Father of the House
Father of the House is a term that has been by tradition bestowed unofficially on certain members of some legislatures, most notably the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. In some legislatures the term refers to the longest continuously-serving member, while in others it refers to the oldest member. Recently, the term Mother of the House or Mother of Parliament has also been used, although the usage varies between countries; it is simply the female alternative to Father of the House, being applied when the relevant member is a woman.
House of Commons
The Father of the House is a title that is bestowed on the senior member of the House of Commons who has the longest continuous service. If two or more members have the same length of current uninterrupted service, then whoever was sworn in earliest, as listed in Hansard, is named as Father of the House. Traditionally, however, the qualification used for the Father of the House are not entirely clear and may have included the oldest member, the member with the longest aggregate service, or the member who entered the House longest ago.
The only formal duty of the Father of the House is to preside over the election of the Speaker of the House of Commons. However, the relevant Standing Order does not refer to this member by the title of "Father of the House", referring instead to the longest-serving member of the House present who is not a Minister of the Crown. Until 1971, the Clerk of the House of Commons presided over the election of the speaker. As the clerk is never a member, and therefore is not permitted to speak, he would silently stand and point at the Member who was to speak. However, this procedure broke down at the election of a new Speaker in 1971 and was changed upon the recommendation of a Select Committee.
The current Father of the House of Commons is Kenneth Clarke, Conservative MP for Rushcliffe, who began his continuous service at the 1970 general election. Dennis Skinner, Labour MP for Bolsover, also began continuous service at the 1970 general election, but was sworn in after Clarke.
The first recorded usage of the title dates back to 1816 an engraved portrait of Whitshed Keene by Charles Picart, dated 1 February. Henry Campbell-Bannerman was simultaneously Father of the House and Prime Minister from May 1907 until soon before his death during April 1908. On 13 June 2017 Harriet Harman was dubbed "Mother of the House" by Prime Minister Theresa May, in recognition of her status as longest continuously serving woman MP.
In Australia, the current member of the House of Representatives with the longest period of continuous service, whether a Minister or not, is known as "Father of the House". Similarly, the current member of the Senate with the longest period of continuous service is known as "Father of the Senate". The longer serving of the two Fathers is called "Father of the Parliament".
As in Britain, these terms have no official status. However, unlike Britain:
- the term Father of the House/Senate applies where there is one member whose continuous service is unequivocally longer than any other, as determined by the date of election (House) or the date of the start of the term (Senate). Where two or more members have equal length of continuous service, more than any other members, they are considered joint Fathers of the House/Senate. Some state parliaments, however, use the British convention of giving precedence by order of swearing into office.
- the Father of the House and the Father of the Senate in Australia do not have any parliamentary role at all. The election of the presiding officers is conducted by the Clerk of the House and the Clerk of the Senate respectively.
Philip Ruddock, who was first elected during 1973, was the Father of the House of Representatives and Father of the Parliament from 1 September 1998 until his retirement on 9 May 2016. He was succeeded by Senator Ian Macdonald as Father of the Parliament and Kevin Andrews as Father of the House.
The longest-serving member of the House of Commons who is not a cabinet minister is known as the Dean of the House, and presides over the election of the Speaker at the beginning of each Parliament. The same term is used for the equivalent position in the United States House of Representatives.
|Member||Became oldest member|
|Iisakki Hoikka||1907, 1908|
|John Hedberg||1908, 1909, 1909 , 1913|
|Leo Mechelin||1910, 1910, 1911, 1912, 1913|
|Rabbe Wrede||1917 , 1918, 1918|
|Artur Wuorimaa||1920, 1921|
|Waldemar Bergroth||1918, 1922 – 1926|
|Juho Torppa||1927, 1928, 1929|
|Anders Forsberg||1929 , 1930|
|Pehr Evind Svinhufvud||1930, 1931|
|K. J. Ståhlberg||1932, 1932|
|Matti Paasivuori||1933, 1934, 1935, 1935|
|Miina Sillanpää||1936 – 1947|
|Akseli Brander||1948 – 1950|
|Väinö Tanner||1951 – 1953|
|Matti Lahtela||1954 – 1957|
|Väinö Tanner||1958 – 1961|
|Raino Hallberg||1962 – 1965|
|Kustaa Tiitu||1966 – 1969|
|Rafael Paasio||1970 – 1975|
|Evald Häggblom||1975 , 1976|
|V. J. Sukselainen||1976, 1977, 1978|
|Mikko Kaarna||1979 – 1982|
|Tuure Junnila||1983 – 1986|
|Johannes Virolainen||1987 – 1989|
|Maunu Kohijoki||1991 – 1994|
|Martti Tiuri||1995 – 2002|
|Kalevi Lamminen||2003 – 2006|
|Claes Andersson||2007 – 2008|
|Jacob Söderman||2008- 2009-2010|
|Kauko Tuupainen||2011 – 2013|
|Pertti Salolainen||2015 –|
Starting with the Frankfurter Nationalversammlung (Frankfurt Parliament) of 1848, all German parliaments had a father of the House, usually called Alterspräsident (President by right of age). This tradition was continued into the Weimar Republic and, after being discontinued in Nazi Germany, was resumed by the present Parliament (Bundestag), whose rules of procedure mandate that the father of the house presides over the Parliament (Bundestag) at the start of each legislative period.
