United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, island nation and constitutional monarchy in north-western Europe, member of the European Union and Commonwealth of Nations. The United Kingdom lies entirely within and constitutes the greater part of the British Isles. Great Britain is the largest of the British Isles and so called to distinguish it from Brittany, or “Little Britain”.
It comprises, together with numerous smaller islands—including the Isle of Wight, Anglesey, and the Scilly, Orkney, Shhetland, and Hebridean archipelagos—the formerly separate realms of England and Scotland, and the principality of Wales. Northern Ireland, also known as Ulster, occupies the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland. The United Kingdom is bordered to the south by the English Channel, which separates it from continental Europe, to the east by the North Sea, and to the west by the Irish Sea and the Atlantic Ocean; the only land border is between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Irreland. The total area of the United Kingdom is 244,110 sq km (94,251 sq mi). The capital and largest city is London.
The names “United Kingdom”, “Great Britain”, and “England” are often used interchangeably. The use of “Great Britain”, often shortened to “Britain”, to
England and Wales were united administratively, politically, and legally by 1543. The crowns of England and Scotland were united in 1603, but the two countries remained separate political entities until the 1707 Act of Union, which formed the Kingdom of Great Britain with a single legislature. From 1801, when Great Britain and Ireland were united, until the formal establishment off the Irish Free State in 1922, the kingdom was officially designated the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland.
The Isle of Man and the Channel Islands are direct dependencies of the British Crown, and not part of the United Kingdom. They have their own legislatures and legal systems; the British government is responsible only for their external affairs and defence. The defence, external affairs, internal security, and public services of the various British dependent territories are also a responsibility of th
The dependent territories are: Anguilla; Bermuda; the British Antarctic Territory; the British Indian Ocean Territory (BIOT); the British Virgin Islands; the Cayman Islands; the Falkland Islands; Gibraltar; Montserrat; Pitcairn, Ducie, Henderson, and Oeno; St Helena and the St Helena Dependencies (Ascension and Tristan da Cunha); South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands; and the Turks and Caicos Islands. Virtually all are internally self-governing and have opted for various political and economic reasons to remain under British control. The exceptions are the British Antarctic Territory, which has no permanent population; and the BIOT, which comprises the Chagos Archipelago, and particularly Diego Garcia, which is leased to the United States and is an important US naval base. Hong Kong S.A.R., formerly a dependent territory, which contained all but 200,000 of what was then the 6 million combined population of the dependencies, was returned to China when Britain’s lease on the territory ran out in July 1997.
Included in the following account of the United Kingdom are sections on the land and resources, population, education, art and culture, economy, government, and history (since 1707) of the nation. Except where otherwise stated, all figures cited include England, Scotland, Wales, an
II LAND AND RESOURCES
The maximum overall length of the United Kingdom is 1,264 km (787 mi): the most northerly point is Out Stack, off Unst in the Shetland Islands; the most southerly is St Agnes in the Scilly Isles. The kingdom’s maximum width is 670 km (417 mi), from Lough Melvin in south-western Northern Ireland to Lowestoft in Suffolk, England. The mainland of the island of Great Britain is 974 km (605 mi) at its longest and 531 km (330 mi) at its widest; however, the highly indented nature of the island’s coastline means that nowhere is more than about 120 km (75 mi) from the sea.
Relative to its size, the scenery of the United Kingdom is very diverse and can change dramatically within short distances. This diversity reflects in part the underlying rocks, which range from the ancient Precambrian mountains of the Highlands of Scotland to the recent Quaternary deposits of the Fens in eastern England. All of the Un
A Great Britain
Great Britain is the world’s eighth-largest island. It has an area of 229,870 sq km (88,753 sq mi), equivalent to just over 90 per cent of the total area of the United Kingdom. It is traditionally divided into two main regions, the highlands (above 100 m/330 ft) and the lowlands, along a line running from the mouth of the River Exe in Devon, north-east to the River Tees estuary. Scotland and Wales lie within the highland region, as well as northern, north-western, and south-western England. Scotland is divided into three regions: the Highlands, which contains the United Kingdom’s highest point, Ben Nevis (1,343 m/4,406 ft), and is its most mountainous area; the Central Lowlands; and the Southern Uplands. Wales comprises primarily the Cambrian Mountains; the highest point in England and Wales (1,085 m/3,560 ft) is in the Snowdon massif.
England is divided into three main upland regions, and two lowland areas—East Anglia and the South-East—connected by generally rich agricultural plains. The upland area of the south-western peninsula includes Dartmoor, Exmoor (see Exmoor National Park), and Bodmin Moor; in the north are the Pennine Hills and in the north-west the Cumbrian Mountains of the Lake District.
B Northern Ireland
The Sperrin and Antrim mountains in the north and north-east are an extension of the Scottish Highlands. With the Mourne Mountains, which contain Northern Ireland’s highest point, Slieve Donard (852 m/2,796 ft), they edge a central plain, containing Lough Neagh (390 sq km/150 sq mi), the United Kingdom’s largest freshwater lake.
A brief summary of the climate, natural resources, and plant and animal life of the United Kingdom follows. More detailed coverage of these subjects, as well as of the United Kingdom’s physical geography and geology, can be found in the articles dealing with the component parts of the kingdom.
The climate of the United Kingdom is mild relative to its latitude. The mildness is an effect of maritime influences, especially of the warm Gulf Stream. This current brings the prevailing south-westerly winds that moderate winter temperatures and bring the depressions which are the main day-to-day influence on the weather. The western side of the United Kingdom tends to be warmer than the eastern; the south is warmer than the north. The mean annual temperature is 6° C (43° F) in the far north of Scotland; 11° C (52° F) in the south-west of England. Winter temperatures rarely drop below -10° C (14° F), and summer temperatures rarely exceed 32° C (90° F).
The sea winds also bring plenty of moisture; average annual precipitation is more than 1,000 mm (40 in). Rain tends to fall throughout the year, frequently turning to snow in the winter, especially in Scotland, the mountains of Wales, and northern England. The western side of Britain is much wetter than the eastern: average rainfall varies from more than 5,000 mm (196 in) in the western Highlands of Scotland, to less than 500 mm (20 in) in parts of East Anglia in England.
D Natural Resources
The soils of the United Kingdom vary from the thin, often acidic soils of the Highlands to the rich loams of East Anglia. Overall, about three quarters of the kingdom’s land area is suitable for agriculture. About 40 per cent of this is suitable for arable farming, concentrated mainly in eastern and south-central England, and eastern Scotland. The majority of land is under grass and given over to livestock grazing. Most sheep and cattle are reared in the Scottish Highlands, and on the hill and moorland areas of Wales, Northern Ireland, and northern and south-western England.
Forests and woodlands cover about 7 per cent of England, 15 per cent of Scotland, 12 per cent of Wales, and 5 per cent of Northern Ireland. The overall average is just under 10 per cent and is well below the 25 per cent average for the whole of Europe. Even so, the managed forest area has doubled since the founding in 1919 of the Forestry Commission, the government department responsible for the protection and development of Britain’s forest and woodland resources.
Britain has relatively few mineral resources. Zinc, tin, iron ore, and copper are all produced in small quantities, together with tiny amounts of gold and silver. Non-metallic minerals produced include limestone, slate, talc, kaolin and other clays, fuller’s earth, chalk, sandstone, salt, and gypsum. In contrast, Britain has the richest energy resources of the EU—including large deposits of coal, mined for more than 300 years, and oil and natural gas, both primarily found in the British sector of the North Sea, off eastern Scotland and eastern England respectively. Oil was first discovered in 1969 and production began in 1975; by 1980, 15 fields were producing virtually all of Britain’s requirements. In the mid-1990s, 96 offshore and several onshore (notably in Dorset, southern England) fields were in production, and Britain was within the world’s top-ten oil producers. Production of natural gas began in 1967; today Britain is the world’s fifth-largest gas producer.
Although Britain’s mineral resources are limited, they have been important historically. The coal deposits of north-central England, Wales, and Scotland, and the iron ore deposits of the Pennines area played an important role in Britain’s development as the world’s first industrial nation. Together with other mineral resources, coal and iron ore also helped determine the location and development of many of Britain’s towns and some of its largest cities. Earlier, during the Middle Ages, the ancient tin mines of Cornwall were so important to the prosperity of England that the miners were granted special legal and other privileges by the Crown. However, since the end of World War II the iron-ore, coal-, and tin-mining industries have been hard hit—by the exhaustion of reserves (iron ore and tin), by competition from cheaper overseas producers, and since 1980 by changes in government policy. The last surviving Cornish tin mine, South Crofty, continued a 3,000-year-old tradition, dating back to the Phoenicians, until its closure in 1998. In September 2001 it re-opened, hoping to re-start mining by 2003. Iron ore production has virtually ceased, while coal production is down to one fifth of its 1913 peak of 292 million tonnes.
The United Kingdom’s flora is as varied as its landscape, but has been strongly influenced by centuries of human activity and settlement. Most of Britain, outside the mountains and moorlands of the north and west and the wetland areas, was once cloaked in oak-dominated deciduous forest. Today, only remnants of this native forest remain, notably in the south. Plantations of quick-growing conifers in Wales and north-eastern Scotland make up much of the 10 per cent of Britain that is still forested.
About one quarter of Britain, mainly in Scotland, south-western England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, is heath and moorland. Wild though they appear, these areas have been affected by grazing and by controlled burning intended to encourage an environment suitable for game birds. Vegetation includes heather, gorse, peat moss, rowan, and bilberry. The drainage of Britain’s major wetland areas, like the East Anglian Fens and the Somerset Levels, began more than 200 years ago, transforming them into pasture and arable land. More marginal wetland areas, like marshes, water-meadows, and river estuaries, largely escaped improvement until after 1945. However, widespread reclamation for both farming and housing purposes has led to many wetland plant species being threatened; some are now limited to conservation areas.
The red deer of the Scottish Highlands and Exmoor, and the roe deer of the woods of Scotland and southern England are Britain’s only surviving native large wild mammals, although semi-wild ponies are to be found on Exmoor, the Shetland Islands, and in the New Forest. Wild boar and wolves, once abundant, were long ago hunted to extinction. Other native mammals include fox, badger, otter, stoat, weasel, wildcat, pine marten, polecat, red squirrel, hedgehog, mole, brown rat, brown hare, and various species of mice, vole, and shrew. Several are endangered or are very limited in distribution. The wildcat is found only in parts of Scotland. The otter is found mainly in south-western England, and in the Shetland and Orkney islands and the red squirrel is limited primarily to the Isle of Wight and Scotland. It has been driven from most of the rest of Britain by the grey squirrel, an introduced species. Other introduced species include rabbit, black rat, muntjac deer, wallaby, and mink. Britain has five species of frog and toad, three species of newt, and three species of snake, of which only the adder is venomous. There are no snakes in Northern Ireland.
Britain is in many ways a birdwatcher’s paradise. It has diverse habitats and lies at the focal point of a migratory network. Some 200 species are regularly found. Sparrow, blackbird, chaffinch, and starling are the most numerous and are resident year-round. Other well-known residents include robin, kingfisher, wren, woodpecker, crow, and the various tits. The swallow, swift, and cuckoo are the best-known summer visitors. Winter brings many species of duck, geese, and other waterbirds to British estuaries.
Freshwater fish include salmon, trout, roach, perch, and pike. Numbers, however, have been affected by pollution. Outside fish farms, freshwater fishing is almost solely recreational. However, Britain has a long tradition of sea-fishing, although the rich fishing grounds that once supported a large industry are now badly depleted. The main catch species are cod, haddock, angler fish, plaice, mackerel, hake, whiting, and herring.
Four government agencies are responsible for conservation in Great Britain. They are The Countryside Agency and English Nature, in England; the Countryside Council for Wales; and Scottish Natural Heritage. In Northern Ireland conservation is the responsibility of the Department of the Environment. In the mid-1990s these bodies were responsible for the 22 per cent of England, almost 25 per cent of Wales, 13 per cent of Scotland, and 20 per cent of Northern Ireland designated as national parks or areas of outstanding natural beauty. There are also a number of voluntary bodies concerned with conserving the countryside; one, the National Trust, protects some 850 km (528 mi) of the coast in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland.
The United Kingdom’s wildlife is protected principally by the Wildlife and Countryside Act 1981; recovery programmes have been set up for threatened species, including the dormouse and the fen raft spider. In the mid-1990s there were around 340 state-funded nature reserves in the United Kingdom covering about 190,000 hectares (468,000 acres), as well as more than 2,000 reserves set up by organizations like the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, Europe’s largest voluntary wildlife conservation body. Environmental concerns in the United Kingdom increased in the 1980s and 1990s, and the welfare of the environment became a political issue. Of particular concern was the increase in air pollution, from emissions from power plants and vehicles, and water pollution, especially the pollution of rivers by agricultural and industrial wastes. Several road-building schemes were also strongly opposed by local and national groups.
The majority of the people of the United Kingdom are descended from the many peoples who invaded the islands in the two millennia before 1066 (the date of the Norman invasion), including Celts, Romans, Angles, Saxons, and Scandinavians. However, people of many other ethnic backgrounds have settled in the United Kingdom over the centuries, including Jews; Chinese; central, eastern, and southern Europeans; and, particularly since the 1950s, people from the Caribbean and South Asia.
The United Kingdom is one of the most urbanized of the world’s larger nations: about 89 per cent of the population lives in cities and towns. The distribution of population, notably in Great Britain, still largely mirrors the industrial history of the island. About 40 per cent of Great Britain’s population is concentrated in the seven English conurbations that focus on the cities of London, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Manchester, Liverpool, and Newcastle upon Tyne. All but London rose to prominence as manufacturing, mining, or trade centres in the first century of industrialization.
The concentration of two thirds of the Welsh population in the southern valleys, and three quarters of Scotland’s population in the central lowlands around Glasgow and Edinburgh, has a similar origin. Most of these population centres are having to adjust to the decline of the industries on which their economies were first built. During the 20th century, southern, and particularly south-eastern, England has reasserted its historical role as the focus of economic wealth and population growth in the United Kingdom.
A Population Characteristics
The United Kingdom has a population of 60,094,648 (2003 estimate), which gives an average population density of about 246 people per sq km (638 people per sq mi), one of the highest in Europe and the world. England has around 83 per cent of the United Kingdom’s total population and is its most densely populated part, with about 380 people per sq km (983 per sq mi). Scotland has just under 9 per cent of the population and is the least densely populated part, with an average of 65 people per sq km (168 per sq mi). Wales and Northern Ireland have almost 5 per cent and 3 per cent each of the British population; their respective average population densities are 141 and 119 people per sq km (366 and 309 per sq mi).
Population censuses have been held in the United Kingdom every decade since 1801; the 1991 census was the first to include a question on ethnic origin. It showed that more than 94 per cent of the population belonged to the “white” group. Of the 5.5 per cent who described themselves as belonging to another ethnic group, 1.6 per cent were black, primarily Afro-Caribbean, 1.5 per cent Indian, just under 1 per cent Pakistani, and 0.3 per cent each Bangladeshi and Chinese. Members of the minority ethnic groups live predominantly in the main urban and industrial areas of England, especially the South-East and the Midlands. The vast majority of the population, including about half of the various ethnic minority groups, was born in the United Kingdom. The 2001 census revealed that 9 per cent of the population classified itself as “non-white”. A further breakdown established that 2.2 per cent was black (principally Afro-Caribbean), 4.4 per cent South Asian, 1.4 per cent mixed race, and 0.4 per cent Chinese.
B Principal Cities
The capital, seat of government, and largest city of the United Kingdom is London (population, 2001, 7,172,036). London is also the capital of England. The capital of Scotland is Edinburgh (2000 estimate, 453,400), of Wales, Cardiff (2000 estimate, 327,500), and of Northern Ireland, Belfast (2000 estimate, 282,500). Apart from Glasgow (2000 estimate, 609,400) in Scotland, all the other large cities of the United Kingdom are in England. They include: Birmingham (2000 estimate, 1,010,400) at the heart of the Midlands industrial conurbation; Leeds (2000 estimate, 726,100), Sheffield (2000 estimate, 530,100), Manchester (2000 estimate, 439,500), and Bradford (2000 estimate, 486,100), all of which developed as the focus of manufacturing and mining in the north of England; and the ports of Liverpool (2001, 439,476) and Bristol (2001, 380,615.
Religious freedom in the United Kingdom is guaranteed by various laws passed between the 17th and early 20th centuries. Religion has played a minimal role in politics in Great Britain since the 18th century. However, in Northern Ireland religion came to symbolize the political and cultural differences between the descendants of the original Irish inhabitants and the descendants of the Scottish and English settlers—which in the 1970s erupted into sectarian violence and terrorism (see History section below, and Northern Island: History). The latter group, in a majority, are overwhelmingly Protestant and in favour of remaining part of the United Kingdom; the former are overwhelmingly Roman Catholic and the majority are in favour of a united Ireland.
Most of the world’s religions are represented in the United Kingdom, but it is still predominantly a Christian nation, at least nominally. There are two established Churches, the Church of England and the Church of Scotland (Presbyterian). About 47 per cent of people say they belong to the Anglican communion, represented primarily by the Church of England, but also including the Church in Wales, the Scottish Episcopal Church, and the Church of Ireland.
The decision by the 1992 General Synod of the Church of England to admit women to ordination to the priesthood threatened for a while to split the Church. A compromise was reached for congregations and priests opposed to the change, but on the ordination of the first female priests in March 1994, 136 Anglican clerics converted to Roman Catholicism; many more clerics and lay members have converted since. The ordination of women was rejected by the Church in Wales in 1994, but approved by the Church of Scotland.
According to the 2001 census, just over 71 per cent of the population regards itself as Christian, with about 9 per cent Roman Catholic, 4 per cent belong to one of the Presbyterian Churches, and 1 per cent are Methodists. The same census reported that 2.7 per cent of the population is Muslim, 1 per cent is Hindu, 0.5 per cent Jewish, 0.6 per cent Sikh, and 0.3 per cent Buddhist. There are smaller communities of Jains, Zoroastrians, and Bahais. Islam and evangelical Christianity are the fastest-growing faiths in the United Kingdom. However, an increasing percentage of the population professes no religious faith, and may be represented by bodies like the British Humanist Association and National Secular Society.
English is the official language of the United Kingdom and the first language of the vast majority of the population. The spoken language, however, is far from homogeneous. Distinctive regional and local accents differentiate natives of different parts of the kingdom, although the various dialect forms of English with their individual vocabularies have largely withered, especially in England.
The indigenous Celtic Languages of Scotland and, especially, Wales continue to be spoken and in recent years have undergone something of a renaissance, paralleling the resurgence of nationalism in both countries. According to the 2001 census, 797,717 people in Wales claimed to have one or more skills (either understanding, speaking, or writing) in the Welsh language. Welsh remains the first language of most people in the north and west of the country. Bilingual education is available in many schools and there is a Welsh-language television channel. Since 1993, and following decades of agitation by nationalists, Welsh has been the joint official language with English for the courts, the civil service, and other public sector bodies. Scotland has 58,650 Gaelic speakers, the majority living in the Hebrides.
Scots, a Germanic language, is spoken in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Irish Gaelic is also spoken in Fermanagh and Armagh of Northern Ireland, and Traveller Scottish is used in parts of Scotland. Welsh Romani, Vlax Romani (Indo-Iranian Romani languages), and Angloromani (an English variety with much Romani vocabulary) are also spoken by some, while French is spoken in the Channel Islands where it has official status. The Cornish language, which was extinct in 1800, has been successfully revived and there are now at least 1,000 speakers in the south-west of England. See also Scottish Language.
As well as the above indigenous languages, many immigrant languages are spoken, including Gujarati, Punjabi, Tagalog, Turkish, Yoruba, Bengali, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Chinese, Kashmiri, and Western Farsi.
Historically, British education has derived much of its prestige overseas from the reputation of certain of its private or independent schools, called “public” schools locally because many were originally founded in the Middle Ages as charitable institutions for the education of local, often poor, boys. However, schools like Eton College, Harrow School, and Rugby School ultimately became fee-paying institutions almost exclusively involved in the education of children from the wealthiest classes in Britain and abroad, although most retain scholarships for the education of gifted children from less affluent backgrounds.
However, only about 6 per cent of children in the United Kingdom are educated in the independent sector; the rest go to schools funded by the state. The state system in England and Wales follows the same general structure, but is different in each country in its history and in the impact of local culture. Northern Ireland has a similar state system, but the educational system in Scotland differs considerably.
A system of voluntary schools developed during the 19th century in England and Wales to extend educational opportunities to poorer children. After 1833 the voluntary schools, established by charitable and religious organizations, received some state support, but it was the Education Act of 1870 that first enshrined the idea of compulsory state-financed elementary education. By the terms of the act England and Wales were divided into school districts, each supervised by locally elected school boards that were authorized to establish schools in areas where no church voluntary schools existed. The boards were initially empowered to require compulsory attendance; in 1880 attendance was made compulsory for all children aged between five and ten. The complex school administration system created in 1870 was eased in 1899 by the creation of a national board of education. Thus by the end of the 19th century free elementary education was available to all. Public provision of secondary education was established in 1889 in Wales and in 1902 in England through a system of scholarships for the most able.
The Education Act of 1902 abolished the school boards and made state education the responsibility of government through local education authorities (LEAs). The board schools became council schools and the voluntary schools were subsidized by public funds. The school leaving age was raised to 14 in 1918.
The 1944 Education Act introduced a nationally coordinated system under the aegis of the newly created Ministry of Education and established free, compulsory secondary education for the first time. The LEAs were made committees on county or county-borough councils. Schools were divided into primary and secondary schools; the latter for children aged between 11 and the newly raised minimum school leaving age of 15; students could stay on to 18 to take the School Certificate for entrance to university or other higher education institutions. The councils, through the LEAs, were responsible for setting up and administering complete facilities for primary, secondary, and further education—the last-named being for those under 18 who were not in full-time education.
Children were allocated to secondary schools on the basis of the 11-plus, a selective test taken in the final year of primary education—those who passed went to grammar schools, the majority who did not went to secondary-modern schools. In the 1950s the School Certificate was replaced by A levels. In the 1960s and 1970s the selective system was gradually replaced in virtually all LEAs by comprehensive schools taking children of all abilities. The school leaving age was raised to 16 in the 1972-1973 school year.
Scotland’s education system is independent of that of England and Wales and different in structure. The Scots have traditionally assigned great importance to education and the voluntary schools system grew vigorously during the 19th century. In 1872 the responsibility for education was transferred from churches to elected school boards, which provided education for children aged 5 to 13. In 1901 the school leaving age was raised to 14, 17 years before this happened in England and Wales. In 1918 LEAs were established to replace school boards and the provision of secondary education was made mandatory. The Education Act (Scotland) of 1945 applied the same provision as the 1944 English and Welsh act but involved fewer changes as most of the innovations had already been made. The school leaving age was raised to 15 in 1947, and to 16 in 1972-1973. Following local government reorganization in 1975 the LEAs in Scotland were the elected councils of the nine regional and three island authorities. Education in Scotland was managed by the Scottish Office Education and Industry Department. Since 1999 the new Scottish parliament has had powers over education in Scotland. See Scotland.
