Since the time of Aristotle it has been accepted that the functions of the government can be grouped into three categories; to make laws, to execute them and to adjudicate them. The three organs corresponding to these three functions are the legislature, the executive and the judiciary. The legislature unquestionably occupies the most important place as it formulates and expresses the will of the state. Although the emergence of the welfare state, to a large extent, has minimized the importance of the legislature, the legislature continues to be a significant organ of any form of government.
The functions of legislatures are not the same in every country. The form of government in each state determine their function. The nature and extent of role a legislature plays under a monarchy or aristocracy is different from that of a legislature in a democracy.
The legislature plays very significant role in a Parliamentary System of government under such a system the legislature is superior to the executive. The executive remains responsible and answerable to the legislature for all its actions. Continuing in power on the part of the executive depends on the satisfaction and support of the legislature.
Although the organisation, nature and functions of the legislatures differ from country to country, their main functions are more or less the same. They may be classified as legislative, regulatory, financial, deliberative, judicial, constituent and electoral functions.
1. Legislative functions
Law making is the foremost function of a legislature as it is the direct source of legislation. Law is regarded as the expression or the will of the people. The laws reflect the changing conditions of society and the new social environment. The policies of the government are put to executive though the laws made by legislature. The laws have to adjust themselves to the ever changing requirements of the society. Therefore one of the major functions of the legislature besides making law, amending and repealing them wherever they become obsolete or outdated. Laws are enacted according to prescribed procedure of the constitution. The law making powers of the legislatures are absolute. They are limited by the provisions of the constitution.
2. Regulatory Functions
Under Parliamentary System of government the legislature exercises its immediate and direct control over the executive. The executive is under responsible and answerable to the legislature for all its actions. The legislature exercises its control by a) asking questions to the ministers to elicit important information relating to matters of administration and matters of public importance. Secondly b) it, can move adjournment motions or raise debates to point out specific lapses of the government and most importantly c) it can move no confidence motion. Though such a motion it can express its lack of confidence in the government, which if passed by the legislature forces the party in power to resign. These powers of the legislature regulate the working of the government to a large extent.
3. Financial Powers
The legislature has very important powers is the field of finance. It acts as the guardian of national purse. It regulates the "income and expenditure of the government in respect of its various projects, administrative and welfare. People's money must be controlled and spent under the supervision and control of their representatives to prevent its misuse and wasteful expenditure. The theory no taxation without representation recognises the supremacy of the legislature, which is the fund raising and fund granting authority. It is a fundamental principle, recognised in all civilized country, that no tax shall be collected or expenditure be made without the approval of the legislature . All proposals for financial legislation are routed through the popular chamber.
4. Deliberative Functions
The Legislature is a deliberative body, a forum where many persons represent numerous interests, various points of view of different sections of the community. This is a body which facilitates determination of policies and legislation through a process of debate and discussion. This discussion provides with opportunities to each member not only to present the view and perception of his party but also permits to mould his own views in light of the discussion made in the House Over and above the various viewpoints presented in the House contribute to the growth of political consciousness of the people in general and educate the members of executive to find out the solutions to various problems in particular. Through this power the legislative acts as a link between the public and the government.
5. Judicial Function
The legislature also exercises some judicial function. Certain countries have entrusted to their legislatures the function of trying high constitutional authorities like the head of the executive, members of judicially and other constitutional bodies through the motion of impeachment. In India the President, the judges of Supreme Court, the members of U.P.S.C, the Comptroller and Auditor General can be impeached by the Parliament after fulfilling certain constitutional formalities. In England the Upper House of the Parliament Acts as the highest court of appeal. Also in United States the President can be impeached by the Senate. Very often the legislatures appoint commissions of inquiry relating to trade, commerce, agriculture, industry etc.
6. Constitutional Functions
The legislatures also have constitutional functions to perform. Most of the legislatures have been entrusted with the powers to amend the constitution. In India all amendment proposals can be initiated only in the legislature. So is the case with Britain and U.S.A. In all such cases the legislature exercises its constituent powers under a number of procedural restrictions.
7. Electoral Functions
Many of the legislatures participate in electoral functions. The Indian Parliament takes part in the election of the President and Vice-President of India. It also elects some its members to various committees of the House. It elects its presiding and deputy presiding officers.