In parliamentary systems, why are Speakers of Parliament often granted special independence, despite no such protection is required in Constitution?

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In parliamentary systems, the Speaker (once elected by the Parliament) usually cannot be removed by a decision of Parliament, which grants them special independence to act impartially.

However, most Constitutions do not actually have such provision to protect the Speaker. Specifically, these documents simply require the Parliament to elect a Speaker, but does not specify whether the Speaker can be removed by a parliamentary majority.

Example: German Basic Law, Article 40, Clause 1

The Bundestag shall elect its President, Vice-Presidents and secretaries. It shall adopt rules of procedure.

Example: Finnish Constitution, Chapter 4, Section 34, Clause 1

The Parliament elects from among its members a Speaker and two Deputy Speakers for each parliamentary session.

Example: Danish Constitution, Part V, 35, 2

Immediately after the proving of the mandates the Folketing shall constitute itself by the election of a President and Vice-Presidents.

My question is, why have so many countries evolved to grant the Speaker such protection, when it is not a requirement in the first place?

You can easily imagine that once a ruling coalition seizes power, they would pass laws which allow them to rein in the Speaker as much as possible to further control the legislative process. For instance, they might pass an act that allows the Parliament to remove the Speaker with simple majority.

Yet, each successive ruling coalition seems to have followed the tradition of affirming impartial speakership. Why is that?

QuantumWalnut

Posted 2020-12-27T06:18:12.537

Reputation: 1 536

1A relevant question might be whether these constitutions also put the speaker into a position in the line of succession (for example, at the death of the respective president), in which case this might be a reason. – gktscrk – 2020-12-27T06:49:56.177

Answers

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In many, perhaps all, countries there is the "Constitution" (a legal document) and the "constitution" (the rules and traditions which describe how the government should behave). The constitution includes things like "democratic norms". From time to time parts of the constitution may be written into documents such as "House rules" or even enacted as laws, and while the constitution includes The Constitution, it is wider and more complex.

In the UK, for example, there is no "Constitution" but there is a wide ranging and complex constitution. Many of the Parliamentary systems around the world are modelled, to some extent, on the Westminster system.

In the Westminster system (and in most of the others you describe) the choice of a Speaker is a matter for the house. The Speaker is not chosen by "the people" but by the House from among their members. And the House can remove a Speaker by simple vote. The House is self governing.

So why don't majority parties use their majority to place a speaker who is favorable to them? Well this goes against the constitution (small c) which requires that the Speaker be a fair and neutral representative of the House, and not a partisan. Creating a partisan speaker would be a Pyrrhic victory. One with very few benefits and plenty of problems.

Governments don't need a partisan speaker to enact legislation. They have a majority (perhaps in coalition) so they can set the legislative calendar. They can choose which bills to present and they can get them passed (most of the time)

Governments in democratic countries actually believe in debate! It is known that government bills will get passed, so why have a debate? Because actually having your legislation picked over by someone who disagrees with you is a great way to find problems. It is not unnusual for opposition amendments to be accepted into bills. Now to get effective debate you need a neutral Presiding Officer.

Creating a partisan speaker would by a Pyrrhic victory, because it would weaken the open and democratic system that got the party into power. Over time, systems that are open and democratic have been more resilient than systems in which the party in power consolidates all authority to itself. This is at least partly because the party in power rules better because it must face daily opposition in a fair and neutrally chaired debating chamber. Throw this out and your party will just create more bad laws and be punished in the General Election.

Speakers then have special independence because the Houses that they chair have special independence. Legislative houses are often literally "above the law" in that the judiciary cannot restrict what occurs within the debating chamber. The Speaker represents the House, and while the house is sitting they have "neither eyes to see nor tongue to speak in [the chamber] but as this House is pleased to direct me whose servant [they are]" (as famously spoken by a Speaker in defiance of a King). Speakers have special independence from the King and the Law, but not from the House.

The situation in the USA is rather different, with a government chosen by the President, who is often from the Minority party in the House/Senate. There are different balances in the USA.

James K

Posted 2020-12-27T06:18:12.537

Reputation: 70 324

1Why do you say that "perhaps all" countries have a capital-C constitution when the second paragraph points out that the UK doesn't? Also the US president and cabinet officers have nothing to do with the leadership of either legislative chamber. It is entirely unclear why you mention them. – phoog – 2020-12-28T04:22:11.357

@phoog I think the US is mentioned because it is rather unusual in that minority governments are the norm rather than the exception they are in most contries. This changes the balance between the houses (and their speakers) and the government considerably, so different rules have emerged there. – Hulk – 2020-12-28T15:13:03.963

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This may be less impressive than it seems on its face since in all parliaments any majority government can "manage" the Speaker if that is what they really want to do. The independence of Speakers has pretty bright line limits. This is because any ruling of a Speaker can be challenged and if the challenge is supported by a simple majority vote of members, the Speaker's ruling is overturned. So there is little concern that a Speaker will act directly against the governing party. He is just expected not to act directly for them either. And there have been lots of examples in history where majority parties have indeed used the "challenge the chair" tactic to get their way.

Significantly the Speaker is typically also responsible as the "CEO" of the parliament. So he has administrative responsibility for things like making sure the light bill is paid, hiring and supervision of all the various staff required to run a parliament, making sure the parliamentary printing office is producing copies of Bills quickly and accurately. If the administration of parliament were handled by a government appointee it would create great distrust, certainly here in Canada, when trust is the fundamental currency of smooth daily operation of the parliament.

Here that responsibility extends to everything from security (police) through the Sergeant-at-Arms Office, to the Parliamentary Post Office. So consider if you are a member of the Opposition and you have to trust government appointees to give your mailings to your constituents the same priority as their own party's mail, or that the parliamentary police are not going to be used to interfere with you because the governing party sees you as some kind of inconvenience. In these administrative areas the impartiality of the Speaker is as critical as his role in managing debates and applying the rules in the legislative chamber.

So_about_that

Posted 2020-12-27T06:18:12.537

Reputation: 743