Education in Northern Ireland was brought into a single system under the Board (later Ministry) of Education by the Education Act (Northern Ireland) of 1923. Counties and county boroughs were designated as LEAs, and education was based on the English system. The Education Act (Northern Ireland) of 1947 imposed reforms similar to those of the English act. The Education and Libraries (Northern Ireland) Order of 1972 established five education and library boards as the LEAs. Secondary education has remained largely in the hands of voluntary, primarily Church bodies, supported by public funds.
Compulsory education begins at age five in Great Britain and age four in Northern Ireland. However, many children in Great Britain enter formal education earlier; in the mid-1990s over 70 per cent of all three- and four-year-olds were enrolled in specialized nursery schools, or in nursery or infant classes in primary schools. The minimum leaving age is 16, but 65 per cent of pupils stay in education. In 2000 there were over 11.9 million pupils enrolled in schools throughout the United Kingdom—4,596,110 at the primary level and 8,374,404 at secondary schools. There were about 30,000 nursery and primary schools, 5,000 secondary schools, 1,800 specialized schools for children with physical and mental disabilities, and 2,500 fee-paying independent schools.
The normal age of transfer from primary to secondary school is 11 in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland; 12 in Scotland. A few English LEAs have instituted a three-tier system of first schools, for pupils aged from 5 years to 8-10 years; middle schools for age-ranges between 8-10 and 14 years; and senior schools. Many pupils with special educational needs because of mental or physical disability still attend specialized schools. However, official policy is that as far as possible such pupils should be integrated in mainstream schools.
The responsibility for schools in England is held by the Department of Education, headed by the Secretary of State for Education, while in Northern Ireland the responsibility is held by the Department of Education for Northern Ireland, headed by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. In Wales and Scotland education is now part of the remit for the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament, both of which were elected in May 1999. The majority of funding for state education is provided from central government revenues; the remainder is met from local government income from rates on property and local taxes. In 1994 the government spent 5.2 per cent of gross national product (GNP) on education. Until the late 1980s the LEAs were responsible for the allocation of finance and pupils to the overwhelming majority of schools, for their financial management and maintenance, and for the provision of certain services, such as the purchase of books for school libraries.
However, the Education Reform Act introduced by the Conservative government in 1988 initiated the most fundamental changes in the education systems of the United Kingdom since 1945. Its provisions dramatically reduced the powers of the LEAs, giving individual schools control over their own budgets, and allowing schools to apply to opt out of LEA control and receive grant-maintained (GM) status. In England and Wales the LEAs are now responsible for allocating funds to individual schools, largely on the basis of pupil numbers. The school governors (comprising elected parent and teacher representatives, and LEA-appointed representatives) are responsible for budgeting and overseeing expenditure, and for most aspects of staffing, including appointments and dismissals. The system in Northern Ireland is similar, but adapted to accommodate the large number of voluntary Church schools. Devolved management has also been introduced in Scotland.
All state-funded secondary schools in England, Wales, and Scotland can obtain GM status if the parents support the idea in a ballot, and the secretary of state approves the school’s proposals. GM schools are completely self-governing and independent of LEAs, receiving their funds directly from central government. By 1996 there were 1,099 GM schools in England (448 primary and 642 secondary); the numbers in Wales and Scotland were much lower.
Other provisions of the 1988 act included the abolition of the Inner London Education Authority (the unitary authority for the capital) and the introduction of a national curriculum applicable to all state schools in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. The prime aim of the National Curriculum is to raise general educational levels. It consists of core subjects, which must be taught to the age of 16 (including Welsh in Wales), and foundation subjects which must be taught at least until 14; the scope of these subjects is centrally defined.
Statutory testing has been introduced to assess pupils’ performance at the ages of 7, 11, and 14. The National Curriculum and associated testing, like virtually all the other educational changes precipitated by the 1988 act, have been highly controversial. During the first half of the 1990s, it brought the government into conflict with parents and governors, as well as the LEAs, and the representative bodies of head teachers and their staff. The National Curriculum was simplified in 1994, following widespread complaints that it imposed a huge administrative burden on teachers and schools, and overly restricted their autonomy.
Education after 16 is voluntary. After taking at age 16 the examinations for the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE; England, Wales, and Northern Ireland) or the Scottish Certificate of Education, students can choose to stay on in school or attend colleges of further education. They study either for vocational qualifications or, in England, Wales, and Northern Ireland, for the General Certificate of Education (GCE) Advanced Level examinations, commonly known as A Levels, which are the usual requirement for entry to university, teacher-training college, and other establishments of higher education. Other qualifications such as Advanced Subsidiary (AS) Level examinations were introduced in 2000, allowing students to study more subjects than the standard number of A-levels. General National Vocational Qualifications (GNVQ)—renamed vocational A levels—have been introduced that provide vocational alternatives to A levels. In Scotland, the equivalent of the A-Level is the Scottish Certificate of Higher Education.
British universities are completely self-governing and are guaranteed academic independence. Funding for education and research is provided by funding councils set up by Parliament; many of the older universities also have significant endowments. The number of universities increased dramatically in 1992 when polytechnics and some other higher education establishments were given the right to become universities.
By the end of 1994, there were some 90 universities, almost half of them former polytechnics, including the Open University. Many of the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge universities were founded in the 12th and 13th centuries. The Scottish universities of St Andrews, Glasgow, Aberdeen, and Edinburgh date from the 14th and 15th centuries. All other universities in Britain were founded in the 19th and 20th centuries. The Open University, based in Milton Keynes, England, was founded in 1969. It uses techniques associated with correspondence courses, television and radio programmes, video cassettes, and the Internet backed by the support of local study centres and residential summer schools, to provide higher education opportunities to a wide variety of people, particularly those without formal qualifications.
During the 1960s there was a significant increase in the number of new universities, reflecting a rapid growth in student numbers which was made possible by an expansion in grant facilities. During the 1980s, an expansion in higher education places led to another large jump in student numbers. In 2000 there were over 2.07 million students in full- or part-time higher education in Great Britain, compared with just under 850,000 a decade earlier. By 1995 over 47 per cent of 16- to 24-year olds were undertaking some form of higher education in the United Kingdom and by 2001 more than 18 per cent of the population had achieved a degree-level (or equivalent) educational qualification.
Up until 1998, about 90 per cent of students were eligible for a state grant to cover tuition fees and contribute towards living costs. The size of the grant, except for mature students, was determined by a means test of parental income. In the late 1980s, maintenance grants were frozen, and students were encouraged to apply for a student loan to top up their income. However, in 1998 legislation was passed which ended state payment of tuition fees and replaced maintenance grants with loans. In 1995 the UK’s literacy rate stood at 99 per cent, although a survey in 1987 claimed 9 to 12 per cent of the population was functionally illiterate. According to the 2001 census more than one third of the population aged between 16 and 74 had no formal educational qualifications.
For further information see the Education sections of the articles England, Northern Ireland, and Scotland.
Britain’s rich cultural heritage and traditions are the main reasons why it has more than 20 million overseas visitors each year. The attractions include the many theatres, museums, art galleries, and historical buildings to be found in all parts of the United Kingdom, as well as the numerous annual arts festivals and the pageantry associated with the British royal family. The expansion of tourism, combined with the collapse of many traditional economic activities, has helped encourage the growth since the 1980s of the so-called “heritage” industry—seen in the explosion of “living” museums illustrating Britain’s rural and industrial past.
London has the greatest concentration of theatres, orchestras, and galleries, and is also the main home of the print and broadcast media, and of the fashion, record, film, and publishing industries—as such, it often seems to dominate modern British culture. However, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, and the regions of England all have vigorous cultural traditions that have contributed to and still enrich all aspects of British life. The traditions and abilities of the various ethnic minorities are also reflected in modern British culture, notably in music and literature, and are celebrated in events like the annual Notting Hill Carnival in west London.
The traditional music, song, and dance of Scotland, much of it derived from the country’s Gaelic heritage, thrives in the ceilidh, the (bag)pipe band, and the Highland games. In the contemporary arts, Scotland has noted museums, galleries, and orchestras, and national ballet and opera companies. It also hosts the world’s premier arts festival, the annual Edinburgh International Festival; Britain’s second-largest arts festival, the Mayfest, is held in Glasgow. The choral and bardic traditions of Wales are seen most notably in the country’s male-voice choirs and in the eisteddfod. These annual festivals celebrating Welsh music, poetry, and customs are held throughout Wales, culminating in the Royal National Eisteddfod, which has developed into an international festival of the arts. Cardiff is home to the Welsh National Opera, one of Britain’s leading symphony orchestras, and several museums. In Northern Ireland the ancient Celtic traditions of the whole island coexist with those of the descendants of the English and Scottish settlers. Opera Northern Ireland, the Ulster Symphony Orchestra, and the national Ulster Museum are based in Belfast.
In England, ancient folk traditions are maintained in all parts of the country. Many are unique to particular areas; some, like the morris dance, are more widespread. All English cities and many towns have art galleries and museums. Many contain notable collections. The leading London museums and galleries include the British Museum, the National Gallery, the Victoria and Albert Museum, the Courtauld Institute, the Tate Gallery, the Natural History Museum, and the Science Museum. Those outside the capital include the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford; the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge; Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery; the Tate Galleries in Liverpool and St Ives; the Museum of Photography, Film, and Television in Bradford; and the National Railway Museum in York. The Jorvik Viking Centre, also in York, and Eureka! in Halifax, the first museum designed specifically for children, are two of the best-known examples of modern theme museums. In 2001 an environmental tourist attraction, the Eden Project, was opened near St Austell in Cornwall. The many notable English theatres, orchestras, arts festivals, and ballet and opera companies are discussed in The Performing Arts section below.
British society is overwhelmingly urban, but it has retained distinct links with its rural past—reflected in the popularity of gardening, and in the working-class tradition of growing one’s own vegetables on allotments. Sport is important in Britain, and the British originated or developed the modern forms and rules of a number of sports—notably football, rugby, cricket, tennis, polo, horse racing, field hockey, and croquet. Angling is the most popular British sport or pastime, attracting more active participants than football.
For more information on the culture and traditions of the United Kingdom see: the Culture sections of the articles on England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales; the individual entries for the counties of England and Northern Ireland, and the unitary authorities of Scotland and Wales; and Irish Dancing; London; Mummers’ Play; National Gallery of Scotland, Edinburgh; National Portrait Gallery; Punch and Judy; Wallace Collection; Scottish Dancing. Additionally, see individual entries for Britain’s football teams and first-class cricket counties.
G Literature, Art, and Architecture
For the development and present state of literature in the United Kingdom see: Anglo-Welsh Literature; Cornish Literature; Drama and Dramatic Arts; English Literature; Gaelic Literature; Irish Literature; Scottish Literature; Welsh Literature; Welsh Writing in English.
The countries that make up the United Kingdom have long artistic traditions. Ornamentation, often influenced by early Scandinavian woodcarvings, was a prominent aspect of the earliest visual art in Britain. After Christianization, painting was almost exclusively limited to illuminated manuscripts; Northern Ireland shared in the great flowering of Celtic Christian art in Ireland at this time. There was also a vigorous tradition of metalwork and sculpture, the latter expressed in stone crosses, notably in Northumbria and south-western Scotland. From the 12th to the 16th centuries the Romanesque and Gothic cathedrals of England were the outstanding products of British art. In the 17th and 18th centuries architects such as Inigo Jones and Sir Christopher Wren introduced Renaissance and Baroque architecture to England.
British art, like British architecture, was strongly influenced by developments in continental Europe. Before the 18th century the most noted artists who produced paintings in England were foreigners, such as the German painter Hans Holbein the Younger in the 16th century and the Flemish painter Sir Anthony van Dyck in the 17th century. In the 18th century a distinctive British style began to emerge, notably with the work of portrait painters such as William Hogarth, Sir Joshua Reynolds, Thomas Gainsborough, and George Romney in England, and Sir Henry Raeburn in Scotland. Gainsborough, together with the East Anglian painter John Crome and the Welsh painter Richard Wilson, also played an important part in the development of one of the most characteristic aspects of British painting, the landscape.
During the 18th century there was also the emergence of distinctive English styles in furniture and ceramics, epitomized by the work of Thomas Chippendale, Thomas Sheraton, and Josiah Wedgwood. During the same period, the naturalistic style of landscape gardener Capability Brown, which came to be called the “English style”, was copied throughout Europe.
The early part of the 19th century was noted for the work of the two great British landscape painters, John Constable and J. M. W. Turner. In 1848, in response to the dull painting that had come to dominate British art in the mid-1800s, the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood was formed, taking its inspiration from medieval and early Renaissance art. Its leaders included painters William Holman Hunt, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and Sir John Everett Millais. Similar medieval influences were seen in the applied arts, notably in the work of William Morris, whose textile and wallpaper designs are still popular. The Arts and Crafts Movement which Morris founded in 1861 was the principal inspiration of the Art Nouveau movement of the turn of the century. Scotland produced some of the leading exponents of Art Nouveau through the Glasgow School. Its leaders included architects and designers Arthur H. Mackmurdo and Charles Rennie Mackintosh; the Glasgow School of Art, designed by Mackintosh, is one of the most important examples of the style.
The 20th century is notable for a move away from naturalism towards abstraction, for the increasing internationalization of British art, and for the resurgence of sculpture. Sir Jacob Epstein, Dame Barbara Hepworth, Henry Moore, and, more recently, Dame Elisabeth Frink are among the British sculptors who achieved international reputations. British painters who came to prominence before World War II include Paul Nash, Sir Stanley Spencer, and Graham Sutherland. In the period since 1945, Ben Nicholson, Victor Pasmore, Francis Bacon, David Hockney, Lucian Freud, and Damien Hirst have all achieved acclaim.
For more information on the history and styles of art and architecture in the United Kingdom see Anglo-Saxon Art and Architecture; Camden Town Group; Celtic Art; Church (building); Elizabethan Style; Georgian Style; Greek Revival; Hepplewhite Style; Jacobean Style; New English Art Club; Norman Architecture; Pop Art; Queen Anne Style; Regency Style; St Ives School; Tudor Style; Victorian Style.
H The Performing Arts
The development of the modern performing arts in Britain has tended to be dominated by the experience of England. The reign of Elizabeth I coincided with the effectual start of commercial theatre, providing a vehicle for the plays of William Shakespeare and Christopher Marlowe. London’s Globe Theatre, which also staged the works of Ben Jonson, was one of Britain’s first commercial theatres. It was razed to the ground in the mid-17th century, but an exact replica has been built near the original site on the south bank of the River Thames.
In the 16th century there was the emergence of a group of composers, in particular John Taverner, Thomas Tallis, and William Byrd, who produced memorable church music and laid the foundations of one of the strongest British musical traditions, choral music. Secular music also leapt forward during Elizabeth’s reign. Byrd was a noted composer in this area as well, together with John Dowland, Thomas Morley, and Orlando Gibbons.
The Restoration of 1660 brought new developments in the theatre which continued into the 18th century. Irish-born dramatists George Farquhar, Oliver Goldsmith, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan wrote witty, often acerbic, comedies of social manners that came to symbolize Restoration theatre. The leading English-born Restoration dramatist was William Congreve. In the late 17th century there was the production of Britain’s first operas, of which the most outstanding was Dido and Aeneas by Henry Purcell, the only great British composer of the era. The operas and oratorios of German-born composer George Frideric Handel, who settled in London in 1712, dominated 18th-century music.
During the 19th century little original theatre or music was produced until after 1870. In the late Victorian theatre, Sir Arthur Wing Pinero and Oscar Wilde revived the tradition of witty social comedy, while Sir Arthur Sullivan and Sir William Gilbert produced enduring comic operas. Two uniquely British forms of popular theatre emerged in the mid-19th century—the music hall and the pantomime. Music halls provided variety shows of comic acts, speciality turns, and songs, many of them risqué. They finally died out after World War II, but their influence continues to be felt, notably in the pantomime and in certain strands of British comedy. The pantomime owes its origins to the Italian commedia dell’arte, but bears little resemblance to it. Staged only around Christmas, pantomime is an elaborately costumed retelling of fairy tales incorporating song, dance, slapstick comedy, and much audience participation. For many British children, it is their first experience of the theatre.
The most prominent British composers at the turn of the century were Sir Edward Elgar and Frederick Delius; in the first half of the 20th century Ralph Vaughan Williams and Sir William Walton emerged. The many important post-1945 British composers include Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Richard Rodney Bennett, and Sir Harrison Birtwistle. In the 20th century a renaissance of British opera occurred through the work of Sir Michael Tippett and Benjamin Britten.
In the late 20th century, Britain was an important source of popular music, in particular of the various manifestations of rock music, beginning with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in the 1960s. The work of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber helped to make the musical the most popular form of theatrical entertainment in Britain in the 1980s and 1990s.
Interest in Classical music, opera, and dance has also grown markedly since 1980. Britain has many professional orchestras. The leading symphony orchestras include the London Philharmonic, the London Symphony, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, the Hallé in Manchester, the City of Birmingham Symphony, and the Ulster and Royal Scottish orchestras. Chamber orchestras include the English Chamber Orchestra, the Academy of St Martin-in-the Fields, and the Bournemouth Sinfonietta. The BBC maintains six orchestras and has sponsored (since 1927) one of the most popular annual musical events, the Promenade Concerts at the Royal Albert Hall, which celebrated their centenary in 1994. In addition to the Royal Opera House company, based at Covent Garden in London, each of the countries of the United Kingdom has a national opera company, singing mainly in English. Leeds-based Opera North tours the north of England. Each summer an opera season, attracting an international cast, is held at Glyndebourne, East Sussex; a new £33 million auditorium was opened for the 1994 season.
The Royal Ballet, the Birmingham (formerly Sadler’s Wells) Royal Ballet, the English National Ballet, and the Northern Ballet Theatre rank among the world’s leading companies. Rambert Dance Company is Britain’s leading contemporary dance company.
British theatre in the early 1920s was dominated by revues and the plays of Sir Noel Coward. Since World War II British drama has included a strong social realism trend, beginning with the work of John Osborne, as well as maintaining the tradition of witty, complex comedy in the work of Alan Ayckbourn. Other notable late 20th-century British dramatists include Harold Pinter, Arnold Wesker, John Arden, Tom Stoppard, Peter Shaffer, and Caryl Churchill. Their talents, combined with those of some of the theatre’s most renowned actors—including Lord Olivier, Sir Alec Guinness, Sir John Gielgud, Dame Sybil Thorndike, Dame Judi Dench, Dame Maggie Smith, Sir Ian McKellen, Kenneth Branagh, Vanessa Redgrave, and Emma Thompson—have helped make Britain one of the world’s major drama centres.
Today there are more than 300 professional theatres in the United Kingdom; 100 are in London, almost half in the West End. Britain has about 300 professional theatre companies, some associated with particular theatres, others primarily touring companies. Noted British theatres are the Royal National Theatre, Royal Court, and the Old Vic in London; the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield; the Bristol Old Vic; the Nottingham Playhouse; the Citizens’ Theatre, Glasgow; the Royal Exchange, Manchester; and the Festival Theatre, Chichester. The Royal Shakespeare Company performs in the Barbican Centre in London and at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and The Swan in Stratford-upon-Avon.
I Arts Organization
Some 650 professional arts festivals are held in Britain each year, attracting more than four million visitors. Apart from the Edinburgh Festival and the Mayfest, there are important general arts festivals in Belfast, Brighton, Buxton, Chichester, Harrogate, Llangollen, Malvern, Pitlochry, Salisbury, and York. Festivals focusing on music include the Three Choirs Festival, the Cheltenham Festival, and the Aldeburgh Festival, founded by Benjamin Britten and the English tenor Sir Peter Pears. Many towns hold their own festivals, supported by local amateur performers. Amateur interest in the performing arts is enormous in Britain. More than six million people regularly take part in dance, and there are many thousands of amateur dramatic and operatic societies, choirs, and musical groupings of all kinds including orchestras; dance, brass, and steel bands; and folk, rock, and jazz groups.
For more information on the performing arts see: Church Music; Drama and Dramatic Arts; Early Music; English National Opera; Royal Academy of Music; Royal College of Music; Scottish Opera.
Although the arts in Britain have had to become increasingly commercially minded since the 1980s, raising revenue in a variety of ways, including business sponsorship, public subsidy is still vital to their existence. The main channels of government aid to the arts are the independent arts councils. Separate councils for England, Scotland, and Wales replaced the unitary British Arts Council in 1994. Northern Ireland has its own independent arts council.
The Arts Council of England operates mainly through ten regional arts boards. The four councils provide financial help to major opera, dance, and drama companies; to touring theatres and experimental groups; and to orchestras and festivals. The councils also support training schemes and help professional creative writers, choreographers, composers, artists, and photographers. Much of their funding is done in partnership with local authorities, who are the other source of public finance for the arts. Additional funds are provided through the Foundation for Sport and Arts, set up in 1991 to distribute a percentage of the profits of the football pools (see Gambling); one third goes to the arts, the rest benefits sports. Another important source of revenue is the National Lottery, which came into operation in November 1994. The arts, including film and crafts, receive one fifth of the net proceeds of the lottery.
The United Kingdom is one of the world’s leading commercial and industrialized nations. In terms of gross national product (GNP) it ranks fifth in the world, after the United States, Japan, Germany, and France. In 2001 Britain’s GNP was about US$1,477 billion, equivalent to US$25,120 per capita. In 2001 gross domestic product (GDP; market prices) was about US$1,424 billion (approximately £865 billion). Major industries, such as transport, communications, steel, petroleum, coal, gas, and electricity, which had been nationalized by Labour governments, were sold to private investors by the Conservative government in the 1980s and the first half of the 1990s.
Britain has made great achievements in science, invention, and technology and has a long research tradition. The Nobel Prize has been won by more than 70 British scientists. In the 20th century, contributions included, among many others, the discovery of the molecular structure of DNA (1953) and subsequent breakthroughs in medicine and genetics (such as gene therapy, computerized tomography, and in vitro fertilization—the world’s first “test-tube” baby). British scientists have also advanced the fields of astrophysics and superconductivity (extremely high electrical conductivity at low temperatures).
In January 1973 Britain became a member of the European Community (EC; now the EU). Since the end of World War II several economic problems have persisted, such as pressure on the currency, a deficit on the overall balance of payments, inflation, and until recently industrial inefficiency. During the 1974 world recession these problems became more critical: unemployment rose to more than one million, productivity declined, wages soared, and the currency sank to record lows. In July 1975 the government introduced stringent anti-inflation measures that were supported by both business and the trade unions, and were regarded as largely successful in holding down wage increases and dampening inflation. Major improvements in the balance of payments occurred in the late 1970s because of the revenues from North Sea oil.
