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In certain legislative assemblies, especially those which are based on the Westminster system, a crossbencher is a member of the assembly who is a member of neither the governing parties nor the official Opposition.

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United Kingdom

A crossbencher is a member of the British House of Lords who is not aligned to any particular party. These include the Law Lords and former Speakers of the House of Commons, such as Baroness Boothroyd and the late Lord Weatherill, who by convention are not aligned with any party. They are termed crossbenchers because they sit on neither the government benches nor the opposition benches but on benches that are perpendicular to the other sets and face the throne.

They do not take a collective position on issues, although they do elect from among themselves a Convenor for administrative purposes. As of 2008, the Convenor is Baroness D'Souza. The Convenor keeps them up-to-date with the business of the House. Although the Lords Spiritual (archbishops and some 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 Lords Spiritual's seats are distinguished by being the only seats in the House with armrests, indicating their unique status.

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.

As of March 2009, the crossbenchers are 205 strong in the House of Lords - making them the second largest grouping in the Lords, after the Labour party. 172 are Life Peers and 33 are hereditary peers (including the two royal office-holders).[1] In April 2007 the number of crossbench members overtook the number of Conservative party members of the Lords for the first time.[2]

Other countries

Crossbenchers can play a particularly important role in assemblies where there is a small number of major parties (say, two or three), but none of the major parties hold enough seats to command a majority in their own right.

Often (but not always), the largest single party in the responsible house will be given the opportunity to govern, with the second-largest becoming the official Opposition. Smaller parties, as well as independent members, then have two choices. They can support a major party in its attempt to govern, perhaps by entering into a formal coalition or a slightly weaker agreement to guarantee confidence and supply; usually, they are then considered to be part of the government. Alternatively, they can remain outside the government; because they are not the official Opposition (even if they happen to be opposed to most Government policies), they are said to sit on the cross-benches.

Crossbenchers typically support or oppose Government legislation on a case-by-case basis. A minority government may be obliged to negotiate with crossbenchers to pass its legislation, and the crossbenchers are then said to hold the balance of power.

A refusal of a crossbencher to enter into a coalition or other arrangement with the government does not necessarily mean that the crossbencher will align with the opposition. The government's policy objectives may be nearer in practice to what that particular crossbencher wants. The general characteristic of crossbenchers is that they can act independently of other groups in the legislature.

References

  1. ^ House of Lords: Composition
  2. ^ The Times, Monday April 16 2007 Days of Conservative domination in the Lords comes to an end.

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