Legislature

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A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. Legislatures form important parts of most governments; in the separation of powers model, they are often contrasted with the executive and judicial branches of government.

Contents

Laws enacted by legislatures are usually known as primary legislation. In addition, legislatures may observe and steer governing actions, with authority to amend the budget involved.

The members of a legislature are called legislators. In a democracy, legislators are most commonly popularly elected, although indirect election and appointment by the executive are also used, particularly for bicameral legislatures featuring an upper chamber.

Terminology

Map showing the terminology for each country's national legislature Legislation Terminology Map.png
Map showing the terminology for each country's national legislature

The name used to refer to a legislative body varies by country.

Common names include:

Though the specific rules for each legislature differ by location, they all aim to serve the same purpose of appointing officials to represent their citizens to determine appropriate legislation for the country.

History

Among the earliest recognised legislatures was the Athenian Ecclesia. [1] In the Middle Ages, European monarchs would host assemblies of the nobility, which would later develop into predecessors of modern legislatures. [1] These were often named The Estates. The oldest surviving legislature is the Icelandic Althing, founded in 930 CE.

Functions

Democratic legislatures have six major functions: representation, deliberation, legislation, authorizing expenditure, making governments, and oversight. [1]

Representation

There exist five ways that representation can be achieved in a legislature: [1]

Deliberation

One of the major functions of a legislature is to discuss and debate issues of major importance to society. [1] This can take place in two forms. In debating legislatures, like Parliament of the United Kingdom, there is lively debate on the floor of the legislature. [1] Contrastingly, in committee-based legislatures like the United States Congress, the deliberation takes place in closed committees. [1]

Legislation

While legislatures have nominally the sole power to create laws, the substantive extent of this power depends on details of the political system. In Westminster-style legislatures the executive (composed of the cabinet) can essentially pass any laws it wants, as it usually has a majority of legislators behind it, kept in check by the party whip, while committee-based legislatures in continental Europe and those in presidential systems of the Americas have more independence in drafting and amending bills. [2]

Authorizing expenditure

The origins of the power of the purse which legislatures typically have in passing or denying government budgets goes back to the European assemblies of nobility which the monarchs would have to consult before raising taxes. [3] For this power to be actually effective, the legislature should be able to amend the budget, have an effective committee system, enough time for consideration, as well as access to relevant background information. [3]

Making governments

The power of the legislature over the government is stronger

Oversight

There are several ways in which the legislature can hold the government accountable, including questioning, interpellations, and votes of confidence.

Function in authoritarian regimes

In contrast to democratic systems, legislatures under authoritarianism are used to ensure the stability of the power structure by co-opting potential competing interests within the elites, which they achieve by: [4]

Internal organization

Each chamber of the legislature consists of a number of legislators who use some form of parliamentary procedure to debate political issues and vote on proposed legislation. There must be a certain number of legislators present to carry out these activities; this is called a quorum.

Some of the responsibilities of a legislature, such as giving first consideration to newly proposed legislation, are usually delegated to committees made up of a few of the members of the chamber(s).

The members of a legislature usually represent different political parties; the members from each party generally meet as a caucus to organize their internal affairs.

Relation to other branches of government

Legislatures vary widely in the amount of political power they wield, compared to other political players such as judiciaries, militaries, and executives. In 2009, political scientists M. Steven Fish and Matthew Kroenig constructed a Parliamentary Powers Index in an attempt to quantify the different degrees of power among national legislatures. The German Bundestag, the Italian Parliament, and the Mongolian State Great Khural tied for most powerful, while Myanmar's House of Representatives and Somalia's Transitional Federal Assembly (since replaced by the Federal Parliament of Somalia) tied for least powerful. [5]

Some political systems follow the principle of legislative supremacy, which holds that the legislature is the supreme branch of government and cannot be bound by other institutions, such as the judicial branch or a written constitution. Such a system renders the legislature more powerful.

In parliamentary and semi-presidential systems of government, the executive is responsible to the legislature, which may remove it with a vote of no confidence. On the other hand, according to the separation of powers doctrine, the legislature in a presidential system is considered an independent and coequal branch of government along with both the judiciary and the executive. [6] Nevertheless, many presidential systems provide for the impeachment of the executive for criminal or unconstitutional behaviour.

Legislatures will sometimes delegate their legislative power to administrative or executive agencies. [7]

Members

Legislatures are made up of individual members, known as legislators, who vote on proposed laws. A legislature usually contains a fixed number of legislators; because legislatures usually meet in a specific room filled with seats for the legislators, this is often described as the number of "seats" it contains. For example, a legislature that has 100 "seats" has 100 members. By extension, an electoral district that elects a single legislator can also be described as a "seat", as, for, example, in the phrases "safe seat" and "marginal seat".

After election, the members may be protected by parliamentary immunity or parliamentary privilege, either for all actions the duration of their entire term, or for just those related to their legislative duties.