Since 1979 government economic policies have encouraged the private sector while curbing government spending and services. Under the Conservative governments of the 1980s and 1990s the maintenance of low inflation was the government’s priority, but at the cost of historically high unemployment levels. The Labour government elected in 1997 sought to continue the low-inflation policy. Unemployment levels exceeded 3.5 million in the mid-1980s but were about 1.65 million by April 2000 (the unemployment rate being 5.3 per cent), and by the turn of the century had dropped to under 1 million, the lowest figure for 25 years. The annual national budget deficit in 1996 was equivalent to about 4.5 per cent of GDP.
In the late 1990s a major economic policy question for Britain was the terms on which it participates in the financial and economic integration of Europe. In particular, the United Kingdom will have to decide if and when it will join the single European currency—the Euro.
About 77 per cent of the land area of Britain is under agricultural use of some sort. However, the sector’s role in the economy is much smaller than in most other major industrialized countries, in terms of employment and contribution to GDP, reflecting Britain’s early industrialization. Agriculture employs around 2 per cent of the population and contributed 1 per cent of GDP in 2001. However, it achieves high levels of efficiency and productivity. Britain is self-sufficient in 60 per cent of all types of food and animal feed.
Large parts of Britain, notably in Scotland and Wales, are suitable only for grazing. Overall, in the second half of the 1990s about 48 per cent of agricultural land was under pasture, another 27 per cent under rough grazing, and the remainder under crops or lying fallow. There were around 244,000 farm holdings, 75 per cent of them owner-occupied, with an average size of just over 70 hectares (173 acres). However, some 44 per cent of farms were considered to be of the minimum size to provide a full-time living, or smaller (see Smallholding).
Over half of all full-time farms are devoted to dairy- or beef-farming, or sheep. Britain in 2002 had an estimated 10.4 million cattle, 33 million sheep, 5.53 million pigs, and almost 182 million poultry. Cattle and sheep contribute more than 40 per cent of the value of gross agricultural output.
An outbreak of swine fever in Britain led to the slaughter of about 12,000 pigs and the isolation of farms in August 2000. It was the country’s first outbreak in 14 years. Far more serious to the farming industry was the outbreak in February 2001 of foot-and-mouth disease, the first outbreak since 1967. The virus spread at an alarming rate through the country and led, first, to the isolation of affected farms, followed by the culling of the infected animals—cattle, sheep, and pigs—and then “healthy” animals that came within exclusion zones. The North-West of England, Devon, and the Scottish Borders were particularly badly affected. At the end of September the number of confirmed cases stood at over 2,000, which had led to the slaughter, and then burial or burning, of almost 4 million animals.
The treatment of farm animals is of growing concern in Britain. Opposition by a section of the public to factory farming of chickens for eggs and meat is long-standing. However, during 1995 there were major protests at a number of English ports over the export of calves to continental Europe for veal production. In 1996 increasing concern over the possible links between bovine spongiform encephalopathy in the British beef herd and Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease in human beings who may have eaten infected beef products led to the temporary collapse of consumer confidence in the safety of British beef and an EU ban on the export of cattle products. Sales of beef in British supermarkets revived in 1997.
Arable farming is concentrated mainly in eastern and south-central England and in eastern Scotland. The main crops (2002 production, tonnes) grown are: wheat (15.8 million), sugar beet (9 million), barley (6 million), potatoes (6.65 million), and oilseed 0.50 million). There is also a significant horticultural industry producing a variety of vegetables, orchard and soft fruits, and bulbs and flowers.
The high productivity of the arable sector—one of the most efficient in Europe—has been achieved by the removal of hedgerows to create larger fields, by mechanization, and by the intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides, and fungicides. As with the issue of animal treatment, these trends in arable agriculture have provoked public concern. Combined, these concerns have helped encourage the rapid growth of vegetarianism in Britain since the early 1980s and the expansion of organic farming, although this is still on a very small scale. However, partly in reaction to these concerns, and partly because of costs, the trend is now towards lower chemical use in farming.
B Agricultural Policy
Agricultural policy in the United Kingdom since 1973 has been determined primarily by the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) of the EU, which aims to ensure stable markets, a fair standard of living for producers, and regular supplies of food at reasonable prices for consumers. The costs to EU taxpayers of the CAP, which accounts for more than 50 per cent of the EU’s budget, and the mechanisms of maintaining farm prices through grants and subsidies, and through tariffs on cheaper imports, have come under increasing criticism since the early 1980s by Britain, by developing countries, and by the United States.
Various reforms have been implemented in an attempt to reduce costs, subsidies, and the huge levels of overproduction that generated “butter mountains” and “wine lakes” during the 1970s and 1980s. These have included schemes to encourage farmers to take land out of agricultural production, to adopt more environmentally kind, but less productive methods of farming, to impose production quotas on certain products, like milk, and to reduce subsidies for the production of others.
In Britain agricultural marketing is carried out by private traders, producers’ cooperatives, and marketing boards for certain products. The number of marketing boards has been steadily reduced over the past 20 years. In November 1994 one of the largest, the Milk Marketing Board for England and Wales, ceased to exist and was replaced by a producers’ cooperative, Milk Marque.
Britain’s food industry is one of the world’s largest (per capita) and most successful, with a highly developed retail, supply, and distribution network. Its supermarket chains (now known as food giants) supply an ever-increasing choice of food products to the British consumer and are among Europe’s most profitable companies.
The approximately 3 million hectares (6 million acres) of woodlands in Britain cover about 7 per cent of England, 15 per cent of Scotland, 12 per cent of Wales, and 5 per cent of Northern Ireland. The most common trees are oak, beech, ash, and elm. Pine and birch predominate in Scotland. Production of roundwood totalled about 7.19 million cu m (254 million cu ft) in 1994. Sawnwood production in 2001 came to approximately 2.54 million cu m (89.7 million cu ft). The Forestry Commission began a reforestation programme in the 1950s, under which approximately 16,000 hectares (40,000 acres) were replanted annually, mostly in Scotland.
Private owners, who hold 62 per cent of the total forestlands, have been encouraged to replant some 8,000 hectares (20,000 acres) each year. New plantings in 1994 totalled 17,300 hectares (42,749 acres), of which private owners accounted for almost 92 per cent (15,900 hectares/39,290 acres). The reforestation of an additional 65,000 hectares (160,000 acres) in Northern Ireland is also planned. Despite these efforts, however, Britain still imports more than 85 per cent of its timber.
The fishing industry provides about 55 per cent of British fish supplies and involves both deep-sea fishing and fish farming. The deep-sea industry has declined since the 1960s, in part because of conservation restrictions legislated by the EU; it remains most important to the economy of Scotland and parts of south-western England, and is a major source of employment in certain ports.
In 1999 the total fish catch was about 1 million tonnes, of this figure 712,811 tonnes was the marine (or deep-sea) catch. The main catch species include mackerel, cod, haddock, whiting, angler fish, hake, plaice (various flatfishes, including flounder), herring, and shellfish. The principal commercial freshwater fishes are salmon, trout, and eel; the first two now mainly come from fish farms.
Notable fishing ports include Hull, Grimsby, Fleetwood, North Shields, Lowestoft, Plymouth, Brixham, and Newlyn in England; Aberdeen, Peterhead, Lerwick, Ullapool, and Fraserburgh in Scotland; and Kilkeel, Ardglass, and Portavogie in Northern Ireland. The British fishing fleet consists of 9,174 vessels. Not all of these, however, belonged to British fishers; a significant minority of UK-registered vessels are owned by non-Britons, notably citizens of other EU-member states.
E Fishing Policy
As with agriculture, fisheries policy in Britain is largely determined by the EU, through the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP). A long history of overfishing in European waters has led to the imposition of increasingly strict quotas through the CFP as part of measures aimed at protecting remaining fish stocks and allowing them to recover. With one of the EU’s largest fishing fleets, Britain has been particularly affected by such measures. Boats have had to spend many days a year forcibly laid up and the government has implemented financial schemes to encourage people to leave the industry.
At the start of 1996 traditional British and Irish fishing grounds, known as the “Irish Box”, were opened to Spanish boats under a December 1994 agreement. Narrowly ratified by the British parliament in January 1995, the agreement had caused considerable friction between British and Spanish boats during the year, including various incidents of net-cutting. The arrival of the Spanish boats in the Irish Box led to a resurgence of complaints from the British fishing industry, particularly after the EU indicated plans to cut back on British fishing quotas.
The European Court of Justice ruled in March 1996 that compensation claims made by Spanish fishing vessel owners previously kept out of British waters could go ahead. Further demands were made by the European Commission for a 40 per cent reduction in the British fishing fleet over a six-year period.
Britain has a variety of minerals, notably coal (see Energy below) and iron ore; the juxtaposition of deposits of these two was a key element in the country’s early industrialization. The location and historical importance of these and other mineral deposits is reflected in Britain’s population distribution and in the development of certain towns and cities. Mining in Britain has an ancient history. Salt mining, especially in Cheshire, dates back to prehistoric times. In the pre-Christian era, Phoenician traders visited what is now England to barter for tin from the mines of Cornwall. These tin deposits are now almost completely worked out, as are the iron ore deposits of northern England.
Today, construction raw materials form the bulk of non-coal mineral production. Some zinc, lead, and gold are produced; gold mining occurs in Wales. Ownership of gold and silver (as well as oil and natural gas) in Britain lies with the Crown, and producers can only obtain production leases. Virtually all other mineral sources are privately owned. Output of non-coal minerals includes (1995 figures, tonnes): limestone and dolomite (112.6 million), sand and gravel (101.7 million), sandstone (19.8 million), common clay and shale (13.9 million), salt (4.8 million), and china clay (2.6 million). Cornwall’s last remaining mine, South Crofty, produced 1,922 tonnes of tin-in-concentrate in 1994—some 20 per cent of domestic demand.
Britain has the greatest energy resources of the EU, and is a significant world producer of oil and natural gas. The other main primary energy sources are coal and nuclear power. Water power, although the main energy source for the early stages of Britain’s industrialization, is today little used except in Scotland, which has a number of hydroelectric power stations. Alternative energy sources are just starting to be developed, notably through the construction of so-called wind farms in parts of northern and south-western England, Wales, and Scotland.
Large parts of the island of Great Britain are underlain by coalfields, and coal mining can be traced back to Roman times. Taxes on coal sales helped pay for the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire of London (1666), and coal was the key energy source of the Industrial Revolution.
Production reached a peak in 1913 when the industry produced 292 million tonnes, exported 74 million tonnes, and employed 1 million people. Since then it has been in decline. The main cutbacks in the coal industry have occurred over the past 20 years, however, and particularly since the end of the bitter, year-long miners’ strike of 1984. When the coal industry was nationalized (see History below) in 1947, some 200 million tonnes were produced by almost 900 pits. By the end of 1992, when the British Coal Corporation offered 28 collieries for lease to the private sector as the first stage of privatization, production was under 84 million tonnes, and there were just 50 pits remaining. Fewer than half of these were still in operation by the time British Coal was privatized in January 1995, and production was down to some 60 million tonnes. In 2001 some 31.5 million tonnes of coal was produced. Employment in the industry had dropped from around 200,000 in 1985 to around 11,000 a decade later, with enormous social consequences for the mining communities of areas like Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, and south Wales.
The decline in the industry has reflected the loss of domestic and export markets to cheaper overseas producers, even though modernization and mechanization programmes have made the British coal industry one of the world’s most efficient and productive, on a per capita basis. Other factors have included the phasing out of subsidies to the coal industry by the Conservative government from 1979 to 1997, and growing concerns about the adverse environmental impact of coal-burning. Almost three quarters of British coal comes from deep mines, the rest from opencast mines, and, notwithstanding the industry’s problems in recent years, some 25 per cent of British energy is still supplied by coal.
Oil was first discovered in 1969 under the bed of the North Sea, off the coast of north-eastern Scotland; production began in 1975. By 1980, 15 fields were producing 1.6 million barrels a day—virtually all of Britain’s requirements—and oil was becoming an important source of export revenue as well. Production of natural gas from the North Sea fields off the coast of eastern England began in 1967 and has steadily increased. New offshore oil and natural gasfields have been located since 1980, and small onshore oil deposits have been discovered, notably at Wytch Farm in Dorset, southern England.
By 1996 Britain was the world’s ninth-largest producer of oil, with some 96 productive offshore oilfields (1997), and the fifth-largest producer of natural gas, with 48 offshore gas fields. Output of crude oil in 1997 totalled some 2.59 million barrels a day; output of natural gas amounted to 105,901 million cu m (3,739,859 million cu ft).
Britain was a pioneer in the development of nuclear power plants. The world’s first commercial-scale nuclear power station at Calder Hall, Cumbria, north-western England, became functional in 1956. By 2002, 31 nuclear power stations generated about 24 per cent of Britain’s electricity. Of the remainder, about 47 per cent is generated by coal power stations, 5 per cent from petroleum, 16 per cent from natural gas, and hydroelectric power stations and other renewable fuels account for the remainder. Annual electricity output in 2001 exceeded 360.9 billion kWh, of which around 35 per cent was taken by households and 32 per cent by industry. The majority of the electricity industry was privatized in 1989; the nuclear power stations, as British Energy, in 1996; and British Gas in 1986.
By the mid-19th century Britain was an industrialized nation, the world’s first. The main causes of its early development in this area included: Britain’s early leadership in the wool trade; a favourable climate; mineral wealth; the development of shipping and naval control of the seas; the acquisition of colonial markets; a much greater freedom from political and religious wars and persecution than elsewhere in Europe; the development of more efficient manufacturing methods, such as the factory system, and labour-saving machinery; and the agricultural revolution. This last, which preceded and paralleled the Industrial Revolution, was very important. Improved production methods, crops, and breeds of animals, as well as mechanization, boosted food production to feed the burgeoning towns. It also freed thousands of agricultural labourers to work in the new factories.
The 16th- and 17th-century influx of Flemish and Huguenot immigrants during the Protestant Reformation gave great impetus to the wool industry, the foundation of Britain’s medieval economy, and introduced new industries such as silk-weaving, garment-making, and the manufacture of hats, pottery, and cutlery. With the invention of mechanically powered machinery the textile industry grew rapidly to become one of the most important industries of Britain. Improvements and development of early steam technology by two Scottish engineers, James Watt and George Stephenson, were of major importance in British industrialization generally, and in the development of the coal industry, and iron and steel manufacturing in particular. Britain’s wealth by the mid-19th century was based on the manufacture of iron and steel, heavy industry, shipbuilding, coal mining, textiles, and trade.
Today, Britain is still an important manufacturing country, despite the many problems facing the sector since the 1970s, including foreign competition and the detrimental effects of the recession of the 1980s. In 2000 manufacturing accounted for 18.65 per cent of GDP, while 80 per cent of visible exports consisted of manufactured or semi-manufactured goods. However, employment in the sector has fallen as firms have closed or new technologies have been brought in to raise productivity. In 1995 some four million people were employed in manufacturing (16.5 per cent of the workforce).
The structure of industry has changed substantially in the past 25 years. The traditional industries, which by the 1930s had expanded to include motor vehicle production, have generally been much reduced in overall size—although individual firms like British Steel and, in textiles, Coates Viyella and Courtaulds Textiles are among the biggest in the world in their respective fields. There has been a growth of high-technology industries, such as pharmaceuticals: Britain is one of the world’s top three producers of pharmaceuticals and is a pioneer in biotechnology. Glaxo Wellcome is one of the world’s largest pharmaceuticals companies and London is the headquarters of the European Medicines Evaluation Agency, which is responsible for licensing of drugs on an EU-wide basis. Britain is also a world leader in electronics, aerospace, and the manufacture of offshore oil equipment, in which the country has pioneered a number of technologies involved in drilling, seismic surveying techniques, and rig construction. By the early 1990s Britain was making some 40 per cent of Europe’s desktop computers, as well as being a world leader in the supply of communications equipment, including fibre-optic cables.
In 1995 the approximate production figures of some important products were: 17.6 million tonnes of finished steel, 1.5 million passenger cars, 80,000 tonnes of worsted and woollen yarn, and 207.9 million tonnes of synthetic fibres. In terms of the value of output the most important industrial sectors were: food and beverages; electrical and optical equipment; pulp, paper products, printing and publishing; chemicals and synthetic fibres; machinery; transport equipment; and textiles and leather products.
Scotland and Northern Ireland have long been noted for their production of whisky and textiles, notably tweed and linen respectively. Scotland today, however, is also a major producer of computers. The leading traditional manufacturing regions of England are Greater London and the metropolitan counties of Greater Manchester, West Midlands (Birmingham); South Yorkshire; and Tyne and Wear. Electronics and other newer industries are also concentrated in parts of south-east and western England.
Tourism is an essential part of invisible income and an increasingly important economic sector, employing at least 7 per cent of the workforce. In 1998 it contributed some US$32,267 million in receipts to the economy. Britain is one of the world’s top tourist destinations, attracting 22.8 million overseas visitors in 2001—more than a 50 per cent increase over the early 1980s. Under the Development of Tourism Act of 1969, a government organization, the British Tourist Authority, was set up to attract overseas visitors and to improve tourist accommodation and travel conditions.
J Currency and Banking
The pound sterling (£1), of 100 new pence, is the basic unit of currency (£0.6048 equalled US$1; early 2003). In 1968 Britain took the first step in a three-year conversion of its currency to the decimal system of coinage by introducing the first two new coins, the 5-pence piece (equal to one old shilling) and the 10-pence piece. In 1969 the 50-pence coin was introduced, replacing the old 10-shilling note. The conversion was completed in 1971. The pound was permitted to float against the dollar and other world currencies beginning in June 1972.
The Bank of England, chartered in 1694, was nationalized in 1946, and it is the sole bank of issue in England and Wales. Several banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland may also issue currencies in limited amounts. Great Britain has, in addition, some 19 major commercial banks with more than 10,000 domestic and overseas branches, most of which are offices of the four leading banks: Lloyds TSB, Barclays, NatWest, and HSBC (formerly the Midland). Some banking services are provided by the postal system, savings banks, and cooperative and building societies. Following the election of a Labour government in 1997, the Bank of England was given operational independence in monetary policy, with responsibility for setting base interest rates.
There are also a number of domestic clearing banks, discount houses, and other financial institutions, such as the London Stock Exchange, and Lloyd’s insurance market, linked to Britain’s (essentially London’s) role as one of the world’s leading financial centres. In 1994 there were some 486 banks registered in the United Kingdom, as well as many other banking and non-banking institutions. Banking, finance, insurance, and leasing services accounted for about 25 per cent of Britain’s output, a substantial rise over a decade earlier, and 13 per cent of employment. In the mid-1990s about 16 per cent of the workforce was employed in the banking and finance sector. Net overseas earnings were around US$25 billion (£15.6 billion).
Historically, the financial services industry has been based in the famous “Square Mile” in the City of London. This remains very much the case today, even though Leeds, Manchester, Cardiff, Liverpool, Edinburgh, and Glasgow have developed as financial centres in recent years. The City of London, however, has the greatest concentration of foreign banks in the world and accounts for 20 per cent of total international bank lending. It also has one of the world’s largest insurance markets, is the world’s top centre for trading overseas equities, has one of the world’s largest financial derivatives markets, and is a leading market for trading commodities such as copper, gold, cocoa, and coffee.
The financial services sector expanded particularly fast after the deregulation of the Stock Exchange, or “Big Bang”, in 1986, developing new markets and products, and taking on large numbers of new employees. The recession of the early 1990s led to many workers being made redundant, and the sector was also hit by a number of problems and scandals, but a revival took place in the mid-1990s.
K Commerce and Trade
Foreign trade has been of vital importance to Britain for hundreds of years. Britain’s prominent position in world trade during the 18th and 19th centuries resulted largely from the geographical isolation of the British Isles from the wars and political troubles that afflicted the centres of trade on the Continent. The development of the great trading companies, such as the East India Company and Hudson’s Bay Company, colonial expansion, and naval control of the seas were corollary factors.
Before the 17th century the foreign trade of England was almost completely in the hands of foreigners. Wool was the principal export and manufactured goods were the chief imports. Under the mercantile system, which in England was the prevailing economic theory of the 17th and 18th centuries, the government fostered foreign trade, the development of shipping, and trading companies. As the number of British overseas possessions increased in the 18th and 19th centuries, the raising of sheep for wool and mutton became a major occupation in the colonies. The practice of exporting wool from Britain and importing manufactured woollen articles was gradually replaced by the import of wool and the manufacture and export of yarns and fabrics. Cotton textiles, iron and steel, and coal became significant British exports.
Today, Britain is the fifth-largest trading nation, exporting more per capita than the United States and Japan. It is also, through membership of the EU, and since January 1994, a member state of the European Economic Area, the world’s largest trading bloc. Its major imports are foodstuffs, wood and paper products, machinery, chemicals, transport equipment, textile yarn and fabrics, other manufactured goods, and automatic data-processing equipment. British exports include machinery, transport equipment, basic manufactured goods, petroleum, chemicals, iron and steel products, precision instruments, and aerospace and electronics goods and equipment.
In 1995 exports totalled US$257 billion (approximately £157 billion); imports US$338 billion (about £172 billion). Britain’s trading partners have changed radically since its accession to the EC (now EU) in 1973. Trade with the countries of the former British Empire, which was once dominant, now accounts for only a small minority of both exports and imports. The EU now accounts for more than 50 per cent of both exports and imports; trade with Asia and Oceania about 15 per cent; and with North America another 13 per cent. In terms of individual countries Germany, the United States, France, and the Benelux countries are Britain’s most important trading partners.
Such merchandise trade accounts for only a part of Britain’s overall trade. The trade in services—including banking and tourism—investment income, and other non-tangibles, known together as invisibles, is just as important to the British economy, if not more so. Britain is in the world’s top three in terms of invisible earnings, accounting for 5 per cent of the world’s exports of services and 14 per cent of its investment income. In 1993 earnings from invisibles totalled about US$185 billion (£116 billion), of which services accounted for about one third.
Most domestic retail trade is conducted through independently owned shops, department, chain, and cooperative stores, and supermarkets; the last named are operating on an increasing scale. More than half of all wholesale trade takes place in London.
The total British labour force in 2001 was about 29.4 million, of whom over 25 million were in work. Although the majority are employees rather than self-employed, there has been a significant increase in small businesses. The structure of employment has undergone significant changes in the past 40 years. Over three quarters of employees now work in the services sector, compared with about one third in 1955. Manufacturing, once the largest employer (1955, 42 per cent), now accounts for only 20.7 per cent of employees. An inherent part of this change has been a shift away from manual to non-manual occupations. There has also been a large increase in the number of women working outside the home since the mid-1950s; today women account for almost half of the workforce. More recent trends include an expansion of part-time employment, and a rise in the number of employees on short-term contracts instead of in permanent jobs.
Official figures show that unemployment, down from the peak of over 3 million reached during the recession of the late 1980s, amounted to more than 1.65 million in 2000, or 5 per cent of the workforce. Unemployment, the figures of which are based on the number of people claiming unemployment benefit, varies considerably according to region, ranging from 3.9 per cent in the South-East, to 8.4 per cent in Northern Ireland.
