House of Commons Library

The election of a Speaker

Published Thursday, May 14, 2015

This note briefly reviews the election of the Speaker in 2009, the Procedure Committee's review, and the changes made, in 2001, to the procedure for electing a Speaker.

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A new Speaker is elected by secret ballot, using the exhaustive ballot system.  The re-election of the former Speaker after a general election is decided on the basis of the question that the former Speaker “do take the Chair of this House as Speaker”.  At present, if the previous Speaker has indicated a wish to continue in post, it has been customary for such an election to been purely formal, and unlike the new process for election of a new Speaker, no secret ballot is required.

The current rules for the election of a Speaker for the first time and his or her re-election after a general election were adopted in 2001.  The rules for the election of a new Speaker were used when John Bercow was first elected on 22 June 2009.

The current rules were adopted after the Procedure Committee reviewed the previous procedure, introduced in 1972, which was used when Speaker Martin was elected in October 2000.

The current rules were reviewed by the Procedure Committee.  In February 2010, it published a report which recommended some minor changes. It also considered the process for re-electing the Speaker after a general election.  No opportunity was given to the House to consider these recommendations in the 2005 Parliament.  Following a review of elections that took place at the beginning of the 2010 Parliament, the Procedure Committee again recommended that the House be invited to decide whether the decision should be taken by secret ballot.

The Government initially responded that Backbench Business time should be used to consider the report.  This did not happen.  However, a motion to amend Standing Orders to this effect was debated, with little notice, on 26 March 2015 (the final sitting day of the 2010-15 Parliament). It was rejected by 228 votes to 206. 

This note also briefly reviews the election of the Speaker in 2000, the Procedure Committee’s review of that election, its recommendations for change and the House’s decision to adopt the Procedure Committee’s recommendations.

The need for an election of a Speaker can arise in a number of circumstances:

  • The meeting of a new Parliament;
  • The death or retirement of the Speaker;
  • The Speaker ceasing to be a Member for any other reason.

Further information on the 1972 procedure is available in the Library Research Paper Election of a Commons Speaker (2nd Edition), 19 March 2001.

Commons Briefing papers SN05074

Author: Richard Kelly

Topics: House of Commons, Parliament, Parliamentary procedure, Speaker

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