Father of the House
Father of the House is a title that has been traditionally bestowed, unofficially, on certain members of some legislatures, most notably the House of Commons in the United Kingdom. In some legislatures the title refers to the longest continuously-serving member, while in others it refers to the oldest member. Recently, the title Mother of the House or Mother of Parliament has also been used, although the usage varies between countries; it is either the female alternative to Father of the House, being applied when the relevant member is a woman, or refers to the oldest or longest-serving woman without reference to male members.
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 earlier, as listed in Hansard, is named as Father of the House. Traditionally, however, the qualifications 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. The Father of the House may also participate in ceremonial events, and is the second member to be sworn in after the Speaker. At the election of the Speaker and dissolution of parliament in November 2019, the Father of the House of Commons was Kenneth Clarke representing the Rushcliffe constituency, formerly a member of the Conservative Party before becoming an Independent MP in 2019, and not running again in the subsequent election. Clarke 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 the 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. As of September 2019, the current Dean of the House is Bloc Québécois MP Louis Plamondon, who was first elected to the Commons as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1984.
|Member||Born||Entered parliament||Became oldest member|
|Iisakki Hoikka||1840||1907||1907 – 1908|
|John Hedberg||1840||1908||1908 – 1909|
|Leo Mechelin||1839||1910||1910 – 1913|
|Rabbe Wrede||1851||1910||1917 – 1918|
|Artur Wuorimaa||1854||1907||1920 – 1921|
|Waldemar Bergroth||1852||1917||1922 – 1926|
|Juho Torppa||1859||1907||1927 – 1929|
|Anders Forsberg||1864||1924||1929 – 1930|
|Pehr Evind Svinhufvud||1861||1907||1930 – 1931|
|K. J. Ståhlberg||1865||1908||1932|
|Matti Paasivuori||1866||1907||1933 – 1935|
|Miina Sillanpää||1866||1907||1936 – 1947|
|Akseli Brander||1876||1933||1948 – 1950|
|Väinö Tanner||1881||1907||1951 – 1953|
|Matti Lahtela||1881||1930||1954 – 1957|
|Väinö Tanner||1881||1907||1958 – 1961|
|Raino Hallberg||1890||1951||1962 – 1965|
|Kustaa Tiitu||1896||1945||1966 – 1969|
|Rafael Paasio||1903||1948||1970 – 1975|
|Evald Häggblom||1905||1966||1975, 1976|
|V. J. Sukselainen||1906||1948||1976 – 1978|
|Mikko Kaarna||1911||1960||1979 – 1982|
|Tuure Junnila||1910||1951||1983 – 1986|
|Johannes Virolainen||1914||1945||1987 – 1989|
|Tuure Junnila||1910||1951 (again 1990)||1990|
|Maunu Kohijoki||1923||1987||1991 – 1994|
|Martti Tiuri||1925||1983||1995 – 2002|
|Kalevi Lamminen||1935||1987||2003 – 2006|
|Claes Andersson||1937||1987||2007 – 2008|
|Jacob Söderman||1938||1972||2008 - 2010|
|Kauko Tuupainen||1940||2011||2011 – 2013|
|Jörn Donner||1933||1987 (again 2013)||2014|
|Pertti Salolainen||1940||1970||2015 – 2018|
|Erkki Tuomioja||1946||1970||2019 –|
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) in the Federal Republic, 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 indeed 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 he will formally declare that he indeed is the Alterspräsident and will start proceedings. (In 2017, as explained below, the position was changed to refer to the longest sitting member. Accordingly, a prospective Alterspräsident states the number of years he or she has served in the Bundestag and asking if anyone has served more years.)
The Alterspräsident then delivers the first programmatic speech and supervises the election of the President of the Bundestag, to whom he then immediately yields his power. The newly elected President 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 preside over sessions 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, to preclude a member of the Alternative for Germany become Alterspräsident following the 2017 elections.
|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, since 1972), 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 de facto 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 24 February to 30 March 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 was the oldest-serving MP aged 82 years, 7 months until former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was reelected to the Dewan Rakyat at 94 years, 4 months of age.
In New Zealand, the term "Father of the House" (alternatively, "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 became the longest-serving member in March 2018, having served continuously since the 1990 general election.
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[update], Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong is Father of the House, as the longest-serving MP (Marine Parade).
In Sweden the Riksdagsordningen law states that the member of the Riksdag who has held their elected seat for the longest shall be the Ålderspresident, which translates to President by age. The Ålderspresident acts as speaker of the Riksdag after each election, before the Speaker of the Riksdag has been elected. The Ålderspresident also acts as speaker in case of hindrance on behalf of the Speaker and all three Deputy Speakers.
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) 2015–2018
- Beatrice Ask (first elected 1994) 2018–present
In the United States, the title "Father" of the House (although used for about a century starting in 1816) does not exist, but in the lower house, the House of Representatives the position known as Dean of the House is almost exactly the same position—that is, it is a largely ceremonial position bestowed on the member with the longest continuous service. Less similar is the position in the Senate (the upper house) known as President Pro Tempore, the holder of which has since 1945 gained the position through seniority, but who also must be a member of the party holding a majority in the Senate.
- Oldest Member (European Parliament)
- Baby of the House
- Dean of the House (Canada)
- Dean of the U.S. House of Representatives
- Father of the Dáil
- List of longest-serving members of the Australian House of Representatives
- President pro tempore of the United States Senate
- Senior Marshal (Poland)
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- Father of the House: House of Commons Background Paper, House of Commons Library, 2016