Memorandum from the Clerk of the House
APPOINTMENT OF DEPUTY SPEAKERS
1. The Committee of Ways and Means, a Committee
of the whole House, appointed a permanent chairman in the later
seventeenth century. The same Member took the Chair in Committee
of Supply, the other permanent Committee of the whole House. Until
the middle of the nineteenth century, however, there was no connection
between the holder of that office and the upper Chair in the House.
If the Speaker could not be present, the Clerk put a question
for the adjournment.
If the Speaker were likely to be absent for some time, the theoryoften
explained, never testedwas that the House elected another
Speaker who, when his predecessor recovered, resigned, so implying
that there would be another election to reinstate the first.
2. In 1853, following a report by a select
committee, the House agreed that in the "unavoidable absence"
of the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means should take the
Chair in the House on a day to day basis.
3. Doubts then arose about how far such
a simple formula could stretch. The Chairman of Ways and Means,
acting under this resolution, had presided over a proceeding in
which two Members took the oath, and there was concern that the
oaths might not be valid. A further select committee was appointed,
and reported in favour of a Standing Order. A Standing Order was
duly made in July 1855, which conferred on the Chairman all the
duties and authority of the Speaker in relation to proceedings
of the House.
The Deputy Speaker Act 1855
went further and conferred on the Deputy Speaker, performing the
duties and exercising the authority of the Speaker in accordance
with orders of the House, the full power of a Speaker,
in and out of the House, including powers under statute.
4. Subsequent developments moved slowly
in the direction of reducing the degree of formality surrounding
the taking of the upper Chair by a Deputy Speaker.
5. The need formally to announce the "unavoidable
absence" of the Speaker before the Chairman could take the
upper Chair was retained until 1888. In that year the Standing
Order was amended to permit the Chairman to take the Chair "when
requested to do so by Mr Speaker, without any formal communication
to the House".
6. In 1902, as part (though not an uncontentious
part) of the Balfour procedural reforms and in response to the
weight of private bill work falling on the Chairman, the Standing
Order was amended to provide for the appointment of a Deputy Chairman.
In 1906, both the Deputy Chairman and the Chairman were empowered
to take the upper Chair on an informal request from the Speaker.
7. The provisions regarding the assumption
of full powers by the Chairman or Deputy Chairmanthose
not devolved on the Deputy Speaker following a simple request
to take the upper Chairevolved in a complex way, but broadly
in parallel with those already mentioned.
8. In 1971, a Second Deputy Chairman was
appointed, in response to an observation made by the then Speaker
to a Procedure Committee that the burden of work both in the Chair
and in private legislation had greatly increased.
9. Until 1910, the Chairman of Ways and
Means was elected in the Committee of Supply or Ways and Means
at the beginning of the Parliament. The election had however to
be unopposed, and if it was not, the Speaker resumed the Chair
and the appointment was made in the House. This curious procedure
was used in 1883 as regards the election of the Chairman, and
1902 in connection with the (first) election of a Deputy Chairman.
After 1910, the appointments were made, as in later years was
the appointment of the Second Deputy Chairman, on the floor of
It is not known whether there was any particular reason for the
change, other than that the new procedure was obviously more straightforward.
10. In every case since 1900, the Member
who made the motion for the election of the Chairman and Deputy
Chairmen was a senior member of the governmentthe Prime
Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Leader of the House,
First Secretary of State, Foreign Secretary, Secretary of State
for the Dominions or the Lord Privy Seal. Since 1979, the mover
has invariably been the Leader of the House. No notice of the
motion has ever been required, though in 1883 the House was informally
given the name of a Member who was to be proposed the following
11. A number of contested elections may
be of interest. In the debate on the election of the first Deputy
Chairman in 1902, which is referred to in paragraph 9 above, the
Member who initially raised objection took the view that it was
undesirable for any of the occupants of the Chair to be elected
on a government motion. Moreover, he objected to the government's
refusal to say in advance who was to be nominated, contrasting
the circumstances with those of 1883 (see paragraph 10 above).
The government response pointed to the many instances of such
elections where 1883-style notice was not given: and the election
was agreed without a division.
12. In 1921, there was an attempt to return
the election to the Committee (in this case of Supply). It was
opposed, the Speaker returned to the Chair, and proceedings went
on in the House (see paragraph 9).
