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    Upper House


    • An upper house, sometimes called a Senate, is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature (or one of three chambers of a tricameral legislature), the other chamber being the lower house. The house formally designated as the upper house is usually smaller, and often has more restricted power, than the lower house. Examples of upper houses in countries include the UK's House of Lords, Canada's Senate, India's Rajya Sabha, Russia's Federation Council, Ireland's Seanad, Germany's Bundesrat and the United States Senate.

      A legislature composed of only one house (and which therefore has neither an upper house nor a lower house) is described as unicameral.

      An upper house is usually different from the lower house in at least one of the following respects:

      Powers:

      Status:

      In parliamentary systems the upper house is frequently seen as an advisory or "revising" chamber; for this reason its powers of direct action are often reduced in some way. Some or all of the following restrictions are often placed on upper houses:

      In parliamentary democracies and among European upper houses the Italian Senate is a notable exception to these general rules, in that it has the same powers as its lower counterpart: any law can be initiated in either house, and must be approved in the same form by both houses. Additionally, a Government must have the consent of both to remain in office, a position which is known as "perfect bicameralism" or "equal bicameralism".

      The role of a revising chamber is to scrutinise legislation that may have been drafted over-hastily in the lower house, and to suggest amendments that the lower house may nevertheless reject if it wishes to. An example is the British House of Lords. Under the Parliament Acts 1911 and 1949, the House of Lords can no longer prevent the passage of most bills, but it must be given an opportunity to debate them and propose amendments, and can thereby delay the passage of a bill with which it disagrees. Bills can only be delayed for up to one year before the Commons can use the Parliament Act, although economic bills can only be delayed for one month. It is sometimes seen as having a special role of safeguarding the uncodified Constitution of the United Kingdom and important civil liberties against ill-considered change. The British House of Lords has a number of ways to block legislation and to reject it, however the House of Commons can eventually use the Parliament Act to force something through. The Commons will occasionally bargain and negotiate with the Lords such as when the Labour Government of 1999 tried to expel all Hereditary Peers from the Lords, and the Lords threatened to wreck the Government's entire legislative agenda and to block every bill which was sent to the chamber. This led to negotiations between Viscount Cranborne the then Shadow Leader of the House, and the Labour Government which resulted in the Weatherill Amendment to the House of Lords Act 1999 which preserved 92 Hereditary Peers in the house. The Parliament Act is not valid with all legislation and is a very rarely used back up plan.



      • In a parliamentary system, it often has much less power than the lower house. Therefore, in certain countries the Upper House
        • votes on only limited legislative matters, such as constitutional amendments.
        • cannot initiate legislation (or cannot initiate legislation on money).
        • cannot vote a motion of no confidence against the government (or such an act is much less common), while the lower house always can.
      • In a presidential system:
        • It may have equal or nearly equal power with the lower house.
        • It may have specific powers not granted to the lower house. For example:
          • It may give advice and consent to some executive decisions (e.g. appointments of judges or ambassadors).
          • It may have the sole power to try impeachments against officials of the executive, following enabling resolutions passed by the lower house.
      • votes on only limited legislative matters, such as constitutional amendments.
      • cannot initiate legislation (or cannot initiate legislation on money).
      • cannot vote a motion of no confidence against the government (or such an act is much less common), while the lower house always can.
      • It may have equal or nearly equal power with the lower house.
      • It may have specific powers not granted to the lower house. For example:
        • It may give advice and consent to some executive decisions (e.g. appointments of judges or ambassadors).
        • It may have the sole power to try impeachments against officials of the executive, following enabling resolutions passed by the lower house.
      • It may give advice and consent to some executive decisions (e.g. appointments of judges or ambassadors).
      • It may have the sole power to try impeachments against officials of the executive, following enabling resolutions passed by the lower house.
      • In some countries, its members are not popularly elected; membership may be indirect, hereditary or by appointment.
      • Its members may be elected with a different voting system than that used to elect the lower house (for example, upper houses in Australia and its states are usually elected by proportional representation, whereas lower houses are not).
      • Less populated states, provinces, or administrative divisions may be better represented in the upper house than in the lower house; representation is not completely proportional to population (or not at all).
      • Members' terms may be longer than in the lower house, and may be for life.
      • Members may be elected in portions, for staggered terms, rather than all at one time.
      • In some countries, the upper house cannot be dissolved at all, or can be dissolved only in more limited circumstances than the lower house.
      • It typically has fewer members or seats than the lower house (though notably not in the United Kingdom parliament).
      • It has usually a higher age of candidacy than the lower house.
      • Lack of control over the executive branch. (On the other hand, in the US and many other presidential systems, the Senate or upper chamber has more control over the composition of the Cabinet and the administration generally, through its prerogative of confirming the president's nominations to senior offices.)
      • No absolute veto of proposed legislation, though suspensive vetoes are permitted in some states.
      • In countries where it can veto legislation (like the Netherlands), it may not be able to amend the proposals.
      • A reduced or even absent role in initiating legislation.
      • No power to block supply, or budget measures (a rare example of a Parliamentary upper house that does possess this power is the Australian Senate, which notably exercised that power in 1975)
      • Executive appointments, to the cabinet and other offices, usually require its approval.
      • It frequently has the sole authority to give consent to or denounce foreign treaties.
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