House of Commons Procedure and Practice
Edited by Robert Marleau and Camille Montpetit
2000 EditionMore information …
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4. The House of Commons and Its Members

Assignment of Seats in the House

Members are allocated their seats and desks in the House under the authority of the Speaker but on the advice of the whips of the recognized parties (usually those parties with 12 or more Members [242]) following negotiations. In order to be recognized by the Speaker to participate in the business of the House and to vote in any recorded division, a Member must be in his or her designated seat. [243]

Members representing the governing party traditionally occupy those seats to the right of the Chair, with the Prime Minister and the other Ministers seated in the front rows. Private Members, otherwise known as backbenchers, representing the governing party are customarily seated according to their seniority or length of service in the House within their caucus. If the number of Members representing the governing party exceeds the number of desks on the right side, the overflow, or “rump”, of government Members occupies those seats across the aisle. This section may, at the discretion of the Speaker, be near the Chair or at the far end of the Chamber. [244] 

Members who represent parties in opposition to the government are seated to the left of the Chair. [245]  The Leader of the Official Opposition is seated immediately opposite the Prime Minister and is flanked by Members of his or her party. Other opposition Members sit, according to party, in the remaining seats: the second-rank opposition party gets the first choice of seats after the Official Opposition, the third-rank party the next choice and so on. [246]  The leading Members of the opposition parties, including House Leaders, whips and critics, sit in the front rows of their designated area. [247]

Those Members who do not have a party designation or who represent a party not recognized by the House are seated subject to the discretion of the Speaker in whatever seats are remaining. These Members typically occupy the desks to the left of the Speaker along the back rows, often but not necessarily near the end of the Chamber. The Speaker allocates the seats for these Members pursuant to their seniority as elected Members, while at the same time retaining a degree of latitude in determining these arrangements. [248] 

Three desks immediately to the left of the Chair are reserved for the Deputy Speaker and the other Chair occupants when they are not presiding over the House. There is no seat reserved for the Speaker. [249] 

The seating plan is modified frequently during a Parliament, sometimes following changes within a party, sometimes as a result of negotiations among the parties. Any changes in the seating of a Member or Members within a party are made by the whip who then notifies the Speaker. If a Member is expelled from his or her party, or chooses to leave to sit as an independent, then the Speaker reassigns a new seat to the Member. [250] 

Crossing the Floor

Although most Members are elected with a party affiliation (a very small percentage of Members are elected as independents), Members are not obliged to retain that party label during the whole of their mandate. “Crossing the floor” is the expression used to describe a Member’s decision to break all ties binding him or her to a particular political party. [251]  A Member who changes party allegiance is under no obligation to resign his or her seat and stand for re-election; entitlement to sit as a Member is not contingent upon political affiliation. If a Member decides to cross the floor and sit with another party, the Member’s new party whip determines the seating arrangement for the Member.

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