Powers of the Chair to enforce order
21.40In so large and active an assembly as the House of Commons, it is absolutely necessary that the Speaker should be invested with authority to repress disorder and to give effect promptly and decisively to the rules and orders of the House. The ultimate authority on all these matters is the House itself; but the Speaker is the executive officer by whom its rules are enforced.
In most cases, the breach of order is obvious and is immediately checked by the Speaker. In other cases, if attention is directed to a breach of order at the proper time, namely, the moment when it occurs,1 a decision is given at once and, in the event of failure to secure the compliance of the Member at fault, the Speaker directs the Member to withdraw or names them. Under Standing Order No 45A, passed on 4 June 1998, the salary of a Member suspended from the service of the House is withheld for the period of any suspension.2
The power to punish disorder derives from the ancient usages of the House in proceeding against a Member; but since the latter part of the nineteenth century the Speaker has been armed by standing orders, with precisely defined summary powers, which largely supersede those exercised under ancient usage. Nevertheless, one of these orders (Standing Order No 44(5)) expressly saves the power of the House to proceed against a Member under ancient usage.3
- 1. Parl Deb (1872) 210, c 534; ibid (1878–79) 247, c 325; HC Deb (1972–73) 854, c 1525; ibid (1972–73) 855, cc 28–30. See also Denison 42.
- 2. As recommended by the Select Committee on Modernisation of the House of Commons in its Fourth Report of Session 1997–98, HC 600. This period may extend over an adjournment, only sitting days counting.
- 3. For a full description of the disciplinary powers of the Speaker under ancient usage, including the procedure for words taken down, see Erskine May (20th edn, 1983), pp 442–44.