Election of the Speaker and of the Deputy Speakers - Procedure Committee Contents

4  Timing of elections

When should the elections be held?

62.  In the past, the Speaker has been reaffirmed (see further below) or elected at the beginning of a Parliament and the three Deputy Speakers have been appointed on a motion moved without notice at any time after the State Opening. In both cases, the post-holders have remained in office without further confirmation until the end of the Parliament (the date of dissolution for the Deputy Speakers). There have been no term-limits on the offices so there has been no bar to any Speaker or Deputy Speaker taking up a second or even third term of office. Where it has been necessary to fill a vacancy mid-term, in the case of the Speaker this has been done by an election, most recently under Standing Order No. 1B; in the case of the Deputy Speakers, a motion has been moved without notice to appoint a new Member to the relevant post.

63.  We propose no change to the timing of the election of the Speaker. It is constitutionally proper for the Speaker to be chosen at the beginning of a Parliament, however this may be done. There is a convention that a retiring Speaker times his departure, where possible, to take place mid-term in order that his successor has chance to bed in before the start of the new Parliament. We support this convention, although we see no need to enshrine it in Standing Orders, and have borne it in mind in formulating our thoughts on the likelihood of by-elections amongst the Deputy Speakers.

64.   We have considered whether a change is necessary to the timing of the election of the Deputy Speakers. The position in 2010 is that, with the first round of elections to all three posts coinciding with a new Parliament, the existing pattern of making the appointments immediately after a General Election for the duration of a Parliament is a convenient solution. Looking beyond these specific circumstances, an argument has been made to us that the Deputy Speakers should instead be elected mid-term or indeed that the elections should be staggered, presumably through the application of term-limits. This would give the advantage to the House of having a team of varying levels of experience at any one time rather than the possibility of a completely new set of people in the Chair at the beginning of a Parliament. In 1997, for example, all three Deputies were new appointments, with only the Speaker accustomed to chairing the House. On the other hand, the Deputies would still need to be confirmed in office at the start of a Parliament and we are wary of imposing further disruption on the House in the form of a complicated arrangement for elections to be held at intervals over the usual length of a Parliament. We are concerned that it would also work against the building of a solid team amongst the Speaker and his Deputies if they could not anticipate a significant period of working together. We therefore recommend that the Deputy Speakers be elected at the beginning of a Parliament to serve for the duration of that Parliament. This will also serve as an important opportunity to redress the party balance on the panel which may have been affected by a change in Speaker during the last Parliament.

Process for re-electing the Speaker after a General Election

65.  Standing Order No. 1A provides that where the former Speaker is returned to the House after a General Election and wishes to stand again, the Question "that he do take the Chair of this House as Speaker" is moved and put forthwith (once he or she has submitted themselves to the House). If objected to, the Question is decided by a division. This is mirrored in the provision under Standing Order No. 1B(13) for the Question to be put forthwith on a single remaining candidate following the election of a new Speaker by secret ballot.

66.  It is rare for a Speaker returned to the House in a General Election to be rejected by the House if he or she wishes to stand again for the post. The last time it happened was in 1835 when Speaker Manners-Sutton was narrowly defeated in a contested election by the Whig candidate. The circumstances of the defeat led to recognition by the House that "a Speaker, once elected, should cease to have any connection with a political party; and that he should be entitled to look forward to a continuity of office guaranteed by all parties".[41] Although the rules for elections have changed, these principles have been maintained by the House, even when a landslide such as in 1906 and 1945 has led to a returning Speaker from a now minority party being re-elected to the Chair. They underpin the convention that the Speaker stands in the General Election as "The Speaker seeking re-election" and is unopposed by candidates from the main parties.

67.  These considerations also strongly influenced the recommendations from our predecessor Committee in 2001 with regard to "Special Circumstances at the Start of a Parliament". The Committee was of the opinion that it would be "highly undesirable in these circumstances for a multi-candidate ballot to take place automatically". It argued that:

If it were to become accepted that a change in the composition of the House following a General Election were as a matter of course to lead to a change in the occupancy of the Chair, we believe there are grave dangers that the office itself would be destabilised and in danger of becoming politicised. Equally, however, we believe it is important that the House should not be denied the right to change the Speaker, however unlikely it may be that that right will be exercised.[42]

68.  It is understandable that at that time, with a new Speaker elected under the former method only months earlier, it was considered inadvisable to recommend the re-election of the same Speaker under a secret ballot at the start of the next Parliament, should he wish to stand again.

