Development of the Legislature. In early states the making of law was not an important function of government. Law was viewed as divine in origin, or as existing in long standing customs and traditions, or as deduced by reason from fundamental natural principles. Such new laws as were made were created by rulers or magistrates or by the free citizens meeting occasionally in direct assemblies.
Representative legislatures, as regular and permanent organs of government, are of comparatively recent origin. Considerable difference of opinion has existed concerning the beginnings of the representative system The traditional theory is that it grew out of the primitive Teutonic folkmoots, or assemblies of freemen, in the countries of northern Europe. These were composed of the leading members of the tribe, who acted as an advisory council and decided important questions of general policy.
In England an assembly of this type, the witenagemot, or council of wise men, composed of the most important men in the kingdom, was summoned by the king to meet several times each year. This body developed gradually into the Great Council of the Kingdom, whose consent was necessary to the levying of new taxes and from it, in turn, was finally developed the first representative national legislature.
The British Parliament arose through the broadening of the old council by the introduction of chosen representatives of certain new elements of society, followed by the division of the resulting members into two distinct branches, or houses. When kings were in need of money they reached down to the lesser landowners, who held much of the wealth of the country and who were too numerous to assemble en masse.
Accordingly, these landowners were asked to designate certain of their number to represent them and, to agree to a royal levy upon their possessions. By 1265 all the elements in the nation who were in a position to give aid had been called upon,-the barons, the clergy, the knights of the shire, and the Burgess of the towns.
Gradually the Parliament thus formed became a regular feature of the governmental system. Representation at first was not viewed as a privilege or a source of power, but as an unwelcome duty imposed by the king. The object was not democratic government but the increase of the royal revenue.
At first Parliament assembled as one body, but later it separated into three groups, representing the three classes, or estates, into which society was divided, nobles, clergy, and commons. Gradually, however, a new alignment took place. Having many interests in common and accustomed to work together in the Great Council, the higher nobles and clergy came together in one body, the House of Lords, the lesser clergy ceased to attend and voted their contributions in ecclesiastical assemblies. The lesser barons threw in their lot with the knights and burgesses and formed the House of Commons.
The members of the House of Lords attended response to individual summons and represented the feudal principle of the representation of classes. The members of the House of Commons attend in a representative capacity, and originated the modem principle of representation of localities. The system of two houses arose not from any clear purpose, or because there was my opinion that two houses were desirable, but rather from the force of economic and social circumstances and interests.
On the continent of Europe the development of representative. parliaments came later and proceeded more slowly and irregularly and along somewhat different lines. In Spain, France, and Germany medieval assemblies appeared, composed of members of the classes of feudal society and considerable impetus to the idea of representation was given by the growth of cities and by their demand for representation in the national parliaments.
Usually the delegates from each class were summoned separately and voted in separate chamber. Hence, in contrast to the English system of two houses, there arose three, or sometimes even four, separate houses in the Continental parliaments. Each house was jealous of its own powers and concerned itself only with the interests of its own class. The delegates who were sent were given strict instructions from the group that sent them, and viewed themselves as agents sent to watch over the interests of their class and to deal and bargain with similar agents of the other classes.
The idea that representatives were sent to represent the whole people of a community or to care for the general interests of the nation as a whole did not exist. In some cases, as in France these medieval assemblies after irregular meetings for several centuries, ceased to exist.
Not until the time of the French Revolution was the principle of representation by classes abolished in favor of a system of national representation, and not until the nineteenth century were national representative legislatures in the modem sense generally established in Europe.
The lawmaking power, now the most important function of legislatures, was a matter of slow development. At first the meetings of these bodies were irregular and of short duration, Even in England, until comparatively recent times, Parliament did little more than present petitions and request redress of certain grievances. Control over financial matters, however, gave Parliament a lever which it used to strengthen its position.
The costs of government and war compelled the king to appeal to Parliament for supplies, for which, in return, Parliament demanded new laws, Which were granted by the king in the farm of statutes. Later Parliament itself formulated the statute and presented it to the king for his assent. Finally, the king lost even his power to veto the laws enacted by Parliament.