Britain was one of the cradles of the trade union movement, but the influence of trade unions has declined dramatically since 1980. The changes in the structure of employment, including the shift away from manufacturing, the rise in smaller firms, the increase in part-time employment, and the contracting out of work have all militated against trade union membership. By 1997 there were just over 8 million registered members of 238 trade unions affiliated with the Trades Union Congress, or 29 per cent of employees. Legislation introduced by the Conservative government since 1980—including the requirement for secret ballots before strike action and changes in the law on the establishment of political funds by trade unions—has also reduced union power.
The irregular coastline of the British Isles, with its numerous indentations and bays, and navigable rivers, together with the artificial improvement of harbours and the provision of dock facilities helped Britain grow into a maritime power. The Navigation Acts of the 17th and 18th centuries were instituted to give English vessels maximum advantage in the carrying of English products. Naval victories over Spain and France, England’s chief rivals in world trade, gave the nation control of the seas and pre-eminence in world merchant shipping. This leadership lasted until World War II, when the destruction of British shipping by enemy action and the increased production capacity of US shipyards enabled the American merchant marine to overtake and surpass the British merchant fleet. It has since slipped further down the league table.
In the mid-1990s British companies owned 637 trading vessels, of 12.1 million deadweight tonnes, a near 50 per cent decline over a decade earlier. Most of Britain’s 80 commercially significant ports now rely on coastal trade. Britain’s main ports are London, Forth, Tees and Hartlepool, Grimsby and Immingham, Sullom Voe, Milford Haven, Southampton, Liverpool, Felixstowe, Medway, and Dover. The ports were nationalized in the late 1940s. The majority, however, have been returned to the private sector since the early 1980s. Those still publicly owned are run as independent companies by trusts, with the potential under 1991 legislation of moving fully to the private sector. Portsmouth and the oil ports in the Shetland and Orkney Islands are owned by the respective local authorities. In 2002 the United Kingdom’s merchant navy consisted of 1,540 vessels.
In the 15th century the English government began improving navigation on the country’s rivers, and the first canals were constructed, often by merchants keen to attract trade to their particular town. The majority of Britain’s canals, however, were built between about 1750 and 1840 by armies of labourers known as navigators because they built ways for inland navigation. Navigator was later shortened to “navvy”. Many navvies shifted to work on the railways, which from the 1830s began to compete with the canals and quickly superseded them as the main means of carrying freight.
Today, Britain has some 3,200 km (2,000 mi) of canals and navigable rivers, about half of the length available in the mid-19th century. Most inland waterways are used for recreation, but some are still significant carriers of commercial traffic. They include the Manchester Ship Canal, the largest canal in Britain, and the Caledonian Canal, which links lochs to provide a navigable waterway across northern Scotland.
The world’s first public, steam-powered railway, the Stockton and Darlington Railway, opened in 1825. There followed 25 years of “railway mania”, in which more than 9,600 km (5,965 mi) of track were laid down. The expansion continued at a less frenetic pace into the early 20th century. During the first 100 years of the railway, the myriad small companies gradually merged, amalgamated, or were taken over to form a few larger ones. By 1923 there were just four large groups left in Great Britain: the London, Midland, and Scottish Railway; the London and North Eastern Railway; the Great Western Railway; and the Southern Railway.
In 1948 these four companies, together with their associated lines, docks, hotels, and canals, were nationalized by the government and taken under the administration of the British Transport Commission. The commission was replaced in 1963 by the British Railways Board (BR).
In 1955 a modernization programme was started, beginning with the steady replacement of steam trains by diesel and electric trains; the last steam locomotive was withdrawn by BR in 1968. Another aspect was the closure of many of Britain’s branch railway lines during the 1960s, as part of efforts to cut costs and rationalize services in the face of growing competition from road transport. The plan, devised and approved by Richard (later Lord) Beeching during his chairmanship of BR (1963-1965), became popularly known as the “Beeching Axe”.
Until 1994, BR was divided into six administrative regions: London Midland, Western, Southern, Eastern, Anglia, and Scottish. In 1994, under the Railway Act 1993, it was restructured to allow for privatization from 1995. Track and train operations were separated. Railtrack, a government-owned company, was set up to operate all track and rail infrastructure. Freight operations were divided into three geographically based companies that were privatized in 1995. Passenger operations, which were opened up to the private sector through franchises for particular passenger routes, were restructured into 25 separate operating units within BR. In 1995 franchises for the first passenger lines were awarded, with more following in 1996 and early 1997. In May 1996 Railtrack was privatized through a share issue. These moves to fully privatize BR were highly contentious and generated considerable criticism within Britain.
The fractured nature of rail organization was forcefully brought home in the late 1990s and early 2000s with a series of high-profile rail accidents—including those at Southall, London (1997; 7 deaths); Paddington, London (1999; 31 deaths); and Hatfield, Hertfordshire (2000; 4 deaths)—that were blamed in part on the separation of ownership of rail and rolling stock and the problem of the needs of privatized companies to provide shareholder income at the perceived expense of passenger safety. After the Hatfield crash, caused by faulty rails, the entire railway network was examined and track replaced, leading to severe delays to rail journeys for months. In October 2001 Railtrack went into official administration; it was succeeded by Network Rail in 2003.
In mid-1997, some 17,560 km (10,911 mi) of track were open for traffic in Great Britain; about 30 per cent of it was electrified. There was, in addition, some 408 km (254 mi) of track in London operated by London Underground Ltd. of which about 42 per cent is underground. The system has been extended with the new extension of the Jubilee line. There are also urban rail systems in Glasgow, Liverpool, Tyne and Wear, Manchester, and Sheffield. In Northern Ireland, railway services are operated by the Northern Ireland Railway Company Ltd. Some 350 km (217 mi) of track were in use in the early 1990s.
In the late 19th century work was begun on a tunnel beneath the English Channel. The project was abandoned and then revived in 1957. Work began again, but Britain halted the project in 1973 citing the immense cost. In 1987, however, work began again and a service tunnel was completed in 1990. The main Channel Tunnel, which is 50.4 km (32 mi) long, runs from Folkestone, England, to Calais, France. It cost more than US$16 billion (£10 billion), runs at an average depth of 40 m (132 ft) below the sea bed, and was completed in 1993. It was officially opened on May 6, 1994, when Queen Elizabeth II and French president François Mitterrand travelled through the tunnel. Freight services began later the same month, but full passenger services were not established for almost another year. The Channel Tunnel has become the focus and the gateway to Britain for thousands of asylum seekers who attempt, and succeed, to reach Britain illegally.
O Air Travel
British Airways was formed in 1974 by combining the two state-run airlines, British Overseas Airways Company (BOAC) and British European Airways (BEA). Privatized in 1987, British Airways is one of the world’s leading airlines and operates the world’s largest network of international scheduled services, travelling to over 155 destinations in 85 countries. In 1976, together with Air France, British Airways inaugurated the world’s first supersonic passenger service, using the Concorde aircraft.
Besides the national airline, Britain has numerous independent operators. The largest include British Midland, Virgin Atlantic, Monarch Airlines, and Britannia Airways, which is the world’s largest charter airline. London’s main airports, Heathrow and Gatwick, are among the world’s busiest centres for international travel. Heathrow handles 62 million passengers a year, and is the world’s busiest airport for international travel. Gatwick handles over 30 million passengers. There are another 142 licensed civil aerodromes in Britain, of which 19 handle more than 1 million passengers a year each.
In 1970 Britain joined Airbus Industries, a European aircraft-manufacturing consortium, as an associate partner. In 1979 the country became a full member. Airbus manufactures medium and large wide-bodied passenger jets, with each member of the consortium making specific parts. Members include France, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, and Spain.
Britain has some 371,913 km (231,096 mi) of public roads (1999), including 3,302 km (2,052 mi) of trunk motorways. England accounts for more than 71 per cent of the total road network, and over 82 per cent of the motorway network. Scotland has 13 per cent and almost 10 per cent respectively, Wales almost 9 per cent and 4 per cent, and Northern Ireland about 6 per cent and 3 per cent respectively. Although motorways account for about 1 per cent of the British road system, they also account for about 15 per cent of all road traffic. Trunk roads account for around another 4 per cent of the road network; combined with motorways they carry over half of all goods vehicle traffic.
About 90 per cent of all passenger travel in Britain is by road, and mainly by private car rather than public transport. In 1998 there are approximately 424 motor vehicles per 1,000 people in the United Kingdom. In 1996 more than 23 million passenger cars were registered in Britain, representing an increase of more than 15 per cent over the late 1980s. This growth has been paralleled by rising public concern about the environmental effects of increasing road traffic, and especially concern about pollution. In 1994 the government slowed down its road-building programme. The move was in part a response to research findings that tended to confirm environmentalists’ claims that the main effect of building new trunk roads and motorways had been to encourage extra traffic and not, as intended, to improve the flow of existing traffic.
Q The Post Office
The Post Office, founded in 1635, pioneered postal services and was the first (1830s) to issue adhesive stamps as proof of advance payment for mail. In 1969 the Post Office was reorganized as a public corporation. Today, its operations are divided into three distinct businesses: the Royal Mail handles collection and delivery of mail, dealing with 80 million items a day; Parcelforce handles parcel delivery; while Post Office Counters is the retailing arm. It acts as an agent for the letters and parcels business, for government departments and local authorities and for the Alliance and Leicester Giro (formerly Girobank) bank. Post Office Counters operates 800 main post offices; another 19,000 or so branch, or sub-post, offices are operated as franchises or on an agency basis.
In the 1980s, the Conservative government suspended the Royal Mail’s monopoly on letter deliveries, subject to a minimum fee of £1, leading to a proliferation of courier services. However, the Conservative government attempts to bring the Post Office into the private sector in 1995 failed, following a parliamentary revolt by some of its own supporters.
In 1870 the government acquired the British telegraph systems, and in 1892 it began buying the private telephone companies. Telecommunications were the responsibility of the Post Office until 1981, when British Telecom was founded to take over telecommunications management. British Telecom was privatized in 1984, and in 1991 changed its name to BT. BT agreed to a merger with the US telecommunications company MCI in 1997 to form Concert, one of the biggest companies of its kind in the world. A number of other companies offer telecommunications services, including Cable and Wireless Communications, NTL, and Vodafone. The National Grid, the privatized electricity transmission company, has used its pylon network to set up a fibre-optics telecommunications system (Energis), and cable television companies also offer telephone services. Hull has always had its own telephone system. In the mid-1990s some 28 million residential and 6 million business lines were in operation, as well as more than 300,000 public and private payphones, giving Britain one of the world’s largest and most technologically advanced telecommunications systems.
S Television and Radio
The BBC, the Independent Television Commission (ITC), and the Radio Authority, all public bodies, are licensed to provide television and radio broadcasting services. Altogether Britain has 5 terrestrial television channels and almost 200 radio stations. There also several satellite companies based in Britain, and an increasing number of cable companies.
Founded in 1922 and working under a royal charter, the BBC operates 2 domestic television channels as well as 5 national radio networks and some 40 local radio stations. It is financed predominantly by revenue from a television licence fee and supplemented by trading activities. The BBC also operates a variety of external broadcast services. The World Service, initiated in 1932 as the Empire Service, provides radio broadcasts in more than 43 languages to an audience estimated at more than 151 million, and is funded by the government. In 1991 the BBC set up World Service Television as a commercial subsidiary to operate its television satellite services.
The BBC’s royal charter is renewed periodically, normally following discussions between the corporation and the government over financing and other issues. The current charter is due to expire in 2006. The 1994 White Paper included the recommendation that licence fees remain the prime source of BBC finance until at least 2001, with the possibility of whole or partial privatization thereafter to be examined in the interim.
The first regular independent television (ITV) programmes began in London in 1955 under the aegis of the Independent Television Authority (ITA). In 1972, when the first independent radio stations were licensed, the ITA was replaced by the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), which oversaw the operation of both television and radio. Today, the third (ITV), fourth (Channel 4), and fifth (Channel 5) domestic television channels are operated by independent television companies: ITV is operated by regionally based television companies and one breakfast-television company; Channel 4, which began operating in 1982, has a remit to provide programmes for minority audiences of various kinds. In Wales the fourth channel is operated by a Welsh-language company, S4C. The government provides the majority of the funding for S4C, but Channel 4 raises its revenue through advertising and other commercial activities, as do the ITV companies. Channel 5 was launched in 1997.
There are about 250 commercially financed independent local radio stations in Britain, with many more planned. During the 1990s the first three national independent radio stations were launched: Classic FM (1991), Virgin 1215 (1993, now merged with Capital Radio), and Talk Radio UK (1995). Many more exist locally, providing a huge variety of music, discussion, and phone-in entertainment.
The 1990 Broadcasting Act overhauled the regulation of independent television and radio in the light of changes such as the introduction of satellite and domestic cable television services. In 1991 the IBA was replaced by the Independent Television Commission (ITC) and the Radio Authority. At the same time the Cable Authority was made part of the two new bodies. The ITC is responsible for licensing and regulating the three terrestrial channels; licences for the third channel (ITV) are awarded on the basis of competitive tender. It is also responsible for cable services, independent teletext companies, and satellite services broadcast from Britain. The Radio Authority carries similar responsibilities for independent radio.
In 2000 more than 39 million television licences were issued each year, and there were estimated to be more than 85 million radios; in 1994 there were more than 460,000 cable television subscribers. See also Cable Television; Satellite Television.
T The Press
In 1996 there were 99 daily and Sunday newspapers—including 10 national dailies and 9 national Sunday papers—and around 2,000 weekly newspapers are published in Britain.
The national papers were once all centred on Fleet Street, in central London; the name “Fleet Street” became synonymous with the newspaper industry. All have now moved their editorial and printing facilities to other parts of London, or away from the capital altogether. Ownership of the national press is highly concentrated. Three groups—News International (owned by Rupert Murdoch), the Mirror Group, and United Newspapers—own the majority of titles between them.
The national press is often divided into three market-based categories: the “quality”, the “mid-market”, and the “popular” press. The qualities, also called “broadsheets” because of the size of the paper they are printed on, include the most respected, and some of the oldest, British newspapers such as The Times (founded 1785), The Guardian (formerly the Manchester Guardian, 1821), the Daily Telegraph (1855), the Financial Times (1888), The Independent (1986), and the Observer (1791), a Sunday paper. The mid-market and, especially, the popular papers—the Sun (1964), the Daily Mirror (1903), and the Daily Star (1978)—are referred to as “tabloids” and are printed on smaller sheets of paper. Characterized by sensationalist stories and large quantities of photographic material, the mass-market tabloids are very influential.
Britain has a large, long-established publishing industry, including many outstanding book publishers. More publications per capita are produced in Britain than anywhere else in the world: some 7,000 periodicals, mainly weeklies and monthlies, are published. Noted weeklies include the Economist, the New Scientist, New Statesman, The Spectator, and the Times Literary Supplement.
The United Kingdom is a parliamentary monarchy based on an unwritten constitution that has evolved over centuries. It comprises statute law, common law (judicial precedent), and custom and can be altered by act of Parliament, general agreement, and judicial precedent and is thus adaptable to changing political conditions. The principles of the constitution and of constitutional practice are inherent in the institutions of government, which overlap in function but which can be clearly distinguished. They are the Crown, the government and Cabinet, the Privy Council, and Parliament.
A The Monarchy
The British sovereign is head of state and as such is, in law, the head of the executive, an integral part of the legislature, head of the judiciary, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces of the Crown, and the “supreme governor” of the established Church of England and the Church of Scotland. In addition, the British monarch is head of the Commonwealth of Nations and head of state of 16 Commonwealth countries. The monarchy is hereditary, descending to the sons of the sovereign in order of birth, or to the daughters if there are no sons. Under the Act of Settlement (1700) only Protestant descendants of Princess Sophia, Electress of Hanover and granddaughter of James I of England and VI of Scotland, are eligible to succeed. The present monarch, Elizabeth II, succeeded to the throne on February 6, 1952, on the death of her father George VI. The heir to the throne is her eldest son, Charles, Prince of Wales.
The monarchy is the oldest institution of government, dating back to the Saxon King Egbert. However, its once absolute powers have been progressively reduced, and today the sovereign acts on the advice of ministers, which constitutionally cannot be ignored. In practice, this means that Britain today is governed by Her Majesty’s Government in the name of the Queen and with the approval of Parliament. Within this framework the monarch has specific functions that are considered essential to constitutional government in Britain. Because of this, legal provision has been made for a regent to be appointed should the sovereign become incapacitated or be under age. These functions include summoning, proroguing, and dissolving Parliament, and giving the royal assent to bills passed by both houses of Parliament; without this assent bills cannot become law.
The monarch also formally appoints the prime minister and government, as well as judges, officers in the armed forces, governors, diplomats, and archbishops, bishops, and other senior Church of England clergy. The monarch confers honours and awards, and has the sole power, as head of state, to declare war and make peace, to recognize foreign states, and to conclude treaties. In terms of the day-to-day working of government, the monarch has the right to be consulted on all aspects of national life and must show complete impartiality; Elizabeth II chairs meetings of the Privy Council (see below), meets regularly with the prime minister, receives accounts of Cabinet decisions, reads despatches, and signs state papers.
B The Executive
The executive functions of government, although nominally vested in the monarch, are in practice carried out by Her (or His) Majesty’s Government, comprising a body of ministers, headed by a prime minister and dependent on the support of the majority of members of the elected lower house of Parliament (the House of Commons). Normally this means that the government is formed by the majority party in the Commons, and the prime minister is the leader of the majority party. However, in modern times governments have sometimes been formed by coalitions of the main parties, notably during the two World Wars, or by a party with no overall majority in the Commons—as between 1974 and 1979 when a minority Labour Party government was able to stay in power because the Liberal Party generally voted with it.
The office of prime minister began to develop in the 18th century during the administration of Robert Walpole, but was not constitutionally recognized until 1905. The prime minister, who is formally appointed by the monarch, chooses the government ministers who are usually from the Commons, but can also be from the House of Lords, the upper house of Parliament. By modern convention the prime minister is always a member of the Commons, and by tradition is also First Lord of the Treasury and minister for the civil service. The prime minister’s responsibilities also include recommending many of the appointments nominally within the sovereign’s gift, including those of senior Church of England clergy and judges, privy counsellors, the Poet Laureate, and the Constable of the Tower of London.
Ministers who are heads of government departments are normally known as secretaries of state; some have historic titles, such as Chancellor of the Exchequer. Secretaries of state are supported by ministers of state, and by junior ministers, known as parliamentary under-secretaries of state or parliamentary secretaries.
Supreme government authority is vested in the Cabinet, which decides and implements policy and coordinates government departments. It normally numbers between 15 and 20 members chosen by the prime minister and approved by the monarch. It comprises the Secretaries of State; a number of non-departmental ministers who hold traditional offices (such as the Lord President of the Council, the Paymaster General, and the Lord Privy Seal); and also, at times, ministers of state.
Cabinet government developed during the 18th century from informal meetings of Privy Counsellors who were also government ministers, and who found that decision-making was easier and more efficient in a relatively small committee. Key doctrines of Cabinet government are collective and ministerial responsibility. Collective responsibility means that the Cabinet acts unanimously, even when Cabinet ministers do not all agree upon a subject.
The policy of departmental ministers must be consistent with that of the government as a whole. Ministerial responsibility means that ministers are responsible for the work of their departments and are answerable to Parliament for their departments’ activities. They bear the consequences of any failure of their department in terms of administration or policy.
Before the development of the Cabinet system the Privy Council was the chief source of executive power; its origins can be traced back to the court of the Norman monarchs. Most of its former functions have been taken over by the Cabinet and today it is mainly responsible for advising the monarch on the approval of Orders in Council, of which there are two kinds: those which are made by virtue of the royal prerogative, for example the ratification of treaties, or the granting of royal charters of incorporation; and those which are authorized by act of Parliament.
The Privy Council also advises on the issue of royal proclamations, such as the summoning or dissolving of Parliament. Membership is conferred for life and comprises all current Cabinet ministers, surviving former Cabinet ministers, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the Speaker of the House of Commons, and eminent public figures (mainly judges and politicians) from Britain and the independent monarchies of the Commonwealth. At present there are about 400 privy counsellors.
The Privy Council has a number of committees. They include those dealing with legislation from the crown dependencies of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, and the judicial committee. One of the most important Privy Council committees, the judicial committee is the final court of appeal from courts of the British dependent territories, the Crown dependencies, and of certain independent members of the Commonwealth.
C The Legislature
The British legislature, Parliament, is one of the oldest representative assemblies in the world. It originated in the need of early medieval English monarchs to raise additional finance, mainly to prosecute wars. For this they needed the consent, initially, of the great feudal magnates, the barons, meeting several times a year in the Great Council; the first mention of the term “parliament”, in 1236, refers to meetings of these nobles. However, such funds as the barons agreed to provide quickly proved insufficient to meet the expenses of government. By the end of the 13th century representatives of the counties and towns were also being summoned to the Great Council to give consent to emergency taxation.
By the end of the 15th century Parliament existed in a form recognizable today. That is, it was a body whose function was to agree to taxes and to legislate, and which comprised two separate chambers—those who were representatives of communities (the House of Commons) and those who were summoned by name (the House of Lords). However, it took several centuries of power struggles between these two chambers and with the monarch to produce Britain’s contemporary parliamentary structure.
Constitutionally, Britain’s supreme legislative authority is the “Crown in Parliament”. This means that for legislation to become law it must be approved by all three elements which make up Parliament: the monarch, the House of Lords, and the House of Commons. The monarch’s royal assent has been given automatically for around the past 300 years, while the House of Lords has today no more than delaying power over certain types of legislation.
The House of Lords is made up of the lords temporal and the lords spiritual. The former comprise the hereditary peers; life peers created to assist the house in its judicial duties, the lords of appeal or “law lords”; and other life peers, usually appointed in recognition of their service in politics or other walks of life. The lords of appeal comprise the court of last resort on matters which can be brought to the House of Lords. The lords spiritual are the archbishops of Canterbury and York, the bishops of London, Durham, and Winchester, and the 21 next most senior diocesan bishops of the Church of England. In April 2001 there were 561 members of the House of Lords. Only three members are required for a quorum.
Legislation introduced by the new Labour government went some way towards abolishing the structure of the Lords in its present form. Hereditary Lords were abolished under The House of Lords Act 1999 (all excepting 90 chosen by their fellow members). In April 2001 the first new Lords were selected, chosen by committee.
Legislation can be first introduced in the Lords by the government. However, fiscal legislation is always, and other legislation is usually, introduced first in the House of Commons. Once approved by the Commons, bills pass to the Lords for discussion; no vote is necessary in the Lords to pass legislation. Since the Parliament Act of 1911, the Lords has been unable to block fiscal legislation. By the terms of the Parliament Act of 1949 the Lords may not disapprove other bills if they have been passed by two successive sessions of the House of Commons. In practice, this means that the Lords can delay a bill for up to about a year. The exception to this is any bill to lengthen the life of a Parliament, which requires the full assent of both chambers.