Chambers

The Congress of the Republic of Peru, the country's national legislature, meets in the Legislative Palace in 2010 Vista panoramica del Hemiciclo de sesiones del Congreso del Peru.jpg
The Congress of the Republic of Peru, the country's national legislature, meets in the Legislative Palace in 2010

A legislature may debate and vote upon bills as a single unit, or it may be composed of multiple separate assemblies, called by various names including legislative chambers, debate chambers, and houses, which debate and vote separately and have distinct powers. A legislature which operates as a single unit is unicameral, one divided into two chambers is bicameral, and one divided into three chambers is tricameral.

The British House of Commons, its lower house House of Commons Chamber 1.png
The British House of Commons, its lower house

In bicameral legislatures, one chamber is usually considered the upper house, while the other is considered the lower house. The two types are not rigidly different, but members of upper houses tend to be indirectly elected or appointed rather than directly elected, tend to be allocated by administrative divisions rather than by population, and tend to have longer terms than members of the lower house. In some systems, particularly parliamentary systems, the upper house has less power and tends to have a more advisory role, but in others, particularly federal presidential systems, the upper house has equal or even greater power.

The German Bundestag, its theoretical lower house Deutscher Bundestag Plenarsaal Seitenansicht.jpg
The German Bundestag, its theoretical lower house

In federations, the upper house typically represents the federation's component states. This is also the case with the supranational legislature of the European Union. The upper house may either contain the delegates of state governments as in the European Union and in Germany and, before 1913, in the United States  or be elected according to a formula that grants equal representation to states with smaller populations, as is the case in Australia and the United States since 1913.

The Australian Senate, its upper house Senate panorama.jpg
The Australian Senate, its upper house

Tricameral legislatures are rare; the Massachusetts Governor's Council still exists, but the most recent national example existed in the waning years of White-minority rule in South Africa. Tetracameral legislatures no longer exist, but they were previously used in Scandinavia.

Size

Legislatures vary widely in their size. Among national legislatures, China's National People's Congress is the largest with 2,980 members, [8] while Vatican City's Pontifical Commission is the smallest with 7. [9] Neither legislature is democratically elected: The Pontifical Commission members are appointed by the Pope and the National People's Congress is indirectly elected within the context of a one-party state. [8] [10]

Legislature size is a trade off between efficiency and representation; the smaller the legislature, the more efficiently it can operate, but the larger the legislature, the better it can represent the political diversity of its constituents. Comparative analysis of national legislatures has found that size of a country's lower house tends to be proportional to the cube root of its population; that is, the size of the lower house tends to increase along with population, but much more slowly. [11]

See also

Related Research Articles

The separation of powers is a representation for the governance of a state. Under this model, a state's government is divided into branches, each with separate, independent powers and responsibilities so that powers of one branch are not in conflict with those of the other branches. The typical division is into three branches: a legislature, an executive, and a judiciary, which is the trias politica model. It can be contrasted with the fusion of powers in parliamentary and semi-presidential systems, where the executive and legislative branches overlap.

Westminster system Democratic parliamentary system of government

The Westminster system or Westminster model is a parliamentary system—a series of procedures for operating a legislature—that was developed in England, which is now a constituent country within the United Kingdom. This term comes from the Palace of Westminster, the seat of the British Parliament. It is used, or was once used, in the national and subnational legislatures of most former colonies of the British Empire upon gaining self-government, beginning with the first of the Canadian provinces in 1848 and the six Australian colonies between 1855 and 1890. It is the form of government bequeathed to New Zealand, and former British Hong Kong. However, some former colonies have since adopted either the presidential system or a hybrid system as their form of government.

Senate type of legislative body, often the upper house or chamber of a bicameral legislature

A senate is a deliberative assembly, often the upper house or chamber of a bicameral legislature. The name comes from the ancient Roman Senate, so-called as an assembly of the senior and therefore the wiser and more experienced members of the society or ruling class. Thus, the literal meaning of the word "senate" is Assembly of Elders.

A state legislature in the United States is the legislative body of any of the 50 U.S. states. The formal name varies from state to state. In 27 states, the legislature is simply called the Legislature, or the State Legislature, while in 19 states the legislature is called the General Assembly. In Massachusetts and New Hampshire, the legislature is called the General Court, while North Dakota and Oregon designate the legislature the Legislative Assembly.

Parliamentary system Form of government

A parliamentary system or parliamentary democracy is a system of democratic governance of a state where the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislature, typically a parliament, and is also held accountable to that parliament. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is usually a person distinct from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system, where the head of state often is also the head of government and, most importantly, the executive does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.

A bicameral legislature has legislators in two separate assemblies, chambers, or houses. Bicameralism is distinguished from unicameralism, in which all members deliberate and vote as a single group, and from some legislatures that have three or more separate assemblies, chambers, or houses. As of 2015, about 40% of world's national legislatures are bicameral, and about 60% are unicameral.

Presidential system Form of government

A presidential system is a democratic and republican government in which a head of government leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch. This head of government is in most cases also the head of state, which is called president.

A whip is an official of a political party whose task is to ensure party discipline in a legislature. This means ensuring that members of the party vote according to the party platform, rather than according to their own individual ideology or the will of their constituents. Whips are the party's "enforcers". They try to ensure that their fellow political party legislators attend voting sessions and vote according to their party's official policy. MPs who vote against party policy may "lose the whip", effectively expelling them from the party.

