Posted on

The Legislature

This organ is made up of the representatives of the people who are periodically elected by the electorate. The primary responsibility of this organ is to make laws. However, in modern states, legislatures do not all perform identical functions. Everywhere, they pass laws, determine the ways of raising and spending public revenue and discuss ways of raising and spending public revenue and discuss crucial matters affecting the citizens of the state. Almost everywhere they have some parts in the process of amending, modifying and supplementing the constitution.

In some countries, the legislature performs elective functions, as in Switzerland. In some other countries, the legislature controls the Executive arm as in Britain and Canada with parliamentary executive. In Britain also, the upper house, which is the House of Lords, has judicial functions, both original and appellate. In some cases, the legislature shares in executive functions. In Nigeria and the United States of America, for instance, the consent of Senate is necessary for appointment of top officers and for the making of treaties.

Functions of the Legislature

1. Legislature or law making:
The enactment of law is the important function of the legislature. The laws originate as bills either in the legislature or from the executive and become approved when they have been assented by the President or the Governor.

2. Finance:
In matters of finance, it is the legislature that is empowered by the constitution to approve the proposal for raising and spending what comes from the executive.

3. Approval of executive and judicial offices:
The legislature in most countries of the world has to approve the appointment of some executive and judicial officials before such officials can assume office. For instance, the Senate confirmation of ministerial and other strategic posts is very necessary.

4. General supervision of the Executive:
A major function of the legislature is the supervision and control of the Executive, in a parliamentary system, the parliament can question ministers and even pass a vote of no confidence compelling the cabinet to resign. In countries with Presidential system of government, as for example, the USA, legislative control over the executive is through congressional committee hearing on policy proposal (including the budget).

5. Constituent function:
Most legislatures, especially in Federal States, perform constituent functions. They can submit constitutional amendments which in most cases are ratified by popular referendum or plebiscite. They can pass legislations and this have the effect of adding to or modifying the Constitution. Such legislation may cover areas relating to the creation of administrative machinery or prescribing the manner of holding and determining the outcome of election.

6. Judicial function:
In most countries, the legislature exercises judicial power. In the United States as in Nigeria (1979-1983), the House of Representatives initiates impeachment proceedings, while the Senate tries all cases of impeachment. A president could be removed from office if convicted by two-third votes of the House of Representatives.

7. Representatives’ functions:
The legislature has the responsibility of representing the electorate. It provides the link between the government and the governed. It is the means of channelling demands from the people for action by the Government.

Types of Legislature
There are essentially two types of legislature, namely: One chamber or unicameral and two chambers or bicameral legislature.

This relates to government with two legislative chambers. Britain, for instance, maintains a House of Commons and the House of Lord. The Nigeria National Assembly also comprises the Senate and the House of Representatives. The French Parliament also comprises of the National Assembly and the Senate.

Advantages of Bicameralism
Some significant arguments have been advanced by scholars in favour of Bicameralism as shown below.

1. The establishment of two House of legislature acts as a safeguard against the despotism of a single chamber.
2. It makes sure that laws are passed only after careful and thorough debate or consideration by the two chambers, instead of one.
3. It is the best way of providing adequate representation of certain interest of the minority groups in a Country. In Nigeria, all the States do not have equal representation in the House of Representatives. There is however equal representation of States in the Senate.
4. A second chamber makes it possible for people of political and administrative ability to be brought into public life and be made available for the service of the State.
5. It provides adequate representation of the aristocratic element of the community.
6. Bicameralism has been a more popular experiment by States than unicameralism.

Disadvantages of Bicameralism

1. A Bicameralism legislature creates conditions for possible conflict between the upper and lower houses and this does not augur well for the government.
2. A bicameral legislature is more expensive to operate than a unicameral legislature.
3. Decisions may be difficult to arrive at as bills are usually approved by the two chambers acting separately.
4. As in modern democracies, one house could deliberately decide to prevent the passing of popular laws by the other house.
5. It makes the administrative control of the executive by the legislature more serious and complicated.

This implies government with one legislative chamber or house. Countries like Israel, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Bulgaria, etc., possess unicameral legislature.

Advantages of Unicameralism

1. Unicameral legislature is less expensive. The funds which could have been wasted for a second chamber are conserved.
2. Unicameralism can give rise to legislative despotism because of the concentration of too much legislative power in one house.
3. Unicameral legislature is not adequate for most Federal States with vast territories and minority interest to protect.