Select Committee on Procedure Second Report


Election of a presiding officer in other legislatures and assemblies

    1.  This note summarises the arrangements for electing presiding officers in legislatures and assemblies based on Westminster and other models. It is based on readings of the applicable standing orders and rules of procedure, supplemented by recommendations and observations made by the relevant authorities of the legislatures and assemblies cited.

A.  Parliaments on the Westminster model

Australia — House of Representatives

Secret ballot

    2.  The Clerk administers the election of the Speaker. At the beginning of a Parliament, or when there is a vacancy in the Speakership, the Clerk calls for nominations for the post. Nominations are made orally and without notice, and must be seconded. If only one member is nominated, he or she is declared elected. When no further nominations are forthcoming, the Clerk declares nominations closed. Debate may then ensue. A Minister may move for closure at any time: if this motion is carried, or when the debate concludes, the House proceeds to a ballot.

    3.  Members write the name of their preferred candidate on a ballot paper and deliver it to the Clerks. When all have voted, the Clerks are responsible for counting the votes. For a candidate to be elected, he or she must achieve a simple majority of Members present. [NB: the standing orders do not distinguish between members simply present and members present and voting]. If there are three or more candidates and none gains a simple majority, the candidate with the least votes is eliminated and a new ballot is held.

    4.  Candidates may only withdraw from the process between the declaration of the result of the first ballot and the commencement of subsequent ballots.

Canada — House of Commons

Secret ballot

    5.  A Speaker, having indicated his or her intention to resign, is able to preside over the election of a successor. The election is the first item of business on the appointed day (the first day of a new Parliament or when there appears to be a vacancy).

    6.  Either the retiring Speaker or the Member with the longest unbroken period of service (who is not a Minister or an office-holder or party leader) presides over the election. In certain circumstances the Deputy Speaker may preside over an election. The presiding Member has all the powers of the Chair: he may vote in the election, but he does not have a casting vote.

    7.  No debate on the election is permitted.

    8.  Members not wishing to stand for election submit their names to the Clerk by 6pm the evening before the election. The list, together with names of Ministers and party leaders, constitutes a list of those ineligible for election.

    9.  Ballot papers are issued only to those Members present in the chamber on the day of the election. Members print the names of their choice on the ballot and place it in a box. A simple majority of votes cast is required to win. If no candidate achieves a simple majority, both the candidate polling the lowest number of votes and any candidates polling less than 5% of the total votes cast are eliminated, and a new ballot is held. Candidates may withdraw from the contest before this second ballot, but are expected to state their reasons. Subsequent ballots are held until one candidate receives a simple majority.

    10.  The Canadian General Election took place on 27 November 2000. The House of Commons elected a Speaker when the thirty-seventh Parliament first met on 29th January 2001. Thirty-one Members stood for election, of which twenty-five were eliminated in the first ballot. In all five ballots were held, the process taking 4 hours 20 minutes. Following the fifth ballot, between three candidates, Mr Peter Milliken was declared elected Speaker.

South Africa — National Assembly

Secret ballot

    11.  The Speakership is an office designated by the Constitution, and the election follows a constitutionally-defined procedure. The President of the Constitutional Court, or his or her designate, presides over the election of a Speaker, and is empowered to make rules governing the procedure to be followed at the election and the manner in which voting is conducted.

    12.  The elected Speaker presides over the election of a Deputy Speaker. The National Assembly may elect other deputy presiding officers in accordance with its rules of procedure.

    13.  The Secretary of the Assembly is responsible for informing the House that the position of Speaker is vacant. The election of a new Speaker may take place either forthwith or at a time announced by the Secretary.

    14.  The presiding judge calls for nominations, which must be made on a form designated for the purpose and signed by two Members of the Assembly. The candidate must indicate his or her willingness to stand in writing, by signing the nomination form or otherwise. Names of the candidates are announced by the presiding judge, but no debate is permitted.

    15.  If only one candidate is nominated, he or she is declared elected. If more than one candidate is nominated, a secret ballot is held. The candidate receiving an overall majority is elected.

