Select Committee on Procedure Second Report

The position and powers of Deputy Speakers


6. The tradition of abstention from party controversy followed by the Speaker is equally followed by his Deputies in the exercise of their functions. They never vote in the House or committees except to give a casting vote.[7] They no longer exercise the rights of the ordinary Member to participate in debates (although Erskine May notes that the Chairman of Ways and Means has occasionally spoken when moving motions relating to private business).[8] The requirement to be absolutely impartial in the Chair is as binding on them as it is on the Speaker. When not in the Chair, however, they are not required to sever all party links, as the Speaker does: Deputy Speakers retain membership of their political parties. Whereas the Speaker stands for re-election to the House at a General Election as "Candidate X seeking re-election as Speaker", and by convention is not opposed by the other major parties, the Deputy Speakers fight General Elections as party candidates, and are opposed by a full range of other candidates. Again, whereas the Speaker's salary is chargeable to the Consolidated Fund, specifically in order to buttress the independence of the office, the salaries of the Deputy Speakers are placed on the Estimates in the normal way and thus the House could, in principle, vote to reduce them.


7. The role of Deputy Speakers when in the Chair is the same as that of the Speaker—to enforce observance of the rules of the House governing debate and to facilitate the House's conduct of its business. Deputy Speakers have to rule on points of order, decide whether to accept dilatory motions, and deal with cases of disorder arising in debate.

8. The powers of the Chairman of Ways and Means acting as Deputy Speaker are, by long established practice, for the most part the same as those of the Speaker. The main exceptions are that the Chairman has no power to select amendments other than when the House is in Committee or considering Estimates, or perform duties of the Speaker other than those arising in the course of debate (except as specified in paragraph 10 below).

9. Standing Order No. 3 (1) empowers the Speaker, without any formal communication to the House, to request the Chairman of Ways and Means or a Deputy Chairman to take the Chair, either temporarily or until the adjournment of the House. The sharing out of duties in the Chair is done on an informal, private basis. According to a rota drawn up by the Secretary to the Chairman of Ways and Means, one or other of the Deputy Speakers occupies the Chair for most of the time the House is sitting, especially during the mid-evening or after half-past ten at night.

10. If the House is informed formally of the absence of the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means is entitled to perform the duties and exercise the authority of the Speaker in relation to all the proceedings of the House until the Speaker returns. Such an order has to be renewed on a daily basis under Standing Order No. 3 (2). In the unlikely event that both the Speaker and the Chairman of Ways and Means are simultaneously notified as being absent then the First Deputy Chairman would be called on to exercise the functions of Speaker; and in the First Deputy Chairman's absence the Second Deputy Chairman would carry out this task. If it is necessary to recall the House in an emergency the Chairman of Ways and Means or one of his deputies may act for the Speaker if the Speaker is, for any reason, unable to act himself. In the absence of the Speaker during a recess, the Chairman of Ways and Means can issue warrants to the Clerk of the Crown for the issue of Writs, acting under power conferred by the Recess Elections Act 1975.[9]

Present arrangements


11. Under the present arrangements, the House appoints a deputy Speaker by agreeing to a motion moved, without notice, by a member of the Government (since 1979 this has been invariably the Leader of the House). The name in the motion is arrived at following consultation between the 'usual channels', that is, the business managers and party whips, particularly those of the Government and the official Opposition. The discussions which take place, both within and between parties, take place entirely in private, and only rarely does the name of a proposed candidate leak to the Press before it is put to the House.

12. Because of the private nature of these discussions, no subsequent record is published and so any comment on their nature must be speculative. However, on the basis of our own informal meetings with members of the 'usual channels', we can make a number of statements about what takes place and about the objectives and intentions of those involved. In nominating a candidate or candidates, the parties will have regard to the convention, discussed further below, that the Speaker's team should show a balance between Government and Opposition benches. They will also be keen to ascertain that any proposed candidate is likely to be acceptable to the House as a whole, and that the Speaker, who will have to work closely with whoever is chosen, has no objection to the individual concerned.

13. In assessing potential candidates, the party whips have one particular advantage. Because of their own role in standing committees on bills and on delegated legislation (each such committee has a duty whip from the Government and the official opposition), they have the opportunity to observe on a regular basis members of the Chairmen's Panel chairing public business. They can thus readily assess the extent to which members of the Panel are assured in the Chair, possess procedural knowledge, can handle difficult situations with authority, and can command the respect of all sides.

14. We received some evidence that decisions on nominations may be taken by the 'usual channels' without direct consultation with the candidates themselves. The present Chairman of Ways and Means, Sir Alan Haselhurst, told us about his experience of the nomination process.[10] He indicated that he knew "next to nothing about the circumstances of [his] own appointment in 1997":

    "On the day following the Speaker's re-election, I was approached by the Opposition Deputy Chief Whip and was asked if I would be ready to accept nomination. It was not until the day before the State Opening that the Opposition Chief Whip was in touch to say that I would definitely be named in the Leader of the House's motion the following day. Two hours after the approval of the motion, I was in the Chair for the first time."[11]


15. As we have seen, the motion for appointment of the Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Chairmen is, by custom, moved by a member of the Government (since 1979 invariably the Leader of the House) and put to the House without notice. At the start of a Parliament, the motion is made on the day of the Queen's Speech, immediately before the opening of the debate on the Loyal Address. Circumstances dictate that no formal notice of the motion can be given, because no Order Paper can be produced for the first day of a Session. Motions to fill Deputy Speaker posts which have fallen vacant during a Parliament (following death, resignation or election to the Speakership) are also made without notice, following agreement between the 'usual channels'. In these circumstances it is less likely that the House will be able to anticipate the precise moment when the Government intends to move the appointment.

7   Other than in certain specialised circumstances such as when chairing the Court of Referees or the Standing Orders Committee. Back

8   Erskine May, 22nd edition (1997), p. 196; the last example was in 1986. Back

9   This power was last exercised in the summer recess of 1999, in respect of the Wigan and Hamilton South by-elections. Back

10   Appendix 1, Ev 1. Back

11   Ev 1. Speaker Boothroyd was re-elected on 7 May 1997, and State Opening took place on 14 May. Back

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Prepared 22 April 2002