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(Adapted from a discussion paper for a seminar series on governance).

Parliament

The Legislature

Legis means ‘law’ and the Legislature is the branch of government that makes laws. Parliament is the usual term for this. In theory it is superior to the Executive, since the Executive must act according to the law. However Executive means ‘doing’ so, since this refers to those running the day to day business of government, they are generally considered the most important.

Initially, almost everywhere and certainly in countries which developed the Parliamentary traditions that have influenced us, the Executive was a king. Since the king ruled because of birth, he was not considered responsible to his people. However a king had to be responsible for his people. If he failed in this, change was desirable. This led to rules being required to ensure the king acted on behalf of the people, instead of waiting till the situation got so bad as to necessitate change, Even if the king made the rules, these had to be in the interests of the people.

So the idea emerged that his advisers were responsible not just to the king but also to the people. Instead of the king appointing advisers as he wanted, they had to come from the people too. This applied however to advisers as to the rules, not advisers as to action, which is the distinction between Members of Parliament (those who establish the rules, on behalf of the people) and Ministers (those who help the head of the Executive in his actions).

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Rajiva Wijesinha

May 2010
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