In the UK we have the House of Lords instead of the Senate. Lords, aka Peers, are either Life (i.e. appointed for life) or Hereditary (senior son inherits title from parent). The Hereditaries are currently being phased out, and not before time.
Our experience is depressingly similar to Canada. Whenever laws which threaten civil rights come up, the (elected) Commons supinely follows the Government line, and the only real opposition comes from the House of Lords.
The reason is that at the next election the party has a great deal to say about who stands in which constituency seats, so a Member of Parliment (MP) who annoys their party by voting against the party line is likely to be deselected (i.e. kicked out) by their party at the next election. Occasional battles between local and national parties have shed some light on this murky process. The system is even institutionalised, with the party line defined by "the Whip" (a system of documents telling MPs how to vote) and "the Whips" (party officials in Parliment who give recalcitrant MPs a stiff talking to). The whole thing is way overdue for serious reform, but since it is the main mechanism that the executive branch has to control the legislature, the executive has no incentive to do anything. (Mind you, I prefer this system to the US campaign finance problem)
Meanwhile the Lords don't have to worry about any of this, so they can genuinely vote with their consciences. The only problem is that typical Life Peers are ex MPs, Prime Ministers, senior industrialists, trade unionists and so on. As a result they usually start late middle aged and get older. The system probably needs either a mandatory retirement age or some other system for removing the senile.
Unfortunately because the House of Lords is not elected it is in an inferior position to the Commons. If it comes to a straight fight between Lords and Commons then the rules say that the Commons wins. The most recent case in point was the Regulation of Investigatory Practices (RIP) act, which (surprise surprise) gave the government (not just police and security officials) wide powers to tap, search and spy with little or no judicial oversight. The Lords were able to force in some critical limiting amendments, but ultimately were unable to stop the government passing the thing.
You are lost in a twisty maze of little standards, all different.
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