Upper house

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An upper house 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. [1] 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 Australian Senate, Brazil's Senado Federal, the Canadian Senate, France's Sénat, Germany's Bundesrat, India's Rajya Sabha, Ireland's Seanad, Malaysia's Dewan Negara, the Netherlands' Eerste Kamer, Pakistan's Senate of Pakistan, Russia's Federation Council, Switzerland's Council of States, United Kingdom's House of Lords and the United States Senate.

A debate chamber is a room for people to discuss and debate. Debate chambers are used in governmental and educational bodies, such as a parliament, congress, city council, or a university, either for formal proceedings or for informal discourse, such as a deliberative assembly. When used for legislative purposes, a debate chamber may also be known as a council chamber, legislative chamber, or similar term. Some countries, such as New Zealand, use the term debating chamber as a formal name for the room that houses the national legislature.

A bicameral legislature divides the legislators into two separate assemblies, chambers, or houses. Bicameralism is distinguished from unicameralism, in which all members deliberate and vote as a single group, and from some legislatures that have three or more separate assemblies, chambers, or houses. As of 2015, fewer than half the world's national legislatures are bicameral.

Tricameralism is the practice of having three legislative or parliamentary chambers. It is contrasted with unicameralism and bicameralism, both of which are far more common.

Contents

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

Possible specific characteristics

An upper house is usually different from the lower house in at least one of the following respects (though they vary among jurisdictions):

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Parliamentary system form of government

A parliamentary system is a system of democratic governance of a state where the executive derives its democratic legitimacy from its ability to command the confidence of the legislature, typically a parliament, and is also held accountable to that parliament. In a parliamentary system, the head of state is usually a person distinct from the head of government. This is in contrast to a presidential system, where the head of state often is also the head of government and, most importantly, the executive does not derive its democratic legitimacy from the legislature.

A motion of no-confidence, alternatively vote of no confidence, or (unsuccessful) confidence motion, is a statement or vote which states that a person in a position of responsibility is no longer deemed fit to hold that position, perhaps because they are inadequate in some respect, are failing to carry out obligations, or are making decisions that other members feel detrimental. As a parliamentary motion, it demonstrates to the head of state that the elected parliament no longer has confidence in the appointed government. If a no confidence motion is passed against an individual minister they have to give their resignation along with the entire council of ministers.

Presidential system form of government

A presidential system is a democratic and republican system of government where a head of government leads an executive branch that is separate from the legislative branch. This head of government is in most cases also the head of state, which is called president.

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The French Senate, hosted in the Palais du Luxembourg L'hemicycle du Senat francais en septembre 2009.jpg
The French Senate, hosted in the Palais du Luxembourg

Parliamentary systems

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 backup plan.

The chamber of the House of Lords, the UK's Upper House House of Lords Chamber.png
The chamber of the House of Lords, the UK's Upper House

Even without a veto, an upper house may defeat legislation. Its opposition may give the lower chamber a chance to reconsider or even abandon a controversial measure. It can also delay a bill so that it does not fit within the legislative schedule, or until a general election produces a new lower house that no longer wishes to proceed with the bill.

Nevertheless, some states have long retained powerful upper houses. For example, the consent of the upper house to legislation may be necessary (though, as noted above, this seldom extends to budgetary measures). Constitutional arrangements of states with powerful upper houses usually include a means to resolve situations where the two houses are at odds with each other.

In recent times, Parliamentary systems have tended to weaken the powers of upper houses relative to their lower counterparts. Some upper houses have been abolished completely (see below); others have had their powers reduced by constitutional or legislative amendments. Also, conventions often exist that the upper house ought not to obstruct the business of government for frivolous or merely partisan reasons. These conventions have tended to harden with a passage of time.

Presidential systems

In presidential systems, the upper house is frequently given other powers to compensate for its restrictions:

Institutional structure

There is a variety of ways an upper house's members are assembled: by direct or indirect election, appointment, heredity, or a mixture of these. The German Bundesrat is composed of members of the cabinets of the German states, in most cases the state premier and several ministers; they are delegated and can be recalled anytime. In a very similar way, the Council of the European Union is composed of national ministers.