    16.  If no candidate receives an overall majority, the candidate receiving the lowest number of votes is eliminated and a further ballot held. If two candidates tie for the lowest number of votes in any round, a further ballot is held to determine which one of them is eliminated. If, after initial nominations or elimination, only two candidates remain, and those candidates receive the same number of votes in the final ballot, a further meeting is held under the same rules within seven days.

India — Lok Sabha

Motion taken on the floor

    17.  The President sets the date of the election of the Speaker: every member is notified of the date by the Secretary-General. Nominations close at noon before the appointed day, and take the form of a notice of a motion to choose a Member as Speaker. Nominations must be seconded and accompanied by a statement by the nominated Member of his or her willingness to serve.

    18.  The Rules of Procedure do not indicate who presides over the election process, although Rule 10 indicates that 'the deputy Speaker or any other member competent to preside over a sitting of the House under the Constitution or these rules shall, when so presiding, have the same powers as the Speaker when so presiding'.

    19.  The motions are put to the House in the order they have been moved. Decision is by division if necessary. Once a motion is carried, the Member proposed is declared elected Speaker.

New Zealand — House of Representatives

Roll-call vote

    20.  The Clerk, presiding, reads out the nominations and calls on each Member in turn to state the candidate for whom he or she will vote. Election is by simple majority of the votes cast. If no overall majority is achieved, the candidate with the lowest number of votes is eliminated and a new vote is held.

Republic of Ireland — Dáil Eireann

Motion taken on the floor

    21.  At the start of a parliament, the Clerk announces the list of members returned to serve in the Dáil. Under S.O. 6 the Dáil then proceeds directly to the election of its Ceann Comhairle [Chairman]. The Clerk chairs the sitting until the Ceann Comhairle is elected, and has powers to suspend or to adjourn the sitting until the election has been finalised.

    22.  Any Member who has taken his or her seat may, without notice, make a motion that another Member shall be elected Ceann Comhairle. If only one motion is received, the question is put in the usual manner: if there is a tie, the question is negatived.

    23.  If more than one motion is received, the questions are put in the order in which they are moved. The order in which the motions are moved depends on when the proposer is called by the Clerk when acting as chairman. Once a question is carried the nominated Member is elected.

    24.  If a vacancy arises during a session, the Leas-Ceann Comhairle [Deputy Chairman] takes the chair pro tem. The Clerk reports the vacancy to the Dáil at its next meeting. The Dáil then makes an order appointing the date and time of an election.

    25.  Under S.O. 14 the Ceann Comhairle may continue in office "until a successor is appointed". This has been interpreted to mean the point at which the process of electing a successor is initiated (after which the Clerk would then chair proceedings under S.O. 6). S.O. 14 allows a Ceann Comhairle to discharge various constitutional and statutory responsibilities which attach to the office, including those as political head of the Office of the Houses of the Oireachtas, as a member of the Presidential Commission which may discharge certain functions in the absence of the President, and as a member of the Council of State which advises the President, while the Oireachtas is dissolved.

B.  United Kingdom devolved institutions

Scottish Parliament

Secret ballot

    26.  Nominations for the post of Presiding Officer open two hours before the time of election, which is determined by the Parliament on the motion of the Parliamentary Bureau, and close fifteen minutes beforehand. Nominations are made in writing to the Clerk, and must be seconded. Candidates must take the oath or affirm before the time of election. Candidates may withdraw between rounds of voting

    27.  If there are already two deputy Presiding Officers from the same party, any nomination of a candidate from that party is ruled invalid.

    28.  Voting is by secret ballot. A vote is held even if there is only one candidate, to allow votes against and abstentions to be recorded. The winner requires a simple majority of the votes cast: if no such majority is achieved, the candidate or candidates with the lowest number of votes is/are eliminated. The contest is invalid if in any round of voting the number of votes cast falls below 25% of the total number of seats.

    29.  The secret ballot is unusual amongst the procedures of the Scottish Parliament. It has been criticised as being contrary to the approach of openness adopted in those procedures. However, it retains overall support in view of the sensitivity of the vote and the impartiality of the office of Presiding Officer.

National Assembly for Wales

Secret ballot

    30.  The Clerk presides over the election of a Presiding Officer, who then presides over the election of a Deputy. A Member may not be nominated as Deputy if he or she is of the same political group as the Presiding Officer.