As a result of this development both the taxing power and the lawmaking power passed into the hands of the national legislature. On the continent of Europe a somewhat similar development took place. However, the legal theory that the king exercised the lawmaking power, with the consent of the people’s representatives, survived in Prussia until the close of the First World War and was a constitutional principle in Japan.
By a gradual process the deliberate creation of law has become a political function, and this power has been transferred from autocratic rulers, supported by groups of nobility and clergy, to representative bodies including all classes.
Structure Of The Legislature:
In modern democratic government, legislatures are concerned with deliberation and discussion, with the balancing of policies and the compromising of conflicting motives. It is therefore essential that they include a number of persons sufficiently large to represent all important sections, interests and classes, yet small enough for effective deliberation, and that they derive their authority ultimately from the mass of the people, on the basis of a wide electorate.
The term of the representatives should be long enough to enable them to acquaint themselves with the problems and procedure of their body and short enough so that they do not lose touch with public opinion. Some political thinkers favor a fixed term others believe that the legislature should be dissolved and a new one selected when a vital issue arises on which it is desirable to consult the wishes of the people.
1. Bicameral system:
Most states have adopted the policy of dividing their national legislature into two houses, forming what is called a bicameral legislature. This was the result, in part, of the historical development of the British Parliament into the House of Lords and the House of Commons, and this compromise between the former authority of the nobility and the growing demand for popular government was found useful in many European states.
In some cases, as in the United States and in the German Empire, the bicameral system was found valuable for purposes of compromise between national and confederate interests in the formation of federal unions. Other states deliberately adopted this form of organization because of certain theoretical advantages which were believed to accompany the existence of two houses.
For a long time it was regarded almost as axiomatic that legislatures should consist of two chambers. Among the arguments used to support this view were the following :
a. Two houses secure deliberation and caution and give better balance and more carefully analyzed and digested legislation. A single chamber is in danger of being rash and one-sided, swayed by emotion or passion, satisfied with incomplete and hasty generalizations.
Between two houses there is likely to be healthy rivalry, causing each to subject the measures of the other to careful scrutiny and resulting in more careful analysis of principles and needs than would be the case if the contest were between a majority and a minority in a single house only. By interposing delay between the introduction and the Final adoption of a measure, the second house compels time for further reflection and deliberation.
b. Two houses make possible a more correct interpretation of general will. A single house, especially if all its members are Elected at one time, is in danger of growing out of sympathy with popular Opinion before its term expires. Two houses,chosen at different times or for different terms, may remedy this defect, and may represent more accurately public opinion on new issues that appear.
c. The bicameral system affords a convenient means of giving representation to special interests or classes in the state. This is particularly true in the federal form of government, where one house may represent the nation as a whole on the basis of population, and the other may represent the units composing the federation as distinct political organizations.
In unitary states one house may be used to give representation to the aristocratic elements of society or to the interests of capital, and the other to represent the democratic elements or the interests of labor. This may be done by making membership in one house hereditary, or appointive, or elective on the basis of higher qualifications or a restricted suffrage. In this way the conservative attitude of one chamber may curb the radicalism of the more popular chamber.
d. The bicameral system protects individual freedom against legislative despotism. If all lawmaking power were concentrated in a single house, the danger of this body’s drawing to itself all political power in the state and of becoming corrupt or tyrannical is increased. The security of liberty is protected by the existence of two houses, each of which may Check any tendency toward despotism on the part of the other.
e. The existence of two houses promotes the independence of the executive. In modern democracies a single house, feeling that it represented popular will, would tend to subject the executive to its control, thus destroying that separation between legislative and administrative departments which many believe desirable. Where two houses of nearly equal strength are found the executive cannot be made responsible to both hence, in checking each other, the two branches of the legislative organ permit to executives a greater degree of freedom of action and of responsibility.
2. Unicameral system:
Toward the close of the eighteenth century and during the early years of the nineteenth, some thinkers favored legislatures of a single chamber. This attitude was the result of the theory of that period that the people were sovereign in the state and that the general will of the people should be expressed in the form of law.
It was held that a single chamber, directly representing the people, should be the depository of the undivided sovereignty of the state, and that the common will could best be expressed by such a body. Benjamin Franklin in America and jeremy Bentham in England supported this doctrine. Several of the American states provided for legislatures of a single house in their first constitutions, and a national congress, of one chamber only, was set up under the Articles of Confederation.
