Upper house

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, 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 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):

Powers:

  • 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 most kinds of legislation, especially those pertaining to supply/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 cabinet ministers, judges or ambassadors).
      • It may have the sole power to try (but not necessarily initiate) impeachment cases against officials of the executive or even judicial branch, following enabling resolutions passed by the lower house.
      • It may have the sole power to ratify treaties.
  • In a semi-presidential system, like France
    • It may have less power than the lower house : in France, the Government can decide to legislate a normal law without the Sénat's agreement (Article 45 of the constitution), but
    • It may have equal power to the lower house regarding the constitution or the territorial collectivities.
    • It may not vote a motion of no confidence against the government, but it may investigate State cases.
    • It may make proposals of laws to the lower house.

Status:

  • In some countries, its members are not popularly elected; membership may be indirect, hereditary, ex officio 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 always intended to be proportional to population.
  • 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.

Powers

L'hémicycle du Sénat français en septembre 2009
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:

  • 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 (such as 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)

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.

House of Lords Chamber
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:

  • 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.

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 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

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

The Alaska Senate is the upper house in the Alaska Legislature, the state legislature of the U.S. state of Alaska. It convenes in the Alaska State Capitol in Juneau, Alaska and is responsible for making laws and confirming or rejecting gubernatorial appointments to the state cabinet, commissions and boards.

With just twenty members, the Alaska Senate is the smallest state upper house legislative chamber in the United States. Its members serve four-year terms and each represent an equal number of districts with populations of approximately 35,512 people, per 2010 Census figures. They are not subject to term limits.

Anil Jain (Uttar Pradesh politician)

Anil Kumar Jain is an Indian Surgeon and Political Leader. He is the National General Secretary of BJP and also in charge of BJP's Haryana and Chhattisgarh units. He is patron of Integrated Talent Development Mission (ITDM)

He was elected to Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the Indian Parliament, from Uttar Pradesh on 23 March 2018.

Bicameralism

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.Often, the members of the two chambers are elected or selected by different methods, which vary from country to country. This can often lead to the two chambers having very different compositions of members.

Enactment of primary legislation often requires a concurrent majority – the approval of a majority of members in each of the chambers of the legislature. When this is the case, the legislature may be called an example of perfect bicameralism. However, in many Westminster system parliaments, the house to which the executive is responsible can overrule the other house and may be regarded as an example of imperfect bicameralism. Some legislatures lie in between these two positions, with one house only able to overrule the other under certain circumstances.

Connecticut Compromise

The Connecticut Compromise (also known as the Great Compromise of 1787 or Sherman Compromise) was an agreement that large and small states reached during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 that in part defined the legislative structure and representation that each state would have under the United States Constitution. It retained the bicameral legislature as proposed by Roger Sherman, along with proportional representation of the states in the lower house, but required the upper house to be weighted equally among the states. Each state would have two representatives in the upper house.

Electorates of the Australian states and territories

A State Electoral District is an electorate within the Lower House or Legislative Assembly of Australian states and territories. Most state electoral districts (except the Australian Capital Territory and Tasmania, which have multi-member electorates using a proportional voting method) send a single member to a state or territory's parliament using the preferential method of voting. The area of a state electoral district is dependent upon the Electoral Acts in the various states and vary in area between them. At present, there are 409 state electoral districts in Australia.

State electoral districts do not apply to the Upper House, or Legislative Council, in those states that have one (New South Wales, South Australia, Tasmania, Victoria and Western Australia). In New South Wales and South Australia, MLCs represent the entire state, in Tasmania they represent single-member districts, and in Victoria and Western Australia they represent a region formed by grouping electoral districts together.

Federal Parliament of Somalia

The Federal Parliament of Somalia (Somali: Golaha Shacabka Soomaaliya; often Baarlamaanka Federaalka Soomaaliya; Arabic: البرلمان الاتحادي في الصومال‎; Italian: Il parlamento federale della Somalia) is the national parliament of Somalia. Formed in August 2012, it is based in the capital Mogadishu and is bicameral, consisting of an Upper House (Senate) and a Lower House (House of the People). The tenth Parliament of Somalia was inaugurated on 27 December 2016.

House of Lords

The House of Lords, also known as the House of Peers, is the upper house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Membership is granted respectively ruled by appointment, heredity or official function. Like the House of Commons, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Officially, the full name of the house is the Right Honourable the Lords Spiritual and Temporal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled.

