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this includes some officers, such as the Lord Speaker, and others who are associated with a party but have had the whip withdrawn.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 2000, the House of Lords Appointments Commission has nominated a total of 61 non-party-political life peers (as of 2014), who joined the House of Lords as Crossbenchers.
There are currently 179 Crossbenchers of the 822 sitting members in the House of Lords — making them the third largest grouping 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: Lord Strang
- 1974–1995: Baroness Hylton-Foster
- 1995–1999: Lord Weatherill (Alternate Convenor 1993–1995)
- 1999–2004: Lord Craig of Radley
- 2004–2007: Lord Williamson of Horton
- 2007–2011: Baroness D’Souza
- 2011–2015: Lord Laming
- 2015–present: 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 is not often used for the Parliament of Canada and the sub-national legislatures. Instead, minor parties (but not independents) are referred to as third parties, a term derived from American politics. Third parties with a sufficient number of seats are granted official party status, giving them certain additional procedural powers during debates.
Third parties have been common in Canadian legislatures since the 1920s. In particular, legislatures often contain members of a labour-based party (Progressive Party, Labour Party, CCF, NDP) or a right-wing populist party (Socreds, Reform Party, Wildrose Party).
- "Crossbenchers - A Brief History". Crossbenchpeers.org.uk. Retrieved 2013-11-19.
- 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". Retrieved 16 February 2011.
- Lord Hope of Craighead
- Comment to "Constitutional Renewal Starts at Home" by Baroness Murphy.
- Convenors of the Crossbench Peers