Upper house

Upper house

An upper house is one of two chambers of a bicameral legislature, the other chamber being the lower house.

Possible specific characteristics

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

* Given less power than the lower house, with special reservations, e.g. only when seizing a proposal by evocation, not on the budget, not the house of reference for majority assent.
* Only limited legislative matters, such as constitutional amendments, may require its approval.
* 'Houses of review', in that they cannot start legislation, only consider the lower houses' initiatives. Also, they may not be able to outright veto legislation.
* In presidential systems, the upper house usually has the sole power to try impeachments against the executive following enabling resolutions passed by the lower house.
* Composed of members selected in a manner other than by popular election. Examples include hereditary membership or Government appointment.
* Used to represent the states of a federation.
* Fewer seats than the lower house (or more if hereditary).
* If elected, often for longer terms than those of the lower house; if composed of peers or nobles, they generally hold their hereditary seats for life.
* Elected in portions for staggered terms, rather than all at once.


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.
*No absolute veto of proposed legislation (though suspensive vetoes are permitted in some states)
*A reduced role in initiating legislation.
*It cannot block or modify "supply" (Though see the Australian Constitutional Crisis of 1975 for an example of an upper house blocking supply).

It is the role of a revising chamber 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, which under the Parliament Acts may not stop, but only delay bills. It is sometimes seen as having a special role of safeguarding the Constitution of the United Kingdom and important civil liberties against ill-considered change. By delaying but not vetoing legislation, an upper house may nevertheless defeat legislation: by giving the lower house the opportunity to reconsider, by preventing it from having sufficient time for a bill in the legislative schedule, or simply by embarrassing the other chamber into abandoning an unpopular measure.

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 witnessed a trend towards weakening 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 passage of time.

Presidential systems

In presidential systems, the upper house is frequently given other powers to compensate for its restrictions:
*It usually has to sign off on appointments the executive makes to the cabinet and other offices.
*It frequently has the sole authority to give consent to or denounce foreign treaties.

Institutional structure

There is great variety in the way an upper house members are assembled. It can be directly or indirectly elected, appointed, selected through hereditary means, or a certain mixture of all theses systems. The German Bundesrat is quite unique as its members are members of the cabinets of the German states, in most cases the state premier and several ministers, they are just delegated and can be recalled anytime.In a very similar way the Council of the European Union, is composed by 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 be returned in an election. For example, members of the Canadian Senate are appointed by the monarch on the direction of the prime minister.

The seats are sometimes hereditary, as still is partly the case in the British House of Lords, and the Japanese House of Peers (until this house was abolished in 1947).

However, it is also common that the upper house consist of delegates who are indirectly elected by state governments or local officials. For example, in the United States Senate until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment in 1913.

In addition, the upper house of many nations is directly elected, but in different proportions to the lower house - for example, the Senates of Australia and the United States have a fixed number of elected representatives from each state, regardless of the population.


Many jurisdictions, such as Denmark, Sweden, Croatia, Peru, Venezuela, New Zealand, and most 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. Nebraska is the only state in the United States to have a unicameral legislature, which it achieved when it abolished its lower house in 1934.

The Australian state of Queensland also once had a legislative council before abolishing it in 1922; at this time members of the Legislative Council (the formal name of the state parliament) were not elected by the citizenry and so the council was found to be undemocratic and thus unconstitutional. As this was a purely internal matter, all other Australian states continue to have bicameral systems.

Titles of upper houses

Common terms

*Senate - By far the most common
*Legislative Council
* Council of States (in a Federation) - Federation Council (Russia), Bundesrat (Germany, Austria), Council of States (Switzerland), "Rajya Sabha" (or "Council of States," India), "Sangi-in" (or "House of Councillors," Japan).
*Supreme Soviet - as in the ex-Soviet Union.

Unique titles

*Seanad Éireann (Irish for 'Irish Senate') in the Republic of Ireland from 1919-Present.

*House of Lords - Seen only in the United Kingdom, previously in Ireland
*Chambre des Pairs (French for 'Chamber of Peers') in France under the restored royal house of Bourbon
*Dewan Negara (Malay language for 'National Hall') in the Malaysian Parliament
*Főrendiház or House of Magnates in the former Kingdom of Hungary, also called simply Felsőház i.e. Upper House
*Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (Chinese: 中国人民政治协商会议) - People's Republic of China (not officially an upper house and possesses no legislative power)
*Eerste Kamer ( _nl. First Chamber) - (Senaat-Senate is also frequently used) Netherlands
*Shura Council (Consultative Council) - Egypt
*House of Councillors (Japanese: 参議院, "Sangi-in") - Japan
*National Council - Slovenia, also the title of the lower house of the Parliament of Austria
*House of Elders - Upper house of the Republic of Somaliland; however, the country is internationally unrecognized. The house is shaped to resemble the House of Lords in the UK.
*Council of the European Union

ee also

* List of national legislatures
* Lower House

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Look at other dictionaries:

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  • upper house — UK / US or Upper House UK / US noun [singular] the part of a parliament of a country that is smaller and represents fewer people or is not elected at all. In the UK, the Upper House is the House of Lords, and in the US, it is the Senate …   English dictionary

  • upper house — ► NOUN 1) the higher house in a bicameral parliament or similar legislature. 2) (the Upper House) (in the UK) the House of Lords …   English terms dictionary

  • upper house — noun singular the part of a legislature of a country that is smaller and represents fewer people or is not elected at all. In the U.K., the upper house is the House of Lords, and in the U.S., it is the Senate …   Usage of the words and phrases in modern English

  • Upper House — n [C usually singular] a group of representatives in a country s parliament, that is smaller and less powerful than the country s ↑Lower House, for example the British House of Lords …   Dictionary of contemporary English

  • upper house — n. [often U H ] in a legislature having two branches, that branch which is usually smaller and less representative, as the Senate of the U.S. Congress …   English World dictionary

  • upper house — noun or upper chamber : the house of more restricted membership in a legislative body having two chambers * * * ˌupper ˈhouse [upper house] (also ˌupper ˈchamber …   Useful english dictionary

  • upper house — noun the higher house in a bicameral parliament or similar legislature. ↘(the Upper House) (in the UK) the House of Lords …   English new terms dictionary

  • upper house — Synonyms and related words: Austria, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Ethiopia, Fiji, France, House of Lords, Iran, Ireland, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Liberia, Malagasy Republic, Malaysia …   Moby Thesaurus

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