How is a Speaker elected?
The processes for electing a Speaker are laid down in Standing Orders 1, 1A and 1B.
The House adopted the current system for electing a Speaker on 22 March 2001.
Once assembled after a General Election, MPs, led by the Father of the House, go to the House of Lords where they receive a message from the Queen asking them to elect a Speaker. They return to the House of Commons and begin the process immediately, under the direction of the Father of the House.
If the MP who was Speaker before the general election is returned at the election and wishes to stand for re-election as Speaker, that decision is taken immediately. A motion is put before the House ‘that x do take the Chair of this House as Speaker’. If the question is challenged the decision is made by division. The House debated a proposal on 26 March 2015 that a secret ballot should be used to determine the question, if it is challenged. The House disagreed with the proposal.
If there is no returning Speaker wishing to stand again, or the House votes against the appointment of the former Speaker, a contested election by exhaustive secret ballot must take place to choose a new Speaker. The ballot would then take place on the following day.
Election of Speaker by secret ballot
An uncontested election
If there is only one nomination in a ballot, a motion is put before the House ‘that x do take the Chair of this House as Speaker’. If the question is challenged a decision is made by division.
If there is more than one candidate, the House proceeds to election by a secret ballot.
Procedure for election of Speaker by secret ballot
The process to elect a Speaker by secret ballot was first used on 22 June 2009 following the resignation of Speaker Martin.
Written nominations are submitted to the Commons Table Office between 9.30am and 10.30am on the morning of the election.
The House meets at 2.30pm.
The Father of the House presides over the election, sitting at the Table of the House rather than in the Speaker’s Chair.
Each candidate addresses the House. The order of candidates is chosen by the Father of the House by drawing lots earlier in the day.
The first round of voting is then held. MPs go to one of the division lobbies where they must put a mark on the ballot paper against the name of only one candidate. After the votes have been counted (which may take a couple of hours) the Father of the House announces the results in the Chamber. If no candidate achieves over half the vote there will be further rounds of voting.
For following rounds, the names of any candidates who obtained less than 5% of the votes cast in the previous ballot, of the candidate with the fewest votes in the previous ballot, and of any candidates who choose to withdraw from the election, are removed from the ballot paper. Successive ballots are held until one candidate obtains over half of the votes cast or only one candidate remains when the exclusions described above are applied.
A motion is put before the House ‘that x do take the Chair of this House as Speaker’. If the question is challenged a decision is made by division. If it is defeated, the House must meet again the following day and start the process all over again, from scratch. When the House has agreed, the Member named in the motion takes the Chair as Speaker-elect. Traditionally she or he is dragged ‘reluctantly’ to the chair by his or her main sponsors.
On the day following his or her election, the Speaker-elect goes to the House of Lords to receive the Queen’s approbation from a Royal Commission.
How long does the process of electing a Speaker by secret ballot 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, how evenly the votes are spread, and how many candidates decide to withdraw voluntarily after each round. There may be several rounds of voting, each of which may take up to two hours.
At the election of Speaker Bercow in 2009 proceedings started at 2.30pm and there were three rounds of voting with the Speaker-elect taking the chair at 8.30pm.
When was Speaker Bercow elected?
Speaker Bercow was first elected by secret ballot on 22 June 2009 following the resignation of Speaker Martin. There were ten candidates.
Following the 2015 general election Speaker Bercow was re-elected on 18 May 2015. The motion to elect John Bercow as Speaker was agreed without a vote.
Speaker Bercow was re-elected following the 2017 general election on 14 June 2017. The motion was agreed without a vote.
How are the Deputy Speakers elected?
On 4 March 2010, the House also agreed that its three Deputy Speakers should be elected by secret ballot. Deputy Speakers are elected using the single transferable vote system.
The votes are allocated so as to ensure that two of the Deputy Speakers are from the opposite side of the House than that from which the Speaker was drawn. Of these, the candidate with the larger number of votes will become the Chairman of Ways and Means, the other the Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means. The third successful candidate will be from the same side of the House as the Speaker and will be the First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.
The votes must also be allocated so as to ensure that, across the four posts of the Speaker and his Deputies, there will be at least one man and at least one woman.
Once elected, Deputy Speakers remain in office until the next general election, unless they resign or otherwise cease to be an MP.
Following the 2017 general election, the House of Commons Deputy Speakers were elected on Wednesday 28 June 2017.
Commons Library briefing papers
The House of Commons Library produces briefing papers to inform MPs and their staff of key issues. The papers contain factual information and a range of opinions on each subject, and aim to be politically impartial.
The Library has published briefing papers on the election of the Speaker and Deputy Speakers.