In France, at the time of the Revolution, the unicameral system had able supporters, chief among whom was Turgot and a national assembly of a single house was provided for in the constitutions of 1791 and 1793. By 1800 all the American states except Pennsylvania had adopted the bicameral system, and Pennsylvania soon followed.
The lack of a second chamber was believed to be one of the weaknesses of the government under the Articles of Confederation, and practically all the framers of the American constitution favored the creation of a second chamber. France also soon abandoned the principle of a single house, as did several other European and Latin American states that tried the experiment.
It was generally held, as a result of this early experience, that single chambers were characterized by instability, violence, and passion, and that their actions were unbalanced and impulsive. The theory that a Check was needed to secure greater deliberation and caution was generally accepted, and it was believed that this could be best accomplished by adding a second chamber.
In recent years the idea of a single chamber has been revived and has found favor among many political writers. A number of European and Latin-American states established legislatures of one house. The same system is found in most of the Canadian provinces, in the cantons of Switzerland, and was adopted by members of the German and Austrian federations. Several of the new states created after the First World War provided in their constitutions for national legislatures of a single house.
Some of the American commonwealths have made serious efforts to abolish one of the houses in their two chambered assemblies because of frequent delay and deadlock between the two house. Nebraska adopted the single chamber system in 1934.
The single chamber principle is supported on the grounds that it is simple that it definitely locates responsibility, and that it furnishes a means for a direct, authoritative representation of the electorate. In municipal government the principle of a single council has been widely accepted. It might be added that conventions for creating or revising constitutions are invariably unicameral in structure, and that a single board of directors, exercising general direction and rule-making powers, is the system universally employed in large private corporations.
In many states where two chambers have been retained the tendency has been to reduce the powers of the upper house and to concentrate lawmaking authority in a single chamber. This process has been most marked in England, where the House of Lords can at most only delay legislation desired by the House of Commons.
In the new constitutions of several European states provision was made by which the lower house night override the wishes of the upper house. This change was due in part to the growth of democratic sentiment, which opposed the power of aristocratic upper houses, and in part to the growth of the cabinet form of government, which tends to concentrate authority in the chamber to which the administrative heads are re5ponsible.
To some extent, however, it represents the abandonment, as a result of experience, of the old theory that two chambers with relatively equal legislative powers are desirable.
Many modern writers point out that the bicameral system represented a transitional stage in political development, when contests were being carried on between the aristocratic and democratic ideals of government and between local and national spirit in the formation of federal unions.
Under such conditions it provided a means of compromise by which both the contending parties might be represented. They argue that in modern democratic national states the legislature should consist of a single house, asserting with Bentham that if the second chamber agrees with the first it is superfluous, and that if it disagrees it is obnoxious.
Even in federal states the Upper house has not prevented a tendency toward national centralization. on the contrary, by emphasizing an artificial equality among the members of the union where no real equality exists, it has over represented the minority and has prevented necessary and widely desired changes from being made. Experience has shown that second chambers seldom provide an effective check on hasty and ill-considered legislation, but that they frequently result in deadlocks, in logrolling practices between the two houses, and in lack of real responsibility on the part of either house.
One house frequently passes an undesirable bill in the expectation that the other house will kill it. The added expense of the bicameral system also has been criticized. Those who favor the unicameral system believe that a single, popularly elected chamber, composed of a comparatively small number of members, will best secure deliberation and real responsibility.
Theories of Representation:
In the development of the representative system important questions have arisen concerning the basis on which representation should rest and concerning the proper relation of the representative to those who select him.
1. Basis of representation:
When the system of representation arose in the medieval period, it was accepted Without question that representation should be based on the social classes of states into which the people were divided. The clergy, the nobility, and the commoners in country and in town sent their delegates to represent the interests of their respective classes.
With the growth of democracy and the gradual abolition of class distinctions, the doctrines of human equality and popular sovereignty appeared, and the theory of representation according to population gained ascendancy. By various reform movements the inequalities in the old system were removed, and states were divided into territorial districts from which members Were sent in proportion to the number of inhabitants.
According to this principle each representative should represent approximately the same number of people as every Other representative, and the most convenient means of accomplishing this purpose was to create territorial areas as nearly equal in population as possible.
