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.
1. United Kingdom
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, however was sworn in minutes 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.
The titles "Father of the House" and "Father of the Senate" are sometimes used to refer to the members of each chamber of the Parliament of Australia with the longest continuous service. The current Father of the House is Kevin Andrews MP since 1991 and the current Father of the Senate is Kim Carr senator since 1993. Incumbent MP Warren Snowdon was first elected to parliament in 1987, but his service has not been consecutive and as such he is not granted the title.
According to House of Representatives Practice, the title Father of the House is a "completely informal designation" with "no functions attached to it". The equivalent publication for the Senate, Odgers Australian Senate Practice, describes the title Father of the Senate as "now seldom referred to or used". It also notes that "as no woman senator has ever been in this situation, it is not clear what the title would be in that circumstance".
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 Quebecois MP Louis Plamondon, who was first elected to the Commons as a member of the Progressive Conservative Party in 1984.
4. European Parliament
Until 2009, the oldest member of the European Parliament presided over the opening of a new session and the election of the President of the European Parliament.
Starting with the Frankfurter Nationalversammlung Frankfurt Parliament of 1848, all German parliaments had a father of the House, usually called Altersprasident 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 Altersprasident 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 Altersprasident and will start proceedings.
The Altersprasident 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 Altersprasident 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 Altersprasident 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.
6. Hong Kong
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 orszaggyules korelnoke 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.
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 Dail is an unofficial title applied to the longest-serving Teachta Dala TD in Dail Eireann. The current Fathers of the Dail are Richard Bruton and Willie ODea having both been first elected to the Dail in the February 1982 general election. On a number of occasions, two or more people have shared the position of Father of the Dail.
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, 11 months until former Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad was reelected to the Dewan Rakyat at 94 years, 8 months of age.
11. New Zealand
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.
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:
2011 Vladimir Dolgikh - United Russia
2003 Valentin Varennikov - Rodina
1995 Grigory Galaziy - Our Home – Russia
1999 Yegor Ligachev - Communist Party of the Russian Federation
2007 Zhores Alferov - Communist Party of the Russian Federation
1993 Georgy Lukava - Liberal Democratic Party of Russia
2016 Zhores Alferov - Communist Party of the Russian Federation
2011 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.
2012 Zaharije Trnavcevic - Rich Serbia
2004 Velimir Simonovic - Democratic Party of Serbia
2008 Jovan Krkobabic - Party of United Pensioners of Serbia
2001 Zaharije Trnavcevic - Democratic Party
2016 Dragoljub Micunovic - Democratic Party
2007 Borka Vucic - Socialist Party of Serbia
2014 Milan Korac - Party of United Pensioners of Serbia
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, 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:
Tuve Skånberg first elected 1991 2020–present
Ingemund Bengtsson first elected 1951 1985–1988
Beatrice Ask first elected 1988 2018–2019
Krister Ornfjader first elected 1993 2015–2018
Tage Erlander first elected 1932 1971–1973
Borje Nilsson first elected 1965 1996–1998
Lennart Nilsson first elected 1976 2004–2006
Torsten Nilsson first elected 1941 1973–1976
Goran Hagglund first elected 1991 2014–2015
Henry Allard first elected 1945 1976–1979
Anders Bjorck first elected 1969 2002–2003
Per Westerberg first elected 1979 2006–2014
Stig Alemyr first elected 1957 1988–1994
Ingvar Carlsson first elected 1965 1994–1996
Bo Lundgren first elected 1976 2003–2004
Gunnar Strang first elected 1946 1979–1985
Jan Bergqvist first elected 1969 1998–2002
16. United States
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.
Since 2017, the Dean of the House has been Don Young, who was elected to the House of Representatives in a special election in 1973. Young is the first Alaskan to hold the position.