House of Lords

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As the House of Lords ( English upper house , French chambre haute ) is called in a two-chamber system mostly those chamber of Parliament , in the historical representation of the top layer of a monarchical state, as stands , nobility and clergy , met. In the UK this still exists today as a mansion .

In other English-speaking countries, it is often a representation of the member states or regions, also known as the Senate . The second part of the parliamentary representation is accordingly the lower house , in which the people's representatives meet. The term Upper House does not correspond to the term Federal Council .



Historically, the upper house was the chamber of parliament in which the nobility, clergy and universities are represented. The prerogatives of the nobility, which are reflected in this regulation, are also shown in the name: Just as the nobility in the imagination of the time stood above the common people, the upper house was the upper chamber in which the "important" people were represented . Accordingly, one spoke of the upper house as the first chamber .

Political science

In political science , on the other hand, a different (diametrically opposite) definition is sometimes used to describe modern two-chamber systems: The type of parliamentary chamber described here is referred to as the “second chamber”, since the upper house is usually the less powerful chamber these days. In addition to the historical upper houses described above, the characteristics listed here are that this “second chamber” is usually more disproportionately occupied than the other chamber in order to better represent certain interests. These are often of a regional or federal nature. For this reason, bicameral systems exist mainly in territorial states.


In the two-chamber system, the first chamber (in the historical view above) can implement the following principles:

  • the feudal (monarchical or manorial) or clerical (ecclesiastical) principle;
  • the federal (state) or municipal (district or parish) principle;
  • the professional and possessive or economic-social principle.

Theory and historical background

The majority of the upper houses have one of the designations " Senate " or "Council" in their respective names . In terms of linguistic history, this allows conclusions to be drawn about the historical development of the second chambers and the tasks they are intended to perform. The name of senatus , the ancient Roman senate, is derived from the Latin senex , which can be translated as “old man”. The senatus should therefore be an organ of the wise old men who gave their advice : prudently and moderately. Following on from this prudence, the philosopher James Harrington defined the task of a second chamber in 1656 as "discussing and drafting legislative proposals on which the [...] House of Representatives should then decide"

This notion of a Senate with an exclusive right of initiative changed over time. However, one aspect can also be found in more recent writings: prudence. One accusation that democracy is made from time to time is that it is essentially a dictatorship of the majority . In many understandings of democracy, consensus-based decision-making therefore also plays a role. For example, the political scientist Heidrun Abromeit writes : “ Equating democracy with the simple majority rule is not justified by anything but impatience.” In this sense, John Stuart Mill saw the need for a second parliamentary chamber as early as the 19th century to “be willing to compromise “And to increase concessions.

A second chamber should serve to protect minorities and particular interests. These minorities can about -sized (as in the British House of Lords ), professional (as in the Irish Seanad ) or ethnic be. Most often, however, the second chambers reflect territorial interests.

Oberhäuser today

The House of Lords is nowadays much more established and accepted in federal systems than in purely unitary states. In the past, this also led to several liquidations of existing chambers; for example in Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden. Abolition is also being considered in other countries. New chambers, on the other hand, were created almost exclusively in the successor states of the Soviet Union, around half of which are federally organized.

Nevertheless, around a third of all parliamentary democracies currently still have a House of Lords. The question of what roles these chambers play in political systems is therefore currently being discussed in political science.


Examples of existing upper houses are the British House of Lords , the Austrian Federal Council , the Swiss Council of States , the Senate of the United States , the French Senate and the first chamber of the Dutch States General ("Senaat").

The German Bundesrat is of constitutional law is not subject to parliamentary chamber, he made subject to instructions representatives of the state governments is (and thus more likely with the EU Council of Ministers is comparable), an independent constitutional body representing and "[...] [not] equivalent to, first chamber 'is decisively involved in the legislative process [...] ". However, in political science it is treated analytically like a first chamber.

The Prussian Landtag established in 1848/1849 had two chambers. In 1855 they were renamed: the first was henceforth called the Herrenhaus , the second the House of Representatives . After the revolution of 1918, the mansion became the State Council , comparable to the later Reichsrat , and the House of Representatives became the Landtag.

See also


The institution of the second chamber has received relatively little attention in the political science literature. Haas even speaks of a “neglected treatment of the subject”. Offers a thematic overview

  • Gisela Riescher, Sabine Russ, Christoph M. Haas (eds.): Second chambers . 1st edition. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, Munich / Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-486-25089-2 .

Embedded in a general consideration of the functioning, properties and problems of the second chambers, the three editors have selected 18 countries as examples, the second chambers of which are presented in detail by various authors. Further comparative studies provide for example

  • Dominik Hanf: State without a Federal Council? The Involvement of the Members and the Role of Second Chambers in Evolutionary and Devolutive States. Nomos, Baden-Baden 1999.
  • Ulrich Karpen (Ed.): Role and Function of the Second Chamber. Proceedings of the Third Congress of the European Association of Legislation (EAL). Nomos, Baden-Baden 1999.
  • Samuel C. Patterson, Anthony Mughan (Eds.): Senates. Bicameralism in the Contemporary World. Ohio State University Press, Columbus, OH 1999.

Web links

Wiktionary: House of Lords  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Russell, Meg. 2001. “What are Second Chambers for?” Parliamentary Affairs 54 (3). P. 444.
  2. ^ Ernst Rudolf Huber : German constitutional history since 1789. Volume II: The struggle for unity and freedom 1830 to 1850. Verlag W. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart [et al.] 1960, p. 784.
  3. a b c d e f Christoph M. Haas: "To be or not to be: Bicameralism and the function of second chambers." In: Gisela Riescher, Sabine Russ, Christoph M. Haas (ed.): Second chambers . 1st edition. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, Munich / Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-486-25089-2 .
  4. ^ Gisela Riescher, Sabine Russ, Christoph M. Haas (eds.): Second chambers . 1st edition. Oldenbourg Wissenschaftsverlag, Munich / Vienna 2000, ISBN 3-486-25089-2 . P. 382.
  5. ^ John Stuart Mill: Considerations on Representative Democracy. Schoeningh, Paderborn 1971. p. 202.
  6. ^ A b Meg Russell: "What are Second Chambers for?" Parliamentary Affairs 54 (3) 2001. p. 442.
  7. According to the Federal Constitutional Court in a decision from 1974, cf. BVerfGE 37, 363, file number 2 BvF 2, 3/73