These limitations on the Lords’ powers are based on the belief that the legislative function of the non-elected house in a modern democracy is to act as a revision chamber comparatively free from party politics, and complementing the House of Commons. Notwithstanding this, and the attempts to widen the membership of the Lords through the introduction of the system of life peerages, there has been continued pressure for its abolition and replacement by some form of elected second chamber.
Members of the House of Commons are elected by universal suffrage from geographical constituencies. The voting age was lowered to 18 in 1969; voting is not compulsory. Those not eligible for election to the Commons include members of the House of Lords, selected clergy, government contractors, sheriffs, and certain designated election officials. The basis of representation depends on the total number of seats agreed on by a process unique to the House of Commons and on the total population of the nation.
In Great Britain, each constituency approximates a population of 60,000. In Northern Ireland, with 17 representatives, the population base is somewhat larger. Total membership of the Commons numbered 659 following the 2001 election. To ensure that electoral boundaries are politically fair and constituency electorates are kept roughly equal, four permanent boundary commissions, one for each country, keep the situation under review. Changes are made usually every 8 to 12 years. The latest changes, announced in 1995, involved the creation of some new constituencies, by the division of some existing ones and the merger of others. These came into effect at the general election of May 1997.
By law, the life of a Parliament is five years unless dissolved earlier or extended by special statute in times of war or national emergency. Parliament is dissolved by the sovereign at the end of its five-year term or on the advice of the prime minister. All members of the House of Commons are then subject to re-election. Traditionally, the Speaker of the House, though an MP and a member of a political party, is considered impartial in dealings in the House of Commons and therefore in general elections faces no opposition for re-election in his or her constituency.
Although any member of Parliament may propose a bill, most legislation is initiated by the Cabinet minister responsible for the department concerned. Acts passed by Parliament tend to be worded in general terms; they are implemented, with the specification of detailed provisions, by Orders in Council, prepared by the minister responsible and promulgated by proclamation of the Crown. The Cabinet, under the doctrine of collective responsibility, acts as a unit. The defeat of important legislation or a vote of no confidence usually brings about the resignation of the entire Cabinet and a general election. The prime minister may drop individual Cabinet members entirely or reassign (“reshuffle”) them as preferred. This power helps to maintain the prime minister’s leadership and is exercised in most governments from time to time. Ministers may resign their posts without leaving Parliament.
Because of the dominant role of the Cabinet, the House of Commons did not have specialized committees, in the style of the Congress of the United States, until recently. Beginning in 1979, however, a pattern of committees specialized in function has emerged. These select committees provide detailed debate and consideration rather than only general review and approval, and have come to play an increasingly important role in the functioning of Parliament.
D Political Parties
The political party system, dating from the late 17th century, is an essential element in the working constitution. A number of parties win seats in the Commons, but Britain has functioned basically as a two-party system for more than a century. The majority party forms Her (or His) Majesty’s Government, and the second party is officially recognized as Her (or His) Majesty’s Own Loyal Opposition. The opposition leader is paid a salary from public funds for this role.
Since the end of World War I, the Conservative Party and the Labour Party have been dominant. The Labour Party, generally socialist until the 1990s when it moved towards the political centre, began a programme of nationalization of selected industries after an overwhelming election victory in May 1945. The party was formed in 1900 as the political arm of the trade unions, initially receiving its intellectual impetus from the Fabian Society. Labour has drawn financial and electoral support from both groups, but primarily the trade unions, although changes in the party constitution in recent years have considerably reduced union influence over policy.
The Conservative Party has favoured private enterprise with increasingly minimal state regulation. After World War II it accepted social programmes, such as the Beveridge Plan for an extensive social-insurance programme. The National Health Service (NHS) continues to draw very broad popular support, and efforts during the 1980s by the Conservative government to reform it so as to reduce costs and introduce market mechanisms met with considerable opposition.
The Liberal Party, which provided governments throughout much of the 19th century, began losing electoral support after the formation of the Labour Party. It last formed a government from 1906 to 1915, and was a dominant member of the coalition government formed at the start of World War I. It merged in 1988 with the Social Democratic Party (formed by Labour dissidents) to form the Liberal Democrat Party.
Other parties include the Scottish Nationalist Party; Plaid Cymru (Welsh nationalist); and the Northern Irish parties: the Ulster Unionist Party, the Democratic Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and Sinn Fein. All but Sinn Fein have representatives in the House of Commons (Sinn Fein’s four MPs after the 2001 general election—including Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness—decided not to take their seats at Westminster but as from 2002 were entitled to take offices there). Other significant parties outside Parliament include the Communist and Green parties, but prospective MPs may stand on any electoral platform and for any party they wish to submit. The first-past-the-post electoral system is used in Britain.
In the general election held on June 7, 2001, the Labour Party, winning by a landslide, gained 40.7 per cent of the vote and 413 parliamentary seats (6 down on the previous election). The Conservative Party won 166 seats (1 up), representing a 1 per cent increase in the vote (31.7 per cent overall share of the vote). The Liberal Democrats yet again increased their number of seats, to 52 (18.3 per cent overall share of the vote). Other seats were won by the minor parties, most notably by Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, who increased their number of MPs by two and three respectively. The election was significant for the degree of apathy shown; the turnout, at 58 per cent, was the lowest since 1918.
The discrepancy between popular support for the smaller parties and their Parliamentary representation has led to calls for the introduction of proportional representation, spearheaded by the Liberal Democrats.
In May 1999 elections were held for the new Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly, created under new Labour government legislation. The elections were run under the first-past-the-post electoral system and a form of proportional representation known as the additional member system. In neither election was an outright majority won by any party. In the 129-seat Scottish Parliament, Labour won 56 seats; Scottish Nationalist Party, 35; Conservatives, 18; the Liberal Democrats, 17; Greens, 1; and others, 2. In the election for the 60 seats of the Welsh Assembly Labour won 28 seats; Plaid Cymru, 17; the Conservatives, 9; and the Liberal Democrats, 6. Members of the Westminster parliament can also participate as MSPs (Members of the Scottish Parliament) or as Welsh Assembly members.
Since 1999 Northern Ireland has re-established a parliament: the Ulster Unionist Party has 28 seats; the Social Democratic and Labour Party, 24; Democratic Unionist Party, 20; Sinn Fein, 18; and smaller parties, 18.
England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland all have their own legal systems with significant differences in law, organization, and practice. All three have separate prosecution, prison, and police services. Scotland’s civil court and civil law systems differ from the system in England and Wales; that of Northern Ireland is similar in many ways to that of England and Wales. Common law, or judicial precedent, however, is important in all systems. In addition, European community law, deriving from Britain’s membership of the EU, takes precedence over domestic law in certain areas, primarily related to economic and social matters. The judiciary in all countries, however, is independent of the government. For further information see Code: British Codes; Courts; England: Population: English Law; Scotland: Government: Judiciary. See also Law in Northern Ireland and Scottish Law.
F Local Government
The government of Britain is unitary in structure. This means that the powers of local government derive from Parliamentary acts, and responsibility for the overall administration of the country rests within specified Cabinet ministries. The independence of local authorities, in terms of budgets and spending, and also to some extent policy, is thus limited by laws and policies made in London, and has been made more so by local government reforms since 1980.
A major reorganization of local government became effective in England and Wales in 1974, and in Scotland in 1975. The former counties and county boroughs were succeeded by a simplified, generally two-tier system. In England and Wales (excluding Greater London), the county concept was retained, but with considerable restructuring. In all, 53 counties with councils were created, subdivided into 369 districts with councils. Six of England’s counties, covering major urban areas, were designated metropolitan counties; the remainder were known as non-metropolitan or shire counties. In London there was a Greater London Council with, below it, councils for each of the 32 London boroughs and the City of London.
In Scotland the counties were replaced on the mainland by 9 regions with councils, subdivided into 53 districts with councils. Three all-purpose unitary island authorities were created for the Orkneys, Shetlands, and the Western Isles. In Northern Ireland a single-tier system was introduced, with 26 districts.
Councillors are elected for four years, with elections taking place on a staggered basis both within councils and between different kinds of councils.
Substantial changes in local government were introduced by the Conservative government in the 1980s. The Greater London Council and six metropolitan county councils were abolished in 1986. Most of their functions were transferred to the individual London boroughs and the metropolitan district councils respectively. However, in some areas, functions crossed administrative boundaries and joint authorities were established for waste regulation and disposal, the fire services, and (outside London) public transport.
There is no constitutional division of powers between central and local authorities in Britain, but overall, local government is responsible for police and fire services, education (except with regard to grant maintained schools), libraries, roads, traffic, housing, building regulations, and environmental health. Direct participation of local councils in the provision of many of these services was reduced by government regulation during the 1980s. Most council services are now required to be put out to competitive tender, cutting the councils’ directly employed workforce. Reforms in education have increased the autonomy of individual schools, while changes in public housing legislation have given council house tenants the right to buy their houses, encouraged the development of housing associations, and established independent housing action trusts to run certain council estates.
The autonomy of councils has also been affected by changes in the financing of local government. The Conservative government introduced strict controls over local government spending. After 1984 it had the power to limit or “cap” local authority budgets, by setting a maximum amount of expenditure for local authorities that had set excessive budgets. It also changed the basis of allocation of central government funds to local councils.
In April 1990 the long-established system of local rates, or property taxes, was replaced by a community charge, which was quickly labelled the “poll tax”. This deeply unpopular tax produced intense political debate and riots in London; it was replaced in 1992 with a part property-based tax, called the council tax.
G Unitary Authorities
More wide-ranging reorganization of local government in Great Britain came into effect on April 1, 1996. Under the changes, which primarily affected Scotland and Wales, the two-tier structure of local government introduced in 1974 and 1975 was replaced by a system of all-purpose, single-tier authorities, or unitary authorities. Under the provisions of the Local Government Etc. (Scotland) Bill 1994, the 62 regional and district councils on the Scottish mainland were replaced by 29 unitary authorities; the three island authorities remained unchanged. Four of the new unitary authorities—Scottish Borders (formerly Borders), Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, and Highland—retained the names and administrative boundaries of the preceding regions, combining their regional and district councils. The other five regions vanished from the map, however, and were replaced by unitary authorities, which for the most part are coterminous with the former district councils. The former Central, Grampian, and Tayside regions are now each administered by three unitary authorities; the former Lothian region by four. The former Strathclyde region, which encompassed the most populous part of Scotland, was divided into 12 unitary authorities.
In Wales, the 8 county and 37 district councils established in 1974 were replaced by 22 unitary authorities, divided equally between counties and county boroughs; the populations of the latter tend to be mainly urban. Only Powys of the 1975 counties retained its name, although its boundaries were expanded to include the southernmost part of the former county of Clwyd. The other seven counties were divided into 21 county and county borough unitary authorities. The county boroughs, which are concentrated in South Wales, the most heavily populated part of the country, generally conform to the boundaries of the old district councils.
The local government system in parts of England is also being changed to a unitary system, based on the recommendations of a local government commission established under the provisions of the 1992 Local Government Act. Initially it was anticipated that the unitary system that has existed since 1986 in Greater London and the former metropolitan counties—Greater Manchester, Merseyside, South Yorkshire, Tyne and Wear, West Midlands, and West Yorkshire—would be extended to cover the 39 non-metropolitan, or shire counties. However, the commission, which completed its report in 1994, proposed less far-reaching changes that resulted in a mixture of existing two-tier with new single-tier authorities.
The changes have been implemented in stages; the first of the new unitary authorities, for the Isle of Wight, came into effect in April 1995. On April 1, 1996, a unitary system was introduced in three more counties: Avon, Cleveland, and Humberside. At the same time, a unitary authority was introduced for the city of York, formerly in North Yorkshire; the remainder of the county has retained its two-tier system. Another ten counties underwent administrative changes in 1997, mainly in line with the changes in North Yorkshire: the main urban areas were made unitary authorities, with the remainder of the county retaining the two-tier system.
On April 1, 1998, a total of 19 new unitary authorities were created, with 10 counties affected. Berkshire county was abolished and in its place six unitary authorities were formed: Slough, Reading, Bracknell Forest, West Berkshire, Wokingham, and Windsor and Maidenhead. Reverting back to pre-1974 boundaries and titles in Hereford and Worcester, Herefordshire unitary authority was created (Worcestershire in the east retained a county title). In Lancashire, Blackpool became a unitary authority as did the borough of Blackburn, which was renamed Blackburn with Darwen. In Kent, Gillingham and Rochester-upon-Medway merged to form Medway. The cities of Nottingham and Peterborough split from Nottinghamshire and Cambridgeshire (respectively). In Devon two unitary authorities were created: Plymouth and Torbay. The towns of Southend-on-Sea and Thurrock in Essex each became a new authority, as did Warrington and Halton in Cheshire. In Shropshire, the new unitary authority of Telford and Wrekin was created.
The changes have been controversial. The changeover was extremely costly at a time when local government finances were, and still are, under great strain. Another controversial element was the fact that local councils in Great Britain became increasingly controlled by parties opposed to the then ruling Conservative Party, which initiated the local government reforms. The Conservative government was thus accused by its opponents of making the changes in an attempt to erode further the power of local authorities by reducing their size and, consequently, their income.
H Health and Welfare
Health care for the vast majority of British people is still provided through the National Health Service (NHS). Established in 1948, the NHS is financed through general taxation, with national insurance payments contributing some 10 per cent of the total cost. It provides full, and in most cases, free or low-cost medical care. Patients who are exempted—children, women during pregnancy and in the first year after childbirth, people in receipt of state unemployment or other benefits, and people with certain chronic, life-threatening conditions—pay no charges for prescriptions, dental treatment, eye tests and spectacles, dentures, and some locally administered services, such as vaccinations. Those who are not exempted have to pay charges, which have risen steadily since the 1970s and in some circumstances are now equivalent to the full cost of the medicine or treatment. Hospital care, however, is still free of charge. In 1995 15 per cent of government expenditure was spent on health.
Most general practitioners in Britain are part of the NHS (although some also have private patients), as are most pharmacists and medical specialists, such as surgeons, consultants, radiologists, and physiotherapists. However, the number of dentists offering NHS services has declined dramatically since the late 1980s, linked primarily to a change in government payments to dentists for NHS treatments.
In 1993 Great Britain had 92,474 doctors and 283,814 hospital beds. The approximate ratios for these figures are 547 people for every doctor and a 240 people for each hospital bed. The infant mortality rate in 2003 stood at 5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy in 2003 was 75.7 years for men and 80.7 years for women.
Under the NHS and Community Care Act 1990, the Conservative government introduced wide-ranging, and often highly controversial, changes to the management of the NHS and in the provision of patient care. Health authorities and health boards were made purchasers of health care on behalf of their patients, receiving funds to purchase health care through contracts with hospitals and other health service units in either the public or private sector. Hospitals at present are directly funded on the basis of the number of patients they treat, and may apply to become self-governing trusts independent of local authority control, but still within the health service. Under this system general practitioners from larger medical practices are eligible to apply to become fundholders, which means they receive an annual budget direct from the health authority enabling them to buy certain hospital services for their patients.
The Conservative government’s aim for the reforms was to increase efficiency through the introduction of a “market” to the NHS, and to improve patient care and choice, in conjunction with a Patient’s Charter which sets out targets for maximum waiting times for hospital admissions for non-urgent treatment, and government encouragement for more people to take out private health insurance.
The many critics of the reforms have alleged that the changes have introduced a two-tier NHS, with patients in fundholding practices receiving quicker treatment than those in traditional practices; the new hospital trusts have been criticized for not being sufficiently accountable for their spending and for their admissions policies.
The national insurance system, which was put into full operation in 1948, but has undergone many changes in the 1980s, provides benefits for industrial injuries, illness, unemployment, maternity costs, and children, as well as allowances for guardians and widows, retirement pensions, and death payments. Retirement benefits are paid to men at the age of 65 and to women at the age of 60 at present. However, the retirement ages are to be equalized at 65, with the changeover being introduced gradually from 2010. Family allowances are payable for all children up to the ages of 16, or until 18 if the child remains in full-time education. Housing benefit is the responsibility of local authorities, who assess claimants on a means-tested basis.
The insurance system assists the needy through weekly cash benefits and special services for the disabled. Most of these services are financed partly through compulsory weekly contributions by employers and employees and partly through a contribution by the government out of general taxation, and almost all are means tested. Expenditures on social security and the NHS accounted for about 38 per cent of the annual national budget during 1995-1996. See also National Health Insurance: Great Britain.
Britain, one of the world powers that possesses nuclear weapons, sits on the (currently) five-nation UN Security Council. Its strategic nuclear deterrent is based, as submarine-launched intercontinental ballistic missiles, on the Royal Navy Trident submarines, and as free-fall nuclear weapons on Royal Air Force (RAF) bombers, although free-fall bombs are to be taken out of service.
Britain depends for its basic security on NATO and therefore makes a major contribution to maintaining NATO’s defence posture. Defence policy is determined by the full Cabinet or Defence and Overseas Policy Committee headed by the prime minister, and including the Secretary of State for Defence, the Foreign Secretary, and the Home Secretary. In 1964 the three armed services were unified under the newly created post of Secretary of State for Defence.
The Defence Council, including the Secretary of State for Defence, the Chief of Staff for each of the three services, the Chief Scientific Adviser for Defence, and the Permanent Under-Secretary of State for Defence, exercises powers of command and administrative control. Britain is the only EU nation to impose a ban on homosexuals serving in the forces, which was upheld by the Court of Appeal in 1995. Since the late 1980s, and the end of the Cold War between the Western powers and the Eastern bloc, defence policy has been reassessed and the armed forces reduced significantly in size. British forces have served in various full-scale conflicts of recent times, namely the Falklands War in 1982 and the Gulf War in 1991.
The British Army is controlled by the Defence Council through an Army Board composed of both civilian and military members. Active members of the Army are volunteers who have enlisted for 22 years. Under a plan introduced in 1972, however, Army personnel may choose to serve for only three years. In 2001 the regular Army numbered 114,800 men and women, including 4,400 Gurkhas. A voluntary national reserve force, the Territorial Army, has an establishment of more than 59,000 (1997) and may be called out in time of emergency. Northern Ireland has a special reserve force of 6,200, the Ulster Defence Regiment, which gives part-time support to the regular army.
The British navy, known as the Royal Navy, is governed by the Admiralty Board under the Secretary of State for Defence. In 1993 and 1994 there were major cuts, changes, and rationalizations in Navy personnel and equipment, including vessels. Fleet strength was reduced until 1996, when operational strength was 3 Trident (strategic) submarines, 12 nuclear submarines, 2 aircraft carriers, and about 35 destroyers and frigates. Naval craft in 1995 included 3 aircraft carriers, 13 destroyers, 23 frigates, and 16 (including 12 nuclear-powered) submarines. By 2001 regular naval personnel had been reduced to 42,350, compared with 50,500 in 1995 and 63,500 before 1993.
The Royal Flying Corps was established in 1912; in 1914 the naval wing of the corps became the Royal Naval Air Service, and in 1918 the two were amalgamated as the RAF. Since 1964 the RAF has been under the unified Ministry of Defence. It is administered by the Air Force Board, headed by the Secretary of State for Defence. The RAF is organized into home and overseas commands. In 2001 RAF personnel numbered 53,300. In 1992 women became eligible to fly combat aircraft and the Women’s Royal Air Force was merged with the RAF in 1994.
Some 45,000 British troops were deployed abroad at the beginning of 1997. Contingents were serving in Cyprus, Germany, Brunei, the Falkland Islands, and Gibraltar. British forces had left Hong Kong by July 1997. In mid-1995 contingents of British troops were also serving in a wide variety of United Nations operations including Bosnia, the former Yugoslavia, Cyprus, Angola, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Georgia, Cambodia, and Rwanda. See also British Army; British Navy; Royal Air Force; and Royal Marines.
J International Organizations
The United Kingdom is a major player on the international stage, not least through its seat on the Security Council of the United Nations, its relations with former colonies through the Commonwealth of Nations, and its position as one of the major countries within the EU. Other international organizations to which it belongs are the OECD, the G-8, the Council of Europe, the Western European Union (WEU), the World Trade Organization (WTO), and NATO.
The kingdom of Great Britain was formed by the Act of Union (1707) between England and Scotland. England (including the principality of Wales, annexed in the 14th century and legally unified with England in the 16th century) and Scotland had been separate kingdoms since the early Middle Ages. However, since the death of Elizabeth I in 1603 the same monarch had ruled both lands. In 1707 they gained a single legislature and London became the capital of the entire island. Great Britain from then on had not only a single Parliament, but also a single system of national administration, taxation, and weights and measures. All tariff barriers within the island were ended. England and Scotland continued, however, to have separate traditions of law and separate established Churches—the Presbyterian in Scotland, the Anglican in England and Wales. For the history of Great Britain before 1707, see Britain, Ancient; England; Scotland; Wales.
A A Century of Conflicts
One of the chief purposes of the Act of Union was to strengthen a land preoccupied with the War of the Spanish Succession (1701-1714). Under the leadership of John Churchill, 1st Duke of Marlborough, England, and then Great Britain, and its allies had won many battles against France, then the most populous and powerful European state. By 1710, however, it seemed clear that not even Marlborough could prevent Louis XIV of France installing a Bourbon relation on the Spanish throne. Marlborough and his political allies were replaced by members of the Tory Party, who in due course made peace with France. In the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), Great Britain acknowledged the right of the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish Crown (see Utrecht, Peace of). At the same time France ceded to Great Britain the North American areas of Hudson Bay, Nova Scotia, and Newfoundland. Spain ceded Gibraltar and the Mediterranean island of Minorca, and granted British merchants a limited right to trade with Spain’s American colonies; until 1750 the Spanish concession included the asiento—the right to import African slaves into Spanish America.
Because Queen Anne had no surviving children, she was succeeded, according to the Act of Settlement (1701), by her nearest Protestant relative. This was the Elector of Hanover, who came from Germany in 1714 and was accepted as George I of Great Britain. A new era of British history began.
A1 Government in the 18th Century
Although the first years of George I’s reign were marked by two major crises—the Jacobite Rebellion of 1715 by followers of Queen Anne’s half-brother, James Edward Stuart, and the South Sea Bubble, a stock market crash of 1720—Great Britain was actually entering two decades of relative peace and stability. Local government was left largely in the hands of country gentlemen owning large estates. As justices of the peace they settled the majority of legal disputes. They also administered roads, bridges, inns, and markets, and supervised the local operation of the Poor Laws—aid to orphans, paupers, the very old, and those too ill to work.
At the national level, many Britons came to take pride in their mixed government, which combined monarchical (the hereditary ruler), aristocratic (the hereditary House of Lords), and democratic (the elected House of Commons) elements, and also provided for an independent judiciary. The reign of Queen Anne had been marked by parliamentary elections every three years and by keen rivalry between Whig and Tory factions. With the coming of George I, the Whigs were given preference over the Tories, many of whom were sympathetic to the claims of the Stuart pretenders.
