A crossbencher is an independent or minor party member of some legislatures, such as the British House of Lords and in the Parliament of Australia. 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. Until 2009, these included the Law Lords 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. There are also some non-affiliated members of the House of Lords who are not part of the crossbencher group; this includes some officers, such as the Lord Speaker, and others who are associated with a party but have had the whip withdrawn. Although non-affiliated members, and members of small parties, sometimes physically sit on the crossbenches, they are not members of the Crossbench parliamentary group.
An "increasing number" of Crossbenchers have been created peers for non-political reasons. Since its establishment in May 2000, the House of Lords Appointments Commission has nominated a total of 67 non-party-political life peers who joined the House of Lords as Crossbenchers.
There are currently 173 Crossbenchers, comprising approximately 22% of the sitting members in the House of Lords and making them the third largest parliamentary group after the Conservative and Labour parties. From April 2007 to 2009, the number of Crossbenchers was higher than 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 are not considered Crossbenchers and 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, and so have no whips; however, 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 David Hope, Baron Hope of Craighead, who took the office in September 2015. 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 Crossbenchers:
- 1968–1974: The Lord Strang
- 1974–1995: The Baroness Hylton-Foster
- 1995–1999: The Lord Weatherill (Alternate Convenor 1993–1995)
- 1999–2004: The Lord Craig of Radley
- 2004–2007: The Lord Williamson of Horton
- 2007–2011: The Baroness D’Souza
- 2011–2015: The Lord Laming
- 2015–present: The Lord Hope of Craighead
The term refers to both independent and minor party members in various Parliaments of Australia.
The Australian Parliament as elected at the 2010 election was the 43rd Federal Parliament since Federation. It was the first hung parliament in the House of Representatives since the election of 1940, with Labor and the Coalition winning 72 seats each of 150 total. Six crossbenchers held 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 term is now more commonly applied to senators who are not affiliated with the Coalition, Labor or the Greens.
The term generally is not used for the Canadian Parliament or any of the provincial or territorial legislatures. Instead, any party that is not the governing party is an opposition party, with the largest of these designated the official opposition (and their leader is designated Leader of the Opposition); while all other opposition parties are called third parties, a term derived from American politics. Only parties with 12 or more seats in the House of Commons are officially "parties" for procedural purposes. Although parties with fewer than 12 seats nevertheless behave like political parties, their members are treated as individual members.
Third parties have been common in Canadian legislatures since the 1920s. In particular, legislatures often contain members of an ideological party, such as a labour-based party (Progressive Party, Labour Party, CCF, NDP) or a right-wing party (Socreds, Reform Party, Wildrose Party).
- "A Brief History of the Crossbench Peers". Crossbenchpeers.org.uk.
- House of Lords Appointments Commission
- House of Lords: Composition
- "Days of Conservative domination in the Lords come to an end". The Times. April 16, 2007.
- Lord Hope of Craighead
- Comment to "Constitutional Renewal Starts at Home" by Baroness Murphy.
- Convenors of the Crossbench Peers