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  • Context (IE): The US House has been without a speaker for three weeks.

Speaker of the United States House of Representatives

  • To be elected speaker to the United States House of Representatives (the Lower House of the US Congress), a candidate must receive a majority of votes from the members present and voting.
  • Representatives are free to vote for someone other than the candidate nominated by their party but generally do not.
  • The Republican Party in the US has a majority in the House, but it is divided into many factions and cannot reach a consensus.

Speaker of Lok Sabha (LS)

  • The Speaker of the LS is the presiding officer and the highest authority of the LS.
  • The LS must choose one of its members (MPs) to be the Speaker as soon as possible.
  • To be elected speaker, a candidate must receive a majority of votes from the MPs present and voting.
  • When the post of Speaker is vacant:
    • The House must choose a new member to fill the vacancy.
    • The Deputy Speaker presides over the Lok Sabha.
    • If the post of both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker is vacant, the President can appoint a member of the LS as the Speaker pro tem.
  • When the speaker is absent:
    • The Deputy Speaker presides over the LS.
    • If both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are absent, anyone from the Panel of Chairpersons can preside over the house.

Panel of Chairpersons

  • It consists of a maximum of ten members of LS nominated by the Speaker.
  • Any chairperson can preside over the House if both the Speaker and Deputy Speaker are absent.
  • The Chairperson remains in office until a new Panel is nominated unless they:
    • Resign or
    • Are appointed as a Minister or
    • Elected as the Deputy Speaker.
  • After the dissolution of LS:
    • The Speaker remains in office until just before the first meeting of the new House.
    • When the LS meets after the election, the President appoints a member of the LS as a pro-tem speaker for the conduct of the house.
    • The President himself administers oath to the pro tem speaker.
    • Pro tem speaker administers the oath to MPs and enables the house to elect the new speaker.

Vacating the Speaker’s Office

  • The speaker has to vacate his office:
    • If he ceases to be a member of the LS
    • If he resigns by providing written notice to the Deputy Speaker
    • If he is removed by a resolution passed by a majority of all the members of the LS.

Role of Speaker under IC

  • As the presiding officer of the LS at the Centre and the Legislative Assembly in the States, the Speaker must act impartially.
  • The speaker is the custodian of the rights & privileges of the House, its committees, and its members.
  • Apart from the traditional roles with respect to the conduct of business, important functions of the Speaker include:
    • Certifying a Bill to be a Money Bill.
    • Deciding on disqualification under the Tenth Schedule for defection.
    • Suspension of members for misconduct in the House.
    • Referring a bill to the standing committee.

Misuse of the Power

  • The LS/Legislative Assembly rules provide for suspension of members for misconduct in the House. The Speakers and the Houses misuse these provisions often against the Opposition members.
  • The Speaker can refer to Bills introduced to the Parliamentary Standing Committees. However, even significant Bills that require detailed scrutiny are not referred to such committees.
  • There have also been challenges in the Court in recent years against the certification of certain Bills as a Money Bill by the Speaker of the LS.

Authority Under the Tenth Schedule

  • The Speaker is the deciding authority on disqualifying members under the Tenth Schedule.
  • While he/she is expected to perform this constitutional role neutrally, past instances suggest that the Speakers favour the ruling dispensation.
  • The minority judges in Kihoto Hollohan (1992) believed that vesting the power to decide on defections with the Speaker violates the basic democratic principles.
  • The SC in Keisham Meghachandra Singh vs The Hon’ble Speaker Manipur (2020) recommended amending the Constitution to vest these powers in an independent tribunal headed by judges.

Way Forward

  • Speakers should act impartially & refrain from engaging in any conduct perceived as inappropriate.
  • The Indian Parliament must follow British practices to build trust in the Speaker’s role.

Speaker in Britain

  • In Britain, the Speaker, once elected to his/her office, resigns from the political party to which he/she belonged. This is to reflect his/her impartiality while presiding over the House.
  • In subsequent elections to the House of Commons, he/she seeks election not as a member of any political party but as ‘the Speaker seeking re-election’.
  • In the IC, while the Tenth Schedule allows a Speaker (or Deputy Speaker) to resign from their political party on being elected to their office, it has never been done by any Speaker to date.
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