Many upper houses are not directly elected but appointed: either by the head of government or in some other way. This is usually intended to produce a house of experts or otherwise distinguished citizens, who would not necessarily be returned in an election. For example, members of the Senate of Canada are appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister.

In the past, some upper houses had seats that were hereditary, such as in the British House of Lords until 1999 and in the Japanese House of Peers until it was abolished in 1947.

It is also common that the upper house consists of delegates chosen by state governments or local officials. Members of the Rajya Sabha in India are nominated by various states and union territories, while 12 of them are nominated by the President of India. Similarly, at the state level, one-third of the members of the State Legislative Council (Vidhan Parishad) are nominated by local governments, one-third by sitting legislators, and the rest are elected by select members of the electorate. The United States Senate was chosen by the State legislatures until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.

The upper house may be directly elected but in different proportions to the lower house - for example, the Senate of Australia and the United States have a fixed number of elected members from each state, regardless of the population.

Abolition

Many jurisdictions, such as Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, Hungary, Iceland, Iran, Mauritania, New Zealand, Peru, Sweden, Turkey, Venezuela and many Indian states as well as Brazilian states and Canadian provinces, once possessed upper houses but abolished them to adopt unicameral systems. Newfoundland had a Legislative Council prior to joining Canada, as did Ontario when it was Upper Canada and Quebec from 1791 (as Lower Canada) to 1968. Nebraska is the only state in the United States with a unicameral legislature, having abolished its lower house in 1934.

The Australian state of Queensland also once had an appointed Legislative Council before abolishing it in 1922. All other Australian states continue to have bicameral systems (the two territories have always been unicameral).

Like Queensland, the German state of Bavaria had an appointed upper house, the Senate of Bavaria, from 1946 to 1999.

The Senate of the Philippines was abolished – and restored – twice: from 1935 to 1945 when a unicameral National Assembly convened, and from 1972 to 1987 when Congress was closed, and later a new constitution was approved instituting a unicameral Parliament. The Senate was re-instituted with the restoration of a bicameral Congress via a constitutional amendment in 1941, and via adoption of a new constitution in 1987.

A previous government of Ireland (the 31st Dáil) promised a national referendum on the abolition of its upper house, the Seanad Éireann, during the 24th Seanad session. By a narrow margin, the Irish public voted to retain it. Conservative-leaning Fine Gael and Left-leaning Sinn Féin both supported the abolition, while the centrist Fianna Fáil was alone among major parties in supporting the retention of the Seanad. [2]

Titles of upper houses

Common terms

Unique titles

  Indicates historical government

GovernmentUpper House Unique TitleMeaning
Flag of Bosnia and Herzegovina.svg Bosnia and Herzegovina Dom naroda Bosne i Hercegovine House of Peoples
Flag of Ethiopia.svg Ethiopia Yefedereshn Mekir Bet House of Federation
Flag of the Kingdom of France (1814-1830).svg France
(during the Bourbon Restoration)
Chambre des Pairs Chamber of Peers
Flag of India.svg India Rajya Sabha Council of States
Vidhan Parishad Legislative Council
Flag of Indonesia.svg Indonesia Dewan Perwakilan Daerah Regional Representative Council
Flag of Japan.svg Japan 参議院 (Sangiin) House of Councillors
Flag of Hungary (1848-1849, 1867-1869).svg Kingdom of Hungary Főrendiház House of Magnates
Flag Portugal (1830).svg Kingdom of Portugal Câmara dos Pares or Câmara dos Digníssimos Pares do Reino Chamber of Most Worthy Peers
Flag of Malaysia.svg Malaysia Dewan Negara State Hall
Flag of Myanmar.svg Myanmar Amyotha Hluttaw [3] House of Nationalities
Flag of Somaliland.svg Republic of Somaliland Golaha Guurtida House of Elders
Flag of Russia.svg Russia Sovet Federatsii Federation Council
Flag of Slovenia.svg Slovenia Državni svet National Council
Flag of South Africa.svg South Africa National Council of Provinces

Notes and references

  1. Bicameralism (1997) by George Tsebelis
  2. "Public vote to retain Irish senate". 5 October 2013 via www.bbc.co.uk.
  3. "National Parliament - Beta". www.amyothahluttaw.gov.mm. Archived from the original on 2014-12-14. Retrieved 2016-03-02.

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