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. 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):


  • 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:
    • It may have less power than the lower house
      • in semi-presidential 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.


  • 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 usually 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.