The major function of the legislature as one of the organs of government is law making. It is also the centre of discussions about policies, programmes and ideas and the place where important decisions are made.
The legislature is often referred to as the parliament, National Assembly and in some countries it may be called the Congress as in the U.S.A and in other countries, the Chamber of Deputies. Countries with one legislative body are said to have unicameral legislature, whereas, those with two legislative bodies have bicameral legislature. For example in U.S.A. and NIGERIA there are two Houses; House of Senate and House of Representatives. In Britain, the two Houses are called Houses of Lords and Commons.
Functions of the Legislature
- Law- making: The primary function of the legislature is law-making and it is done through legislative process.
- Financial control: It controls the raising and spending of money and approves it as proposed by the executive.
- Powers of investigation: It conducts investigations into government departments to ascertain how funds appropriated by them are spent.
- Power of approval: It has the power to approve, adjust or reject the appointments of senior public officers, e.gministers, and ambassadors.
- Control of activities: It controls the activities of the other branches of government through legislative committees.
- Power of questioning: It also receives petitions, questioning the rulers and receiving or rejecting the answers and accounts of the ruling executive.
- Amending the constitution: It plays a major part in the process of amending the constitution.
- Power of impeachment: It has power to impeach the Head of state if he commits a very serious offence.
- Centre of discussion: Issues, policies, programmes etc of the state are discussed here in the legislative floor.
- Approval for the declaration of war: The legislature approves the declaration of war and a state of emergency proposed by the executive.
- Ratification of treaties: The legislature ratifies treaties and external agreements entered into by the Executive arm of government.
- Serve as a Link: It serves as a link between the people and government.
- Judicial Functions: For example, the House of Lords in Britain, performs judicial functions. Note: The house of Lords in Britain is the Upper house of law making.
- Electoral College: It serves as an electoral college i.e. a body of elected representatives who in turn elect people into political office in indirect election.
- Delegated Legislation: It checks and controls delegated legislation. This because departments or organisation exercising such powers can easily abuse it.
- Approval: It approves the creation of new states and local government areas in Nigeria.
TYPES OF LEGISLATURE
There are two types of legislature and these are:
- Bi-cameral legislature.
- Uni-cameral legislature.
(a) Bi-cameral Legislature
Bi-cameralism is defined as a process or act of carrying out legislative functions by the two chambers in a country. There are the lower chamber and the upper chamber. Britain and the United States of America provide classical examples of bicameral legislature. In Britain, there are Houses of Lords and Commons and in the U.S.A.and NIGERIA there are Houses of Senate and Representatives.
Normally, the lower chamber is made up of members directly elected on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage, e.g. House of Representatives. Members of the upper chamber or house belong to a particular age group and are more experienced in public affairs than members of the lower house. In Britain, the upper house (Lords) is a hereditary body. In some countries, for example, Canada, the upper chamber is a nominated body. In U.S.A ., the upper chamber (Senate) is an elected body.
Arguments in favour (or merits) of Bi-cameral Legislature
- Law – making: Bi-cameralism gives room for thoroughness in the process of law making because the two houses do have opportunity to debate and examine bills before becoming laws, i.e ., it prevents hasty legislation.
- Checks and balances: The existence of two chambers provides checks and balances on the legislative process.
- Mature and experienced persons: This is allowed in second chamber and it makes them to participate in the process of law making.
- Equitable distribution of seats: This helps to guarantee equality of seats and protects minority interests.
- Despotism of a single chamber: A bicameral legislature is a safe – guard against the despotism of a single chamber.
- Defends individual freedom: The bicameral legislature defends individual freedom against the tyranny of a legislature that is made up of a single interest.
- Representation of interest groups: The second chamber allows for the special representation of interest groups, such as socio-economic, traditional and aristocratic.
- Division of labour: The second chamber allows for a division of labour through the assignment of certain minor matters to a particular chamber.
- Equitable legislation: There is ample room for fruitful discussion giving rise to equitable legislation.
- Excesses of the executive: Bi-cameral legislature can check the excesses of the executive especially in the areas of violating the provisions of the constitution.
- Proper scrutiny: The delay in law making creates the opportunity for people to scrutinize properly the bill before it becomes a law.
- More democratic: Most modern states embrace bi-cameral legislature because it is more democratic.
Arguments against (or Demerits) Bi-cameralism
- Too expensive to run: Since the two houses are paid, it makes it expensive to run. The second chamber is a mere duplication, and subordinate in status to the first chamber.
- Delaying the passage of bills: Lawmaking and other activities of the legislature could be disturbed because of the delay in the passage of bills.
- Time of emergencies: The delay in the passage of bills is not suitable in time of emergencies where actions are quickly taken.
- Rivalry: Rivalry may exist between the houses and this can affect the passage of bills and other relevant issues that can help the state.
- Waste of resources: Duplication of functions could result to waste of resources both human and financial.
- Dumping ground: A bi-cameral legislature provides a veritable ‘dumping ground’ for those who were rejected at the polls by the electorate, especially, in a country where they are nominated.
(b) Uni-cameral Legislature
Uni-cameralism is the existence of one legislative chamber in a country. Legislative functions are performed by only one chamber, with members directly elected by the electorate. Bulgaria, Israel are examples of uni-cameral legislatures.
Arguments in favour (or merits) of Uni-cameralism
- It quickens the legislative process: This is made possible because bills are not submitted to a second chamber.
- Less expensive to run: Expenses incurred in running the government are reduced. The salaries or allowances which would have been paid to the members of the second chamber can be used for other profitable ventures.