It was assumed that the interests of the people within these districts were essentially alike, and that the majority within each district should select the representatives for the appropriate fractional part of the population. On this basis most present-day states have organized their representative systems.
In recent years the system of representation based upon population groups in geographical areas has been attacked by many writers as artificial and out of harmony with present conditions. They argue that people living in the same area do not necessarily have interests in common and that modern society is composed of classes based on function or occupation.
They believe that these groups, which have real interests in common, should be organized regardless of territorial lines and should select representatives to look out for their interests. The legislature would thus become a mirror of the varied interests of society, representing the classes, professions, occupations, and other groupings into which the population is naturally divided, rather than artificial political and geographical units.
Some, who favor the bicameral system, would have one house represent the people numerically and the other represent the occupational groups To some extent the principle of vocational representation has been applied in the new governments of European states. It underlies the Soviet system in Russia and the syndicates used by the Fascist government of Italy.
A number of states made provision for advisory economic councils, representing various business interests, and had conferred upon them the power to collaborate with the legislature in the formulation of measures relating to economic and social problems.
The theory that representation should be based on functional groups within the state is criticized as unsound in principle and unworkable in practice. Opponents of the plan argue that it is inconsistent with the principle of national sovereignty, which is best maintained by choosing representatives who have at heart the general interests of the people as a whole rather than the special interests of particular classes.
They believe that the representation of numerous economic groups would emphasize class differences and conflicts, and would lead to anarchy and confusion. The system of group representation, they believe, would narrow the vision of the representatives and diminish the efficiency of the legislative body. It would divide the legislative assembly into numerous unstable groups, which would form shifting coalitions and make frequent bargains among themselves but would be incapable of prompt and vigorous action.
The overlapping of group lines and interests and the difficulty of apportioning members fairly among the various groups present practical difficulties to the operation of the plan. Most political thinkers believe that the present system of apportioning members according to population and of selecting them from territorial areas on the basis of party alignment is, in spite of serious defects, preferable to the attempt to represent Separately the varied and numerous interests in the modern state.
2. Relation of representative to voters.
Wide difference of opinion :has existed concerning the relation of a representative to those who select him. According to one point of view the representative is merely the agent of the voters of the constituency or district from which he is sent, and his chief duty is to look out for their welfare and secure appropriations or other favors that will further their particular and local interests.
From another point of view the representative acts for the people of the state as a whole and is expected to consult with other representatives having the same outlook and to use his individual judgment for the purpose of promoting the general welfare and the national interests of the entire country.
From a third point of view the representative is considered primarily an agent of the party that elects him and is expected to align his vote with other members of his party, regardless of his personal attitude or of the wishes of his constituents, when important questions are before the legislature.
When the system of representation was that developing, the representation was generally viewed as the agent of the class or group that selected him, subject to instructions and to recall if he failed to carry out their wishes. This principle survived to smite extent in the upper houses at monarchies, whose members represented the privileged classes in the state, and in the upper houses of federal states, whose members represented the political units in the federal system with the growth at democratic and national sentiment, the theory that the representative should act in the interests of the nation as a whole received wide acceptance.
The former doctrine that the representative should act under definite instructions was replaced by the principle that he should use his own judgment on questions of public interest. This principle has been written into the constitutions of many European states, and is supported today by the great majority of political thinkers. In theory, at least, modern representatives are expected to act independently of local or party control and to decide issues on the basis of national welfare.
They are expected to be men of superior knowledge and experience in statecraft, whose opinions will be trusted by the people who choose them. In practice, however, representatives are always influenced by widespread popular opinion, by the necessity of pleasing the voters who select them if they wish to be continued in office, and by the necessity of aligning themselves with the party to which they belong on important questions if they wish to play any important part in the legislative body.
Occasionally a representative who acts independently, regardless of public clamor, or local pressure, or party affiliation, may retain the confidence of the voters and may exert a powerful influence on legislation but such a position is usually difficult to maintain.
The upper houses of modern states exhibit considerable diversity in structure and usually contain important survivals of historical development. In the qualifications of their members and in the methods by which those members are chosen they often show traces of the class control that preceded modem democracy and in the basis of their representation, especially in federations, they indicate the historic units by whose combination the state was formed.
