Selection procedures and roles of upper chambers in other democracies

Australia
The Senate has 72 members with each of the six States having 12 senators and the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory two each. They are elected under a Proportional Representation system. The Senate has the power to reject any bill, with conflicts being resolved through negotiations between the two chambers.

Belgium
The Senate has 60 members of whom 29 represent the Flemish community (and are nominated by the Regional Assembly of Flanders), 20 the French community, and one the German community, with a further 10 being co-opted by the 60 on the basis of their expertise. The Senate has powers with regard to laws relating to the Constitution. Other legislation is the responsibility of the Lower House.

Canada
The 105 members of the Upper House are all appointed by the Governor General on the advice of the Prime Minister. The four major geographical areas each have 24 members with the remaining 9 split between the outlying areas. All legislation has to be approved by the two Houses but the Upper House only exercises its rights very occasionally. It purpose has been described as a “sober second thought”.

France
The Senate has 340 members and is appointed by 150,000 officials (local and departmental councillors, mayors etc) and thus reflects party divisions. It has the same powers as The Assembly and must approve all legislation. In the event of disagreement, the final decision is taken by the Assembly. The Senate has a major monitoring role.

Germany
The Bundesrat has 75 members who are appointed by the States of which there are 16, with each State having the right to appoint a minimum of three members. Those with populations of 4m, 5m, and 7m have the right to appoint 4,5 and 6 members respectively. Appointments are made by the State governments. The representatives of a State must vote as one in the Bundesrat. If they do not do so their votes are invalid. The Bundesrat has significant powers in relation to the authority of the States and the Constitution, where decisions require a two-thirds majority in both Houses. For other legislation, the Bundesrat can only delay and the government has the right to resubmit, with a majority of 50% in both Houses being sufficient to carry the legislation.

India
The Rajya Sabha (Council of States) has 245 members of whom 12 are appointed by the President on the basis of their expertise. The remaining 233 are elected by the State Legislators by proportional representation and on the basis of population. All legislation has to be approved by both Houses, though in the case of finance bills the Rajha Sabha can only make recommendations. In other cases where there is disagreement, the matter is referred to a joint session of the two houses but the Lower House normally prevails as it has twice as many members as the Rajya Sabha.

Ireland
The Senate has 60, members 43 of whom are elected by five panels representing Culture and Education, Agriculture, Labour, Industry and Commerce and Administration. Three are appointed from the two major universities and 11 are nominated by the Taoiseach. Though intended to be non-political, the fact that the panels consist of members of the Lower House, the outgoing Senate and Local Authorities ensures that this is not so. The Senate reviews legislation and, apart from money bills and those concerning the Constitution, can initiate bills. It can block legislation but only for a limited period.

Italy
The Senate 320 members, 309 of whom are appointed by the Regions, 6 represent Italians living overseas and 5 are life appointees based on prior service. The number elected by each Region is determined by its population (subject to a minimum of 7 seats – with the exception of two small Regions that have 1 and 2 representatives respectively). The party which gains the most votes in an election can nominate 55% of the Region’s representatives. A coalition has to achieve 20% of the vote in the Region to be able to appoint, while a free-standing party has to achieve 8% of the vote. The Senate has the same powers as the Assembly and all legislation has to be approved by both Houses. In the event of disagreement, the legislation is debated by each house in turn until agreement is reached. Governments have to have the Confidence of both Houses, giving the Senate the right to force a general election.

Japan
The House of Councillors has 242 members, half of whom are elected every three years. 73 are elected by proportional representation in single or multi-member constituency and 48 on the basis of the national poll in proportion to the votes cast from party lists. The House of Councillors can reject bills but bills become law if approved in the Lower House by a two thirds majority.

Netherlands
The upper house has 75 members, who are elected by the 12 States in proportion to population from party lists. It has right to accept or reject legislation but has no right to amend or initiate. It meets once a week.

Spain
The Senate has 265 members, of whom 208 are elected and 57 appointed by the Regions. Each province has four senators (the islands have between 1 and 3). Voters can vote for up to three candidates, and normally the majority party in any province will have three senators and the party coming second one. Each Autonomous Region can also appoint one senator per million of population. Legislation involving civil rights and regional devolution requires the approval of both the Senate and the Assembly. The Senate also appoints judges and is responsible for disciplining the regional governments. It can reject any other legislation but the Government has the right to resubmit and can then overrule the Senate.

Switzerland
The Council of State has 46 members who are elected by popular vote over two rounds. Twenty cantons elect two members each and 6 have one each, a system which favours the smaller cantons. Zurich has 733,000 inhabitants per member and, at the other extreme, Uri has 36,000. The Council has the power to reject proposals from the Lower Chamber. Switzerland’s extensive use of referenda overlays the legislative process.

United States
The senate has 100 directly elected members – two from each State. All legislation must be approved by both houses (with bills going backwards and forwards between the two). Only the House of Representatives can initiate finance bills. The Senate has a number of reserved powers, such as the approval of treaties, the appointment of Supreme Court judges, Federal judges and other federal officers, and the appointment of ambassadors.

Scandinavian countries, Portugal, New Zealand and Greece
These countries all have unicameral systems.

James Emerson