Under the Septennial Act of 1716, parliamentary elections were required every seven years rather than every three, and direct political participation declined. Parliament was made up of 122 county members and 436 borough members. Virtually all counties and boroughs sent two members to Parliament, but each borough, whether large city or tiny village, had its own tradition of choosing its members of Parliament. Those Britons (a majority) who lacked the right to vote could claim the rights of petition, jury trial, and freedom from arbitrary arrest. Full political privileges were granted only to members of the Anglican Church, but non-Anglican Protestants could legally hold office if they were willing to take Anglican communion once a year.
A2 The Era of Robert Walpole
Although the king could appoint whomsoever he wished to his government, he found it convenient to select members of Parliament who could exercise influence there. Such was the case of Robert Walpole, who was appointed First Lord of the Treasury (and came to be known as “prime minister”) in 1721 in the aftermath of the South Sea Bubble. The Bubble was sparked by the financial collapse of the giant South Sea Company. The crash slowed down the commercial boom of the previous three decades, a time when the Bank of England had been founded, the concept of a long-term national debt formulated, and many large joint-stock companies established.
George I could not speak English and both he and his son, the future King George II, were often in Hanover, Germany, which they continued to rule. As a result, Walpole was able to build up and dominate a government machine. He presided over an informal group of ministers that came to be known as the Cabinet, and he controlled Parliament by his personality, his policies, and his use of patronage. His influence, however, had limits. Hoping to curb smuggling, Walpole in 1732 and 1733 sought to replace a land tax and customs duties on imports with an excise tax on wine and tobacco collected from retailers. Parliamentary critics and popular rioters protested against the army of tax collectors which the bill would have created, and Walpole was ultimately forced to give up his plan.
During his administration (1721-1742), Walpole was largely successful in keeping Great Britain out of war, and even Anglo-French relations remained cordial. In the late 1730s, however, a war party emerged in Parliament. Its members sought revenge against Spain for the harassment by Spanish coast guards of British merchants wishing to trade with Spanish colonists in the Americas. In 1739, against Walpole’s better judgement, Great Britain declared war on Spain; almost three years later parliamentary pressure forced Walpole to resign.
A3 Two Decades of Conflict
Between 1739 and 1763, Great Britain was almost continuously at war. The war against Spain, known as the War of Jenkins’s Ear, soon merged with the War of the Austrian Succession, which began in 1740, pitting Prussia, France, and Spain against Austria. Great Britain became Austria’s chief ally, and British armies and ships fought the French in Europe, in North America, on the high seas, and in India, where the English and French East India companies competed for influence.
In 1745 the Scottish Jacobites, taking advantage of Great Britain’s involvement on the Continent, made their last attempt to recover the British throne for the Stuart dynasty (see The Forty-Five). Prince Charles Edward Stuart (“Bonnie Prince Charlie”) landed in Scotland, won the allegiance of thousands of Highlanders, and in September captured Edinburgh and proclaimed his father King James III. Marching south with his army, Charles came within 161 km (100 mi) of London, but failed to attract many English or lowland Scots supporters. In December he retreated to Scotland. The following April he and his Jacobites were defeated at the Battle of Culloden and he fled to France.
The War of the Austrian Succession ended with the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle (1748), which, as far as Great Britain was concerned, restored the territorial status quo. By then, a series of short-lived ministries had given way to the relatively stable administration of Henry Pelham. During the mid-1750s the British found themselves fighting an undeclared war against France both in North America (see French and Indian War) and in India.
In 1756 formal war broke out again. The Seven Years’ War (1756-1763) pitted Great Britain, allied with Prussia, against France in alliance with Austria and Russia. For Great Britain the war began with a series of defeats in North America, in India, in the Mediterranean, and on the Continent, where the French overran Hanover. Under strong popular pressure, George II then appointed the fiery William Pitt the Elder as the minister to run the war abroad, while his colleague, Thomas Pelham-Holles, 1st Duke of Newcastle, and brother of Henry Pelham, oiled the political wheels at home. Pitt was an expert strategist and conducted the war with vigour. The French fleet was defeated off the coast of Portugal, the British East India Company triumphed over its French counterpart in Bengal and elsewhere, and British and colonial troops in North America captured Fort Duquesne (on the site of present-day Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania), and Quebec and Montreal in Canada.
Although Pitt was forced from office in 1761 and Great Britain negotiated separately from Prussia, the Treaty of Paris (1763) was a diplomatic triumph. All French claims to Canada and to lands east of the Mississippi River were ceded to Great Britain, as were most French claims to India. Spain, which had entered the war on the French side in 1762, ceded Florida. The Treaty of Paris established Great Britain’s 18th-century empire at its height.
A4 Population Growth, Urbanization, and Industrialization
During the first half of the 18th century, the population of Great Britain increased by less than 15 per cent. Between 1751 and 1801, the year of the first official census, the number rose by two thirds to 10.7 million. Between 1801 and 1851, the population doubled. The reasons include a decline in deaths from infectious diseases, especially smallpox after Edward Jenner developed a smallpox vaccine in 1796; an improved diet made possible by more efficient farming practices and the large-scale use of the potato; and earlier marriages and larger families, especially in those areas where new industries were starting up.
A quickening of economic change was noticeable by the 1780s, when James Watt, the Scottish engineer, perfected the steam engine as a new source of power. New inventions mechanized the spinning and weaving of imported cotton. Between 1760 and 1830 the production of cotton textiles increased twelvefold, making the product Great Britain’s leading export. At the same time, other inventions raised the production of iron by similar amounts, while the amount of coal mined increased fourfold. By 1830 this Industrial Revolution had turned Great Britain into the “workshop of the world”.
The towns that spread across north-western England, lowland Scotland, and southern Wales accustomed a generation of workers to factory life. The advantages were more regular hours, higher wages than those received by handicraft workers or farm labourers, and less dependence on human muscle power; many machines could be operated by women and children. The disadvantages included the devaluation of old artisan skills; poor and often dangerous working conditions; a novel emphasis on discipline and punctuality; less personal working relationships; long hours; and in many areas an almost feudal dependence on the local industrialist. For several decades also, such civic amenities as water and sewerage systems did not keep pace with population growth.
London remained Great Britain’s largest city, a centre of commerce, shipping, justice, and administration more than of industry. Its population, estimated at 600,000 in 1701, had grown to 950,000 by 1801, and to 4.5 million by 1881, making it the largest city in the world. By then, Great Britain had become the first nation to have more urban than rural inhabitants.
A5 The Early Years of George III
In 1760, the 76-year-old George II died and was succeeded by his 22-year-old grandson, George III. The new, British-born king had a deep sense of moral duty and tried to play a direct role in governing his country. To this end he appointed men he trusted, such as his one-time Scottish tutor, John Stuart, 3rd Earl of Bute, who became the prime minister in 1762. Bute was not a success, however, and four short-lived ministries followed. In 1770, George III found in Lord North a leader pleasing both to him and to the majority of Parliament.
During the 1760s, politicians out of office spurred a campaign of criticism against George III’s use of his patronage powers. A sharply critical newspaper publisher, John Wilkes, was convicted of seditious libel (1764), imprisoned, and barred from the parliamentary seat to which he had been repeatedly elected. An organization of his followers, the Society of Supporters of the Bill of Rights, provided a model for subsequent radical reform movements. Their programme included freedom of the press, the abolition of “rotten boroughs”, a widening of the franchise (right to vote), and an increase in the frequency of meetings of Parliament.
A6 American War of Independence
The fears expressed by Wilkes’s supporters confirmed the more radical American colonial leaders in their suspicion of the British government. Long accustomed to a considerable degree of self-government and freed, after 1763, from the French danger, they resented the attempts by successive British ministries to make them pay a share of the cost of imperial defence in the form of assorted taxes and duties. They also resented British attempts to enforce mercantilistic regulations and to treat colonial legislatures as secondary to the government in London. American resistance led in due course to the calling of the First Continental Congress (1774) and the beginning of hostilities (1775). Although parliamentary critics such as Edmund Burke continued to urge conciliation, George III and Lord North felt the rebellious colonists had to be brought to their senses.
British governmental authority in the 13 colonies collapsed in 1775 at the start of the American War of Independence. Although British forces were able to occupy first Boston and later New York (1776) and Philadelphia (1777), the Americans did not give up. After the defeat of General John Burgoyne at Saratoga (1777), the civil war within the British Empire became an international conflict. First the French (1778), then the Spanish (1779), and the Dutch (1780) joined the anti-British side, while other powers formed a League of Armed Neutrality.
For the first time in more than a century, Great Britain was diplomatically isolated. Following the surrender of General Charles Cornwallis after the Siege of Yorktown (1781), opposition at home to the frustrations and high taxation brought on by the American war compelled Lord North to resign (1782) and his successors to sign a new Treaty of Paris (1783). The 13 colonies were recognized as independent states and were granted all British territory south of the Great Lakes. Florida and Minorca were ceded to Spain and some islands in the West Indies and some African ports to France.
A7 Pitt, Reform, and Revolution
In the wake of the war, many old institutions were re-examined. The Economical Reform Act (1782) reduced the patronage powers of the king and his ministers. The Irish Parliament, controlled by Anglo-Irish Protestants, won a greater degree of independence. The India Act (1784) gave ultimate authority over British India to the government instead of the British East India Company. The India Act was sponsored by William Pitt the Younger, who late in 1783 became Britain’s youngest-ever prime minister at the age of 24.
Pitt remained in office for most of the rest of his life (1783-1801 and 1804-1806) and did much to shape the modern prime-ministership. In the aftermath of the American War of Independence, he restored faith in the government’s ability to pay interest on the much-increased national debt, and he set up the first consolidated annual budget. Pitt was also sympathetic to political reform, to the repeal of restrictions on non-Anglican Protestants, and to the abolition of the slave trade, but when these measures failed to win a parliamentary majority he dropped them.
Reformers such as Charles James Fox and Thomas Paine were inspired by the revolution that began in France in 1789; others, such as Edmund Burke, became fearful of all radical change. Pitt was less concerned with French ideas than actions, and when the French revolutionary army invaded the Austrian Netherlands (Belgium) and declared war on Great Britain in February 1793, a decade of moderate reform in Britain gave way to 22 years of all-out war.
A8 Napoleonic Wars
In the 1790s, the wars of the French Revolution merged into the Napoleonic Wars, as Napoleon I (Napoleon Bonaparte) took over the French revolutionary government. Pitt’s First Coalition (with Prussia, Austria, and Russia) against the French collapsed in 1796, and in 1797 Great Britain was beset by naval defeat and mutiny, and by French invasion attempts.
The war caused a boom in farm production and in certain industries. At the same time it caused rapid inflation: wage rates lagged behind prices, and Poor Law expenses grew. In 1797 the Bank of England was forced to take Britain off the gold standard (that is, the system of fully backing paper money with an equivalent amount of gold), and Parliament voted the first tax on income.
Rebellion and a French invasion threat led to the Act of Union with Ireland (1801), and the formation of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland. The Dublin legislature was abolished and the 100 Irish representatives became members of the Parliament in London; only an Irish viceroy and a London-appointed administration remained in Dublin.
Despite the defeat of the French at the Battle of the Nile (1798), the war did not go well for Britain. The Second Coalition collapsed in 1801, and in the Treaty of Amiens (1802) Britain made peace with Napoleon. War broke out again the following year, but between 1805 and 1807 the Third Coalition also collapsed. Napoleon’s plans to invade Britain were foiled by the British naval victory under Horatio Nelson at Trafalgar (1805).
Napoleon then sought to drive the United Kingdom into bankruptcy with his policy of trade blockage known as the Continental System. Difficulties in enforcing the blockade prompted Napoleon’s invasion of Russia in 1812. This led to the Fourth Coalition (Britain, Russia, Austria, and Prussia) and to Napoleon’s downfall two years later. Britain’s contribution included an army led by Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington, fighting in Spain (1809-1813), and, after Napoleon’s return from exile in Elba, the Battle of Waterloo in June 1815. The War of 1812 with the United States was for the United Kingdom a sideshow that brought no territorial changes.
B A Century of Peace
In 1811 George III, by then suffering apparent delirium probably caused by the metabolic disorder porphyria, was succeeded by his eldest son, who reigned first as Prince Regent and then from 1820, as George IV. Although a patron of art and Regency architecture, George IV became unpopular partly because of his profligacy and extravagance, but mainly because of his treatment of his wife, Caroline of Brunswick, including his attempt to divorce her in 1820 and his refusal to allow her to attend his coronation in 1821.
B1 Post-War Government (1815-1830)
Robert Banks Jenkinson, 2nd Earl of Liverpool, presided as Tory prime minister (1812-1827) over a Cabinet of luminaries including Robert Stewart, Viscount Castlereagh, the Foreign Secretary, who represented Britain at the Congress of Vienna (1815). Former Dutch possessions such as Cape Colony and Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) were added to the British Empire, and a balance of power was restored to continental Europe. Although eager to consult its European partners about possible territorial changes, Britain soon made it clear that it had no desire to join the Holy Alliance (Russia, Austria, and Prussia) and become a policeman of Europe.
Rapid demobilization after the wars, economic depression, and bad harvests led to rioting in 1816. The Liverpool government sought to aid landlords with protective tariffs (the Corn Laws of 1815), and to aid other supporters by repealing the wartime income tax (1817) and restoring the gold standard (1819). The so-called Six Acts (1819) curbed the freedom of the press and the rights of assembly. A huge political reform demonstration near Manchester (1819) was broken up and 11 people were killed by the militia in an incident which came to be known as the Peterloo Massacre. The economy recovered during the early 1820s, and government policies became more moderate.
George Canning, who replaced Castlereagh as Foreign Secretary (1822-1827), welcomed the independence of Spain’s South American colonies and aided the Greek rebellion against Turkish rule—a cause also supported by the Romantic poet Lord Byron. William Huskisson at the Board of Trade cut tariffs and eased international trade. Sir Robert Peel, the Home Secretary, reformed the criminal law and instituted (1829) a modern police force in London. Barriers to trade union organization were also reduced (1824-1825).
Despite an early 19th-century religious revival, especially among Methodists and other non-Anglican Protestants, Tory ministries remained reluctant to challenge religious and political fundamentals. In 1828 Parliament agreed, however, to end political restrictions on Protestant dissenters; one year later the government of the Duke of Wellington (1828-1830) was challenged in Ireland by a mass movement called the Catholic Association to press for the full emancipation of Catholics tacitly promised by Pitt at the time of the Act of Union. Wellington, fearing civil unrest in Ireland, granted Roman Catholics the right to become members of Parliament and to hold public office (1828, 1829), but in so doing split the Tory Party (see Catholic Emancipation Act). In November 1830, after the election prompted by the death of George IV and by the accession of his brother, William IV, a predominantly Whig ministry headed by Charles Grey, the 2nd Earl Grey, took over.
B2 Reforms of the 1830s
The great political issue of 1831 and 1832 was the Whig Reform Bill. After much debate in and out of the House of Commons, and after a threat by the government to swamp a reluctant House of Lords with new and sympathetic peers, the measure became law in June 1832. It provided for a redistribution of seats in favour of the growing industrial cities and a single property test that gave the vote to upper-middle-class men. In England and Wales the electorate grew by 50 per cent. In Ireland it more than doubled, and in Scotland it increased by 15 times. The bill set up a system of registration that encouraged political party organization, both locally and nationally. The measure weakened the influence of the monarch and the House of Lords.
Other reforms followed (see Factory Reform Acts). The Factory Act (1833) limited the working hours of women and children and provided for central inspectors. Slavery was abolished in the same year, and the controversial New Poor Law (1834) also involved supervision by a central board. The Municipal Corporations Act (1835) provided for elected representative town councils. An Ecclesiastical Commission was set up in 1836 to reform the established Church, and a separate statute (1836) placed the registration of births, deaths, and marriages in State rather than Church hands.
In 1837 the elderly William IV died and was succeeded as monarch by his 18-year-old niece, Victoria. She and her husband, Albert, ultimately came to symbolize the so-called Victorian virtues: a close-knit family life, a sense of public duty, and respectability. Victorian beliefs and attitudes were also moulded by the revival of evangelical religion, and by utilitarian notions of efficiency and good business practice (see Victorian Britain).
B3 Chartism, the Corn Laws, and the Irish Famine
The Whig reform spirit ebbed during the ministry of Lord Melbourne (1835-1841), and an economic depression in 1837 brought to public attention two powerful protest organizations. The supporters of Chartism, known as Chartists, urged the immediate adoption of the People’s Charter, which would have transformed Britain into a near political democracy (with universal male suffrage, equal electoral districts, and secret ballots) and which was somehow expected to improve living standards as well. Millions of workers signed Charter petitions in 1839, 1842, and 1848, and some Chartist demonstrations turned into riots. Parliament repeatedly rejected the People’s Charter, but it proved more receptive to the creed of the Manchester-based Anti-Corn Law League. League leaders such as Richard Cobden expected the repeal of tariffs on imported food to advance the welfare of manufacturers and workers alike, while promoting international trade and peace among nations.
Sir Robert Peel’s Conservative ministry (1841-1846) became active in reducing Britain’s tariffs but brought back income tax to make up for lost revenue. In the winter of 1845-1846, spurred on by a disastrous outbreak of potato blight in Ireland and the consequent Irish Famine, Peel proposed the complete repeal of the Corn Laws. With Whig aid the measure passed, but two thirds of Peel’s fellow Conservatives condemned the action as a sell-out of the party’s agricultural supporters. The Conservatives divided between Peelites and protectionists, and the Whigs returned (1846) to power under John Russell, 1st Earl Russell.
The repeal of the Corn Laws did nothing to alleviate the suffering in Ireland. The blight returned in the winter of 1846, and the wheat harvest in Great Britain and continental Europe was poor. Weakened by starvation and eviction by absentee landlords, an estimated one million people are thought to have died between 1847 and 1851, despite the return of good potato harvests for one quarter of the population. An estimated further two to three million emigrated, many of whom died en route.
During the Peel and Russell years the trend towards free trade continued, aided by the repeal (1849) of the Navigation Acts, and a system of administrative regulation was gradually established. Women and children were barred from underground work in mines (1842) and limited to 10-hour working days in factories (1847). Regulations were also imposed on urban sanitation facilities (1842) and passenger-carrying railways (1844). Commissions were set up to oversee prisons, asylums for the insane, merchant shipping, and private charities. Attempts to subsidize elementary education, however, were hampered by conflict over the Anglican Church’s role in running schools.
B4 Mid-Victorian Prosperity
From the late 1840s until the late 1860s, the British people were less concerned with domestic conflict than with an economic boom that was only occasionally affected by wars and threats of war on the Continent and overseas. The Great Exhibition of 1851 in London symbolized Great Britain’s industrial supremacy. The 10,600-km (6,600-mi) railway network of 1850 more than doubled during the mid-Victorian years, and the number of passengers carried each year went up sevenfold. It was a period of great inventions; the telegraph provided instant long-distance communication; inexpensive steel was made possible by the process invented by Sir Henry Bessemer (1856); and a boom in steamship building began in the 1860s. The value of British exports tripled, and overseas capital investments quadrupled. Working-class living standards also improved, and the growth of trade unionism among engineers, carpenters, and others led to the founding of the Trades Union Congress in 1868.
In the aftermath of the Continental revolutions of 1848, a Britain governed by the Peelite-Liberal coalition (1852-1855) of Lord Aberdeen drifted into war with an autocratic, expansionist Russia. In alliance with the France of Napoleon III, Britain entered the Crimean War in 1854. Parliamentary criticism of army mismanagement, however, caused the downfall of Aberdeen. He was replaced by Lord Palmerston, a staunch British nationalist and champion of European liberalism, who saw the war to its conclusion—a limited Anglo-French victory in 1856.
In 1858 the Indian Mutiny was for the most part suppressed, and Britain enacted legislation that made British India a Crown Colony, abolishing the rule of the East India Company. In contrast, domestic self-government was encouraged in Britain’s white settler colonies: Canada (federated under the British North America Act of 1867), Australia, New Zealand, and Cape Colony (South Africa). Britain maintained a difficult neutrality during the American Civil War (1861-1865). It encouraged the unification of Italy, but witnessed with apprehension the creation of a German empire under Prussian domination by Prince Otto von Bismarck.
B5 The Gladstone-Disraeli Rivalry
During the 16 years after Palmerston’s death in 1865, the rivalry between William Ewart Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli dominated British politics. Both had begun as Tories, but in 1846 Gladstone had become a Peelite and had thereafter gradually moved towards liberalism. As Palmerston’s Chancellor of the Exchequer, he had won popular appeal by ending the paper tax (thereby making cheaper newspapers possible) and by advocating an expansion of the franchise.
Disraeli had become the Conservative leader of the protectionists in the House of Commons in the late 1840s, and had served in the brief minority ministries of Lord Derby in the 1850s. After a political reform bill proposed during Lord Russell’s second ministry (1865-1866) and introduced by Gladstone was defeated, a Conservative Cabinet headed by Lord Derby (1866-1868) ultimately came up with the Reform Bill of 1867, which Disraeli successfully piloted through the House of Commons. The measure enfranchised more than one million male urban workers. It almost doubled the English and Welsh electorates and more than doubled the Scottish. It also launched the era of mass political organization and of increasingly polarized and disciplined parliamentary parties.
Disraeli succeeded Derby as the nation’s prime minister early in 1868, but a Liberal election victory in December of that year gave the post to Gladstone. Gladstone’s first Cabinet (1868-1874) was responsible for numerous reforms: the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland; the creation of a national system of elementary education; the full admission of religious dissenters to the universities of Oxford and Cambridge; a merit-based civil service; the secret ballot; and judicial and army reform. During the Disraeli ministry that followed (1874-1880), the Conservatives passed legislation advancing “Tory democracy”—trade union legalization, slum clearance, and public health—but Disraeli became more concerned with upholding the British Empire in Africa and Asia, and scoring a diplomatic triumph at the Congress of Berlin (1878).
A whistle-stop campaign by Gladstone in 1879 and 1880 restored him to the prime ministership. His second Cabinet (1880-1885) curbed electoral corruption (1883) and, with the Reform Act of 1884, extended the vote to almost all males who owned or rented housing, including some two million agricultural labourers. The measure made the single-member parliamentary constituency the general rule.
Gladstone became increasingly concerned with bringing peace and land reform to Ireland, which was represented in Parliament by the Irish Nationalist Party of Charles Stewart Parnell. When Gladstone became a convert to the cause of home rule—the creation of a semi-independent Irish legislature and Cabinet—he divided the Liberal Party and led his brief third ministry (1886) to defeat. A second effort to enact Irish home rule during Gladstone’s fourth ministry (1892-1894) was blocked by the House of Lords.