As distinguished from the lower houses, whose members are usually elected directly and are Representative me of the population according to numbers, the members of upper houses are usually selected indirectly and in many cases represent special classes or interests or local governmental organizations.
1. Methods of selecting members:
The following are the most important methods by which members of upper houses have been and are selected, a number of states combining two or more of these methods of choice.
a. Heredity, as in the British House of Lords and the Japanese House of Peers.
b. Appointment by the executive, as in the Italian senate, the Japanese House of Peers, and the senates of Canada and the south African Union. In some cases appointment was for life in others, for a fixed term.
c. Ex officio, that is, by virtue of holding some other office. Such are the higher clergy in the British House of Lords and certain members in the senate of Rumania.
d. Direct election, as in the Senate of the United States and in the senates of the American commonwealths and of Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Czechoslovakia, and most of the Latin American states. To avoid making the upper house a duplication of the lower, when direct election is used, several devices are used. A different territorial basis of representation may be utilized, different qualifications may be required of candidates, and election may be for a different term.
e. Indirect election, as in France, Denmark, the Netherlands, Prussia, and other countries. In most of these states the members of the upper house were selected by the members of local legislatures and councils, who in turn were elected by popular suffrage. The Belgian senate includes certain members chosen by the senate itself. In Italy it was proposed to have the senate composed of members selected by various industrial and labor organizations.
Considerable difference of opinion exists concerning the merits and defects of these methods of selection The hereditary principle, once in wide use, has now almost disappeared method of appointment affords a means by which men of distinguished ability and experience, who for some reason would Not be chosen by popular election, may be added to the body, If appointment is for life or for a long term of years, members may be free from the influence of party politics, and may acquire useful experience.
On the other hand, if appointment is used as a reward for party services or for campaign contributions, Corruption m government is encouraged. Besides, a body which is composed of members not responsible to the voters is in danger of growing out of touch with public Opinion and of losing the confidence of the people. Direct election, while in harmony with modern ideas of democracy, tends to make the Upper house a duplication of the lower, with frequent contests and deadlocks between the two houses. It may also lower the caliber of membership, since many able men will not seek election under the conditions that prevail in present-day politics.
Indirect election by local legislatures and councils has the disadvantage of placing upon those bodies duties that distract them from their real functions and of increasing the influence of national issues and national party organization in local elections. It was largely for these reasons that direct election of senators was demanded in the United States and that a similar proposal has been urged in France.
Theory of upper house:
Most political thinkers who favor the bicameral system believe that the upper chamber should rest on a different basis from the lower, but there is no general consensus as to the proper composition of the upper chamber. In general it is-held that the upper chamber should be smaller in size, that its members should enjoy longer tenure and should possess higher qualifications, and that they should be chosen by a somewhat differently constituted electorate, possibly with the addition of appointed or ex officio members.
If the justification of a second chamber rests on the desirability of securing deliberation and a reconsideration of measures, the question may be raised as to whether its power should not be restricted to these functions, that is, whether the initiation of all measures should not take place in the lower house and the authority of the upper house be limited to considering these measures and returning them to the lower house with recommended changes, the final decision resting with the latter body.
In contrast to the diversity in method of choice and in basis of representation that is found in upper legislative chambers, modern states are in substantial harmony concerning the composition of their lower chambers. These bodies, coming into power as a result of the democratic development of the past century, contain few historical survival5 and show practical agreement on the following points:
1. Methods of choosing representatives.
In modern states representatives are elected on the basis of a suffrage nearly universal. Subject to certain qualifications, previously considered, modern states extend the right of choosing representatives and of eligibility to membership in the lower chamber to a large proportion of their citizens. Direct election on the basis of an equal and secret suffrage is the general practice.
2. Term of representatives.
The term of office is relatively short, so that the voters may keep in touch with their representatives, may express approval or disapproval of their actions, and may express their attitude to new issues as they arise. While the maximum term of office is always fixed, the actual tenure may be indefinite in states having the cabinet form of government, in which the legislature may be dissolved by a defeated cabinet and a new election demanded.
Short terms, however, have the serious disadvantages of the expense and disturbing influences of frequent elections, of interfering with the legislative duties of representatives because of the effort needed to secure reelection, and of a constant shifting in the membership of the legislative body, a large part of which will be made up of new and inexperienced members.
