The Legislature: Meaning, Type And Importance

Table Of Contents
1. Meaning Of Legislature
2. The Importance Of The Legislature
3. The Law Making Process Of The Legislature
4. How A Bill Becomes A Law
5. Types Of Legislature
6. Restraints/Limitations On The Legislature
The Legislature:
This is the organ of government that is made up of the elected representatives of the people. The main duty of the legislature is to make laws. The legislature of the Federation of Nigeria during the second and fourth Republic is known as the National Assembly. It is made up of two parts:
These were:
1. The Senate and
2. The House Of Representatives
Normally, a proposed law originated from the House of Representatives to the Senate and then to the President before it became a law.
The Importance Of The Legislature
The legislature of any state performs some vital functions and these are:
1. To make the laws of the state.
2. To amend the Constitution.
3. To control the executive e.g. through vote of no confidence/impeachment and approval of policies.
4. To control the raising and spending of money by the executive e.g. approval of budget.
5. To provide a forum for airing political grievances and other matters of public interest.
6. To ratify International Treaties or agreements.
7. To provide arena for training Public men and women.
8. To act as a final Court of Appeal e.g. The British house of Lords.
9. Supervision and control of government agencies or corporations e.g. through annual report, question time and summoning the minister of the supervising ministry to the committee of the legislature.
10. Removal of Judges.
11. Replacement of head of state.
12. Serves as a medium through which the electorate participate in the government of the country through their representatives.
The Law Making Process Of The Legislature
Laws made by the legislature are presented to the House of Representatives in form bills. There are many types of bills such as:
1. Public Bill: This is a law that affects the interest of the general public such as that dealing with public health or education.
2. Appropriation Bill: This has to do with the spending of public funds.
3. Private Bills: These are bills applying to a particular class of persons or area.
4. Private Member’s Bills: These could be public bills but a member of parliament who is not a member of the executive usually initiates them in a parliamentary system of government.
How A Bill Becomes A Law
Usually bills pass through seven processes in the House of Representatives. These processes are:
1. Drafting And Scrutiny: Drawing the bill in a legal manner and examining it to ensure that the principles of the proposed law are maintained.
2. 1st Reading: During the First Reading, the title of the bill is read by the clerk of the House who later on circulates copies of the bill to honourable members.
3. 2nd Reading: At this stage, the whole bill is read through and members debate and vote on the main principle of the bill. No amendment is allowed at this stage: A bill that is defeated at this stage never again sees the light of the day.
4. Committee Stage: If the main principle of the bill is accepted, the bill passes to the committee stage. At this stage the bill is considered thorougly clause-by-clause and amendments are allowed. There are many committee in modern legislature such as: Committee of the whole House, Public Finance Committee, and Appropriation Bill Committee etc. Many public bills go to the committee of the whole House. A committee of the whole House is formed when the House resolves itself to a committee. This is observed when the Mace, which is the symbol of the authority of the House, is removed from the top of the table in front of the speaker of the House and placed carefully under the table. At this stage members can speak more than once on a bill.
5. Reporting Stage: Bills move from the Committee Stage to the Reporting Stage. At this stage further amendments to a bill could be allowed. But generally bills from the committee of the whole house are easily approved at the Reporting Stage.
6. 3rd Reading: When a bill passes from the Reporting Stage to the Third Reading no further amendment is allowed.
7. Assent: The bill is sent to the Head of State for his signature.
In a country with bicameral legislature (i.e. two legislatures; Lower and Upper Houses) the bill undergoes the same processes in the second chamber before proceeding to the president for his signature. But in a country with unicameral legislature (i.e. one Chamber) the bill goes straight to the president. In parliamentary or Cabinet system of government, the signature for approval of the president to a bill is usually taken for granted. This is to say that the president is bound to give his assent to all bills already approved by the both House of the legislature. This was the system operated in the first Republic. However, the situation is different in a presidential system of government. In this system, the president is not bound to give his assent to all bills passed by the legislature, this is to say that he can veto bills passed by the legislature. This system existed during the 2nd and 4th republic in Nigeria.
Type Of Legislature
Bicameral And Unicameral Legislature:
Bicameral legislature exists in a country operating two chambers, i.e. lower and upper houses as in Britain where we have houses of common and Lords. In Nigeria, like United States of America we have House of Senate and House of Representatives.
On the other hand, a country operating a unicameral legislature has only one chamber. A good example is Ghana under Nkuruma.
Importance Of A Second Chamber
The question is, what is the importance or advantage of having a second chamber instead of having only one chamber? The advantages are as follows:
1. A second chamber widens the scope of representation.
2. A second chamber helps to prevent hasty legislation by the first chamber.
3. A second chamber brings in checks and balances in legislative process. This is because the first chamber can check the second chamber while the second chamber can check the first chamber.
4. The second chamber helps the first chamber in initiating new bills and also helps to make bills to be carefully and thoroughly considered.
5. In Britain, the second chamber performs judicial functions. The House of Lords acts as the Privy Council, which is the final court of appeal.
6. In Nigeria and U.S.A the Senate which is the second chamber performs additional function, such as approving the appointment of Ministers and other presidential nominees.
The demerits of having a second chamber are as follows:
1. It delays the passing of bills quickly.
2. It can bring about conflict. This means conflict can arise between the the chambers.
3. Issues of national importance requiring urgent attention by the legislature could be delayed.
4. It could become a dumping ground for political rejects.
Functions Of A Member Of Parliament
A member of legislature performs the following functions:
1. He represents his constituency in the legislature.
2. He can initiate bills or motions.
3. He can serve in any of the committees in the legislature.
4. He takes part in legislative process.
5. He brings to the attention of the legislature matters affecting his constituency.
6. He supports his party in parliament and votes in accordance with his party’s wish.
7. He visits his constituency, regularly and educates them on government activities.
Restraints/Limitations On The Legislature
The legislature has already been described as being made of the elected representatives of the people. The legislature is restrained by the following:
1. The Constitution- The legislature has to do its work in accordance with the constitution.
2. The executive can control the legislature in a presidential system of government or ask for the dissolution of the legislature in a parliamentary system.
3. The judiciary can also control the legislature by declaring laws passed by the legislature.