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Great Britain

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Great Britain

officially United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, constitutional monarchy (1994 pop. 58,135,000), 94,226 sq mi (244,044 sq km), on the British Isles, off W Europe. It comprises England, Wales, and Scotland on the island of Great Britain, and Northern Ireland on the island of Ireland. The capital is LONDON. Great Britain is one of the world's leading industrial nations. It lacks most of the raw materials needed for industry, however, and must also import about 40% of its food supplies. Thus, its prosperity is heavily dependent on the export of manufactured goods in exchange for raw materials and foodstuffs, and it has long been an extremely active trading nation. Manufacturing and service industries employ more than one third of the total work force. Major industries include mechanical and electrical engineering, food processing, iron and steel, paper and printing, motor vehicles, chemicals, textiles, and aircraft. Production of oil from NORTH SEA wells began in 1975, and by 1979 the country was self-sufficient in petroleum. Coal is also mined in large quantities. Almost 30% of the land is arable, and almost half is suitable for meadows and pastures. Chief commodities are dairy products and beef cattle and other livestock, including many sheep, which are raised for meat and wool. The coal, gas, electricity, railroad, shipbuilding, nuclear energy, and aerospace industries, which were mainly publicly owned until the late 1970s, have undergone increasing PRIVATIZATION. Great Britain is the fourth most populous nation in Europe; the greatest population concentration is in England. English is the universal language, but Welsh is widely spoken in Wales and some Gaelic in Scotland. The Church of England is the established church in England; the Presbyterian Church is legally established in Scotland. There are also large numbers of Roman Catholics and Methodists and smaller minorities of Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Sikhs, and Buddhists. Immigration has made Great Britain a multiracial society; Indian, Pakistani, West Indian, African, Chinese, and other minorities total 2.7 million. The hereditary monarch plays a largely ceremonial role in the government. Sovereignty rests in PARLIAMENT, which consists of an elected House of Commons and a nonelected House of Lords. Effective power resides in the Commons, where the leading party usually provides the executive-the cabinet, headed by the prime minister. For physical geography, see ENGLAND; IRELAND, NORTHERN; SCOTLAND; WALES; for the early history of Scotland (to 1707) and Wales (to 1536), prior to incorporation in Great Britain, see separate articles.


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