- Dumping ground: In some cases, a unicameral legislature does not provide a dumping ground for political deadwoods.
- Ideal for small countries: A uni-cameral legislature is ideal for small countries with homogeneous social and economic organisations.
- Allocation of responsibility: The structure of a unicameral legislature is simple and it allocates responsibility easily.
Arguments against (or demerits) Uni-cameralism
- Unsatisfactory bills: This could be passed into law by a unicameral legislature.
- Absence of renowned and experienced statesmen: Uni-cameral legislature denies the country of the services of these statesmen.
- Enthronement of tyranny: It could lead to the establishment of tyranny and an abuse of power.
- No provision for adequate representation: Different interest groups are not adequately represented in the legislature.
- It is unpopular: The system is not popular because of its limitations. For example, absence of checks and balances which has the capacity of removing abuse of power.
- Dictatorial head of state: It may produce a dictatorial head of state whose powers it cannot check.
- Executive control: The executive can easily control and possibly buy members of the House over.
The Concept of Parliamentary Supremacy
Supremacy of Parliament: It can be described as the exclusive right of parliament to make and unmake laws without external control.
Limitations to Parliamentary Supremacy
Constitutional limitation: The role of the parliament is defined in a constitution, referendum and amendment procedure.
Judicial review: The Supreme court has the power to review acts of the legislature and declare them unconstitutional or null and void if they run counter to the provisions of the constitution.
International constraints: Most of the international treaties entered into or signed by the government of a country can limit parliamentary supremacy.
Laws or Rules: These are laws or rules and regulations made by international organizations of which a country is a member ., e.g. U.N.O, A.U, ECOWAS, and OPEC.
Activities of interest groups: Some of the activities of political parties and pressure groups from within and outside the country can restrict parliamentary supremacy.
The resources of the State: The limitation comes in here if the country is dependent on other countries militarily, economically, technologically etc.
Public opinion/Mass Media: Public opinion and the influence of mass media can bring about limitation to the supremacy of parliament.
Complexities of Modern Government: The complex nature of modern government had made it imperative for power and functions to be delegated to subordinate bodies.
Executive Limitation: For example, dissolution of parliament in the cabinet system/veto power in the presidential system.
House rules/standing Orders of the House: Can bring about limitation to parliamentary supremacy.
Pressure Groups: The activities of pressure groups in any political system can limit parliamentary supremacy.
The Mace: The mace in the House as a sign of authority limits the activities of the legislature.
Quorum: The smallest number of lawmakers who must be at a session before decisions can be made, places limitation on the legislature.
Time or Period Limitation: Time or Period also places limitation to parliamentary supremacy.
Party Discipline: Adherence to party rules, discipline and ethics by members of different political parties in the House is a limitation to parliamentary supremacy.
A bill is not a law until it is signed into law by the executive. It is a proposal of action discussed in the parliament and later signed to become a law by the President.
Types of bills
- Public bill: This one has to do with the issues confronting the country. It is usually a bill proposed by the executive arm of government.
- Private members bill: This is a bill introduced by a parliamentarian or lawmaker.
- Money bill: This bill informs on how government involves itself in raising and spending of money (Budget). This bill is introduced by the executive arm of government.
The Procedure on how a bill could become a law in the parliament
- First reading: This is the first stage of the bill. The bill is presented and it is required that its title be read by the clerk in the House. At this point, no opposition is registered and the bill is printed into leaflets for members to study.
- Second reading: The bill is now presented, after the member or a minister introducing the bill moves that the bill be read the second time. At this stage, discussions are made concerning the principles of the bill. The bill is debated and at the end a vote is taken on whether the bill should be read and sent to a committee. If the majority are in favour, the bill will move to the next stage.
- The committee stage: At this stage, if the principles of the bill are approved by the House at the second reading, it is referred to one or other of the committees for detailed discussion, amendment and report.
- The report stage: The committee’s report, stating the suggestions of the committee to improve the bill, is presented and any member may move for amendments.
- Third reading: Only verbal amendments may be made here. At this stage, the bill is passed or rejected. A thorough examination is done on the bill in order to improve on the actual drafting of the bill.
- The Upper House: If the bill is passed, it is sent to the Upper House where it passes through similar stages. (It first started with the lower House). Any further amendment suggested by the upper House will require both Houses (Lower and Upper Houses) jointly setting up a committee to iron things out.
- Assent: The bill is then presented for presidential assent, after which it becomes a law.
Procedure for constitutional amendment
- Legislative amendment procedure: This has to do with those in which the legislature may make constitutional amendments, but subject to certain restrictions, not in line with the passing of ordinary laws. This is always with written constitutions and about two third of the two Houses of parliament must approve it.
- Referendum and initiative amendment procedure: This is the people’s consent based on the majority for constitutional amendment. For example, in Switzerland, about 50, 000 voters through referendum and initiative are required for the passing of such amendments.
- Federal amendment procedure: The amendment is with the component units of the federation and is essentially the consent of a majority of the voters. About three quarter of the units or states making up the federation must be obtained before the amendment scales through as in the U.S.A, Nigeria etc. This is done to protect the smaller units from being dominated by the larger ones.
- Judicial interpretation procedure: Amendment of the constitution could be done through judicial interpretations affecting only a part of the constitution.
- Customary amendment procedure: This is mostly with unwritten constitutions and it can affect a particular custom, tradition or beliefs etc which must have been seen as no more relevant or useful with the times.