B6 Late Victorian Economic and Social Change
The same agricultural depression that led to unrest among Irish tenant farmers in the second half of the 19th century also undermined British agriculture and the prosperity of the country squires. The mid-Victorian boom gave way to an era of deflation, falling profit margins, and occasional large-scale unemployment. Both the United States and Germany overtook Great Britain in the production of steel and other manufactured goods.
At the same time, Britain remained the world’s prime shipbuilder, shipper, and banker, and a majority of British workers gained in purchasing power. Trade union membership grew, and significant attempts were made to organize the semi-skilled; the London Dockers’ Strike (1889) was the result of one such effort. Social investigators and professed socialists discovered large pockets of poverty in the slums of London and other cities, and the national government as well as voluntary agencies were called on to remedy social evils and disease.
Despite a high level of emigration to British colonies and the United States—more than 200,000 people each year during the 1880s—the population of England and Wales doubled between 1851 and 1911 to more than 36 million; that of Scotland grew by more than 60 per cent to almost 5 million. In Ireland, where emigration was highest, the population was reduced by migration to about 2 million; between 1847 and 1861, in the aftermath of the famine, more than 2 million people crossed the Atlantic to the United States. Both death rates and birth rates in Great Britain declined somewhat, and a series of changes in the law made it possible for a tiny minority of women to enter universities, vote in local elections, and keep control of their property when they married.
B7 The Late Victorian Empire
A relative lack of interest in empire during the mid-Victorian years gave way to increased concern during the 1880s and 1890s. The raising of tariff barriers by the United States, Germany, and France made colonies valuable again as trade outlets, ushering in an era of rivalry with Russia in the Middle East and along the Indian frontier, and a “scramble for Africa” that involved the carving out of large claims by Great Britain, France, and Germany. Hong Kong and Singapore served as centres of British trade and influence in China and the South Pacific.
The completion of the Suez Canal (1869) led indirectly to a British protectorate over Egypt in 1882. Queen Victoria became Empress of India in 1877, and both Victoria’s golden jubilee (1887) and her diamond jubilee (1897) celebrated imperial unity. The Conservative ministries of Lord Salisbury (1885, 1886-1892, and 1895-1902) were preoccupied with imperial concerns as well. The policies of Salisbury’s colonial secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, contributed to the outbreak of the South African Wars (Boer Wars) in 1899. Britain suffered initial reverses in this war but then captured Johannesburg and Pretoria in 1900. Only after protracted guerrilla warfare, however, was the conflict brought to an end in 1902. By then Queen Victoria was dead.
B8 The Edwardian Age (1901-1914)
In the aftermath of the South African Wars, the United Kingdom signed a treaty of alliance with Japan (1902) and ended several decades of overseas rivalry with France in the Entente Cordiale (1904). After Anglo-Russian disputes had also been settled, this link became the Triple Entente (1907), which faced the Triple Alliance of Germany, Austria, and Italy.
As the reign of Edward VII began, however, most Britons were more concerned with domestic matters. The Education Act (1902), introduced by the administration of Conservative prime minister Arthur Balfour, helped meet a demand for national efficiency with the beginnings of a national system of secondary education, but the measure stirred old passions. In the course of Balfour’s ministry (1902-1905) the Conservative Party was divided between tariff reformers, who wanted to restore protective duties, and free traders.
The general election of 1906 gave the Liberals an overwhelming majority. Trade union influence led to the appearance of a small separate parliamentary Labour Party of 29 members as well. The Liberal government, headed first by Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1905-1908) and then by Herbert Henry Asquith (1908-1916), gave internal self-government to the new Union of South Africa (1910) and partial provincial self-government to British India (1909).
Under the inspiration of David Lloyd George and Sir Winston Churchill, it also laid the foundations of the welfare state. Its programme included the introduction of old-age pensions (1908), government employment offices (1909), unemployment insurance (1911), a contributory programme of national medical insurance for most workers (1911), and boards to fix minimum wages for miners and others (1909, 1912). Lloyd George’s controversial, so-called people’s budget (1909), designed to pay the costs of social welfare and naval rearmament, was blocked by the House of Lords and led in due course to the Parliament Act of 1911, which left the Lords with no more than a temporary veto over legislation. The Conservatives made a comeback, however, in the general elections of 1910, and the Liberals were thereafter dependent on the Irish Nationalists to stay in power.
Although the economy seemed to be booming, wages scarcely kept up with rising prices, and the years 1911 to 1914 were marked by major and divisive strikes of miners, dock workers, and transport workers. Women in the suffragette movement staged violent demonstrations in favour of female enfranchisement. When the Liberals sought to enact home rule for Ireland, non-Catholic Irish from the northern province of Ulster threatened force to prevent the British government from compelling them to become part of a semi-independent Ireland. In the midst of these domestic disputes, a crisis in the Balkans exploded into World War I.
C The Era of World Wars
Although the competitive naval build-up of Great Britain and Germany is often cited as a cause of World War I, Anglo-German relations were actually cordial in early 1914, and Britain was Germany’s best customer. It was Germany’s threat to France and its invasion of neutral Belgium that prompted Great Britain to declare war.
C1 Great Britain in World War I
A British expeditionary force was immediately sent to France and helped stem the German advance at the Marne. Fighting on the Western Front soon became mired in a bloody stalemate, amid muddy trenches, barbed wire, and machine-gun emplacements. Battles to push the Germans back failed repeatedly at the cost of hundreds of thousands of lives. Efforts to outflank the Central Powers (Germany, Austria, and Turkey) in the Balkans, notably the Gallipoli Campaign (1915-1916), also failed. At the Battle of Jutland (1916), British forces prevented the German fleet from venturing into the North Sea and beyond, but German submarines threatened Britain with starvation early in 1917; merchant-ship convoys guarded by destroyers helped avert this danger.
In May 1915, Asquith’s Liberal ministry became a coalition of Liberals, Conservatives, and a few Labour Party members. Lloyd George became Minister of Munitions. Continued frustration with the nation’s inability to win the war, however, led in December 1916 to the replacement of Asquith by Lloyd George, heading a predominantly Conservative coalition. The 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, resulted in several hundred dead. By 1918 the United Kingdom’s annual budget was 13 times that of 1913; tax rates had risen fivefold, and the total national debt, fourteenfold.
Although many British people welcomed the end (1917) of tsarist rule in Russia, they saw the Bolshevik decision to make a separate peace with Germany (1918) as a sell-out. However, the entry of the United States into the war in April 1917 tipped the balance of power, making possible the successful tank offensive engineered by General Douglas Haig in the summer of 1918, and the German surrender in November.
The election called immediately after the armistice gave the Lloyd George coalition an overwhelming mandate. The Labour Party, now formally pledged to socialism, became the largest opposition party, while the Asquith wing of a divided Liberal Party was almost wiped out. By then the Reform Act of 1918 had granted the vote to all men over the age of 21 and all women over 30.
C2 Changes Wrought by the War
Lloyd George represented Britain as one of the Big Three (together with France and the United States) at the Paris Peace Conference in 1919. The resulting treaties enlarged the British Empire as former German colonies in Africa and Turkish holdings in the Middle East became British mandates. At the same time, Britain’s self-governing dominions—Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa—became separate treaty signatories and separate members of the new League of Nations.
The fight for independence and an intermittent, bitter civil war in Ireland ended with a treaty negotiated by Lloyd George, and finalized in December 1921. Most of the island became, in 1922, the Irish Free State, independent of British rule in all but name and allegiance to the Crown. The six counties of Northern Ireland continued to be represented in the British Parliament, and they were also granted their own provincial parliament (see Partition of Ireland). The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland became the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
The immediate post-war years were marked by economic boom, rapid demobilization, and much labour unrest. By 1922, however, the boom had petered out. In that year a rebellion by a group of Conservative members of Parliament ended the prime ministership of Lloyd George, which was succeeded by the wholly Conservative ministry of Andrew Bonar Law.
C3 The Inter-War Era
During the early 1920s a major political shift took place in Britain. The general election of 1922 gave victory to the Conservatives; a second election, called a year later by Stanley Baldwin, Bonar Law’s successor as Conservative leader, left no party with a clear majority. As a consequence, Ramsay MacDonald, the Labour Party leader, became the first professed socialist to serve as prime minister of the United Kingdom. His first ministry (1924) rested on Liberal acquiescence and lasted less than a year. Yet another election brought back Baldwin’s Conservatives. Lloyd George’s and Asquith’s efforts at Liberal reunion failed to restore the party’s fortunes, and it has remained a minor party in British politics.
The Baldwin ministry (1924-1929) had to face an unprecedented demonstration of trade union solidarity in the form of the 1926 General Strike. Undertaken in support of the miners who were resisting the imposition of lower pay and longer hours, the strike was frustrated by the use of troops to maintain essential services, and in the event lasted only nine days. At the time, however, it was interpreted as a direct challenge to the state and led to changes in trade union legislation requiring workers to contract into a union, rather than having a membership levy automatically deducted from their pay.
The Baldwin government, however, also enacted several social reform measures, including the Widows’, Orphans’, and Old Age Contributory Pensions Act (1925), established a national electric power network (1926), and reformed local government (1929). In 1928 women were given equal voting rights to men.
Between 1929 and 1932 the effects of the severe economic recession known as the Great Depression were to more than double an already high rate of unemployment in Britain. In the course of the three years, both the levels of industrial activity and of prices declined by a quarter, while industries such as shipbuilding collapsed almost entirely. Ramsay MacDonald’s second Labour government (1929-1931) found itself unable to cope with the depression. In 1931 it gave way to a national government headed first by MacDonald and then by Baldwin (1935-1937), and made up mostly of Conservatives. The Labour Party denounced MacDonald as a traitor, but the national government won an overwhelming mandate in the general election of 1931. It took the United Kingdom off the gold standard, restored protective tariffs, and subsidized the building of houses.
Between 1933 and 1937 the economy recovered steadily, with the car, construction, and electrical industries leading the way. Unemployment remained high, however, especially in Wales, Scotland, and northern England. Inter-war society was influenced by the radio (monopolized by the BBC, founded in 1927) and the cinema, but British life was little affected by the Continental ideologies of communism and fascism. The empire remained a fact, even though the Statute of Westminster (1931) proclaimed the equality of Commonwealth nations such as Canada and Australia. Religious attendance declined, but George V (reigned 1910-1936) maintained the prestige of the monarchy. When his son, Edward VIII, insisted on marrying a twice-divorced American, abdication (1936) proved to be the only acceptable solution. Under Edward’s brother, George VI, the monarchy again provided the model family of the land.
C4 The United Kingdom and World War II
Memories of World War I left Britons with an overwhelming desire to avoid another conflict, and the country played a leading role in the League of Nations and at inter-war disarmament conferences, such as those in Washington (1921-1922) and London (1930) which limited naval size. Conscious also that Germany might have been unfairly treated at the 1919 peace conference and Treaty of Versailles, the British government followed a policy of appeasement in dealing after 1933 with Germany and its leader, Adolf Hitler.
Hitler’s decisions to leave the League of Nations (1934), rearm (1935), and remilitarize the Rhineland (1936) in defiance of the Treaty of Versailles were accepted. So was the German annexation of Austria (1938) in pursuit of Anschluss. In his efforts to keep the peace at all costs, the prime minister Neville Chamberlain also acquiesced to the Munich Pact of 1938, which gave Germany the Sudeten portion of Czechoslovakia. Only after the German annexation of Prague (March 1939) did Britain make pledges of military support to Poland and Romania.
When Hitler invaded Poland in September 1939, Britain and France declared war (see World War II). The defeat of Poland and half a year of relative quiet (“the phoney war”) were followed in the spring of 1940 by the German invasion of Denmark, Norway, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France. In May of that year, Winston Churchill, a leading opponent of appeasement who had rejoined the Cabinet in 1939, replaced Chamberlain as head of a War Cabinet (1940-1945) that included all three main political parties. After the surrender of France in June 1940, Britain stood alone. Under Churchill’s direction, war mobilization in Britain became more comprehensive than that achieved by any other power. Although a German invasion plan was foiled by British air supremacy, large parts of London and many other cities were destroyed in the Blitz—bombing raids that killed 60,000 civilians. Beginning early in 1941, the still-neutral United States granted Lend-Lease aid to Britain.
The direction of the war changed with the German invasion of the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) in June 1941 and the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. Churchill then forged the “Grand Alliance” with Soviet leader Joseph Stalin and US president Franklin D. Roosevelt against Germany, Italy, and Japan, the so-called Axis Powers. In the immediate aftermath of the Japanese entry into the war, much of the British Empire in South East Asia was overrun, but late in 1942 the tide turned. The British contribution included the Battle of the Atlantic against the German submarine menace and the campaign led by General Bernard Montgomery, later Viscount Montgomery of Alamein, against the German army in North Africa. Britain’s alliance with the United States strengthened, and British forces were heavily involved in the invasion of Sicily and Italy (1943), the Normandy Campaign (1944), and the ultimate defeat of the Axis Powers in 1945.
D The Winds of Change
The general election of 1945 gave the Labour Party, for the first time, a majority of the popular vote and an overwhelming parliamentary majority. The result was less a rebuke of Churchill’s wartime leadership than a popular desire to ensure that the return of peace would see reforms benefiting the majority of Britons, in contrast to the aftermath of World War I, when the government failed to live up to its promises to build a “land fit for heroes”.
D1 Clement Attlee’s Ministry (1945-1951)
During the years that followed, Labour, led by Clement Attlee, sought to promote social equality in Britain, while surviving post-war austerity, dismantling the empire, and adjusting to the Cold War with the USSR.
The two measures that established a welfare state in Britain, the National Insurance Act of 1946 (a consolidation of benefit laws involving maternity, unemployment, disability, old age, and death) and the National Health Service, set up in 1948, were widely popular. Both drew on the wartime reports of William Beveridge, 1st Baron Beveridge of Tuggal, a Liberal. The nationalization of the Bank of England, the coal industry, gas and electricity, the railways, and most airlines proved relatively non-controversial, but the Conservatives vigorously if vainly opposed the nationalization of the road-freight, and the iron and steel industries.
In 1948 Labour eliminated the last remnants of plural voting (that is, the right to vote in more than one constituency) by abolishing the university seats, and reduced the delaying powers of the House of Lords from two years to one.
These changes were instituted in the midst of a post-war era of austerity. As a result of the war, the national debt had tripled, and for the first time since the 18th century Britain had become a debtor nation. With the end of US Lend-Lease aid in 1945, the British import bill had risen abruptly long before military demobilization and reconversion to peacetime industry had been accomplished. Wartime regulations, therefore, had been kept; food-rationing in 1946 and 1947 was more restrictive than during the war.
Post-war Germany was divided into occupation zones among the USSR, the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, but efforts to reach agreement on a peace treaty with Germany broke down as it became clear that the USSR was converting all of eastern Europe into a Soviet sphere of influence. Britain, assisted by the US-sponsored Marshall Plan (1948-1952), joined other Western powers and the United States in NATO in 1949 in order to counter the Soviet threat.
The British government felt less able, however, to play an independent role in the Middle East; in 1948 it gave up its Palestinian mandate, which led to the establishment of Israel and the first Arab-Israeli War. Aware of the country’s depleted coffers and unable to withstand the widespread demand for self-rule, the Labour government granted independence to India and Pakistan in 1947, and to Burma and Ceylon in 1948.
D2 Conservative Rule (1951-1964)
Its programme of social reform apparently accomplished, the Labour government’s parliamentary majority was sharply reduced in the general election of 1950, and the election of 1951 enabled the Conservatives under Winston Churchill to slip back into power. Except for denationalizing iron and steel, the Conservatives made no attempt to reverse the legislation or the welfare-state programme enacted by Labour. The early 1950s brought steady economic recovery. As income tax rates were reduced and the framework of wartime and post-war regulation largely dismantled, housing construction boomed and international trade flourished.
With a veteran world statesman heading Britain’s government, the accession of a young queen drew the attention (and the still-novel television cameras) of the world to London for the coronation of Elizabeth II in June 1953. During these years Britain perfected its own atomic and hydrogen bombs and was a pioneer in the generation of electricity by nuclear power. Churchill’s hopes for another diplomatic summit meeting were disappointed, but the death in 1953 of Joseph Stalin, leader of the USSR, led to a slight easing of the Cold War tension, which never reached the levels felt in the United States, which had replaced Britain as the world’s most powerful nation.
Churchill’s successor, Foreign Secretary Sir Anthony Eden (1955-1957), led his party to a second election victory in the spring of 1955. In the same year he helped negotiate an Austrian peace treaty and participated in a summit conference at Geneva.
Eden’s tenure as prime minister, however, was cut short by the crisis that followed Egypt’s nationalization of the Suez Canal in 1956. British forces had been withdrawn from the canal only a year earlier, and an Anglo-French reoccupation in 1956 was halted by Soviet-US pressure. The Suez Crisis led both to the loss of much of Britain’s remaining influence in the Middle East and to Eden’s resignation. His successor, Harold Macmillan (1957-1963), later the Earl of Stockton, presided over a period of renewed consumer affluence. In 1959 he led his party to its third successive election victory.
Macmillan’s government followed a deliberate policy of decolonization in Africa. The Sudan had already become independent in 1956, and during the next seven years Ghana, Nigeria, Somalia, Tanzania, Sierra Leone, Uganda, and Kenya followed suit. Most of these states remained members of a highly decentralized multiracial Commonwealth of Nations, but the Union of South Africa, dominated by a white minority, left the Commonwealth in 1961 and declared itself a republic. Independence was also given to Malaysia, Cyprus, and Jamaica during Macmillan’s tenure.
Even as imperial ties loosened, large numbers of immigrants—especially from the West Indies and Pakistan—arrived in Britain, many persuaded to come by active recruitment campaigns to work in, for example, public transport. They found themselves less than welcome in many areas, however. The heightening of racial tensions led to government efforts to limit sharply further immigration, while ensuring legal equality for the immigrants and their descendants.
As British people turned their attention away from their overseas empire, they became increasingly aware that their economy, although prospering, was growing less rapidly than those of their Continental neighbours. In 1961 Macmillan applied for British membership in the European Community (EC), or Common Market (now called the EU). Many Britons felt unprepared to cast their lot with continental Europe, but for the moment their feelings proved immaterial because the application was vetoed by President Charles de Gaulle of France. In 1963 Macmillan was replaced as Conservative prime minister by Sir Alec Douglas-Home. In the general election of 1964, however, the latter was narrowly defeated by the Labour Party, headed by Harold Wilson.
D3 Britain in the 1960s
During the 1960s, Britain experienced a widespread mood of change. Much of this centred on young people, who had spending power for the first time. Opposition to conventions of the past—in dress, in music, in popular entertainment, and in social behaviour—did not only come from the young, however, but from designers, authors, and other celebrities. The phenomenon had its positive consequences in helping to make “swinging” London a world capital of popular music, media, theatre, and fashion. With the worldwide popularity of the Beatles, Liverpool became for a time as well known. Among the negative side-effects, however, were a rising crime rate and a spreading drug culture.
Harold Wilson’s Labour government (1964-1970) sympathized with some of these trends. It sought both to expand higher education opportunities and to end a secondary school system that separated the academically inclined from other students. During the later 1960s, laws on divorce were eased, abortion was legalized, curbs on homosexual practices were eased, capital punishment was abolished, equal pay for equal work was prescribed for women, and the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18.
In economic life, the Labour government became more rigorous. A persistent trend towards inflation, an unfavourable balance of trade, and unbalanced government budgets led to a wage-and-price freeze in 1966 and attempts thereafter to secure so-called severe restraint. These actions eased certain economic problems, but at the price of alienating many of Labour’s trade union supporters. In 1970 the Conservatives returned to power under Edward Heath.
E The 1970s
E1 Heath, Inflation, and the Miners
A major theme of British history since the mid-1960s was the battle to eliminate double-digit inflation. Heath’s policy of deliberate economic expansion did not accomplish this goal, however, and the attempt to curb the legal powers of trade unions (1971) evoked a mood of civil disobedience among union leaders. More working days were lost because of strikes in 1972 than in any year since the General Strike of 1926. The world oil crisis served to compound economic problems. Heath hoped to solve some of them by floating the pound, that is, by freeing Britain’s currency from earlier fixed rates of exchange with other currencies, and by again seeking British admission to the EC.
Britain did join the EC in 1973, and two years later the first national referendum in British history approved the step by a 2-1 margin. An attempt by Heath in 1972 and 1973 first to freeze and then sharply to restrain wage and price increases was defied by the miners. When Heath appealed to the public in the general election of February 1974 the result was indecisive. A revival in the popular vote of the Liberal Party, enabled Harold Wilson to form a minority Labour government that under his leadership and, from 1976, that of James Callaghan, lasted five years.
E2 Northern Ireland
During the 1970s successive British governments faced mounting difficulties in Northern Ireland. A civil rights movement supporting social equality for the Roman Catholic minority there clashed violently with Protestant extremists. In 1969 the British government sent troops to keep order, and in 1972 it suspended Northern Ireland’s autonomous parliament. A campaign of terrorism by the Irish Republican Army (IRA) followed. Its aim was to unite Northern Ireland with the Irish Republic; the Protestant majority continued to support Northern Ireland remaining part of the United Kingdom. British measures, such as internment, failed to halt the wave of bombings and killings in Northern Ireland and England. The troops remain, although their numbers were reduced during the IRA ceasefire in 1994.
E3 Scottish Nationalism
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party scored impressive gains in the elections of 1974, and Callaghan’s ministry (1976-1979) attempted to set up a semi-independent parliament in Edinburgh (see Scottish Nationalism). When only 33 per cent of the Scottish electorate supported the plan in a 1979 referendum, however, the project died, at least temporarily.
E4 Economic Difficulties Under Labour
The Labour government of 1974 to 1979 began by ending all legal restrictions on wage and price rises. However, after the annual inflation rate topped 25 per cent in 1975, the government succeeded in obtaining some trade union restraints on wage claims in return for an end to legal restraints on union power and more government finance for housing and other social services. The inflation rate declined somewhat between 1976 and 1979.
By the late 1970s, British politics seemed to be polarizing between the left wing of the Labour Party, which sought a larger role for the state in order to create greater social equality, and the Conservatives, who hoped to restore a greater role to private enterprise and to reduce the public sector. By the beginning of 1979 Callaghan’s government was dependent on two minority parties. A winter of labour unrest and a series of damaging strikes undercut his claims to be able to deal successfully with the unions, and a vote of no-confidence in March 1979 went against him.
F Conservative Rule (1979-1997)
In the election of April 1979, the Conservative Party under its new leader Margaret Thatcher emerged with a substantial majority of parliamentary seats. Thatcher, the first woman prime minister in British or European history, remained in office for the next 11 years, making her the longest continuously serving prime minister since the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
Thatcher’s first years were difficult. She sought to halt inflation by a policy of high interest rates and government budget cuts, rather than one of wage and price freezes. By 1981 and 1982 those policies were showing some success, but only at the cost of the highest unemployment rates since the 1930s. The government was jolted in April 1982 when Argentina forcibly occupied the Falkland Islands, a British-held archipelago in the South Atlantic that Argentina had long claimed. Thatcher sent a British counter-invasion force which succeeded in recapturing the islands in June (see Falklands War). She strengthened Britain’s “special relationship” with the United States, notably by the stationing by US forces of intermediate-range nuclear missiles at the Greenham Common airbase at the end of 1983.
