Lords is the second chamber of the UK Parliament. The role of the House of Lords is to help make laws as well as to check on the work of the government and investigate issues.

Most peers are appointed by the monarch on the advice of a prime minister in recognition of their expertise in a particular area e.g. business, law or science. Others are Church of England bishops and 92 are hereditary peers or people with titles (such as Barons or Viscounts) who have inherited the right to sit in the Lords.

The Monarchy

The UK’s political system can be described as a constitutional monarchy with a king or queen as Head of State. However, it is the Houses of Parliament that make our laws, not the monarch. The monarch only formally passes legislation – this is known as Royal Assent. When a parliamentary Bill is given Royal Assent it becomes an Act of Parliament. It is then up to the relevant government department to implement that law.

The monarch must remain politically neutral and does not interfere with the legislative process. No monarch has refused Parliament’s wishes for over 300 years. Constitutionally, the UK Government is his/her Majesty’s Government.

The UK Government

The UK government is in charge of running the country and deciding the way taxes are spent. Different government departments have responsibility for separate areas of business for example, the Department of Health or the Department of Transport.

Led by the Prime Minister, the UK government is formed by the political party (or coalition of parties) with the greatest representation in the House of Commons. The PM selects a team of MPs to form a cabinet, members of which run each department.

Parliament (which includes the governing party MPs as well as the opposition MPs) is responsible for approving and changing the country’s laws. Most new laws presented to Parliament are suggested by the government. To pass a new law both the House of Commons and the House of Lords must agree it is a good idea. However, the Commons alone is responsible for making decisions on financial Bills, such as proposing new taxes. The Lords can consider these Bills but cannot block or amend them.

Select committees

One way members of Parliament scrutinise or check on the government is by regularly meeting in small groups called select committees. These committees can make recommendations to the government on particular issues such as education, the environment and foreign affairs. For example, the Petitions Committee of the House of Commons exists to consider any petitions or e-petitions put forward by member and make recommendations for which petitions should be debated in Parliament.

Select committee recommendations are given to the head of the government department (minister) in charge of that particular issue. This means reports by the Health Committee will be sent to the minister responsible for that area of health policy.

UK constitutional arrangement

Aside from the parliament at Westminster, the UK also has a number of devolved assemblies and parliaments with a host of powers transferred from the UK parliament.

Scottish Parliament

The 1997 Scottish Devolution Referendum returned a yes vote for the re-establishment of a Scottish Parliament. When the new parliament convened in 1999, it became the first in Scotland since the signing of the Act of Union in 1707.

National Assembly for Wales

As in Scotland, the Welsh Devolution Referendum in 1997 also returned a yes vote for a Welsh assembly. A further referendum in 2011 voted for increased law-making powers to be transferred from the UK Parliament.

Northern Ireland Assembly

Northern Ireland has had a complicated history when it comes to running its own affairs. Home Rule came in 1921 before the parliament ended in 1972 during The Troubles. Over the years there were several failed attempts at restoring a devolved parliament before the 1998 Good Friday Agreement saw the creation of a new Northern Ireland Assembly.

Keep an eye out on our social media channels over the next few weeks for more tit-bits of information about democracy in the UK, plus later this month we’ll be going into a little more detail about how our democratic processes affect your work in Finance – particularly in relation to the laws and regulations you have to comply with.