New Zealand Parliament Legislative body of New Zealand

The New Zealand Parliament is the legislature (parliament) of New Zealand, consisting of the Queen of New Zealand (Queen-in-Parliament) and the New Zealand House of Representatives. The Queen is usually represented by her governor-general. Before 1951, there was an upper chamber, the New Zealand Legislative Council. The New Zealand Parliament was established in 1854 and is one of the oldest continuously functioning legislatures in the world. It has met in Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, since 1865.

Speaker (politics) presiding officer of a deliberative assembly, especially a legislative body

The speaker of a deliberative assembly, especially a legislative body, is its presiding officer, or the chair. The title was first used in 1377 in England.

President of Kenya Head of state and head of government of Kenya

The president of the Republic of Kenya is the head of state and head of government of Kenya. The president leads the executive branch of the Government of Kenya and is the commander-in-chief of the Kenya Defence Forces. The official residence of the president is at State House, Nairobi.

National Assembly of Quebec legislative body of the province of Quebec in Canada

The National Assembly of Quebec is the legislative body of the province of Quebec in Canada. Legislators are called MNAs. The Queen in Right of Quebec, represented by the Lieutenant Governor of Quebec and the National Assembly compose the Legislature of Quebec, which operates in a fashion similar to those of other Westminster-style parliamentary systems.

Massachusetts General Court Legislature of Massachusetts

The Massachusetts General Court is the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. The name "General Court" is a hold-over from the earliest days of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, when the colonial assembly, in addition to making laws, sat as a judicial court of appeals. Before the adoption of the state constitution in 1780, it was called the Great and General Court, but the official title was shortened by John Adams, author of the state constitution. It is a bicameral body. The upper house is the Massachusetts Senate which is composed of 40 members. The lower body, the Massachusetts House of Representatives, has 160 members. It meets in the Massachusetts State House on Beacon Hill in Boston.

An upper house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house. The house formally designated as the upper house is usually smaller and often has more restricted power than the lower house. A legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.

Lower house Chamber of a bicameral legislature

A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.

A state government is the government of a country subdivision in a federal form of government, which shares political power with the federal or national government. A state government may have some level of political autonomy, or be subject to the direct control of the federal government. This relationship may be defined by a constitution.

National Assembly (Niger) legislative body of Niger

The unicameral National Assembly is Niger's sole legislative body. The National Assembly may propose laws and is required to approve all legislation.

Fusion of powers is a feature of some parliamentary forms of government, especially those following the Westminster system, where the executive and legislative branches of government are intermingled. It is contrasted with the European separation of powers found in presidential and semi-presidential forms of government where the legislative and executive powers are in origin separated by popular vote. Fusion of powers exists in many, if not a majority of, parliamentary democracies, and does so by design. However, in all modern democratic polities the judicial branch of government is independent of the legislative and executive branches.

Constitution of Somalia

The Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia is the supreme law of Somalia. It provides the legal foundation for the existence of the Federal Republic and source of legal authority. It sets out the rights and duties of its citizens, and defines the structure of government. The Provisional Constitution was adopted on August 1, 2012 by a National Constitutional Assembly in Mogadishu, Banaadir.

Semi-parliamentary system

Semi-parliamentary system can refer to either a prime-ministerial system, in which voters simultaneously vote for both members of legislature and the prime minister, or to a system of government in which the legislature is split into two parts that are both directly elected – one that has the power to remove the members of the executive by a vote of no confidence and another that does not. The former was first proposed by Maurice Duverger, who used it to refer to Israel from 1996-2001.

References

  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. pp. 128–130. ISBN   978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC   961119208.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. pp. 130–131. ISBN   978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC   961119208.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. 1 2 Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. pp. 131–132. ISBN   978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC   961119208.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  4. Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. ISBN   978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC   961119208.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  5. Fish, M. Steven; Kroenig, Matthew (2009). The handbook of national legislatures: a global survey. Cambridge University Press. ISBN   978-0-521-51466-8.
  6. "Governing Systems and Executive-Legislative Relations (Presidential, Parliamentary and Hybrid Systems)". United Nations Development Programme. Archived from the original on 2008-10-17. Retrieved 2008-10-16.
  7. Schoenbrod, David (2008). "Delegation". In Hamowy, Ronald (ed.). The Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE; Cato Institute. pp. 117–18. doi:10.4135/9781412965811.n74. ISBN   978-1-4129-6580-4. LCCN   2008009151. OCLC   750831024.
  8. 1 2 "IPU PARLINE database: "General information" module". IPU Parline Database. International Parliamentary Union. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  9. "Vatican City State". Vatican City State. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  10. Pope John Paul II (26 November 2000). "Fundamental Law of Vatican City State" (PDF). Vatican City State. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 February 2008. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
  11. Frederick, Brian (December 2009). "Not Quite a Full House: The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives". Bridgewater Review. Retrieved 2016-05-15.

Further reading