: MAKING LAWS IN PARLIAMENT
The role of the Speaker
What does the Speaker do?
The Speaker of the House of Commons chairs debates in the Commons chamber. The holder of this office is an MP who has been elected to be Speaker by other Members of Parliament. During debates they keep order and call MPs to speak.
The Speaker is the chief officer and highest authority of the House of Commons and must remain politically impartial at all times.
The Speaker also represents the Commons to the monarch, the Lords and other authorities and chairs the House of Commons Commission.
The Speaker is perhaps best known as the person who keeps order and calls MPs to speak during Commons debates.
The Speaker calls MPs in turn to give their opinion on an issue. MPs signal that they want to speak by standing up from their seat (a custom known as ‘catching the Speaker’s eye’) or they can notify the Speaker in advance by writing.
The Speaker has full authority to make sure MPs follow the rules of the House during debates. This can include:
- directing an MP to withdraw remarks if, for example, they use abusive language
- suspending the sitting of the House due to serious disorder
- suspending MPs who are deliberately disobedient – known as naming
- asking MPs to be quiet so Members can be heard
About the current Speaker of the House of Commons
Since 22 June 2009 the Speaker of the House of Commons has been the Rt Hon John Bercow MP. He is the Member of Parliament for Buckingham.
Three things you might not know about the Speaker of the House of Commons
1. Speakers are elected by Members of Parliament
The first Speaker was Sir Thomas Hungerford appointed in 1377. However the role before this time have been identified as far back as 1258 where they were called ‘parlour’ or ‘prolocutor’.
The election of the Speaker takes place at the beginning of every Parliament and every time a Speaker steps down from the post.
The last election for a Speaker of the House of Commons took place in 2009 using a secret ballot system. It was the first time the procedure set out below has been used to elect the Speaker.
- MPs are given a list of candidates and place an x next to the candidate of their choice
- if a candidate receives more than 50 per cent of the votes, the question is put to the House that he or she takes the chair as Speaker
- if no candidate does so, the candidate with the fewest votes, and those with less than five per cent of the vote, are eliminated
- in addition, any candidate may withdraw within 10 minutes of the announcement of the result of a ballot
- MPs then vote again on the reduced slate of candidates and continue doing so until one candidate receives more than half the votes
2. The Speaker is Politically Impartial
Speakers must be politically impartial. Therefore, on election the new Speaker must resign from their political party and remain separate from political issues even in retirement. However, the Speaker will deal with their constituents’ problems like a normal MP.
3. Speakers stand in General Elections
Speakers still stand in general elections. They are generally unopposed by the major political parties, who will not field a candidate in the Speaker’s constituency – this includes the original party they were a member of. During a general election, Speakers do not campaign on any political issues but simply stand as ‘the Speaker seeking re-election’.