Life in the United Kingdom, A Journey to Citizenship

Chapter 4- Part IV

 

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DEVOLVED ADMINISTRATION

In 1997, the Government began a programme of devolving power from central government, with the intention of giving people in Wales and Scotland greater control over matters that directly affect them. Since 1999 there has been an Assembly in Wales, and a Parliament in Scotland, and the Government is now proposing the idea of regional governments in England when there is a clear local demand.
However, policy and laws governing defence, foreign affairs, taxation, and social security remain under the control of the UK Government in London, although these issues may be debated in the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.

The National Assembly for Wales
The National Assembly for Wales is situated in Cardiff. It has 60 Assembly Members (AMs) and elections are held every four years. Members can speak in either English or Welsh and all its publications are in both languages. The Assembly does not have the power to make separate laws for Wales but it may propose laws for the decision of the UK Parliament in Westminster.
However, it does have the power to decide on many other important matters, such as education policy; the environment, health services, transport and local government, where the present laws allow Welsh ministers a great deal of discretion in making detailed regulations.

The Parliament of Scotland
The Parliament of Scotland in Edinburgh arose as the result of a long campaign by people in Scotland for more independence and democratic control. For a long time there had been a devolved administration run by the Scottish Office, but no national elected body. A referendum for a Scottish Parliament, in 1979, did not gain enough support, but when another was held in 1997, the electorate gave a clear "yes' both to establishing a Scottish Parliament and to it having limited powers to vary national income tax.
Today there are 129 Members of the Scottish Parliament (MSPs) in Edinburgh, who are elected by a form of proportional representation. Unlike the Welsh Assembly, the Scottish Parliament may pass legislation on anything not specifically reserved to Westminster (foreign affairs, defence, general economic policy, and social security).
The Scottish Parliament is funded by a grant from the UK Government and can spend it how it chooses. It has the legal power to make small changes in the lower base rate of income tax, which it has not exercised so far, and has adopted its own procedures for debate, the passage of legislation and access to the public
- all deliberately different from the traditional ways of Westminster.

The Northern Ireland Assembly
The Northern Ireland Parliament, often called Stormont after the building where it met, was established in 1922, following the division of Ireland after civil war. Protestant political parties however, dominated the Parliament, and abolished the electoral system of proportional representation that was designed to protect the Catholic minority - a community who faced considerable discrimination in housing and jobs in the public services.
The Government in London paid little attention to these problems until, 50 years later, protests, riots, and a civil disobedience campaign led them to abolish Stormont when reforms failed to materialise. Conflicts increased between Protestant and Catholic groups, the former determined to remain part of the United Kingdom; while the latter determined to achieve unity with the Irish Republic.

There followed many years of communal distrust, violence, and terrorism. But after a negotiated cease-fire by both the main para-military groups - the IRA (the Irish Republican Army), and the UDA (the Ulster Defence Association) - the Good Friday Agreement was signed in 1998 between the main parties and endorsed by the Irish and British governments, working closely together.
Shortly afterwards, the Northern Ireland Assembly was established, with a power- sharing agreement in which the main parties divided the ministerial offices between them. The Assembly has 108 elected members, with powers to decide on matters such as education, agriculture, environment, health, and social services in Northern Ireland.

In view of the political situation in Northern Ireland, the UK government kept the power to suspend the Assembly if the political leaders could no longer agree to work together or if the Assembly was not working in the interests of the people of Northern Ireland. This has happened on a number of occasions.

Non-departmental public bodies
Much of government that affect us all is conducted not directly, but through a multitude of agencies with various degrees of independence. These are organisations that Parliament can create or abolish, or change their powers and roles, but are not a direct part of the civil service. They are sometimes called quangos - quasi-autonomous non-governmental organisations.

A few examples of non-departmental public bodies
Trading bodies set up by central government that raise revenue : Her Majesty's Stationery Office (official and semi-official publications), Forestry Commission, National Savings Bank, Crown Estates Commission...

Spending agencies funded by government : Regional Health Authorities, Higher Education Funding Councils, Sports Council, Arts Council, Legal Services Commission, Medical Research Council....

Quasi-judicial and prosecuting bodies : Monopolies and Mergers Commission, Criminal Injuries Compensation Authority, Police Complaints Authority, Crown Prosecution Service....

Statutory Advisory Bodies to Ministers : Gaming Board, Health and Safety Commission, Law Commission, Commission for Racial Equality, Equal Opportunities
Commission, Advisory Board on Naturalisation and Integration

Development agencies (many of which are public-private partnerships): Scottish Enterprise, Highlands and Islands Development Board (Scotland), Welsh
Development Agency, Rural Development Commission, several regional Urban Development Corporations....

 

 

 

 

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