Essay on the Powers of Two Houses in Bicameral Legislature

Either House may propose amendments to a bill or they become valid by receiving the consent of the other. In the case of bills relating to the raising and spending of money, the powers of the two Houses are generally coordinate, but not co­equal.

The Lower House possesses supreme control over the finances of the State, the maxim being that representation and taxation go together. The representatives of the people are the final arbiters over all matters of income and expenditure of the State. All financial bills, accordingly, originate in the Lower House and its power in this respect is decisive.

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The British House of Lords may not originate, amend or reject a money bill. In France the powers of the Senate, under the Constitution of 1875, were co-equal with those of the Chamber of Deputies, except that money bills originated in the latter. The Senate might amend or reject them. But in reality the Senate was invariably in a position of inequality and the supremacy of the Chamber of Deputies was an established fact.

Under the Fourth Republic financial legislation was initiated in the Assembly alone and it was transmitted to the Council of the Republic for its opinion. But the Council was required to give its opinion within the same span of time as the Assembly had herself taken.

Therefore two months span, which was required in the case of ordinary legislation for the opinion of the Council of the Republic, was not necessary with regard to financial bills. Under the Constitution of 1958, the Senate and the National Assembly have equal powers except that the budget originates in the National Assembly.

In India money bills can only originate in the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and the Council of States (Rajya Sabha) must send its recommendations thereon within fourteen days of receipt. If it does not return the bill within fourteen days or returns it with recommendations which are not acceptable to the House of the People (Lok Sabha), the will of the House of the People (Lok Sabha) prevails.

In Britain the House of Lords can delay a money bill for one month. In the United States, on the other hand, the Senate, though forbidden to originate bills for raising revenues, possesses the undisputed power to amend or reject them.

There must be a sharp distinction between the powers of both Houses of the legislature. The differences in powers will, of course, depend upon the mode and composition of the Upper House.

If the Upper House is hereditary or nominated, as in Britain and Canada, its powers are considerably limited. But if it is an elected House, it stands on a footing of equality with the Lower House as far as the law of the constitution is concerned. The march of democracy, however, has decidedly made the Lower House a “predominant partner.”

In the event of conflict between the two, the verdict of the House which is more representative of the people must ultimately prevail. The case of the American Senate, which was deliberately designed to enjoy greater powers than the House of Representatives, is quite exceptional.

Wherever both the Houses possess co-equal powers, much of the value of bicameralism is lost. Identical powers mean sheer duplication and the advantages of such a system of legislature are questionable.

The Upper House, for all intents and purposes, is a revising body. Being a chamber solely created for purposes of reflection and not action, it is intended to exercise a moderating influence on the radicalism of the Lower House. It may serve as a brake, but not too tight a brake, which may lead to open rupture between the two Houses.

If public opinion supports the attitude taken by the Upper Chamber, the Lower House would automatically mend itself; otherwise the former should respectfully bow to the wishes of the wider representatives of the people. The function of the Upper House, in fine, is to resist but not to persist.

It has long been an almost universal practice to confer upon the Upper Chambers certain special powers which the Lower Houses do not possess. Nearly in every country Upper Chambers are vested with the exercise of judicial powers. The House of Lords is the highest court of appeal in Great Britain. In the United States, the Senate serves as a court for the trial of impeachment cases.

The French Constitution of 1875 empowered the President of the Republic to dissolve the Chamber of Deputies with the consent of the Senate. In the United States the Senate exercises certain specific executive powers. All Presidential appointments must have the assent of the Senate all treaties require its ratification.

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