In this document you will find general information about the election, procedures and history of the Senate.
The 75 members of the Senate (Eerste Kamer) of the Dutch Parliament (the States General) are elected by the members of the twelve Provincial Councils. These elections are indirect: the voters elect the members of the Provincial Councils, who in turn elect the members of the Senate.
As the members of the Senate are not elected directly by the voters, they are rather more remote from the realities of daily politics. They do not, for example, electioneer.
The criteria for membership are the same as those for the House of Representatives (Tweede Kamer) of the Dutch Parliament.
Since the 1983 revision of the constitution the Senate has been elected in its entirety every four years by the members of the Provincial Council. The elections take place within three months of the Provincial Council elections.
The Senate's main duties are in the legislative field, but it also plays a role in scrutinising the actions of the Government. Formally the Senate can only reject or accept legislation. In practice, however, it has rather more possibilities and debates are of importance. For example, statements made by government ministers in debates on bills (draft legislation) can play a role in future lawsuits. The debates in the Senate contribute to the interpretation of a law. Moreover, members of the Senate can elicit undertakings from ministers about the implementation of a law.
Like their counterparts in the House of Representatives, members of the Senate are entitled to put written questions to the Government. The debate on the Government's budget also gives them the opportunity to debate current and future policy with the government.
Members of the House of Representatives are full-time politicians, whereas members of the Senate are part-timers who often hold other positions as well. They receive an allowance which is about a quarter of the salary of the members of the House of Representatives.
The House of Representatives is mainly engaged in day-to-day politics. As such, it calls ministers to account, holds debates on new policy and undertakes detailed examination of bills.
As noted previously, the Senate is rather more remote from day-to-day politics, if only because the parliamentary parties in the Senate are not formally bound by a government programme. The Senate is concerned only with the broad outline of policy. It can operate rather more independently than the House of Representatives.
The Senate has a revising role in relation to draft legislation. Its members do not have the right to amend bills (the right of amendment). They can only vote on them and either accept or reject them.
Nor are questions answered orally in the Senate. Furthermore, the members of Senate make much less use of the right to ask written questions than the members of the House of Representatives.
Finally, the House of Representatives has exercised its right to institute an inquiry on several occasions, particularly in recent years, whereas the Senate has to date never exercised this right.
The bicameral system (system of two chambers) was introduced in 1815 when the Senate was established. The Senate has remained in existence ever since, despite occasional criticism of its existence and functioning.
In due course there came to be wider acceptance of the value of a second chamber as an institution that assesses bills by reference to its own criteria after they have passed through the House of Representatives.
The legislative process can be fairly protracted. Sometimes it takes five or six years before a bill becomes law. The Government and the House of Representatives often amend the text of a bill during this process.
Furthermore, new information and ideas may emerge while a bill is passing through Parliament. This means that revision is essential. The main purpose of revision is to ascertain whether the final bill is of sufficient quality and to ensure that it does not conflict with the constitution or international treaties or jeopardise the rights of citizens disproportionately. The legislation as a whole must also remain affordable.
The Senate has existed since 1815, the year in which it was instituted by King William I. When the Netherlands and Belgium were united in 1815 the Belgians in particular pressed for the introduction of a bicameral system.
In its early years the Senate served as a bulwark of the Crown (i.e. the King and his ministers) since it was still able to block bills that displeased the King. Such bills were usually private member's bills from the House of Representatives. At that time, the members of the House of Representatives too were elected indirectly. The members of the Senate were not elected, but were confidants of the King and were appointed for life.
The Senate remained in existence after the separation from Belgium in 1830. Much changed in the political sphere as a result of the introduction of a new constitution in 1848. The position of the Senate and the criteria governing eligibility to stand for election were among the changes.
Monitoring the quality of legislation gradually came to be the main function of the Senate after 1848. It thus became a revising chamber or 'Chambre de reflection'.
Directly after a bill has been passed by the House of Representatives it is sent to the Senate. Here the bill is submitted to a parliamentary committee. The committee decides whether the bill can be immediately put on the agenda of the full chamber or whether there should first be preparatory study of the bill. If a bill is immediately put on the agenda of the full chamber, it will be passed as a formality without a debate.
The preparatory study of a bill consists mainly in written correspondence and the exchange of documents. The members of the committee present the views of their parliamentary party in writing and put questions to the Government. The Government replies in a note or memorandum of reply. Sometimes, there may be several rounds of correspondence, but one is generally considered sufficient.
After the written preparations have been completed, the Senate is notified that the bill is ready for debate by the full chamber. In due course the bill is then put on the plenary agenda.
The main function of members of the Senate is to scrutinise and revise bills. To do this effectively, they read the official papers and reports as well as letters and articles from newspapers and periodicals. The members sometimes receive hundreds of letters before a bill is dealt with.
Members of the Senate also confer internally and externally. Internal consultations are held for the most part within the parliamentary party or committee concerned. The procedure to be adopted is one of the matters discussed in the committee meetings.
External consultations are held with organisations and citizens. Sometimes members receive visitors or delegations. And in special circumstances a committee may decide to hold a hearing.
Members of the Senate also have the right to ask the Government written questions about issues unconnected with a bill. However, they make only limited use of this right. The general view is that scrutinising the policy and actions of the Government is first and foremost the responsibility of the House of Representatives.
"The Senate presents itself" is a film about the Senate and its members. It shows the Senators at work as part-time politicians and as citizens with their own profession. The scrutiny of the quality of the legislative bills is a priority for the Senators.