69.  It could be argued that by analogy with the earlier stages of that procedure, the decision on the re-election of a Speaker should from now on be decided by secret ballot. We have therefore considered whether any change is necessary to bring the procedure for the re-election of a Speaker in line with that for elections to both that post and the posts of Deputy Speaker. In doing so, we have borne in mind the fact that at most only eleven months will have passed between the election of the current Speaker and the opening of the next Parliament. Nevertheless, we are concerned that the current specific circumstances should not dictate the procedure which it is right for the House to operate in general.

70.  We have considered three options. These are: the current procedure as set out in Standing Order No. 1A; a similar procedure but with the decision on the Question made by secret ballot rather than an open division; or, an open election under provisions similar to those in Standing Order No. 1B.


71.  The current procedure of a motion moved that the former Speaker do take the Chair, decided if necessary by a division, has the advantages of familiarity and speed. Importantly, it also offers the incumbent some protection against political machinations since the question is framed as a vote of confidence in the former Speaker. The presumption in favour of the re-election of the Speaker to his post also lies behind the conventions regarding his or her return to the House after a General Election unopposed by the main parties, although this could also be seen as a recognition of the distance placed between Speaker and party in the preceding Parliament and the impact of that on his or her electoral chances. Finally, the procedure allows for dissent without encouraging it, providing a trigger ballot for a challenge by a candidate who would enjoy greater support.

72.  The disadvantages of the current procedure are naturally enough inherent in the advantages. The same procedure which protects the Speaker against the mis-use of power by a newly elected majority party also means that the new House has first to reject one candidate before it can choose its own Speaker in an open election. The House is not offered the opportunity to weigh the former Speaker against other candidates but only against him or herself. The open division for deciding the question can be seen as a deterrent to the House expressing its views honestly, which discourages not only challenges but also a strong declaration of support for the incumbent and acts against any feeling by new members of the House that they have chosen their own Speaker.


73.   The current procedure but with the question decided by a secret ballot has the same advantages as above, but moving to a secret ballot from an open recorded division as a means of deciding the question may remove some of the impregnability of the incumbent in making easier for Members to register a protest vote without fear of the impact that would have on their chance to be called to speak in the future. It also has the significant advantage of consistency with the procedure for electing a Speaker at other times.

74.  To set against this is the disadvantage that enabling some degree of protest without a full election may well leave the Speaker wounded but still in post, which would not assist him or her in his attempts to bolster the House against the Executive. A secret ballot on a straight yes or no question may also seem unnecessarily unwieldy.


75.  A full election, allowing Members to choose between all would-be candidates, offers the new Parliament a fresh start with the House choosing its own Speaker. The incumbent may well have an advantage but this would not be procedurally entrenched and by moving from a vote of confidence to an open election, any former Speaker winning the ballot would gain a fresh mandate and endorsement from the House, regardless of the actual numbers voting for and against him.

76.  On the other hand, such a procedure would of course lack the advantages of the current one. In particular, it would risk a more frequent turnover of Speakers with the result that the House would lose the benefit of continuity in the Chair. It may also weaken the position of the Speaker who would feel more vulnerable to change and perhaps less able to stand up to the Government.


77.  We recognise that the circumstances at the start of the forthcoming Parliament, with the current Speaker having been elected less than a year earlier, make it inadvisable to suggest radical change at this time. We also believe that the role of Speaker has changed and will change even more in the future, as acknowledged by the development of manifestos from candidates in the last election. These factors together lead us to recommend that a review be carried out in the next Parliament of all these issues with a view to establishing whether radical change is needed for implementation at the opening of the Parliament after that.

78.  For now, we recommend that this House be given an opportunity to decide between the options of retaining the current procedure for re-electing a former Speaker at the start of a new Parliament or of adopting a secret ballot for deciding this question, rather than a division.


