Bicameral Legislature | Definition, Merits & Demerits
Bicameral Legislature is defined as a process or act of carrying out legislative functions by the two chambers in a state. There are the lower chamber and the upper chamber. Britain and the United States of America provide classical examples of bicameralism.
In Britain, there are House of Lords and House of Commons and in the U.S.A. andNIGERIA there are Houses of Senate and Representatives.
Normally, the lower chamber is made up of members directly elected on the basis of universal, equal and secret suffrage, e.g. House of Representatives. Members of the upper chamber (upper house) belong to a particular age group and are more experienced in public affairs than members of the lower chamber (lower house).
In Britain, the upper house (Lords) is a hereditary body. In some countries, for example, Canada, the upper chamber is a nominated body. In U.S.A., the upper chamber (Senate) is an elected body.
Advantages Of Bicameral Legislature
Bicameral legislature has the following advantages.
- Two houses are likely to be more balanced and rational in their deliberations than a single house. This will lead to a balanced, equitable and careful legislation.
- Bicameral legislature prevents the passing of hasty and careless laws. The competition of the two houses for prestige should result in more careful scrutiny of legislation by both houses.
- The upper house in a bicameral legislature, especially in a parliamentary system, provides a forum for the representation of highly talented, experienced and distinguished individuals who have excelled in various fields of human endeavour but who may not be strong enough to face the rigours of electioneering.
- It prevents the tyranny of one house, which may be a threat to individual freedom. Two houses are better than one in protecting individual rights and the public good. This is especially the case in a situation where the two houses are controlled by different political parties.
- Bicameralism allows for the introduction of division of labour in the making of laws. Certain functions may be assigned to one chamber while another set of functions may be alloted to the other. This may lead to specialization in handling the subjects and may relieve the burden of law-making which may be placed on a single chamber.
- The second chamber in Britain, for example, the House of Lords serves as the highest court of appeal.
- The existence of two houses may have been the result of compromise among different interests in the absence of which national unity could not have been secured. In other words, bicameralism promotes national unity.
- In a federal state, the second chamber provides an opportunity for the equal representation of the component units (states) which may be impossible in a unicameral legislature usually constituted on population basis. As such, it helps to remove any fear of domination which is highly prevalent in federal states.
Disadvantages Of Bicameral Legislature
The second chamber has been said to be unnecessary for a number of reasons, this includes;
- Bicameralism leads to duplication or unnecessary waste of effort as both houses seek to obtain the same information and debate the same issues.
- It is expensive to operate in terms of payment of allowances and other paraphernalia of office which members of the two chambers enjoy as of right.
- Frequent disagreements or conflicts between the two legislative chambers may stalemate deliberations on important national issues. This may delay or truncate the transaction of government business.
- The existence of two houses implies the division of the general will, of the people. It becomes difficult for the electorate to follow legislative discussion. Moreover, private and selfish interests may manipulate the procedure and debate to defeat popular proposals.
- Bicameralism is undemocratic especially in countries where members of the second chamber are appointed or selected or where there are hereditary officers as in Britain. Even in countries where members of the second chamber are elected, the system nevertheless is undemocratic as both large and small states have equal representation.
- In a cabinet system of government, the operation of government may become almost impossible where a house can cause a cabinet to fall by voting “lack of confidence”.
- In reality bicameralism may be a myth as the two chambers easily put aside their differences and come together to protect their common and class interests.