Unlike the elected House of Commons, all members of the House of Lords (excluding 90 hereditary peers elected among themselves and two peers who are ex officio members) are appointed. The membership of the House of Lords is drawn from the peerage and is made up of Lords Spiritual and Lords Temporal. The Lords Spiritual are 26 bishops in the established Church of England. Of the Lords Temporal, the majority are life peers who are appointed by the monarch on the advice of the Prime Minister, or on the advice of the House of Lords Appointments Commission. However, they also include some hereditary peers including four dukes.Membership was once an entitlement of all hereditary peers, other than those in the peerage of Ireland, but under the House of Lords Act 1999, the right to membership was restricted to 92 hereditary peers. Since 2008, only one of them is female (Margaret Countess of Mar); most hereditary peerages can be inherited only by men.While the House of Commons has a defined 650-seat membership, the number of members in the House of Lords is not fixed. There are currently 781 sitting Lords. The House of Lords is the only upper house of any bicameral parliament to be larger than its lower house.The House of Lords scrutinise bills that have been approved by the House of Commons. It regularly reviews and amends Bills from the Commons. While it is unable to prevent Bills passing into law, except in certain limited circumstances, it can delay Bills and force the Commons to reconsider their decisions. In this capacity, the House of Lords acts as a check on the House of Commons that is independent from the electoral process. Bills can be introduced into either the House of Lords or the House of Commons. While members of the Lords may also take on roles as government ministers, high-ranking officials such as cabinet ministers are usually drawn from the Commons. The House of Lords has its own support services, separate from the Commons, including the House of Lords Library.

The Queen's Speech is delivered in the House of Lords during the State Opening of Parliament. In addition to its role as the upper house, until the establishment of the Supreme Court in 2009, the House of Lords, through the Law Lords, acted as the final court of appeal in the United Kingdom judicial system. The House also has a Church of England role, in that Church Measures must be tabled within the House by the Lords Spiritual.

Legislative Assembly of Quebec

The Legislative Assembly of Quebec (French: Assemblée législative du Québec) was the name of the lower house of Quebec's legislature until December 31, 1968, when it was renamed the National Assembly of Quebec. At the same time, the upper house of the legislature, the Legislative Council, was abolished. Both were initially created by the Constitutional Act of 1791.

It was the Union Nationale government of Premier Jean-Jacques Bertrand that passed the "Bill 90" legislation to abolish the upper house, but earlier attempts had been made by earlier governments.

The presiding officer of the Assembly was known in French as "orateur," a literal translation of the English term, "speaker". When the Assembly was renamed so too was the title of its presiding officer, becoming known as the President.

Today, Quebec has a unicameral legislature, whose single house is the National Assembly.

The large chamber that housed the assembly is also known as le salon bleu (the blue hall) because of the predominance of the colour on the walls. It used to be known as le salon vert (the green hall) until 1978, when the colour was changed to suit the televising of parliamentary debates.

Legislative council

A legislative council is the name given to the legislature, or one of the legislative chambers of a nation, colony, or subnational division such as a province or state; or, in the United States, a council within a legislature which supervises nonpartisan legislative support staff. A member of a legislative council is commonly referred to as an MLC.

Legislature

A legislature is a deliberative assembly with the authority to make laws for a political entity such as a country or city. Legislatures form important parts of most governments; in the separation of powers model, they are often contrasted with the executive and judicial branches of government.

Laws enacted by legislatures are known as primary legislation. Legislatures observe and steer governing actions and usually have exclusive authority to amend the budget or budgets involved in the process.

The members of a legislature are called legislators. In a democracy, legislators are most commonly popularly elected, although indirect election and appointment by the executive are also used, particularly for bicameral legislatures featuring an upper chamber.

Lower house

A lower house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the upper house.Despite its official position "below" the upper house, in many legislatures worldwide, the lower house has come to wield more power. The lower house typically is the larger of the two chambers, i.e. its members are more numerous. A legislature composed of only one house is described as unicameral.

Member of parliament

A member of parliament (MP) is the representative of the voters to a parliament. In many countries with bicameral parliaments, this category includes specifically members of the lower house, as upper houses often have a different title. Member of Congress is an equivalent term in other jurisdictions.

Members of parliament tend to form parliamentary groups (also called parliamentary parties) with members of the same political party.

Member of the Legislative Assembly (India)

A Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) is a representative elected by the voters of an electoral district (constituency) to the legislature of the State government in the Indian system of government. From each constituency, the people elect one representative who then becomes a member of the Legislative Assembly (MLA). Each state has between seven and nine MLAs for every Member of Parliament (MP) that it has in the Lok Sabha, the lower house of India's bicameral parliament. There are also members in two unicameral legislatures in Union Territories: the Delhi Legislative Assembly and Puducherry Legislative Assembly.

Minnesota Senate

The Minnesota Senate is the upper house of the Legislature of the U.S. state of Minnesota. At 67 members, half as many as the Minnesota House of Representatives, it is the largest upper house of any U.S. state legislature. Floor sessions are held in the west wing of the State Capitol in Saint Paul. Committee hearings, as well as offices for senators and staff, are located north of the State Capitol in the Minnesota Senate Building.

New South Wales Legislative Council

The New South Wales Legislative Council, often referred to as the upper house, is one of the two chambers of the parliament of the Australian state of New South Wales. The other is the Legislative Assembly. Both sit at Parliament House in the state capital, Sydney. It is normal for legislation to be first deliberated on and passed by the Legislative Assembly before being considered by the Legislative Council, which acts in the main as a house of review.

