A crossbencher is an independent or minor party member of some legislatures, such as the British House of Lords and Australian Senate. They take their name from the crossbenches, between and perpendicular to the government and opposition benches, where crossbenchers sit in the chamber; compare frontbencher and backbencher.
Crossbench members of the British House of Lords are not aligned to any particular party. These include the judges appointed under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876. In addition, former Speakers of the House of Commons (such as Lord Martin and Baroness Boothroyd) and former Lord Speakers of the House of Lords (such as Baroness Hayman), who by convention are not aligned with any party, also sit as crossbenchers.
The crossbenchers are often viewed as bringing specialist knowledge to the House, since they have usually been created peers for reasons other than party or political affiliation. Since 2000, the House of Lords Appointments Commission has been nominating a total of 57 non-party-political life peers (as of 2011), who joined the House of Lords as crossbenchers.
As of 1 October 2011, there are 183 crossbenchers in the House of Lords—making them the third largest grouping after the Conservative and Labour parties. Of this total, 151 are life peers and 32 are hereditary peers (including a royal office-holder). In April 2007, the number of crossbenchers overtook the number of Conservatives in the Lords for the first time.
Although the Lords Spiritual (archbishops and senior bishops of the Church of England) also have no party affiliation, they do not sit on the crossbenches, their seats being on the Government side of the Lords Chamber.
The crossbenchers do not take a collective position on issues, although they do elect from among themselves a Convenor for administrative purposes, and to keep them up-to-date with the business of the House. The current Convenor is Lord Laming who took office in September 2011. While Convenors are not part of the "usual channels" (i.e., the party whips who decide the business of the House), they have been included in their discussions in recent years.
The following have served as Convenor of the Crossbenches:
- Lord Strang (1968–1974)
- Baroness Hylton-Foster (1974–1995)
- Lord Weatherill (1995–1999; Alternate Convenor 1993–1995)
- Lord Craig of Radley (1999–2004)
- Lord Williamson of Horton (2004–2007)
- Baroness D’Souza (2007–2011)
- Lord Laming (2011–present)
The term refers to both independent and minor party members in various Parliaments of Australia.
The present Australian Parliament, as elected at the 2010 election, is the 43rd Federal Parliament since Federation. It is the first hung parliament in the House of Representatives since the 1940 election, with Labor and the Coalition winning 72 seats each of 150 total. Six crossbenchers hold the balance of power: Greens MP Adam Bandt and independent MPs Andrew Wilkie, Rob Oakeshott and Tony Windsor declared their support for Labor on confidence and supply, independent MP Bob Katter and National Party of Western Australia MP Tony Crook declared their support for the Coalition on confidence and supply. The resulting 76–74 margin entitled Labor to form a minority government.
In the 76-seat Senate, where no party tends to have a majority of seats, the Greens gained the sole balance of power with a total of nine of eleven crossbench seats. Labor holding 31 seats, they require an additional eight non-Labor votes to pass legislation. The Coalition holds 34 seats, while the two remaining seats are occupied by independent Senator Nick Xenophon and Democratic Labor Party Senator John Madigan.
- ^ House of Lords: Composition
- ^ The Times, Monday April 16 2007 Days of Conservative domination in the Lords comes to an end.
- ^ "Crossbenchers Official Website - A Brief History of the Crossbenchers". http://184.108.40.206/history.html. Retrieved 16 February 2011.
- ^ "Lord Laming to Take Office as Convenor of the Crossbench Peers in September 2011". Convenor Election Supervisors. 29 June 2011. http://220.127.116.11/Convenor%20election%20announcement%5B1%5D.pdf.
- ^ Comment to "Constitutional Renewal Starts at Home" by Baroness Murphy.
- ^ Convenors of the Crossbench Peers
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