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§ 133. “The Speaker.”

“The note of the Speaker of the British House of Commons is his impartiality. He has indeed been chosen by a party, because a majority means in England a party. But on his way from his place on the benches to the Chair he is expected to shake off and leave behind all party ties and sympathies. Once invested with wig and gown of office he has no longer any political opinions, and must administer exactly the same treatment to his political friends and to those who have hitherto been his opponents, to the oldest or most powerful minister and to the youngest or least popular member. His duties are limited to the enforcement of the rules and generally to the maintenance of order and decorum in debate, including the selection, when several members rise at the same moment, of the one who is to carry on the discussion. These are duties of great importance, and his position one of great dignity, but neither the duties nor the position imply political power. It makes little difference to any English party in Parliament whether the occupant of the chair has come from their own or from the hostile ranks. The Speaker can lower or raise the tone and efficiency of the House as a whole by the way he presides over it; but a custom as strong as law forbids him to render help to his own side, even by private advice. Whatever information as to parliamentary law he may feel free to give must be equally at the disposal of every member.” (Bryce, Amer. Comm. I. p. 134-5.)

“The duties of the Speaker of the House of Commons are as various as they are important. He presides over the deliberations of the house, and enforces the observance of all rules for preserving order in its proceedings; he puts every question, and declares the determination of the house. As ‘mouth of the house,’ he communicates its resolutions to others, conveys its thanks, and expresses its censure, its reprimands, or its admonitions. He issues warrants to execute the orders of the house for the commitment of offenders, for the issue of writs, for the attendance of witnesses in custody, for the bringing up prisoners in custody, and giving effect to other orders requiring the sanction of a legal form. He is, in fact, the representative of the house itself, in its powers, its proceedings, and its dignity. When he enters or leaves the house, the mace is borne before him by the Serjeant-at-arms; when he is in the chair, it is laid upon the table; and at all other times, when the mace is not in the house, it remains with the Speaker, and accompanies him upon all state occasions. The Speaker is responsible for


  ― 480 ―
the due enforcement of the rules, rights, and privileges of the house, and when he rises he is to be heard in silence. In accordance with his duty, he declines to submit motions to the house, which obviously infringe the rules which govern its proceedings; such as a motion which would create a charge upon the people and is not recommended by the Crown; a motion touching the rights of the Crown, which has not received the royal consent; a motion which anticipates a matter which stands for the future consideration of the house, which raises afresh a matter already decided during the current session, or is otherwise out of order. If a proposed instruction to a committee be out of order, the Speaker explains the nature of the irregularity. Amendments by the Lords to a bill which trench upon the privileges of the House of Commons, are submitted to the Speaker; and, if occasion requires, he calls the attention of the house to the nature of the amendments, and gives his opinion thereon. The Speaker also has decided that motions, which were brought forward as a matter of privilege, did not come within that category.” (May's Parl. Prac. 10th ed. p. 187-8.)

“In rank, the Speaker takes precedence of all commoners, both by ancient custom and by legislative declaration. The Act I. Will. and Mary, c. 21, enacts that the lords commissioners for the great seal ‘not being peers, shall have and take place next after the peers of this realm, and the Speaker of the House of Commons.’ By 2 and 3 Will. IV. c. 105, an Act for the better support of the dignity of the Speaker of the House of Commons, and by 9 and 10 Vic. c. 77, an Act relating to the officers of the house, it is provided that, in case of a dissolution, the then speaker shall be deemed to be the Speaker, for the purposes of those Acts, until a Speaker shall be chosen by the New Parliament.” (Id. p. 190.)

Absence of Speaker.

36. Before or during any absence of the Speaker134, the House of Representatives may choose a member to perform his duties in his absence.

CANADA.—Until the Parliament of Canada otherwise provides, in case of the absence for any reason of the Speaker from the Chair of the House of Commons for a period of forty-eight consecutive hours, the House may elect another of its members to act as Speaker, and the member so elected shall, during the continuance of such absence of the Speaker, have and execute all the powers, privileges, and duties of Speaker.—B.N.A. Act, sec. 47.

HISTORICAL NOTE.—In the Commonwealth Bill of 1891, the introductory words of the clause were “In case of the absence of the Speaker.” In the clause so introduced and adopted at the Adelaide session, 1897, these introductory words were omitted. At the Sydney session, the clause was altered by the Drafting Committee to its present form. (See Historical Note, sec. 18.)

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