Role of The Speaker

Introduction


The office of the Speaker occupies a pivotal position in our parliamentary democracy. The Hon'ble Members of Legislative Assembly represent the individual constituencies, whereas the Speaker represents the full authority of the House itself. The Speaker symbolizes the dignity and power of the House over which he is presiding. Therefore, it is expected that the holder of this office of high dignity has to be one who can represent the House in all its manifestations. The responsibility entrusted to the Speaker is so onerous that he cannot afford to overlook any aspect of parliamentary life. His actions come under close scrutiny in the House and are also widely reported in the mass media. Even though the Speaker speaks rarely in the House, when he does, he speaks for the House as a whole. The Speaker is looked upon as the true guardian of the traditions of parliamentary democracy. Hon'ble Speaker's unique position is illustrated by the fact that he is placed very high in the Warrant of Precedence in the State, standing next to the Chief Minister. Under the Constitution of India, the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in Legislative Assembly and practices and conventions, adequate powers are vested in Speaker to help him in the smooth conduct of the proceedings of the House and for protecting the independence and impartiality of the office of Speaker. The Constitution of India provides that the Speaker's salary and allowances are not to be voted by the Legislature and are to be charged on the Consolidated Fund of State.

Term of Office

The Speaker holds office from the date of his election till immediately before the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly after the dissolution of the one to which he was elected. He is eligible for re-election. On the dissolution of the Legislative Assembly, although the Speaker ceases to be a member of the House, he does not vacate his office. The Speaker may, at any time, resign from office by writing under his/her hand to the Deputy Speaker. The Speaker can be removed from office only on a resolution of the House passed by a majority of all the then members of the House. Such a resolution has to satisfy some conditions like: no resolution shall be moved unless atleast fourteen days notice has been given, it should be specific with respect to the charges and it should not contain arguments, inferences, ironical expressions, imputations or defamatory statements, etc. Not only these, discussions should be confined to charges referred to in the resolution.

Election of Speaker

In the Legislative Assembly, both Presiding Officers�the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker- are elected from among its members by a simple majority of members present and voting in the House. As such, no specific qualifications are prescribed for being elected the Speaker. The Constitution only requires that Speaker should be a member of the House. But an understanding of the Constitution and the laws of the country and the rules of procedure and parliamentary conventions is considered a major asset for the holder of the office of the Speaker. The election of Speaker of the Legislative Assembly is an important event in the life of the House. One of the first acts of a newly constituted House is to elect the Speaker. Usually, a member belonging to the ruling party is elected as Speaker. Once a decision on the candidate is taken, his/her name is normally proposed by the Chief Minister or the Minister of Parliamentary Affairs. The Speaker pro term presides over the sitting in which the Speaker is elected, if it is a newly constituted House. If the election falls later in the life of a Legislative Assembly the Deputy Speaker presides. Normally, the Speaker is elected unanimously. If more than one notice is received, these are entered in the order of receipt. The motions which are moved and duly seconded are put one by one in the order in which they are moved, and decided, if necessary, by division. If any motion is carried, the person presiding shall, without putting the latter motions, declare that the member proposed in the motion which has been carried has been chosen as the Speaker of the House. After the results are announced, the Speaker-elect is conducted to the Chair by the Chief Minister, the Leader of the Opposition and other Senior Members. He/she is then felicitated by Leaders of all Political Parties and Groups in the House to which he replies in a thanks-giving speech. And from then the new Speaker takes over.

Speaker in the Chair

In the Legislative Assembly Chamber, the Speaker's Chair is distinctively placed and, from his seat, he gets a commanding view of the entire House. Insofar as the proceedings are concerned, the Speaker is guided by the provisions of the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure and Conduct of Business in the Legislative Assembly. The Speaker also benefits from the Directions issued by his predecessors which are compiled periodically. Besides, he is assisted by the Secretary and senior officers of the Assembly Secretariat on Legislative activities and on matters of practice and procedure. In the absence of the Speaker, the Deputy Speaker discharges his functions. A member from the Panel of Chairmen presides over the House in the absence of both the Speaker and the Deputy Speaker.

The duties of the Speaker are very arduous. He has been assigned extensive administrative, judicial and regulatory functions. He enjoys vast authority under the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure and conduct of business in the Legislative Assembly, as well as inherently. As the conventional head of the Legislative Assembly and as its principal spokesperson, the Speaker represents its collective voice. Of course, he is the ultimate arbiter and interpreter of those provisions which relate to the functioning of the House. His decisions are final and binding and ordinarily cannot be questioned, challenged or criticized.

Regulating the Business of the House

The final authority for adopting rules for regulating its procedure rests with the House. The Principal duty of the Speaker is to regulate the proceedings of the House and to enable it to deliberate on and decide the matters coming before it. It is the Speaker who decides the admissibility of a Question; it is he who decides the forms in which amendments may be moved to the Motion of Thanks to the Governor's Address. With regard to moving amendments to a Bill, the permission of the Speaker is required. If a Bill is pending before the House, it is the Speaker who decides whether he should allow amendments to be moved to various clauses of the Bill or not. As regards regulating discussions in the House, it is the Speaker who decides as to when a member shall speak and how long he shall speak. It is left to Speaker to ask a member to discontinue his/her speech or even decide that what a particular member said may not go on record as part of the proceedings. If he is satisfied, the Speaker can direct a member to withdraw from the House for a specific period of time. A member who flouts orders or directions of the Speaker may be named by the Speaker and in such cases, he/she may have to withdraw from the House.

