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 current Speaker is John Bercow, MP for Buckingham.
Chairing debates in the House of Commons
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
Election of the Speaker
John Bercow was elected House of Commons Speaker on 22 June 2009.
The Speaker was elected using an exhaustive secret ballot system, the first time this procedure had been used for the election of a 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
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.
Speakers and 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'.