The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is a sovereign state in northern Europe which includes England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. It is governed under a constitutional monarchy and a democratic parliamentary system made up of two houses; an elected House of Commons and an appointed House of Lords. It has a population of more than 62 million and has the world's seventh-largest economy by nominal GDP. It is predominantly a Christian country, although successive waves of migration have contributed to the growth of other faiths. It is a member of the European Union as well as the Commonwealth of Nations, the Council of Europe, G7, G8, G20, NATO, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and the World Trade Organization.
British Foreign Office pays HK$125,000 to restuff a snake
Britain's foreign ministry has come under fire after it emerged that it paid £10,000 (HK$125,800) to restuff a giant anaconda named Albert.
The six-metre snake, which has been in the possession of the Foreign Office for at least 120 years, is believed to have been presented to colonial officials in what is now Guyana in the 19th century.
Foreign Secretary William Hague revealed at the Conservative party conference last month that Albert, who has spent most of the last century hanging above the ministry library, was being restored. "He is looking very optimistic about the future of our foreign policy," Hague jokingly said.
But a request under freedom of information legislation by the Guido Fawkes political blog revealed on Thursday that the taxidermy job cost the ministry £10,000 at a time when the government is introducing steep spending cuts.
A ministry spokesman said that as Albert was a gift, he was regarded as a government asset.
"As such, the Foreign Office is obliged to maintain its assets, and the work on Albert was essential maintenance," he said. "It is believed that Albert was first restuffed in the 1960s or 1970s, but there are no records of how much it cost on that occasion.
"Certainly no significant maintenance has been carried out on him in the last 40 to 50 years."
He added: "The cost of the conservation and restoration work on Albert was £10,000.
"The work was undertaken by the conservation team at the Natural History Museum, over a five-week period, from May 21 to June 26."
The process had involved specialist X-rays on Albert, the spokesman said.
The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government has introduced a broad range of spending cuts and tax rises since it came to power in May 2010, in a bid to slash Britain's huge deficit.