Over its long history, the office of the Speaker gradually grew in size, importance and function, in parallel with the increasing volume of work of the Commons.
In recognition of this workload, the roles of second and third Deputy Speakers, who come under both the Speaker and the chief Deputy Speaker (or Chairman of Ways and Means), were created, in 1902 and 1971.
Administration of the House
The Speaker’s responsibilities in terms of the management and administration of the House of Commons have evolved over the centuries. In general, responsibilities for the House’s administration have been divided between the Office of the Speaker, the Clerk of the House and the Serjeant at Arms.
Typically under the Speaker’s aegis have been offices and units such as the House of Commons Library, official report office (or Hansard), the fees office and the vote office. In 1965, the Queen agreed to pass control over the Palace of Westminster to the Houses of Commons and Lords. Responsibility and oversight for the portions occupied by the Commons was lodged in the Speaker’s office.
Significant modernisation of the administrative structure of the Commons occurred in 1978 with the House of Commons (Administration) Act. It created the House of Commons Commission, consisting of the Speaker, Leader of House, a nominee of the Leader of the Opposition (usually the shadow Leader of House), and three MPs who are not Ministers. The Commission became the statutory employer of the Commons’ permanent staff in the various departments of the House.
The Speaker’s roles
The Speaker’s most visible role is as presiding officer over the House of Commons during debates. The speaking order in many debates is effectively decided by the topic at hand and parliamentary precedent – for example, it is customary for the Minister in charge of a bill being introduced to the House to open the debate, and for the Shadow Minister to follow them.
However, the Speaker must use his or her discretion much of the time too in deciding whom to call. 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. Speakers must try to ensure that, notwithstanding the pressure of business, every point of view in the House is given an opportunity for expression.
The Speaker must also exercise discretion on a number of matters prescribed in the standing orders of the House. Examples include decisions as to whether an application for an emergency debate is proper to be put to the House, whether to allow an urgent question, and whether a complaint of breach of privilege can legitimately be pursued in the House.
The Speaker acts as the spokesperson for the whole House on ceremonial occasions. He or she represents the House at many events and occasions both domestically and abroad.
For example, the Speaker presented addresses of congratulation to The Queen on the occasion of her Silver Jubilee in 1977, Golden Jubilee in 2002 and Diamond Jubilee in 2012. The Speaker welcomes and hosts visiting Speakers and delegations of politicians and officials visiting from legislatures abroad.
Last updated October 2016