The History of England

from Celts through 20th century

Witan — Great Council — Parliament

Category: Politics

Although the Queen is deprived of actual power, she has retained many important, though formal, functions. These include summoning, proroguing and dissolving Parliament; giving royal assent to Bills passed by both Houses of Parliament; appointing every important office holder, including government ministers, judges, officers in the armed forces, governors, diplomats and bishops and some other senior clergy of the Church of England; conferring peerages, knighthoods and other honours. She appoints the Prime Minister (usually the leader of the political party which commands a majority in the House of Commons) to form a government. foreign states and governments, to conclude treaties, etc. She gives audiences to her ministers and other officials at home As head of State the Queen has, in international affairs, the power to declare war and make peace, to recognize and overseas, receives accounts of Cabinet decisions, reads dispatches and signs innumerable State papers; she is informed and consulted on every aspect of national life.

The royal family is the principal aristocratic house in the country closely connected with other members of the hereditary aristocracy and with big finance interests. It is one of the biggest landowners in Britain. The royal family also serves as a custodian of British standards and values, intervening when the propriety of British life seems threatened. One of the main tasks of those defending the monarchy is to preserve and strengthen conservatism, to obscure classconsciousness of the masses.

Today the monarchy is also one of the great tourist attractions. Over threequarters of all expenditure arising from maintaining the royal family come from taxpayers. Today the Civil List covers the expenses of the Crown which according to 1982 figures exceed 4 million pounds (including allowances to members of the royal family) — a huge sum for the British taxpayers.

As has been noted, the monarch embodies the unity of the Commonwealth. It was in the course of the decline of the British Empire that the ruling circles in the country began to attach more and more importance to the Commonwealth of Nations as a suitable institution to promote British neocolonialist policies. It was not until after 1931 that the British Empire became known as the British Commonwealth of Nations and later simply the Commonwealth.

The Commonwealth is an association of 49 independent states with a combined population of over 1,000 million. Commonwealth members are a representative cross-section of mankind in all stages of political and economic development. Along with Britain and such developed countries as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, it includes large developing countries as India and Nigeria, and tiny islandic states as Nauru (population — a mere 8,000) lost in the ocean expanses. The interrelations between the Commonwealth countries are very complicated and contradictory. The Commonwealth does not formulate central policies on, say, economic or foreign affairs. Nevertheless there is considerable consultation and cooperation between the member states.

Consultation takes place through diplomatic representatives known as High Commissioners, meetings of heads of Government, specialized conferences of other ministers and officials, expert groups, and discussions at international conferences and the United Nations. Trade and cultural exhibitions and conferences of professional and unofficial medical, cultural, educational and economic organizations are other ways in which frequent contacts are made.

Heads of Government usually meet every two years. Proceedings are usually in private with an informal exchange of views. On international affairs no formal decisions are taken and no attempt is made to formulate specifically Commonwealth policies, although, on occasion, common views on matters of major international concern are formulated and reflected in the communique issued at the end of the meetings.

For example, the 24th Conference of the Heads of State and Government of the Commonwealth countries was held in India, in New Delhi in December 1983. The Commonwealth conference stressed the ever increasing role of the newlyemergent states in international affairs today. First and foremost, it emphasized the constructive role of India as a leading non-aligned country. Most participants of the conference sharply condemned the deployment of American missiles in Western Europe, they rejected the concept of a ‘limited’ nuclear war as preached by the United States, US occupation of Grenada. The forum called for holding an international conference on the question of proclaiming the Indian Ocean a peace zone.

The Commonwealth Secretariat provides the central organization for consultation and cooperation among member states. Established in London in 1965, headed by a Secretary-General appointed by the heads of Government, and financed by member Governments, the Secretariat is responsible to Commonwealth Governments collectively. The Secretariat promotes consultation, disseminates information on matters of common concern, and organizes meetings and conferences.

Of the remaining British dependent territories most are scattered groups of islands situated in different parts of the world. They are as follows: Anguilla, Bermuda, British Antarctic Territory, British Indian Ocean Territory, British Virgin Islands, Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands (disputed territory claimed by Argentina and called the Malvinas) and Dependencies, Gibraltar (claimed also by Spain), Hong Kong (to be handed over to China in 1997), Montserrat, Pitcairn Island, St Helena.

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