In accordance with tradition, the Alterspräsident first ascertains himself that he is the oldest member of the Bundestag by stating his date of birth and asking if anyone is present who was born before this date. If no older member of the Bundestag is present (which is usually the case) he will formally declare that he indeed is the Alterspräsident and will start proceedings.
As acting President of the Bundestag (Bundestagspräsident) he delivers the first programmatic speech and supervises the election of the President of the Bundestag. He then yields his power to the newly elected President of the Bundestag, who will in turn supervise the elections of the Vice Presidents of the Bundestag.
The rules of order of the Bundestag also state that the Alterspräsident shall act as President of the Bundestag at any given time during a legislative period, if the whole Presidium (i.e. the President and the Vice Presidents of the Bundestag) is altogether unable to perform its duties.
As the Alterspräsident's opening speech usually draws a certain amount of public attention, the position has recently attracted controversy, when the Party of Democratic Socialism (the succcesor of the Socialist Unity Party of Germany) obtained the position by including aged independents (Stefan Heym in 1994, Fred Gebhardt in 1998) in their party lists. In 2017, the Bundestag changed its rules of procedure to have the member with the longest service in the Bundestag serve as father of the house, rather than the oldest member.
|1949–1953||SPD||longtime Reichstagspräsident during the Weimar Republic|
|2||1953–1957||Marie Elisabeth Lüders|
|1953–1957||FDP||stood in for Konrad Adenauer, the oldest member, who refused the position due to his position as Chancellor|
|3||1957–1961||Marie Elisabeth Lüders||1957–1961||FDP|
|1963–1965||CDU||assumed the position after his resignation as Chancellor|
|5||1965–1969||Konrad Adenauer||1965–1967||CDU||died in 1967|
|8||1976–1980||Ludwig Erhard||1976–1977||CDU||died in 1977|
|Johann Baptist Gradl|
|1983–1987||SPD||stood in for Egon Franke, who refused the position|
|12||1990–1994||Willy Brandt||1990–1992||SPD||died in 1992|
|1994–1995||PDS||resigned his seat in 1995|
|1998–2000||PDS||died in 2000|
|19||2017–present||Hermann Otto Solms|
(born 1940 and member of parliament for 33 years, 1980-2013 and since 2017)
|FDP||The first father of the house under the changed rules of procedure. Stood in for Wolfgang Schäuble (member of parliament for 45 years), who was subsequently elected President of the Bundestag.|
In Hong Kong, there is no such term as "Father of the House". Instead, the longest-serving member was termed the Senior Unofficial Member and was the highest-ranking unofficial member of the Executive Council and the Legislative Council until the title was abolished during 1995 and 1992 respectively.
After the transfer of the sovereignty of Hong Kong, James To became the longest serving member of the Legislative Council since 2016 after several members who had been served since the 1st Legislative Council retired.
In Hungary, the term refers to the oldest member of the National Assembly (previously House of Representatives, the lower house). Before the open session, the senior chairperson and junior notaries review the mandates of all the elected MPs in addition to their own. He or she presides over the newly elected parliament until the appointment of the officials.
|Member||Party||Entered Parliament||Became oldest member||Left House|
|Géza Malasits||MSZDP||1924||1945||1948 †|
|Ferenc Harrer||Ind.||1949||1949||1969 †|
|Kálmán Kéri||MDF||1990||1990||1994 †|
|László Varga||KDNP||1994||1994||2003 †|
In the beginning of each Knesset, before the election of a permanent speaker, there is a temporary speaker. In the past it was the oldest member of Knesset, now it is the longest-serving member. Michael Eitan is the most recent Knesset member to serve in this capacity, doing so from February 24 - March 30, 2010. In 2013 it was Benyamin Ben-Eliezer who had this position, and during 2015, it was Amir Peretz.
In the Republic of Ireland, the term Father of the Dáil is an unofficial title applied to the longest-serving Teachta Dála (TD) in Dáil Éireann. The current Father is the former Taoiseach and Fine Gael party leader, Enda Kenny, TD, since the retirement of Séamus Pattison at the 2007 general election. On a number of occasions two or more people have shared the position of Father of the Dáil.
In Malaysia the term "Father of the House" is rarely used. Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah who was elected during 1974, has been the longest serving MP in the Dewan Rakyat. He is also the current oldest serving MP aged 81 years, 4 months.
In New Zealand, the term Father or Mother of the House, as an unofficial title, designates the longest-continuously serving MP of the House of Representatives. The Father of the House has no official role in Parliament. Former Cabinet Minister Nick Smith succeeded former Prime Minister Bill English as Father of the House when the latter resigned in March 2018, having served continuously since the 1990 general election.