79.  We have considered whether the same considerations as set out above should apply to the Deputy Speakers, that is, whether incumbents wishing to stand again should be subject to a different form of re-election. We have concluded that there are political differences in the need to recognise the party balance in the House and in the fact that the Deputy Speakers stand in the General Election as party candidates, that make their position qualitatively different, and we therefore recommend that the elections for Deputy Speaker should be held afresh at the start of each Parliament, regardless of whether candidates have previously held the posts. This may often result in the previous incumbent being re-elected, particularly in a time of rapid change where experience and demonstrable impartiality would be greatly valued.

Impact of change of Speaker upon the Deputy Speakers

80.  It has traditionally been the case that the Deputy Speakers have remained in office regardless of the change in a Speaker. We believe that the move to election makes this tradition even more important by giving the Deputy Speakers their own mandate. It could be argued that where a Speaker of a different party to the previous holder of the office is elected, as in June 2009, then the Deputy Speakers should also change in order to restore the party balance. This is the other side of the coin to the question of whether the Deputy Speakers should change if the composition of the House changed and in line with our earlier recommendation, we believe that this would be both unfair on the incumbents and unwise for the House in terms of ensuring stability, experience and impartiality. We therefore agree with our predecessors in 2002 who argued against such a change. The term of office of the Deputy Speakers should run independently of that of the Speaker and a change in the Speaker should not in itself necessitate a change in the Deputy Speakers.

81.  There are of course circumstances in which the outcome of an election for the speakership may affect the Deputy Speakers. It has often been the case that the Speaker has been elected from among the Deputy Speakers. If this were to happen under the new rules, a by-election would have to be held for the vacancy. A question may then arise whether this should lead to a rebalancing of the team. For example, if the Chairman of Ways and Means (an opposition Member) takes the place of a Speaker previously drawn from the Government benches, how should the vacancy be filled? There would evidently need to be a by-election for a Government party member but should the winner take up the post of Chairman of Ways and Means or should the existing First Deputy Chairman as the senior Government member take up that post, with the Second Deputy Chairman (opposition) becoming First Deputy and the newly elected Member taking up the Second Deputy Chairman slot? Different permutations would also apply if the Second Deputy Chairman won the Speakership and the Chairman of Ways and Means could find him or herself facing a demotion to the First Deputy post in order to accommodate either the move of the previous First Deputy to the Chairman's position or the appointment of a brand new Chairman. The election of the First Deputy Chairman as Speaker would cause no such problems and would result in a simple by-election.

82.  We do not believe that it is right to demote an elected postholder in such circumstances. Although the possibility of additional responsibilities in the future might make the Chairman of Ways and Means a more covetable post and one of more significance to the Government, we would argue that the same factors make continuity and independence all the more important to that post. The House has historically managed in periods where the classic pattern of parties holding alternate posts has failed as a result of the election of a new Speaker, most recently between June 2009 and now. We see no reason for a change now which would make the Deputy Speakers posts more explicitly political and we have received support for this view from at least some of those with whom we have had discussions. We recommend that where the balance on the panel is altered by the election of a Speaker from the opposite side of the House to his predecessor and a by-election amongst the Deputy Speakers is necessary, the election be held amongst candidates of the relevant party to restore the party balance but that there be no redistribution of posts amongst the Deputy Speakers. As we have stated earlier, where the party balance is altered but there is no vacancy, as was the case in 2009, no by-election is called for.

83.  We have considered also the circumstances where a change in the gender of the Speakership affects the balance on the panel, for example where a retiring female Speaker is replaced by a man with an all-male team of Deputies. In keeping with our recommendation above, we do not believe that this should lead to an automatic by-election where there is no vacancy. Where there is a vacancy, we believe that party balance must be the priority and that it may be unduly restrictive to determine that the post must be filled by a candidate who matched both criteria (for example, only opposition party women or only government-side men), although we hope that Members would bear the desirability of gender variation in mind in encouraging candidates and casting votes. The proper gender spread would be restored at the next full election at the start of the Parliament.

Term limits

84.  In our interim report we raised the question of whether term limits should apply to the Speaker and Deputy Speakers. At present, there are conventions for how long a Speaker should occupy the Chair but there is no explicit time limit set out in Standing Orders or otherwise agreed by the House. By contrast, Standing Order No. 122A provides that a Member is no longer eligible to be elected as chair of a select committee if he has already served as chair of that committee for two Parliaments or a continuous period of eight years whichever is the longer.