Qualifications of representatives:
Many states require a slightly higher age qualification for representatives than for voters, believing that a certain maturity and experience are desirable for the successful discharge of legislative duties Members of the clergy are debarred from service in the legislative Bodies in some countries because of the fear of church influence Some states, such as the United States, forbid members of the legislature to hold other public office in others, such as Great Britain, the heads of the departments of administration are not only members but the actual leaders of the legislative body
In some states property qualifications for representatives are still retained. This requirement, formerly common. disappeared in most states with the growth of the democratic movement, Where it survives it is supported by the argument that ownership of property is an evidence of intelligence, business ability, and thrift, and consequently of legislative fitness.
It is also supported on the ground that men of property are likely to have more time for devotion to the public service than those who must earn their livelihood. This argument is especially applicable in countries where members of the legislature arc Unpaid or are paid only nominal salaries. In such states the possession of property is an implied qualification, even if not a legal requirement.
The growth of Socialist and Labor parties, demanding representation in the national legislatures for their members, few of whom could serve without pay, has led to the adoption of the principle that members should receive pay from the public treasury.
Basis of representation.
Representatives are usually apportioned according to the principle that each member shall represent approximately the same number of persons as every Other member. To this principle there have been some objections, and in practice a few states make certain exceptions.
In some cases representatives are apportioned on the basis of the number of citizens, the alien population not being counted in others, representation is based upon the number of voters, or upon the number of votes cast in the preceding election rather than upon the total population.
The theory that representatives should be apportioned equally according to population is also modified to some extent by the practice of giving at least one representative to certain local subdivisions of the state regardless of their population. In France and in the American commonwealths this results in considerable inequality of representation, and discriminates in favor of the rural areas as against the large cities. In order that representation according to
Population may be maintained, it is necessary that a census of the Population be taken at reasonably frequent intervals and that a reapportionment of representatives be made on the basis of the new census. If this is not done, the sections of the country that grow more rapidly, especially the cities will be decidedly under represented. This was the case in the German Reichstag before the formation of the republic after the First World War, and in the United States, where no redistribution of the members of the House of Representatives was made between 1910 and 1930.
Territorial areas of representation.
For the purpose of selecting representatives, all states divide their territory into districts from which the members of the legislature are selected. This is done partly for convenience, partly to insure a close relationship between the representative and the voters, and partly to give greater representation to minority groups or parties than would be secured if the entire legislature were chosen from the country at large on a general ticket.
Sometimes the state is divided into as many districts as there are representatives to be chosen, and one representative is elected from each district. Sometimes the state is divided into a smaller number of districts, each selecting several representatives on a general ticket. Both systems have been tried by modern states, but the single-member district is generally favored.
It has been criticized, however, on the grounds that it narrows the range of choice and results in the selection of inferior men from some districts, that it leads representatives to think in terms of local interests rather than of the welfare of the country as a whole, and that it increases the opportunity for the majority to “gerrymander”, that is, so to divide the state as to get more than their Proportionate number of members, or to create districts of unequal population.
The recent growth of the system of proportional representation has given an impetus to the creation of districts from which several representatives are selected. The theory that representation should be based on occupational groups2 attacks the fundamental basis of the territorial district system.
Residence in district. The residence of the representative in the district from which he is elected is required by law or by custom in many states. This principle is supported on the grounds that it enables the voters to have better knowledge of the representatives that they choose and that it makes more likely an interest on the part of the representative in the need and conditions of his district.
In Great Britain and in most of the countries of continental Europe, nonresidents are frequently elected. This practice is upheld by the argument that it enables districts in which no outstanding man resides to select able men from Outside their area. It is also believed that men thus chosen are more likely to take broad national views on public questions and to be free from the influence of local politics.
If a representative can secure a seat in the legislature only if elected by the voters of the district in which he resides, fluctuations of local opinion may cause his defeat and may deprive the country of the services of an able statesman or of a party leader.
7. Majority and plurality elections.
In states such as the United States and Great Britain, where the two-party system normally prevails, a plurality is sufficient for the election of representatives. Whichever candidate receives the largest number of votes is elected, the first election being decisive except in the rare cases when a tie results. In the states of continental Europe, where there are many parties, a majority vote is usually required and if no candidate receives a majority in the first election, a second election is held between the two candidates receiving the highest votes on the first ballot.
