The term speaker
is a title often given to the
presiding officer of a legislative body. The speaker's official
role is to moderate debate, make rulings on procedure, announce the
results of votes, and the like. The speaker decides who may speak
and has the powers to discipline members who break the procedures
of the house. The speaker often also represents the body in person,
as the voice of the body in ceremonial and some other
parliamentary title it is typically English, first
recorded in the English parliament for Thomas de Hungerford in 1377; in most
other cultures other styles are used, mainly translations of
Chairman or President.
In Canadian French
, the Speaker of the House of
Commons or a legislature are referred to as Président
convention, these Speakers are normally addressed in Parliament as
Many bodies also have a speaker pro tempore
speaker, designated to fill in when the speaker is not
UK and "Westminster system" countries
In many nations, especially those with the Westminster system
of government, the
position of speaker, modelled after the Speaker of the British
House of Commons
, is ideally scrupulously politically neutral
and is not concerned with substantive issues. In the event of a
tie, the speaker is permitted to vote but only according to
established conventions. In most cases the speaker is elected from
among the members of the assembly by the members, and whip
are not allowed to be among the
selection. In the UK, a speaker is normally chosen from one of the
two largest parties.
Despite being an impartial position, the Speaker in a Westminster
system parliament has to stand for re-election if he or she wishes
to stay. In the Republic of Ireland the Speaker (Ceann
Comhairle) is deemed to have been elected if he or she seeks
re-election; in the United Kingdom it is a constitutional
convention that no major party will put up a candidate against
the 'Speaker seeking re-election'.
This convention was not
respected during the 1987 General Election, when both the Labour Party
and the Social Democratic Party
candidates against the Conservative Speaker, Bernard Weatherill
, who was MP for
. In the General Election of 2005, the Scottish National Party
put up a
candidate against the incumbent Speaker, Michael Martin
. There is no such
convention in Canada and the major parties routinely field
candidates against a Speaker who is seeking re-election.
In the United States, in the House of
and in state legislatures and local government
councils, the speaker is usually selected by the members of the
majority party and functions as a leader of that party. Thus,
though the speaker is supposed to be fair, he or she uses
procedural rulings to advance the causes and agenda of his or her
own party. Ceremonially, the speaker represents the whole house,
but politically is the legislative voice of the party in
There is one prominent case of a speaker who is not presiding
officer. The New York
City Council, the unicameral legislative body for New York City, has as its presiding officer the Public Advocate, a position
formerly known as City Council President, who is elected by all the
voters of the city.
As the public advocate's role has
changed with several city charter revisions, a post of Council
Speaker was created. The speaker is, effectively, majority leader
of the council.
According to the federal
statute currently in effect, the Speaker of
the House of Representatives
in the U.S. Congress is second in
line for succession to the presidency; should the president and
vice president be unable to serve, the speaker would become
president. Some scholars, however, have argued that this provision
of the succession statute is unconstitutional.
The Speaker of the United States House of Representatives is
currently Nancy Pelosi
(D-CA), who is
the first woman ever to serve as Speaker.
The presiding officer for an upper house
of a bicameral
legislature usually has a
different title, although substantially the same duties.
When the upper house is called a senate
equivalent title is often President of the Senate
Australia, Chile, the
States and many other countries have upper houses with
presiding officers titled "president".
In several American
republics, the vice president of the country serves as the
president of the upper house.
This pattern is not universal, however. Some upper houses,
including those of Canada
and several U.S.
states (including Tennessee
Kingdom, the presiding officer of the House of Lords was until recently the Lord Chancellor, who was also a member of
the government (a cabinet member) and the head of the judicial
The Lord Chancellor did not have the same authority
to discipline members of the Lords that the speaker of the Commons
has in that house. (On 4 July 2006 the office was reformed, and
the Baroness Hayman
took the woolsack as the first
Lord Speaker.) (The office of Lord
Chancellor remains, though with a modified role and
Welsh Assembly and Scottish
Parliament have the positions of Presiding Officer which fulfils the same
role as the speaker.
- 3 U.S.C. § 19
- See Akhil Reed Amar & Vikram Amar, Is The Presidential
Succession Law Constitutional?, 48 Stan. L. Rev. 113 (1995).
This issue is discussed in the entry on the United States
Presidential Line of Succession