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United Kingdom

United Kingdom


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, SShetland, 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 IIreland. 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 tto “Britain”, to describe the whole kingdom is common and widely accepted, although strictly it does not include Northern Ireland. However, the use of “England” to mean the “United Kingdom” is not acceptable to members of the other constituent countries, especially the Scots and the Welsh. In this article “United Kingdom” and “Britain/British” are used synonymously; “Great Britain” is used only in reference to England, Wales, and Scotland.

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 wwere united, until the formal establishment of 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 ddependent territories are also a responsibility of the government, normally exercised through governors appointed by the Crown.

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 wwhere otherwise stated, all figures cited include England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland. Relevant material covered elsewhere in Encarta may be summarized or omitted in this article; the topic headings under which such material may be found are indicated. Numerous other articles containing additional and more-detailed information on important aspects of the United Kingdom are cited at appropriate points in the text.


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 mmountains of the Highlands of Scotland to the recent Quaternary deposits of the Fens in eastern England. All of the United Kingdom—except the area of England roughly south of a line drawn between the Thames and Severn estuaries—was covered in ice during the Pleistocene ice age, and glaciation shaped its most spectacular scenery, including the English Lake District, the loughs of Northern Ireland, the Welsh valleys, and most of Scotland, including the lochs. Human activity has also played a key part in creating the landscape, including the southern downlands of England, the Norfolk Broads, the Fens, and the moorlands of northern Scotland.

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 nnorth 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 tthe 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.

C Climate

The climate of the United Kingdom iis 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 11,000 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 aacidic 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 oother 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 pprosperity 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.

D1 Flora

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, llargely 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.

D2 Fauna

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, oonce 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 oor 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 ffocal 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 ffishing 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.

D3 Conservation

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 UUnited 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 iin 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 UUnited 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 llive 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 ccensus 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 cconurbation; 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.

C Religion

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 NNorthern 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 iin 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.

D Language

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 fforms 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.

E Education

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 iin 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 cculture. 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 aall 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 tthe 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 aand 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 tthe 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.

E1 Organization

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 ssenior 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. IIn 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; tthe 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 aapply 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 sschools. 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, hhave 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 iis 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 22001 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 iincome. 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 pper 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.

F Culture

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 ggrowth 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 sstill 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 IIreland, 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, bbut 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 tthe 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. IIn 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 wwith 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 ccome 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 oof 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 oof 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 wwas 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 llate 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 LLondon 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 BBournemouth 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 wworld’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 SShaffer, 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 iinclude 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 mmajor 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, ccomputerized 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 pproblems 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 uunions, 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 ddropped 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.

A Agriculture

About 77 per cent of the land area of BBritain 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, aand 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 tto 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 ttaxpayers 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 11980s. 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 tthe 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.

C Forestry

The approximately 3 million hectares (6 million acres) of woodlands in BBritain 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 11950s, 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.

D Fishing

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; tthe 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 iin 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.

F Mining

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 ddolomite (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.

G Energy

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 ssource 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 iin 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 wwas 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 660 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 rrevenue 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 ttaken 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.

H Manufacturing

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 iindustry, 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 pproductivity. 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 vvehicle 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 iinvolved 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 ooutput 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.

I Tourism

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 ppence, 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 iinterest 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 pproblems 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 eexpansion, 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 mmercantile 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 EEU, 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). BBritain’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 aare operating on an increasing scale. More than half of all wholesale trade takes place in London.

L Labour

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 pper 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.

M Shipping

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 sslipped 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 ssector 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 aare 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 nnavigable 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.

N Railways

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 tthe “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 ccompanies 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 tthe 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 iinternational 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 iinclude 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, aand Spain.

P Roads

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 pper 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 pproof 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.

R Telecommunications

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 wwas 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 ssubsidiary 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 LLondon 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 rradio. 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 rradio 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 ttime 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 iinto 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 PParliament, 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 mmonarch 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 aarmed 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 tto 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 mmajority 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 tthe 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 SSecretaries 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 oon 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 ccounties 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 bbetween 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 mmake 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 oof 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 oof Lords Act 1999 (all excepting 90 chosen by their fellow members). In April 2001 the first new Lords were selected, chosen by committee.

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