Organization and Procedure of Legislatures.
Legislative bodies usually determine their own internal organization and procedure, though in some cases this is partially provided for in the constitution. For example, presiding officers are usually elected by the houses but according to the constitution of the United States the vice president presides over the Senate, and in the British House of Lords the Lord Chancellor, a member of the ministry and sometimes a commoner, presides.
The size of modern legislative bodies and the volume of business with Whit they must deal necessitate some division of labor. This is secured by means of a system of committees, which reject a large part of proposed legislation and shape the remainder for final consideration by the legislative body as a whole. In the united States, where the committee system has been most highly developed, the houses choose their own committees.
In states having the cabinet form of government the real committee is the cabinet, which shapes all legislation of importance, leaving only minor and private bills to other committees.
Legislative bodies usually assemble annually, but they vary in the methods used to determine the length of the session, to bring the session to an end, and to call special sessions. All legislative bodies find it necessary to draw up certain rules of procedure. The purpose of these rules is to prevent undue haste or ill considered action and at the same time to prevent too great delay or confusion.
To accomplish these ends, while making it possible for the majority to secure its will, methods of procedure are necessary whose intricacy of detail and formality often seem cumbrous and needlessly complicated. Among the most important rules are those concerned with the quorum, or number of members whose presence is necessary to legalize legislative action, the order of business, the counting of votes,and the procedure in debate. Most legislatures allow means by which a vote may be taken on the question of closing discussion and deciding the matter at issue.
In some states, especially those having the presidential form of government, a certain influence over legislation is given to the executive This usually takes the form of an executive veto, which may compel the legislature to reconsider a bill or to pass it by an increased majority.
Functions of Legislatures:
The functions of legislatures, with due allowance for differences in detail and in scope of authority, may be classified as follows :
1. They formulate the statute law of the land, removing obsolete provisions and adapting legislation to the changing conditions of modern life.
2. In many states they possess the power wholly or in part to amend the constitution of the state, thus sharing in the creation of constitutional law.
3. They control the finances of the state, determining the methods of raising money, the amount to be raised, and the purpose of its expenditure.
4. They are gradually extending their control over the international relations of the state and, by means of their power over the ministry or over finances or over treaties, act as a check on this the most important surviving field of executive authority,
5. they exercise many powers not purely legislative in deciding contested elections, trying their own members, or impeaching other official, they exercise judicial powers. In some states one of the legislative chambers acts as a supreme court of appeals. In appointing or sharing in the appointment of officials, regulating minor executive offices, creating commissions, and passing private legislation, they enter largely into administration, and act as a board of directors for the great governmental corporation.
Systems of Formulating Legislation.
In the formulation of legislative policy three main systems have been used:
1. The will of a powerful ruler, expressed directly or through his ministers, may be practically forced on the legislature, whose province in important legislation may be limited to acceptance or feeble protest. This was the situation when legislative assemblies were first arising it existed until recently in Germany and Austria and in the futile attempts at a representative legislature in Russia under the Czar. It existed for a long time in Japan and was revived in modern dictatorships.
2. The will of the legislature may be supreme, and little or no power of resistance be left to the executive. This is the case in Great Britain, France, arid other states that have the cabinet form of government. In this system the heads of administration are also leading members of the majority party in the legislature, and harmonious action is assured. The policy of the state is actually determined by the more popular branch of the legislative assembly.
3. A balancing of authority between the houses and between the legislature and the executive may exist. In this case political parties, through caucuses guided by the leading members of each house and by members of the administration, determine legislative policy. If the executive and both houses are in harmony, consistent and active legislation is easy to secure if not legislation either is prevented or is secured only after a series of compromises. This is the case in the United States.
At the present time the former confidence in legislative bodies is somewhat declining. on the one hand, commissions of experts are being created to deal with problems requiring more specific knowledge than a large body of elected representatives is likely to possess on the other, the electorate, through initiative, referendum, and special conventions for the creation of constitutions, is extending its authority over the field of legislation. Side by side with these processes goes an extension of the sphere into which legislation is entering the complex life of modern society demanding wider collective activity and more detailed regulation.