85.  The Speaker himself has expressed support for term limits and we have had serious discussions with all parties on the issue. On balance, we have concluded that, although there are advantages to the House in terms of circulation, we do not support the imposition of term limits at this time. We consider that where candidates are elected to posts, and then subject to re-election or at least confirmation at the start of each Parliament, with a secret ballot either occurring or being available where there is dissent, it would be inconsistent to subject them also to term limits. The situation differs from select committees as presently arranged where the committee meets to elect its chairman knowing which candidate it is expected to choose. If the House moves to a series of elections for select committee chairmen as well, then there may well be an argument that the Standing Order on term limits for such posts becomes redundant. Subject to what the House decides with respect to the procedure for the re-election of the Speaker, we believe that this is something that the Committee should return to in the next Parliament.

Timetable of elections at the start of a new Parliament

86.  The election of the Speaker, by re-affirmation or a full election, is the first business of the House of Commons at the start of a new Parliament. The House then sits for several days for the swearing-in of Members before the Queen's Speech and business gets underway. Under our proposed arrangements, the day of the Queen's Speech would be the first opportunity for the Speaker to announce to the House the arrangements for the election of the Deputy Speakers. We believe that this would be in keeping with the significance of the posts and recommend that this be done. Although it is possible that some Members may not have taken the oath at this early stage of a Parliament, the numbers involved are likely to be few and mainly those who for whatever reason will not be present to participate in the ballot anyway.

87.   The Speaker cannot be expected to sit alone in the Chair throughout the period of the election of the Deputy Speakers. One advantage of the current system is that candidates can be appointed swiftly after the election of the Speaker at the start of a new Parliament to ensure that there is a full rota of occupants of the Chair from the first day of parliamentary business. It is unlikely that an election process could deliver a result so quickly, especially if time is allowed for unsuccessful nominees for the Speakership to organise their candidature for the Deputy posts. Provision therefore needs to be made for this period. The obvious solution is to draw upon the experience of outgoing Deputy Speakers, where present, and senior Members from the Chairmen's Panel acting as temporary Deputy Speakers. We recognise that these Members may also wish to stand for the election themselves. In that case, we believe that they should privately notify the Speaker of their intention so that they are not appointed as temporary Deputy Speakers for this purpose, although we note that no objection has ever been made to Deputy Speakers standing as candidates for the Speakership on the ground that their opportunity to prove their ability in the Chair has given them an unfair advantage over other candidates. Standing Orders would need to make clear that the temporary Deputy Speakers have the same powers as Deputy Speakers during this short period.

88.  We recommend that where they are still Members of the House after an Election, the outgoing Deputy Speakers should take the Chair for the duration of the contest to elect permanent Deputy Speakers after a General Election. Where necessary, the three longest serving members of the Chairmen's Panel in the last Parliament who have been returned to the House should be given temporary powers as Deputy Speakers to fill any gaps in the rota. Due to the short timescale involved, we do not envisage these temporary Deputy Speakers receiving any extra remuneration for their work.

89.  The Wright Committee has recommended that the chairs of certain select committees be elected by the whole House. If approved, we anticipate that this would lead to a timetable for the period immediately after the start of a new Parliament as follows:
Day the House meets: Election of the Speaker

Day of the Queen's Speech: announcement of arrangements for election of Deputy Speakers

Day 3 of Queen's speech: election of Deputy Speakers

One week after the Queen's speech: notification and approval by House of the division of chairs of select committees between the parties

Two weeks later: election of chairs of select committees

We believe that this timetable would be a clear signal that the House of Commons is committed to reform and the greater control of its own business by Members by ensuring that the start of a new Parliament is marked by a series of open elections for all the most important House posts. It allows time for reflection upon the various candidates without risking drift in the House or a sense that business is waiting while the Commons is pre-occupied with its own internal matters instead of the needs of the country. We are aware that time is short before the start of the next Parliament but we believe that the House should now agree to the election of the Deputy Speakers as a sign of progress in the right direction of reform.

90.  We invite the House to accept our recommendations in order that the necessary arrangements might be made by the House authorities to ensure that the Speaker and Deputy Speaker elections of 2010 are as successful as the election held in 2009.

41   Philip Laundy, The Office of Speaker (1964), 301 Back

42   HC (2000-01) 40, para 75  Back

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