Briefing sheets

People & politics

The UK’s Parliament is one of the oldest in the world, having its origins in the mid-thirteenth century. Its principles of free elections, freedom of speech and open and equal treatment before the law continue to be fervently upheld. Parliament consists of three parts: the House of Commons, House of Lords and the Crown. It is responsible for making laws, examining the work of government, controlling finance, protecting the individual, examining European proposals and debating key issues. At the end of the twentieth century, legislation was passed by the UK Parliament to create a devolved parliament or assembly in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. As a member state of the European Union, the UK is bound by the various types of European Community (EC) legislation and wider policies that are based on a series of treaties signed since the 1950s. Almost all UK Government departments are involved in EU-wide activities. The UK has 78 members of the European Parliament and there are elections every 5 years. The UK also has an active civil society with thousands of non-government organisations (NGOs) that represent the multitude of cultural, ethnic, religious, environmental and other interests of individual citizens.

UK Sports

 

Sport is central to life in the UK. Some 36 million people – well over half the British population – take part in a sport or physical recreation at least once a month. UK sportsmen and women hold over 50 world titles in a variety of sports, including professional boxing, rowing, snooker, squash and motorcycle sports. A number of major international sports started in the UK, at least in their modern form, including rugby, football (soccer), cricket, golf, tennis and boxing. They all have a big following, particularly football which is the national game. International events are often held in the UK making use of some of the best equipped stadia and facilities in Europe. Between 25 July and 4 August 2002, Manchester was home to the Commonwealth Games, the biggest sporting event ever held on British soil. Historically, sport was enjoyed and promoted by individuals from all social classes and from the clubs, associations and governing bodies that they founded. Today, the Government plays a key role in promoting and funding sport through the five Sports Councils, including UK Sport and the four councils for England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Since 1998 there has been a ‘Sports Cabinet’ involved in identifying strategic priorities for sport. This is headed by the secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and includes the ministers responsible for sport in all the UK administrations.

Science, technology & the environment

The UK is a powerhouse of knowledge and innovation, and is internationally renowned for its excellence in scientific research and development (R&D;). British scientists have won more Nobel Prizes (over 70) than any other country except the USA. The UK is an R&D; world leader in life sciences, materials and physical sciences, chemicals, electronics and aerospace. One third of the mapping of the human genome was carried out in the UK and thousands of scientists access this data every day. The UK is also home to the world’s brightest pulsed source of neutron and muon particles which allow scientists to explore the structure and dynamics of materials. Protecting global biodiversity, the UK’s Millennium Seed Bank is one of the largest international conservation projects ever undertaken. More than ?16 billion each year is spent on R&D;, a third of this by the Government. The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) is ultimately responsible for science and technology issues, supported by the Office of Science and Innovation (OSI). OSI controls a number of government-financed Research Councils which support a wide range of pure or basic research.