    31.  The Chair invites nominations, which must in the first instance be seconded by a member who belongs to a political group different from that of the nominating Member. If this condition is not met for any nomination, the session is adjourned; upon resumption, the Chair may accept nominations which are seconded by a Member of the same political group.

    32.  If there is only one nomination, and it is not opposed, the nominee is declared elected unopposed. If there is only one nomination, but it is opposed, a secret ballot is held, and the nominee is declared elected if he or she secures more than half the votes cast. There is no guidance as to what should happen if the nominee fails to secure more than half the votes cast: presumably nominations would be invited again.

    33.  If there are two or more nominations, a secret ballot is held. If no candidate receives more than half the votes cast the candidate with the least number of votes is eliminated and a new ballot held. In any vote involving just two candidates (including the situation where other candidates have been eliminated), the member securing the greater number of votes is elected. In the event of a tie a further ballot is held.

    34.  If secret ballots are required, the procedure broadly follows that adopted in polling stations at parliamentary, Assembly and local authority elections.

Northern Ireland Assembly

Motion taken on the floor

    35.  Provision for election of a Speaker is contained in the Northern Ireland Act 1998, s. 39. S. 39 (7) provides that a Speaker may not be elected who does not have 'cross-community support'. The Act defines this as "(a) the support of a majority of the members voting, a majority of the designated Nationalists voting and a majority of the designated Unionists voting; or (b) the support of 60 per cent of the members voting, 40 per cent of the designated Nationalists voting and 40 per cent of the designated Unionists voting."

    36.  If the outgoing Speaker is not seeking re-election, and is available, he or she may chair proceedings. If not, the oldest member of the Assembly not seeking election as Speaker chairs proceedings as Acting Speaker, and calls for nominations.

    37.  Nominations take the form of a motion "that X be Speaker of this Assembly". A nomination is accepted only if it is seconded. A candidate so nominated may accept nomination by making an oral or written statement. The Acting Speaker calls for further nominations; when there are no further nominations, a debate may ensue in which no Member may speak more than once.

    38.  At the conclusion of the debate, the question is put on the first (or only) motion to be proposed. The successful candidate must achieve a majority and must secure cross-community support. If it is impossible to elect a Speaker under this arrangement, and an elected Deputy Speaker is in post, he or she takes the chair until a new election can be held. If that is not possible, the oldest elected member takes the Chair as Acting Speaker pro tem.

    39.  Where more than one Deputy Speaker has been elected, they shall act in weekly rotation in the order in which they were elected, insofar as this is possible.

C.  Other legislatures

USA — House of Representatives

Roll-call vote

    40.  Nominations are made by party spokesmen (i.e. the chairs of party caucuses) without formal notice but by publicly known direction of the caucuses. Other nominations are in order, though nominations are normally closed by unanimous consent.

    41.  Voting in the House is by roll call, with each Representative stating the name of his or her preferred candidate. Members can, and on rare occasions do, give the names of people other than the two nominated candidates or even people who are not Members of the House. A response of "present" (equivalent to an abstention) is void but counts towards the quorum.

    42.  A majority of at least one more than half of the votes cast (with a quorum of at least one more than half of the membership present) is necessary for election.

    43.  In successive roll-call votes, low-scoring candidates are not excluded procedurally.

France — Assemblée Nationale

Secret ballot

    44.  At the opening sitting of each Assembly oldest Member of the Assembly (the Doyen d'âge) takes the chair as Président d'âge: no debate is permitted while he or she is presiding. The presiding deputy first informs the Assembly of the names of those elected, and deals with petitions contesting elections (if any). The Assembly then proceeds directly to the election of a President. It appears that there is no formal procedure to deal with the circumstance where a President in the previous Assembly, who is returned to the new Assembly, seeks re-election.

    45.  If a vacancy occurs during an Assembly, and the Assembly Bureau is functioning, a vice-president may chair the proceedings.

    46.  Election is by secret ballot. Candidates may be nominated in advance or nominated in person to the presiding deputy at the opening of the sitting at which the election is due to take place. The list of candidates is read out and deputies leave the chamber to collect ballots. If time permits, ballot papers are pre-printed with the names of all candidates: if not, blank ballots are (presumably) made available to deputies who write in the name of their preferred candidate.

