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(c) Explain and assess the main advantages of having a second chamber. (25 marks)
The UK has a second chamber and has had one for many centuries. It also must be said that most
democratic countries have two chambers. This means they must be useful or most countries would
not have a bicameral system. The USA wrote a constitution in 1787 and the twochamber system
was central -- the founding fathers feared too much power would fall into the hands of one of the
chambers so they balanced it with a second. So they introduced a Senate to counter the power of
the House of Representatives. Both chambers are elected.
So the evidence is that second chambers are a necessary part of a democracy. I will now go on to
look at other arguments and assess each one.
The main reason for having a second chamber is the American example. We need in the UK a
balance to the excessive power of the government and the House of Commons. Many governments
have a huge Commons majority and so it is important that the House of Lords can act as a balance
to that power. The government does not have a majority in the Lords, so it can be defied. An
elected second chamber would be even more of a balance. However, if it had too much power
there is a danger that it could stop the business of government altogether. This certainly happens
sometimes in the USA.
If the second chamber is appointed, as it is now in the UK, it can bring into politics great citizens and
former politicians or civil servants who can add their experience to the legislative process. They can
improve the quality of legislation by suggesting amendments. They can also call the government to
account, using their experience effectively. This may be true, but the question is -- should unelected
people have so much power and influence?
Finally a second chamber can have the advantage of being able to debate affairs which are ignored
by the House of Commons. The Commons has too much to do and so cannot find time for
measured debate. This is certainly true, but I have to repeat that if the second chamber is not
elected, it has no democratic authority to debate such great issues. This means it can talk as much as
it likes, but no one will take much notice.
We can now see that the arguments for a second chamber are very strong. Although there are
problems and counterarguments, the overall picture suggests there must be a second chamber,
whether or not it is elected. Historical experience tends to reinforce this view.