Again, the allegation was made that the government was ignoring
the wishes of the House in putting forward a particular name.
They had compounded their error, in the eyes of their critics,
by announcing in the newspapers who the candidate would be. The
Leader of the House replied robustly: "it has not been customary
to consult the convenience of the Opposition in the recommendation
for this appointment."though he admitted with regret
that the statement had indeed been inadvertently made to the press.
13. In 1924, the motion was made in the
usual way for the appointment of a Chairman and Deputy Chairman.
The Baldwin government did not have a majority in the House, and
the election of the Chairman and Deputy was the first opportunity
the Opposition had to challenge them. The Prime Minister, obviously
conscious of the peculiarity of the situation, argued that if
the government fell, both Deputieswho were Conservativeswould
resign. The Opposition demurred at this arrangement, and indicated
that, with regret, they wished to divide the House. The government
then withdrew the motion.
The government was subsequently defeated on an amendment to the
Address, and the new government nominated two Deputiesone
Labour and the other Liberalshortly thereafter.
14. In 1943, the previous question was moved,
though it was later withdrawn and the original question nominating
a Chairman and Deputy Chairman was then agreed to.
Again, there had been a leak to the press of one of the names
to be put before the House, and an independent Member objected
that neither he nor one of the major parties had been consulted.
The senior government member participating in the debate (Mr Attlee)
said that: "these appointments are always made on the nomination
of the government . . . these are motions without notice . . .
and it has not been the custom in the past that these names should
be submitted to party meetings". A senior Member of the House
said that, despite protests that soundings should be taken, he
did not think that had been done for a century. Mr Aneurin Bevan
added: "The House is being consulted at the present time.
The House does not exist upstairs in private committee. The House
is here". The Foreign Secretary (Mr Eden) had looked up the
precedents, "and there is absolutely no precedent for notice
being given or consultation beforehand."
15. The only division on such a motion in
modern times was in 1962, when an amendment to leave out the name
of one of the nominees (moved by Dr Horace King) was defeated
by 180 votes to 52.
In the debate, concern was discreetly expressed that the nominee
for the Deputy Chairmanship had no experience of the Chairmen's
Panel, and was of the same political party as the Speaker and
the Chairman. These events had a sequel in 1968, with Mr Speaker
King in the Chair. The Motion to appoint a new Chairman and Deputy
Chairman at the beginning of a session (the Chairman having resigned)
was divided, at the request of a Member. The Chairman was appointed
without debate, but on the motion to appoint the Deputy the point
was madeechoing that of 1962that the nominee had
not been a member of the Panel. The Leader of the House (Mr Peart)
paid tribute to the Panel, but remarked that: "those who
have the responsibility of making proposals to the House must
not feel limited in their consideration to [the] Panel".
16. Having three Deputy Speakers in addition
to the Speaker may have indirect consequences for the method of
election of the Deputies. Present methods of nomination make it
relatively easy to arrange a party balance, as the following Table
with details since the creation of the post of Second Deputy shows:
||Speaker's party of origin||Chairmen's party of
|1970||Conservative||Lab (King), then Con|
|2 Con, 1 Lab|
||1 Con, 1 Lab
|1974(II)||Labour||Con (Lloyd) then Lab|
|2 Lab, 1 Con then|
2 Con, 1 Lab
||2 Con, 1 Lab|
||2 Lab, 1 Con|
||2 Lab, 1 Con|
||2 Con, 1 Lab|
|1997||Labour||Lab (Boothroyd then|
|2 Con, 1 Lab|
17. A Chairman of Ways and Means and Deputy Chairmen
are normally appointed in a new Parliament on the day the House
meets to hear the Gracious Speech, just before the debate on the
Speech begins. As a result, no formal notice of the motion can
be given. At the same time, if the election were deferred to the
following day, in order to permit notice to be given on the day
of the Speech, the Speaker would then have no deputies and could
not be informally replaced in the Chair for the entire day.
