Frequently Asked Questions: Speaker's Election

When is a speaker elected?

The Speaker is elected on the first day a new Parliament assembles, or the first sitting day after the previous Speaker has resigned. 

When was the current Speaker elected?

The election of Speaker Bercow first took place on 22 June 2009. Following the 2010 general election Speaker Bercow was re-elected on 18 May 2010.

What happened on that day?

  • Nominations were formally tabled between 9:30 and 10:30am.
  • In the absence of a Speaker the Father of the House (Rt Hon Alan Williams MP, Swansea West, elected 1964) took the chair and presided over proceedings of the House.
  • After the business began at 2:30pm, each candidate had a chance to address the House. The order of candidates speaking was chosen by the Father of the House by drawing lots earlier in the day.
  • All MPs were then able to vote for their preferred candidate by secret ballot. As no candidate achieved over half the vote there were further rounds of voting.
  • For following rounds, any candidates who achieved less than 5% of the votes, the candidate with the fewest votes and any candidates who chose to withdraw from the election were removed from the ballot paper. This continued until one candidate achieved over half of the votes cast or only one candidate remained.
  • A motion was put before the House proposing the successful candidate as Speaker.
  • When the question was agreed, the Member then took the Chair as Speaker-elect. Traditionally he is pulled ‘reluctantly’ to the chair.
  • The Speaker-elect goes to the House of Lords to receive the Queen’s approbation from a Royal Commission.

How long does the process take?

The time taken to get a candidate with the support of half of the votes cast in a ballot will depend on how many candidates present themselves for the position. There may be several rounds of voting each of which may take up to two hours.  At the election of Speaker Bercow proceedings started at 2.30pm and there were three rounds of voting with the Speaker-elect taking the chair at 8.30pm.

Was this the first time the Speaker has been elected?

No, the election of a Speaker takes place at the beginning of every Parliament and every time a Speaker steps down from the post. The timetable and procedure for the election of a Speaker are set out in Standing Orders 1, 1A and 1B. Standing order 1A has been used before in the re-election of the Speaker in 2001 and 2005, but this is the first time the system of exhaustive secret ballot introduced in 2001 and set out in Standing Order No. 1B will have been used to elect a new Speaker.

What is different from the old system to elect a Speaker?

The old system was based on a motion put to the House. In the motion, one candidate would be proposed as Speaker and the other candidates would be presented as successive amendments to the main motion. One key change in the new system is the introduction of an exhaustive secret ballot system. Each MP will be able to vote for their candidate without anyone else knowing who they voted for. The new system also allows MPs to vote for any of the candidates on the first ballot.

Why was the system changed?

The old system put an emphasis on the candidate who would be proposed first to the House and this provided the Father of the House with a difficult decision. The system also meant that it was possible for candidates to be presented as later amendments to the first name not to be considered at all by the House, as an earlier candidate might win before they were reached. The new system was adopted by the House following recommendations made by the Procedure Committee in a report published in 2000-01.

How are the deputies appointed?

The three deputies (Chairman of Ways and Means, First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) are elected by secret ballot. The names of the candidates need to be with the Clerk of the House between 10am and 5pm the day before the election.

The election takes place between 11am-12 noon in a place decided by the Speaker. The vote is under the single transferable vote system, the MPs number the candidates in order of preference. Deputy Speakers are elected until the end of a Parliament.

What happens to the Speaker during a general election?

A Speaker wishing to continue in office stands in their constituency at a general election as "The Speaker seeking re-election". Generally the Speaker will be unopposed, at least by the major parties. This means that the constituents are in an unusual position, but the Speaker is still their MP.

The Speaker is no longer the Speaker once Parliament is dissolved as there are no longer any MPs until the new Parliament is returned. The Speaker can continue to live in the Speakers apartments but the facilities of the House are limited. If the Speaker is not re-elected then they are given time to move from the Speakers apartments.

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