Deputy Speaker / Chairman of Ways and Means
Dame Eleanor Laing MP - Deputy Speaker / Chairman of Ways and Means
Dame Eleanor Laing MP
Being told that politics was no place for a woman only made Dame Eleanor Laing more determined to become an MP.
Undeterred by her failure to secure the safe Labour seat of Paisley North in the 1987 General Election, she became Special Adviser to the then Education Secretary John MacGregor in 1989, continuing in the role when he was Leader of the House in 1990-92 and Transport Secretary in 1992-94.
By 1997 her perseverance paid off – and she became the Conservative Member of Parliament for Epping Forest. She even fought an election while heavily pregnant in 2001 – and gave birth to her son a week after polling day.
By February 1999, she was promoted to the post of Opposition Whip, and in July 2000 became frontbench spokesman for Constitutional Affairs.
She has also been an Education and Skills spokesman, Shadow Minister for Children and, Shadow Minister for Women. In 2005, she was promoted to Shadow Secretary of State for Scotland, and in 2007-10, she was Shadow Minister for Justice.
She was elected Deputy Speaker in 2013 and appointed a Privy Counsellor in 2017. She received her Damehood in 2018 - and in 2020, she became the first ever woman to be elected to the position of Chairman of Ways and Means.
Chairman of Ways and Means role
The Chairman of Ways and Means is the principal Deputy Speaker and began to formally deputise from 1853. In the absence of the Speaker, the Chairman of Ways and Means may exercise all the authority of the Speaker, under the Deputy Speakers Act 1855.
The Chairman of Ways and Means is elected from the opposite side of the House from which the Speaker was elected.
The main role of the Chairman of Ways and Means is to take the Chair during unavoidable absence or absence by leave of the House of the Speaker and perform his or her duties in relation to all proceedings in the House.
The Chairman of Ways and Means is also chairman of any committee of the whole House.
The Chairman of Ways and Means has three distinct roles from the Speaker:
- Supervision of arrangements for sittings in Westminster Hall
- General oversight of matters connected with private bills
- Chair of the Panel of Chairs with general responsibility for the work of general committees.
Between 1641 and 1967, the Chairman of Ways and Means presided over the Committee of Ways and Means. Proposals for raising taxation originated in the Committee of Ways and Means but since 1967 (when the Committee was abolished), all fiscal matters, including taxation, now reside with the Chancellor of the Exchequer.
Although the Speaker has presided over the Budget debate, in 1968 and 1989 for example, it is usually the Chairman of Ways and Means that takes the Chair as the financial measures contained in the Chancellor’s Budget are brought in on Ways and Means Resolutions.
Once elected, the Chairman of Ways and Means withdraws from an active political role.