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
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:
- Assembly (from to assemble)
- Congress (from to congregate)
- Diet (from old German 'people')
- Duma (from Russian dúma 'thought')
- Estates or States (from old French 'condition' or 'status')
- Parliament (from French parler 'to speak')
Though the specific roles 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.
Among the earliest recognised legislatures was the Athenian Ecclesia.
In the Middle Ages
, European monarchs would host assemblies of the nobility, which would later develop into predecessors of modern legislatures.
These were often named The Estates
. The oldest surviving legislature is the Icelandic Althing
, founded in 930 CE.
Democratic legislatures have six major functions: representation, deliberation, legislation, authorizing expenditure, making governments, and oversight.
There exist five ways that representation can be achieved in a legislature:
- Formalistically: how the rules of the legislature ensure representation of constituents;
- Symbolically: how the constituents perceive their representatives;
- Descriptively: how well the composition of the legislature matches the demographics of the wider society;
- Substantively: how well representatives actually respond to the needs of their constituents;
- Collectively: how well the representatives represent the interests of the society as a whole.
One of the major functions of a legislature is to discuss and debate issues of major importance to society.
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.
Contrastingly, in committee-based legislatures like the United States Congress
, the deliberation takes place in closed committees.
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.
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.
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.
The power of the legislature over the government is stronger.
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 (cap) by:
- Providing legitimacy;
- Incorporating opponents into the system;
- Providing some representation of outside interests;
- Offering a way to recruit new members to the ruling clique;
- Being a channel through which limited grievances and concessions can be passed.
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
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.
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
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 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.
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.
- ^ a b c d e f g Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. pp. 128–130. ISBN 978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC 961119208.
- ^ Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. pp. 130–131. ISBN 978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC 961119208.
- ^ a b Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. pp. 131–132. ISBN 978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC 961119208.
- ^ Hague, Rod, author. (14 October 2017). Political science : a comparative introduction. ISBN 978-1-137-60123-0. OCLC 961119208.
- ^ Fish, M. Steven; Kroenig, Matthew (2009). The handbook of national legislatures: a global survey. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-51466-8.
- ^ "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.
- ^ 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.
- ^ a b "IPU PARLINE database: "General information" module". IPU Parline Database. International Parliamentary Union. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
- ^ "Vatican City State". Vatican City State. Retrieved 30 April 2019.
- ^ 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.
- ^ Frederick, Brian (December 2009). "Not Quite a Full House: The Case for Enlarging the House of Representatives". Bridgewater Review. Retrieved 2016-05-15.
- Bauman, Richard W.; Kahana, Tsvi, eds. (2006). The least-examined branch: the role of legislatures in the constitutional state. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-85954-7.
- Carey, John M. (2006). "Legislative organization". The Oxford handbook of political institutions. Oxford University Press. pp. 431–454. ISBN 978-0-19-927569-4.
- Garner, James Wilford (1905). "Legislature" . In Gilman, D. C.; Peck, H. T.; Colby, F. M. (eds.). New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.
- Martin, Shane; Saalfeld, Thomas; Strøm, Kaare W., eds. (2014). The Oxford handbook of legislative studies. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-191-01907-4.
- Olson, David M. (2015). Democratic legislative institutions: a comparative view. Routledge. ISBN 978-1-317-47314-5.
Last edited on 21 April 2021, at 16:14
Content is available under CC BY-SA 3.0
unless otherwise noted.