The Speaker is the guardian of the rights and privileges of the House, its Committees and members. It depends solely on the Speaker to refer any question of privilege to the Committee of Privileges for examination, investigation or report. It is through the Speaker that the decisions of the House are communicated to outside individuals and authorities. It is the Speaker who decides the form and manner in which the proceedings of the House are to be published. The Speaker can also issue warrants to execute the orders of the House, wherever necessary, and delivers reprimands on behalf of the House. The entire Legislative Assembly Estate is under the authority and control of the Speaker. When a decision of the House is to be ascertained on a motion made by a member, the question is put by the Speaker before the House to obtain the decision. On questions of points of order, it is the Speaker who finally decides whether the matter raised is in order or not. The Speaker also has certain residuary powers under the Rules of Procedure. All matters which are not specifically provided under the rules and all questions relating to the working of the rules are regulated by the Speaker. In exercise of this power and under inherent powers, the Speaker issues from time to time directions which are generally treated as sacrosanct as the Rules of Procedure. On matters regarding interpretation of constitutional provisions relating to the House or the Rules of Procedure, the Speaker often gives rulings which are respected by members and are binding in nature.

As regards recognition of Legislature parties, the concept of recognition has materially changed after coming into force of 10th Schedule and introducing of Section 29 A in the Representation of People Act, 1951. Consequently the Legislative Parties continue to enjoy certain functional facilities on the basis of their numerical strength. It is the Speaker who decides on granting recognition to the Leader of the Opposition in the State Legislative Assembly. The Speaker is vested with the power relating to the disqualification of a member of the Legislative Assembly on grounds of defection. The Speaker makes obituary references in the House, formal references to important national and international events and also when the term of the House expires. Though as a member of the House, the Speaker does not vote in the House except on those rare occasions when there is a tie at the end of a decision or when resolution for removal of Speaker is under consideration and the Deputy Speaker presides over the sittings.

Speaker and the Committees

The Committees of the House function under the overall direction of the Speaker. All such Committees are constituted by the Speaker or by the House. The Chairmen of all Legislative Assembly Committees are nominated by the Speaker from amongst the members of the Committee. Any procedural problems in the functioning of the Committees are referred to the Speaker for direction whose decision is final. Committees like the Business Advisory Committee, the General Purposes Committee and the Rules Committee work directly under Chairmanship of the Speaker.

Speaker and Members

The Speaker is at the same time a member of the House as also its Presiding Officer. It is always the Speaker's task to ensure that parliamentary decorum is maintained under all circumstances. For this, the Speaker is invested with wide-ranging disciplinary powers under the rules. On the one hand, the Speaker strives to give adequate opportunities to all sections of the House to ventilate their views and on the other the Speaker has to preserve the decorum and dignity of the House. The Speaker's position in such situations is certainly unenviable. It is indeed a delicate task which calls for diplomacy, firmness, persuasion and perseverance of a high order. The Speaker also keeps open a variety of informal channels of communication with individual members and the Leaders of Parties and Groups in the Legislative Assembly. The Speaker, if he thinks fit, interacts with Leaders of Legislature Parties at meetings on the eve of every Session and or as when any untoward situation warrants. These are important occasions when the Speaker gets to know the mood of various parties on a wide spectrum of issues. The Speaker has to see to it that the Legislative Assembly functions as per provisions of the Constitution and the Rules of Procedure.

Speaker and Inter-Parliamentary Relations

The Speaker has certain other functions to perform as the head of the State Legislative Assembly. The Speaker is the ex-officio President of the Punjab Branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA). The Speaker attends the Conferences of Presiding Officers of Legislative Bodies in India and Conferences of Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, United Kingdom.

Speaker's Administrative Role

The Speaker is the head of the Legislative Assembly Secretariat which functions under his ultimate control and direction. The Speaker's authority over the Secretariat staff of the Assembly, its precincts and its security arrangements is supreme. All strangers, visitors and press correspondents are subject to discipline and orders of the Speaker and any breach of order may be punished by means of exclusion from the precincts of the Legislative Assembly or stoppage of admission tickets to the galleries for definite or indefinite period, or in more serious cases, dealt with as a contempt or breach of privilege. No alternation or addition can be made in the State Legislative Assembly and no new structure can be erected in the Legislative Assembly premises, without the permission of Speaker.

Conclusion

The office of the Speaker in India is a living and dynamic institution which deals with the actual needs and problems of Legislative Assembly in the performance of its functions. The Speaker is the constitutional and ceremonial head of the House. The Speaker is the principal spokesperson of the House. It is the responsibility of the Speaker to conduct the business of the House in a manner befitting the place of the institution in a representative democracy. The founding fathers of our Constitution had recognized the importance of this office in our democratic set-up and it was this recognition that guided them in establishing this office as one of the prominent and dignified ones in the scheme of governance of the country.

The Speaker represents the House. He represents the dignity of the House, the freedom of the House and because the House represents the State/ Nation, in a particular way, the Speaker becomes a symbol of state/nation's freedom and liberty. Therefore that should be an honored position, a free position and should be occupied always by persons of outstanding ability and impartiality.