18. Members may elect a Speaker before they take the
oath; no other business is permissible at that time. It follows
that any procedure to elect Chairmen at the beginning of a new
Parliament would have to take place after the election of the
Speaker, probably with an appreciable interval to accommodate
the situation in which a new Speaker was elected who had been
one of the Deputies. This seems to rule out a ballot on the lines
of that now prescribed for the Speakership. In any event, the
Committee will wish to weigh the advantages of a ballot against
the potential disturbance of the political balance mentioned in
19. None of these objections can be levelled against
the election of a Chairman of Deputy in mid-session: methods such
as a ballot would be much easier to deploy in those circumstances.
But it is for the consideration of the Committee again whether
that degree of elaboration of a very simple procedure is a price
worth paying to improve a system which, though not without occasional
problems, has not really caused much difficulty over many years.
W R McKay
30 November 2001
The absence of the Speaker had been remarkably infrequent in
earlier years. It has been calculated that from 1603 to 1660,
the Speaker was absent on nine occasions, five of them a matter
of hours: from 1660 to 1688, on two occasions: from 1699 to 1760,
six: and from 1760 to 1853 nine, all short. In every case the
House had got over the difficulty by adjourning. Back
There had in fact been Deputy Speakers at the end of the interregnum,
but these precedents seem to have been shunned in subsequent years. Back
CJ (1852-54) 766. For the earliest example of the Chairman taking
the upper Chair, see ibid (1854-55) 210. The House had just come
out of the Committee of Ways and Means, and so the substitution
was particularly natural. Initially, the Speaker supplied medical
certificates to the House saying why he was prevented from attending
the House-eg that he had "sprained his leg in mounting his
horse" (ibid 261). Back
CJ (1854-55) 401. Back
18 and 19 Vict c 84. Back
CJ (1888) 64. Previously, in 1865 and 1881, the Speaker had resumed
the Chair before the end of a sitting at which his unavoidable
absence had been announced (ibid (1865-67) 234, 261, 331, 339);
ibid (1881) 50). In the latter case, his unavoidable absence was
announced; he returned; but subsequently left the Chair; and his
absence was announced again. Back
ibid (1902) 59. Back
ibid (1906) 113. Back
Some of these powers, such as the selection of amendments, are
not available to a Deputy Speaker in the upper Chair following
an informal request. Others include the statutory powers enjoyed
by the Speaker. See ibid (1902) 59; ibid (1909) 337-38; ibid (1932-33)
333. In 1971, the Standing Order was adjusted to make clear that
the absence of both the Speaker and the Chairman were necessary
before the Deputy Chairman could exercise the authority of the
ibid (1971-72) 29-30. The House had occasionally felt the need
for an extra Chairman in previous sessions. Such appointments
were made in 1928 (ibid (1928-29) 57) and 1946 (ibid (1945-46)
392). In 1947, a former Chairman of Ways and Means was appointed
to exercise the powers of Deputy Chairman, including those as
Deputy Speaker, in the absence through illness of the holder of
the office (ibid (1947-48) 67). Similar arrangements were made
in 1957 (ibid (1956-57) 225), 1964 (ibid (1964-65) 41) and 1972
(ibid (1971-72) 500). For Lord Maybray-King's remarks, see Procedure
Committee, Second Report, (HC (1970-71) 538) paragraph 38. Back
CJ (1883) 63; ibid (1902) 65. The first instance of its operation
was 1675 (ibid (1667-87) 386). Between then and its abandonment
early last century, it seems to have been resorted to only a handful
of times. Back
Except in 1921 when for some reason there was an attempt to make
the nomination in Committee which, since it was opposed, had to
be effected in the House, (ibid (1921) 117). Back
Parl Deb (1902) fourth series, vol 103 cc 56-69. Back
CJ (1921) 117. Back
HC Deb (1921) fifth series vol 141, c 431. Back
ibid (1924) vol 169, cc 49-56. Back
CJ (1924) 17, 35, 55. Back
ibid (1942-43) 31. Back
HC Deb (1942-43) fifth series vol 386, cc 252-64. Back
CJ (1961-62) 85. Back
HC Deb (1968-69) fifth series vol 772, cc 4-6. Back
No Second Deputy was appointed in this short Parliament. Back
Ways round this might be envisaged, such as the election of Members
to take the Chair pro tem until Chairmen could be elected:
but this risks an unduly complex solution to a simple problem. Back