previous
next

§ 137. “Quorum.”

The Constitutions of different countries vary widely as to the principle of the quorum and the mode of its determination. In the United States, in Switzerland, in Canada, and (as regards the Diet) in Germany, the quorum is fixed as a constitutional principle. In Great Britain, and France, on the other hand, the quorum is regarded as a matter of internal procedure, which each House determines for itself. This is regarded by Dr. Burgess as a defect, as it leaves to the caprice of an undefined number of members of each House the control over an important structural principle. (Pol. Science II., 124.) In the British colonies the British example has not been followed, the quorum being invariably prescribed in their Constitution Acts.

As to the proportion of members which should form a quorum, British and Continental ideas differ widely. On the Continent of Europe, and in the United States of America, the most general quorum is an absolute majority of members.

“In those cases where the quorum is fixed by the Constitutions there is substantial agreement upon the principle that the presence of a majority of the legal number of members in the House is necessary and sufficient to the transaction of legislative business. This principle is also adopted as a rule of procedure by both Houses of the French Legislature. The French Senate requires not only the presence of the majority of its members, but also their votes, for or against a motion. The quorum of the absolute majority, i.e., the majority of the legal number of members, may be said to be the modern principle in general legislation. Its reason is that the majority represents in this respect the whole, and is vested with the powers of the whole. If this were not the principle, legislative action would be exposed to the tricks and stratagems of the minority to an unbearable degree.” (Burgess, Pol. Science, ii. 124-5.)




  ― 483 ―

In the British Parliament, on the other hand, the quorum of the House of Commons has, from very early times, been fixed at 40, and that of the House of Lords at 3; though the Houses now number respectively 670 and 586 members. Dr. Burgess points out that the fact that, under the British system, legislation is controlled by the Ministry, would make it unnecessary, and often inconvenient, to require a majority quorum. (Pol. Science, ii. 125.) In the Parliaments of British colonies the quorum fixed is invariably less than an absolute majority; being sometimes fixed at one-third, or one-fourth, and sometimes at an arbitrary number representing even a lower proportion.

Voting in House of Representatives.

40. Questions arising in the House of Representatives shall be determined by a majority of votes other than that of the Speaker. The Speaker shall not vote unless the numbers are equal, and then he shall have a casting vote.

CANADA.—Questions arising in the House of Commons shall be decided by a majority of voices other than that of the Speaker, and when the voices are equal, but not otherwise, the Speaker shall have a vote.—B.N.A. Act, 1867, sec. 49.

HISTORICAL NOTE.—In the Commonwealth Bill of 1891, and in the Adelaide draft of 1897, the clause was in substantially the same form. At the Sydney session, a suggestion by the Parliament of Victoria was submitted to add a proviso that “in case of a proposed amendment of the Constitution the Speaker may vote notwithstanding the votes are not equal, and in such cases he shall not have a casting vote.” It was contended that in the important case of a constitutional amendment, where an absolute majority was required, the Speaker ought not to be deprived of the right to give a vote which might be required to make up the absolute majority. However, the amendment was negatived. (Conv. Deb., Syd. [1897], pp. 461-3.) At the Melbourne session, a drafting amendment was made after the fourth report.

previous
next