The new Democratic majority in the House will continue a rule initiated by Republicans 12 years ago requiring committee chairmen to give up their gavels after three consecutive terms.

John Santore, spokesman for incoming Rules Committee Chairman Louise M. Slaughter, D-N.Y., said Thursday that the term limits issue was not an area of contention when Democrats decided to continue most of the procedural and parliamentary rules adhered to under the past Republican-controlled House.

Santore added that there were divergent views on the issue and it was possible that the Democratic leadership could review the rule in the future.

Republicans adopted the three-term limit for committee chairmen when they gained the majority in 1995 with a pledge to change the entrenched political system that had alienated many voters.

Democrats did not apply the term limit to the ranking Democrat on each committee.

In the past, powerful Democratic chairmen successfully blocked any attempt to limit their powers. This time, however, many of the committee leaders are former leaders who are in the latter stages of long political careers.

Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich, who will chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, is 80; Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich., new chair of the Judiciary Committee, is 77; Rep. Ike Skelton, incoming chairman of Armed Services, is 75.

With many younger members seeking more opportunity to rise through the ranks, Republicans have continued to support the service restriction despite grumblings from senior lawmakers unhappy about giving up chairmanships from which they wielded considerable power.

Senate rules do not restrict the length of service of chairmen.