In New Zealand's first election of 1853, the Bay of Islands electorate became the first to declare the election of a successful candidate, electing Hugh Carleton unopposed. In the subsequent General Assembly of 1854, Carleton liked to be known as the "Father of the House".
Norway doesn't have such a tradition. In most cases the Stortingspresident or a member of the presidium from the previous term are asked to lead the proceedings until a new President is elected.
Traditionally when a new Russian parliament is formed the eldest deputy opens and manages the first session until a chairman is elected. In the history of the post-Soviet Dumas these were:
- 1993 Georgy Lukava - Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
- 1995 Grigory Galaziy - Our Home – Russia
- 1999 Yegor Ligachev - Communist Party of the Russian Federation
- 2003 Valentin Varennikov - Rodina
- 2007 Zhores Alferov - Communist Party of the Russian Federation
- 2011 Vladimir Dolgikh - United Russia
- 2011 Zhores Alferov - Communist Party of the Russian Federation
- 2016 Zhores Alferov - Communist Party of the Russian Federation
In the National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia, the oldest MP serves as the Acting Speaker presiding over the constitutive session, before the Speaker is elected.
- 2001 Zaharije Trnavčević - Democratic Party
- 2004 Velimir Simonović - Democratic Party of Serbia
- 2007 Borka Vučić - Socialist Party of Serbia
- 2008 Jovan Krkobabić - Party of United Pensioners of Serbia
- 2012 Zaharije Trnavčević - Rich Serbia
- 2014 Milan Korać - Party of United Pensioners of Serbia
- 2016 Dragoljub Mićunović - Democratic Party
Until his death on 23 March 2015, former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was the longest serving Member of Parliament (Tanjong Pagar) and thus the Father of the House. As of April 2015, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is Father of the House, as the longest serving MP (from the district named Marine Parade).
In Sweden the Riksdagsordningen law states that the member of the Riksdag who has held his elected seat for the longest shall be the Ålderspresident, which translates to President by age. The Ålderspresident acts as speaker of the Riksdag efter each election, and before the Speaker of the Riksdag has been elected. The Ålderspresident also acts as speaker in case of hindrance on behalf of the Speaker.
Members of the Riksdag who has held the position of Ålderspresident:
- Tage Erlander (first elected 1932) 1971–1973
- Torsten Nilsson (first elected 1941) 1973–1976
- Henry Allard (first elected 1945) 1976–1979
- Gunnar Sträng (first elected 1946) 1979–1985
- Ingemund Bengtsson (first elected 1951) 1985–1988
- Stig Alemyr (first elected 1957) 1988–1994
- Ingvar Carlsson (first elected 1965) 1994–1996
- Börje Nilsson (first elected 1965) 1996–1998
- Jan Bergqvist (first elected 1969) 1998–2002
- Anders Björck (first elected 1969) 2002–2003
- Bo Lundgren (first elected 1976) 2003–2004
- Lennart Nilsson (first elected 1976) 2004–2006
- Per Westerberg (first elected 1979) 2006–2014
- Göran Hägglund (first elected 1991) 2014–2015
- Krister Örnfjäder (first elected 1993) 2015–present
- "Father of the House: House of Commons Background Paper". House of Commons Library. 6 October 2016. Retrieved 1 October 2017.
- "The Father of the House" (PDF). Factsheet M3. London: House of Commons Information Office. March 2009. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2009-03-25. Retrieved 2009-10-05.
- Moss, Stephen (2 May 2015). "Labour's Dennis Skinner at 83: 'Father of the House? You must be joking'". The Guardian. Retrieved 2 May 2015.
- "The Speaker" (PDF). Westminster, United Kingdom: House of Commons Information Office. September 2003. pp. 4–5.
- "Members Sworn". Hansard. Hansard Digitisation Project. 30 June 1970. Retrieved 2009-10-05.
- "Members Sworn". Hansard. Hansard Digitisation Project. 1 July 1970. Retrieved 2009-12-01.
- "Election of Speaker". Hansard. UK: Commons. 13 June 2017.
- Söderman toimi puhemiesvaalin toimittajana, koska Andersson oli sairauslomalla; Hs.fi: Sauli Niinistö jatkaa eduskunnan puhemiehenä. Viitattu 24.4.2015. (in Finnish)
- Eduskunta: Täysistunnon pöytäkirja PTK 1/2008 vp (in Finnish)
- Eduskunta: Täysistunnon pöytäkirja PTK 1/2009 vp (in Finnish)
- "Deutscher Bundestag - I. Wahl des Präsidenten, der Stellvertreter und Schriftführer".
- Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters has been an MP for longer than Smith, but his terms have not been consecutive. He has served since 1979, but was not a Member of Parliament from 1981 to 1984, nor from 2008 to 2011.
- "Pressrun.net". www.pressrun.net.
- Father of the House: House of Commons Background Paper, House of Commons Library, 2016