The Legislative Council has 42 members, elected by proportional representation in which the whole state is a single electorate. Members serve eight-year terms, which are staggered, with half the Council being elected every four years, roughly coinciding with elections to the Legislative Assembly.

New Zealand Legislative Council

The Legislative Council of New Zealand existed from 1841 until 1951. When New Zealand became a colony in 1841 the Legislative Council was established as the country's first legislature; it was reconstituted as the upper house of a bicameral legislature when New Zealand became self-governing in 1852.

Unlike the elected lower house, the House of Representatives, the Legislative Council was wholly appointed by the Governor-General. The New Zealand Constitution Act 1852 had authorised the appointment of a minimum of ten councillors. Beginning in the 1890s, the membership of the upper house became controlled by government of the day. As a result, the Legislative Council possessed little influence. While intended as a revising chamber, in practice, debates and votes typically simply replicated those in the lower house. It was abolished by an Act of Parliament in 1950, with its last sitting in December 1950.

Rajya Sabha

The Rajya Sabha or Council of States is the upper house of the Parliament of India. Membership of Rajya Sabha is limited by the Constitution to a maximum of 250 members and current laws have provision for 245 members. Most of the members of the House are indirectly elected by the members of States and union territories of India state and territorial legislatures using single transferable votes, while the President can appoint 12 members for their contributions to art, literature, science, and social services. Members sit for staggered terms lasting six years, with a third of the members up for election every two years.The Rajya Sabha meets in continuous sessions, and unlike the Lok Sabha, the lower house of Parliament, is not subject to dissolution. However, the Rajya Sabha, like the Lok Sabha can be prorogued by the President. The Rajya Sabha has equal footing in all areas of legislation with the Lok Sabha, except in the area of supply, where the Lok Sabha has overriding powers. In the case of conflicting legislation, a joint sitting of the two houses can be held. However, since the Lok Sabha has twice as many members as the Rajya Sabha, the former would normally hold the greater power. Joint sittings of the Houses of Parliament of India are rare, and in the history of the Republic, only three such joint-sessions have been held; the latest one for the passage of the 2002 Prevention of Terrorism Act.

The Vice President of India (currently, Venkaiah Naidu) is the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha, who presides over its sessions. The Deputy Chairman, who is elected from amongst the house's members, takes care of the day-to-day matters of the house in the absence of the Chairman. The Rajya Sabha held its first sitting on 13 May 1952. The salary and other benefits for a member of Rajya Sabha are same as for a member of Lok Sabha.

Rajya Sabha members are elected by state legislatures rather than directly through the electorate by single transferable vote method. From 18 July 2018, Rajya Sabha MPs can speak in 22 Indian languages in House as the Upper House has facility for simultaneous interpretation in all the 22 official languages of India.

Victorian Legislative Council

The Victorian Legislative Council (VLC) is the upper house of the bicameral Parliament of Victoria, Australia; the lower house being the Legislative Assembly. Both houses sit at Parliament House in Spring Street, Melbourne. The Legislative Council serves as a house of review, in a similar fashion to its federal counterpart, the Australian Senate. Although it is possible for legislation to be first introduced in the Council, most bills receive their first hearing in the Legislative Assembly.

The presiding officer of the chamber is the President of the Legislative Council. The Council presently comprises 40 members serving four-year terms from eight electoral regions each with five members. With each region electing 5 members using the single transferable vote, the quota in each region for election, after distribution of preferences, is 16.7% (one-sixth). Ballot papers for elections for the Legislative Council have above and below the line voting. Voting above the line requires only a ‘1’ being placed in one box, and group voting tickets voting has applied since 1988. Semi-optional voting is available if a voter votes below the line.

Vidhan Sabha

The Vidhan Sabha or the State Legislative Assembly is the lower house of a state legislature in the States and Union Territories of India. In the 29 states and 2 union territories with unicameral state legislature it is the sole legislative house. In 7 states it is the lower house of their bicameral state legislatures with the upper house being Vidhan Parishad or the State Legislative Council. 5 Union Territories are governed directly by the Union Government and have no legislative body. Members of a Vidhan Sabha are referred to as MLAs and are directly elected to serve 5 year terms by single-member constituencies. In 14 states the Governor of a state may appoint one Anglo-Indian MLA to their respective states Vidhan Sabha in accordance with the 23rd Amendment of the Constitution of India. The Constitution of India states that a Vidhan Sabha must have no less than 60 and no more than 500 members however an exception may be granted via an Act of Parliament as is the case in the states of Goa, Sikkim, Mizoram and the union territory of Puducherry which have fewer than 60 members. A Vidhan Sabha may be dissolved in a state of emergency, by the Governor on request of the Chief Minister, or if a motion of no confidence is passed against the majority coalition.

Upper houses of national legislatures
Federal
Unitary
Dependent and
other territories
Non-UN states
Defunct
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