Assignment of Seats in the House

At the opening of a Parliament, Members are allocated seats and desks on the floor of the House under the authority of the Speaker but on the advice of the Whips of the recognized parties268 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.269

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.270

Members who represent parties in opposition to the government are usually seated to the left of the chair.271 The Leader of the 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.272 The leading Members of the opposition parties, including House Leaders, Whips and critics, sit in the front rows of their designated area.273

Those Members who do not have a party designation274 or who represent a party not recognized by the House are seated subject to the discretion of the Speaker in the remaining seats. 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 in part based on their seniority as elected Members, while at the same time retaining a degree of latitude in determining these arrangements.275

In the past, three desks were often reserved near the Speaker’s chair for the Deputy Speaker and the other Chair Occupants to use when they were not presiding over the House.276 There is no seat reserved for the Speaker.277

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 Member, the Speaker assigns a new seat to the Member.278

Crossing the Floor

Although most Members are elected with a party affiliation (a very small percentage of Members are elected without a party banner), 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 the Member to a particular political party.279 A Member who changes party allegiance or decides to sit as an independent 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.280 If a Member decides to cross the floor and sit with another party, the Whip of the Member’s new party determines the seating arrangement for the Member.