The decisive Conservative victories in the elections of June 1983 and June 1987 were the consequence not only of widespread popular support for the government’s Falklands policy, but also of a sharp division in the ranks of the political opposition. In 1980 a group of Labour Party members headed by Roy Jenkins and David Owen broke away, and in 1981 formed the Social Democratic Party. The new party joined with the Liberals to constitute an influential alliance that ultimately won relatively few parliamentary seats, but did garner 25 per cent of the total popular vote in 1983 and 23 per cent in 1987—splitting the opposition to the Conservatives and influencing Tory victories. In the 1983 and 1987 elections Labour gained 28 and 31 per cent of the vote respectively; the Conservatives 42 per cent on both occasions.
The years between 1982 and 1988 were depicted by many as economic boom years for the United Kingdom. Much of this boom was consumption-led. The living standards of many British people rose, particularly for those in the category known as “middle England” voters, and among entrepreneurs and in lower-middle-class occupations. However, poverty increased for many. In addition, compared to many European countries, the quality of life declined in Britain’s inner cities—the phenomenon often called “private wealth, public squalor”.
The rate of unemployment remained at a peak of more than 3 million for much of the decade. British industries became more efficient, although the manufacturing sector shrank as many companies closed. London maintained its role as one of the world’s top financial centres. The direct participation of government in the economy declined as Thatcher promoted privatization—the turning over to private investors of government monopolies such as British Airways, the telephone service, and the distribution of gas, electricity, and water. Council-house tenants were strongly encouraged to buy the houses they rented. In the meantime, the power of trade unions was severely curtailed by legislation, and membership declined as a result of high unemployment and the shrinking of the industrial sector.
Although Thatcher had not abolished the welfare state, in the eyes of her opposition critics the “Iron Lady” had short-changed social services such as education and the NHS. Policies such as the abolition of the metropolitan councils, notably the Greater London Council, were also viewed as dictatorial. Her resignation in November 1990 was the result of a revolt within the Conservative Party. Thatcher’s downfall, however, was primarily attributed to the enactment of an unpopular “poll tax” (as a substitute for local government property-based taxes), and the alienation of some members of her Cabinet over the prime minister’s increasingly critical attitude towards cooperation with her EU (previously the EC) colleagues.
Thatcher was succeeded as Conservative Party leader and prime minister by John Major, who continued all her policies, including that of maintaining close ties with the United States. British troops fought as part of the multinational coalition in the Gulf War. In 1992, despite a deepening economic recession, Major led his party to victory in the April general election, although with a substantially reduced majority. Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock, who had gradually moved his party back from the far left towards the ideological centre, resigned after the election and was replaced by John Smith.
Following the election, Major’s government faced a growing financial crisis exacerbated by the pound’s weakening in the currency market, high inflation and unemployment, and a nationwide recession. As a result, Major received the lowest approval rating, 14 per cent, of any prime minister in British history.
In 1993 news of contacts between the Major government and Sinn Fein, the political wing of the IRA, appeared in the press.
F1 The IRA Ceasefire and Beyond
On August 31, 1994, the IRA declared an unconditional ceasefire, agreeing to suspend all military operations in favour of Sinn Fein participating in peace talks. In October, Loyalist (Protestant) paramilitaries also announced a ceasefire. In response to the ending of terrorist activity, British troop patrols in Northern Ireland were gradually reduced; in March 1995 regular daytime patrols were completely suspended throughout the province. However, moves towards a full round-table discussion on the future of Northern Ireland, including all parties, were slowed by the hostility of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to countenance change and by the insistence by the Major government that the IRA give up its weapons. Nevertheless, direct talks between the British government and Sinn Fein were initiated in December 1994.
In February 1995 John Major and the Irish prime minister John Bruton announced a joint framework document on all-party talks on the future of Northern Ireland, with the British government insisting that Sinn Fein participation was conditional on the decommissioning of IRA weapons. With the IRA and Sinn Fein refusing to concede, in November 1995 both governments announced a forum chaired by former US Senator George Mitchell to discuss the issue; and US President Bill Clinton visited Northern Ireland to great acclaim. Mitchell’s report of late January 1996 did not support the British position, and the British government rejected its disarmament plan.
In February 1996, the IRA ended its 17-month ceasefire by exploding a huge bomb in London’s Docklands, killing 2 people and injuring more than 100: Sinn Fein blamed British procrastination over the promised peace talks. In response, the British and Irish governments announced a timetable for negotiations and a specific date for the start of all-party talks. This was viewed as a concession by Major, but the plan also included an elected assembly, a concession to Unionists. Both governments agreed that, with no decommissioning of arms, Sinn Fein could only attend the all-party talks and proximity talks to discuss details of the assembly. However, the IRA did not renew its ceasefire.
In elections in May to the elected “forum”, intended to discuss Northern Irish affairs and select negotiating teams for all-party talks, Sinn Fein, the Ulster Unionist Party, the Social Democratic and Labour Party, and the DUP scored the best results. Despite its electoral success, the IRA’s continuing refusal to resume the ceasefire kept Sinn Fein out of the forum, while the DUP leader Ian Paisley threatened to boycott the talks if they were chaired as planned by George Mitchell.
In the 1997 general election Sinn Fein candidates won an increased share of the vote (16 per cent) in Northern Ireland, including two constituency gains for its main candidates, Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness. However, due to their refusal to swear the oath of allegiance to the Crown, as required of all new MPs, it is unlikely that they will take their seats in the House of Commons.
In May 1994, Labour Party leader John Smith died suddenly from a heart attack. His successor, Tony Blair, completed the work of transforming the Labour Party into a centre-left organization, begun by Kinnock and furthered by Smith. In April 1995, at a special conference, the party voted to end its traditional commitment to nationalization, enshrined in Clause IV of the Labour Party constitution. This and other changes, notably the distancing of the party from the trade unions, were widely considered to have made Labour once more a potential party of government.
The Conservatives, meanwhile, were beset by persistently low opinion polls, resounding defeats in local elections in April and May 1995, and a series of scandals that persisted up until, and including, the 1997 general election. However, their most serious problem was the growing rift within the party over policy towards Europe. In November 1994 eight so-called “Euro-rebel” Conservative members of Parliament lost the party “whip”, and another voluntarily resigned it, after refusing to support the government on a vote over British financial contributions to the EU. In June 1995, in an effort to restore cohesion within the Conservative parliamentary party, John Major resigned as leader of the party, forcing an election for a new leader, held on July 4. Major won against an anti-European opponent, but one third of the party voted against him or abstained.
The Conservative Party remained split between a pro-European left wing and an anti-European (“Eurosceptic”) right, with the latter especially pressuring Major over policy, while deaths and defections eroded the Conservatives’ slim Commons majority. One MP left the party in protest over government handling of the report by High Court judge Richard Scott, commissioned to investigate government complicity in arms sales to Iraq contravening a UN embargo. The report, released in February 1996, found that ministers had misled Parliament and the public, but exonerated them of conspiracy. After careful management of its release and intensive lobbying of MPs, the government won a vote on the report by one vote, just avoiding an early general election.
In March 1996 the government announced new findings by an independent committee, based on ten fatalities apparently caused by a new strain of Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease (CJD), over apparent links between CJD in humans and bovine spongiform encephalopathy (“mad cow” disease) in British cattle. This statement, directly contradicting previous government assurances, caused the collapse of the domestic and export markets for British beef. On March 27 the European Commission imposed a global ban on exports of British beef and cattle products. Despite some British measures including limited culling, by mid-1997 the EU ban on British beef exports had still not been relaxed. However, in June 1996, EU governments had agreed on a plan to gradually reduce the ban on the various categories of British beef exports, in return for a much greater culling of the British beef herd. A further 51,574 cattle were destroyed by December 1997, and by early 1998 the European Commission gave Northern Ireland the green light to resume export of at least some beef. The government banned the sale of beef on the bone in December after research showed there was a risk that BSE could be transmitted through bones. It is estimated the BSE crisis will have cost the British government £5 billion.
G Labour Government
On May 1, 1997, following Britain’s longest-ever general election campaign, Labour won its biggest-ever majority of 179 seats. The Conservative Party suffered its worst electoral defeat of the century and John Major resigned as Conservative Party leader. The main Cabinet appointments made by the new prime minister, Tony Blair, included Gordon Brown (Chancellor of the Exchequer); Robin Cook (Foreign Secretary); George Robertson (Defence Secretary; who left in 1999 to become NATO’s secretary-general); Jack Straw (Home Secretary); Margaret Beckett (President of the Board of Trade); John Prescott (Deputy Prime Minister, Secretary of State for the Environment, Transport, and the Regions). In June 1997 the Conservative Party chose a Eurosceptic candidate, William Hague, as its new leader, rather than his closest rival, the more experienced and pro-European Kenneth Clarke. At 36, Hague became the youngest party leader this century.
A month after electoral victory, the new prime minister Tony Blair and Foreign Secretary Robin Cook went to Hong Kong to witness the end of British rule in the colony as it returned to Chinese control. In August politics were pushed to the back of the national agenda with news of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The Princess was fatally injured in a car crash in Paris, in which her friend and fellow passenger Dodi Fayed was also killed. Her death provoked an unprecedented outpouring of national grief, and the funeral service, held at Westminster Abbey, was watched by 1 billion people worldwide.
In September the government put to the test its manifesto promise for devolution in Scotland and Wales. In referendums on the issue, Scotland voted overwhelmingly for the proposal of a Scottish parliament (74.3 per cent for and 25.7 per cent against) and for the parliament to have tax-varying powers (63.5 per cent for and 36.5 per cent against). The Welsh voted only by the narrowest of margins for the proposed Welsh assembly (50.3 per cent for and 49.7 per cent against), which was to have fewer powers than the Scottish parliament. Plans for the election of a London mayor and a Greater London assembly were also given the green light following a strong “yes” vote from Londoners in the May 1998 referendum.
In the autumn of 1997, the Labour government, like the Conservatives before them, was harried in the Commons following speculation on government policy on European Monetary Union (EMU). The Chancellor Gordon Brown was forced to make a statement on the issue in October. He stated that the government was committed to taking the United Kingdom into the EMU, but would not enter in the first wave of January 1, 1999, but at a later date after further economic convergence with fellow European countries and after a referendum on the issue.
The honeymoon period of the new administration was fairly short-lived and various criticisms of the government included some of its plans for the reform of the welfare state. The left of the Labour Party was strongly opposed to some of the suggested measures, particularly the plan to cut some of the financial provisions for lone parents, which was eventually withdrawn. The Foreign Secretary Robin Cook also came under fire, in May 1998, over arms shipments to Sierra Leone. The arms were supplied to Sierra Leone’s deposed president by a British-registered company in contravention of a UN arms embargo. Cook denied that he or his officials had approved gun-running.
G1 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement
The Northern Ireland peace process was given fresh impetus when the IRA restored its 1994 ceasefire in July 1997. The way was finally cleared for peace talks in September when the Unionists abandoned their demand for guaranteed IRA disarmament. In October Tony Blair met Gerry Adams, the first encounter between British and Sinn Fein leaders in 76 years. The new Northern Ireland secretary of state Mo Mowlam sought to keep Protestants within the peace talks when she met imprisoned Protestant paramilitaries in early 1998. The peace talks were strained throughout the first half of 1998, and Sinn Fein was temporarily expelled when the IRA was officially held responsible for two murders in Belfast. However, in April 1998 agreement was reached on radical new arrangements for an Ulster assembly, a council of ministers linking Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic, and limited cross-border bodies to facilitate joint decision-making. A British-Irish council linking devolved assemblies in the United Kingdom and the London and Dublin governments was also proposed. It was agreed that all terrorist prisoners linked to the IRA and mainstream loyalist groups would be released within two years. The so-called Good Friday Agreement was endorsed by referendums in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland on May 22. In the north the “Yes” vote was 70 per cent of the poll. Following the August bombing of the town of Omagh in Northern Ireland, a series of tough new anti-terrorism laws were introduced to the United Kingdom.
In November Elizabeth II, in her annual Queen’s Speech at the opening of parliament, announced the government’s intention to introduce a bill to remove the right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords. Tony Blair became the first British prime minister to address the Irish parliament, the Dáil, since Partition in 1922. In December 1998 Cabinet members Peter Mandelson and Geoffrey Robinson resigned over a scandal involving their personal finances.
The first anniversary of the Good Friday Peace Agreement passed, but still the talks were deadlocked over the crucial issue of the decommissioning of paramilitary weapons. In the May 1999 elections to the new Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, the Labour Party emerged as the largest party in each legislature, although without an overall majority in either. In Scotland Labour entered into a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, while in Wales the party opted to form a minority administration. In August Charles Kennedy was declared the new leader of the Liberal Democrats, replacing the outgoing Paddy Ashdown. The three-year worldwide ban on British beef was lifted. In October President Jiang Zemin of China arrived in Britain on a state visit—the first to the United Kingdom by a Chinese leader. Peter Mandelson was reinstated to the Cabinet as the new Northern Ireland Secretary. In November more than 650 hereditary peers in the House of Lords had their seats permanently abolished as part of Labour’s commitment to restructure and reform governing institutions in the UK. Ninety-two hereditary peers, who were chosen by their fellow hereditary peers in a special election, will temporarily remain in the House of Lords (with about 500 life peers) until reform of the upper chamber is complete.
G2 Entering the New Millennium
In May 2000 the MP Ken Livingstone, a Labour Party member until expelled from the party for standing against the official Labour Party candidate Frank Dobson in the London mayoral election, won the election as an independent and took office.
Donald Dewar, the first minister of the Scottish Parliament, died in October 2000; he was succeeded by Labour MSP Henry McLeish. Also in Scotland, Alex Salmond, leader of the SNP for 10 years, retired; his deputy John Swinney was elected in his place.
G3 Northern Ireland Weapons Decommissioning and Prisoner Releases
On December 1, 1999, Northern Ireland’s executive and general Assembly met for the first time, with David Trimble as the first minister. The Assembly was suspended in February 2000 because of the impasse over a formal and precise deadline for decommissioning; direct rule from Westminster was temporarily re-imposed before the Assembly was reconvened in late spring 2000, with the UUP voting to rejoin a provincial power-sharing government with Sinn Fein, after the IRA pledged to begin disarmament. Peter Mandelson’s tenure as Northern Ireland Secretary was shortlived and he resigned from the post in January 2001 over an unrelated row over passports. Blair replaced him with John Reid.
In May 2000 the IRA pledged to put its weapons “completely and verifiably beyond use” in return for the restoration of the Northern Ireland Assembly. The IRA also agreed to permit regular inspections of its weapons stockpiles by an international panel supervising disarmament. In June the inspectors made their first report: former Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari and ex-secretary-general of the African National Congress, Cyril Ramaphosa, stated that they were “satisfied with the cooperation extended to us by the IRA to ensure a credible and verifiable inspection”.
On October 22, 2001, Gerry Adams issued a statement in which he announced that he and Martin McGuinness had called for the IRA to make a “ground-breaking move” on arms and, amid great expectations, the IRA stated that it had indeed begun to decommission arms in order to “save the peace process” and to “persuade others of our genuine intentions”. De Chastelain confirmed that the process had begun and Trimble welcomed it as a positive move, to which he responded by returning to the assembly he had quit in July 2001. The UK government, also welcoming the move, set about dismantling British army watchtowers in the province. In April 2002, the IRA announced a second significant move in the decommissioning of weapons. However, the talks stalled once more and the Assembly was suspended, for the fourth time, in October 2002. Later that same month John Reid was replaced by Paul Murphy as Northern Ireland Secretary.
G4 Illegal Immigrants
The issue of illegal immigration into Britain was heightened in June 2000 with the discovery at Dover port of a lorry in which 58 illegal Chinese immigrants had died. A Dutch lorry driver was convicted in February 2000 of causing their deaths by closing an air vent that allowed them to breathe during the journey. The tragedy was discovered to be part of a much larger racket involving “human trafficking” of individuals from China and elsewhere into the West for large sums of money. The issue of illegal immigration escalated and hundreds of cases came to light of refugees attempting to enter Britain on foot via the Channel Tunnel.
G5 Foot-and-Mouth Disease
Just as the farming community was recovering from the BSE crisis, the agricultural industry was struck in February 2001 with the first case of foot-and-mouth disease to hit Britain since 1967. At the end of September the number of animals slaughtered amounted to nearly 4 million. The government, and the Agriculture Secretary Nick Brown, were criticized variously for inaction in the early days of the crisis, for alarmist statements over the countryside being closed to the population for fear of spreading the disease, for the decision to create “funeral pyres” on which to burn the carcasses of hundreds of thousands of dead animals, and for using the army to create mass graves to bury the remains. See also Agriculture, above.
G6 Labour’s Second Term
Labour won an historic second term in power at the general election of June 7, 2001—an election notable for the extent of voter apathy. The Liberal Democrats profited most, gaining six seats overall. Labour lost three seats on the party’s total of 1997, but the Conservative Party failed to mount an effective challenge and gained a single seat over the result of 1997. In the aftermath of the defeat the party leader William Hague resigned. In Blair’s expected Cabinet reshuffle David Blunkett was promoted to Home Secretary and Jack Straw replaced Robin Cook as Foreign Secretary.
The Conservative Party membership voted in Iain Duncan Smith as their new leader in September. Smith, a relative political unknown, comes from the right wing of the party with a pledge to unify the dissenting factions of the Conservative Party before the next election. In Scotland, the First Minister Henry McLeish resigned in a row about the improper use of his political offices. He was replaced by the former education minister to the parliament, Jack McConnell.
G6a The War Against Terrorism
On September 11, 2001, four US passenger airliners from Boston, Newark, and Washington airports were hijacked by suicide terrorists. Two of the aeroplanes were deliberately flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York, causing them to collapse and burying 3,000 victims. A further aeroplane crashed into the Pentagon outside Washington, D.C., killing nearly 200 more, and the fourth aeroplane crashed near Pittsburgh. British citizens were among the victims of the twin towers’ collapse.
World opinion was almost unanimous in condemning the atrocities and President Bush sought wide support for what he declared to be a war against terrorism. The chief suspect behind the attacks was believed to be Osama bin Laden, the Saudi-born leader of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network, who was in hiding in Afghanistan. As the US prepared for military action against Afghanistan, securing the support of neighbouring Pakistan, Afghanistan’s ruling Taliban regime showed reluctance in compelling bin Laden to leave. Meanwhile, Tony Blair, avowing to stand “shoulder to shoulder” with the US in rooting out world terrorism, began an intensive round of diplomatic negotiations that took him first to North America to visit the site of the disaster in New York and then to a host of Muslim countries to gain their support and backing for action against the terrorists. His itinerary included Pakistan, India, Oman, and Egypt. To help further the allied coalition he also made visits to Russia, Berlin, Paris, and the EU in Brussels.
Beginning on the night of October 7-8, 2001, military air strikes by US and UK forces in the region bombarded the Afghan cities of Kabul, Kandahār, Mazār-e Sharīf, and Jalālābād, pinpointing air defences, airports, and suspected Al-Qaeda bases. Mindful of calls for restraint and conscious of the deteriorating situation for Afghan civilians in a country already suffering famine and drought, the allies also dropped humanitarian aid as part of the mission. Despite this, hundreds of thousands of Afghans headed for the border with Pakistan.
British troops were deployed as part of the peacekeeping forces in Afghanistan in December as the new interim government was installed. Early in April 2002, 1,700 combat troops were sent to the country to help force the final surrender of Al-Qaeda suspects and to join the hunt for Osama bin Laden. In June command of ISAF (the International Security Assistance Force) in Afghanistan was passed to Turkey.
World attention in 2002 turned to Iraq and likewise British foreign policy. Blair was a strong advocate of military action against the Iraqi government to enforce disarmament of a country that was believed to hold stockpiles of chemical and biological weapons, thereby threatening world security. Britain was a strong supporter in getting weapons inspectors readmitted to the country (from where they had been expelled in 1998) and in November the UN Security Council passed such a resolution, threatening “serious consequences” if Iraq did not disarm. Iraq agreed to comply with the resolution, and weapons inspections started that same month. Allied closely with the Bush administration once more and distancing him from fellow European leaders, including Jacques Chirac and Gerhard Schröder, and from many in the Labour Party, Blair argued that if the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq continued developing weapons of mass destruction (including chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons), then they could be used by terrorist groups. The argument failed to prevent the largest parliamentary revolt of his premiership in February 2003 and massive demonstrations around the United Kingdom protesting against the possible war. British forces joined the invasion of Iraq on March 20, despite the failure to secure a UN resolution explicitly sanctioning the action.
II LAND AND RESOURCES
A Great Britain
B Northern Ireland
D Natural Resources
A Population Characteristic
B Principal Cities
G Literature, Art, and Architecture
H The Performing Arts
I Arts Organization
B Agricultural Policy
E Fishing Policy
J Currency and Banking
K Commerce and Trade
O Air Travel
Q The Post Office
S Television and Radio
T The Press
A The Monarchy
B The Executive
C The Legislature
D Political Parties
F Local Government
G Unitary Authorities
H Health and Welfare
J International Organizations
A A Century of Conflicts
A1 Government in the 18th Century
A2 The Era of Robert Walpole
A3 Two Decades of Conflict
A4 Population Growth, Urbanization, and Industrialization
A5 The Early Years of George III
A6 American War of Independence
A7 Pitt, Reform, and Revolution
A8 Napoleonic Wars
B A Century of Peace
B1 Post-War Government (1815-1830)
B2 Reforms of the 1830s
B3 Chartism, the Corn Laws, and the Irish Famine
B4 Mid-Victorian Prosperity
B5 The Gladstone-Disraeli Rivalry
B6 Late Victorian Economic and Social Change
B7 The Late Victorian Empire
B8 The Edwardian Age (1901-1914)
C The Era of World Wars
C1 Great Britain in World War I
C2 Changes Wrought by the War
C3 The Inter-War Era
C4 The United Kingdom and World War II
D The Winds of Change
D1 Clement Attlee’s Ministry (1945-1951)
D2 Conservative Rule (1951-1964)
D3 Britain in the 1960s
E The 1970s
E1 Heath, Inflation, and the Miners
E2 Northern Ireland
E3 Scottish Nationalism
E4 Economic Difficulties Under Labour
F Conservative Rule (1979-1997)
F1 The IRA Ceasefire and Beyond
G Labour Government
G1 Northern Ireland Peace Agreement
G2 Entering the New Millennium
G3 Northern Ireland Weapons Decommissioning and Prisoner Releases
G4 Illegal Immigrants
G5 Foot-and-Mouth Disease
G6a The War Against Terrorism
G6 Labour’s Second Term