    47.  The presiding deputy then announces that voting has begun. Deputies are called to the podium one by one and place their ballots (sealed in envelopes) in a ballot box. Voting may take up to one hour. Deputies must vote in person. When the names of all deputies have been called, voting is declared closed. Tellers, chosen by lot from among the deputies, retire to a side-chamber to count the votes, a process which can take up to 45 minutes. The results are then announced in the chamber.

    48.  In the first two rounds of voting, candidates must achieve an absolute majority of votes cast: in subsequent rounds a simple majority is all that is required. There is no automatic elimination of candidates between rounds, and nothing prevents fresh nominations being made between one round and the next. In the event of a tie the older deputy stands elected.

    49.  At the opening sitting of the 1997 Assembly, three nominations were received in advance and one was made at the commencement of the sitting at 3 pm. The first round of voting began at 3.35 and was declared closed at 4.35. The results were announced at 5.10. No candidate received an overall majority. The Assembly then resolved to move immediately to a second round. The presiding deputy consulted all four candidates, two of whom stood down. No new candidates were nominated. The second and final round of voting ran from 5.15 to 6.15, and the election of the President was announced at 6.40.

    50.  Following the resignation of the President elected in 1997, an election was held on 29 March 2000, at a session chaired by a vice-president. Two nominations were received in advance of the sitting, which opened at 3 pm. The single round of voting took place between 3.10 and 4.10, and the election of the President was announced at 4.35.

Germany — Deutscher Bundestag

Unopposed nomination

    51.  The oldest elected Member (by age) chairs the constituent meeting of each Bundestag, until a President has been elected, and oversees the procedure for the election of the President. Although in theory each Bundestag can determine its own rules for electing a President, in practice the tradition in operation since 1920 dictates that the largest political group nominates a candidate for President (who is then elected unopposed).

    52.  Once the President of the Bundestag has assumed office, the Bundestag resolves to adopt its Rules of Procedure.

    53.  The Bundestag then decides how many Vice-Presidents there should be, and proceeds to elect them: in 1994 the Rules of Procedure were altered to give each parliamentary group at least one vice-presidency. In 1998 one President and five Vice-Presidents were elected.

Italy — Camera dei Deputati

Secret ballot

    54.  The President of the Camera is elected by secret ballot. The threshold required for election is lowered at each round of voting, viz. two-thirds majority of all deputies; two-thirds majority of all votes cast (including blank votes); absolute majority of all votes cast (following which, presumably, candidates begin to be eliminated).

Sweden — Riksdag

Secret ballot

    55.  Election is by secret ballot: the successful candidate must achieve a plurality (i.e. an absolute majority, or over 50%) of all votes cast. If there is no plurality, a second ballot is held with the same candidates. If there is still no plurality, a run-off ballot is held between the top two candidates.

European Parliament

Secret ballot

    56.  The Parliament elects its President, fourteen Vice-Presidents and five Quaestors at the opening of a Parliament's term and again half way through (i.e. every two and a half years).

    57.  A special sitting is held for the purpose of electing the President, Vice-Presidents and Quaestors. The oldest Member present presides until a President is elected, whereupon he or she vacates the chair. The only business permitted while the oldest Member is in the chair is the election of the President or the verification of Members' credentials.

    58.  Nominations to all posts may be made only by recognised political groups or by at least thirty-two Members. A nomination must have the nominee's consent. If the number of nominations does not exceed the number of posts to be filled, the candidates are elected by acclamation.

    59.  The Rules of Procedure state that in electing the President, Vice-President and Quaestors "account should be taken of the need to ensure an overall fair representation of Member States and political views."

    60.  At the opening of the election, the oldest Member present announces the list of candidates. A secret ballot is then held. In counting the ballots, only ballot papers bearing the names of members nominated are taken into account. An overall majority is required for election. There is no mechanism for the elimination of candidates unless, after three ballots, no candidate has achieved an overall majority. If this is the case, a fourth ballot is held between the two candidates polling the highest number of votes in the third ballot. In the event of a tie, the older candidate is elected.

    61.  In the election held at the sitting of 20 July 1999, four nominations were received. Mme Nicole Fontaine received an absolute majority of the votes cast in the only round of voting and was declared elected.

12 February 2001

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Prepared 15 February 2001