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The Speaker as presiding Officer of the House of Commons

4.23The chief characteristics attaching to the office of Speaker in the House of Commons are authority and impartiality. As the symbol of the powers and privileges of the House, the Royal Mace is borne before the Speaker when entering and leaving the Chamber at the beginning and end of a sitting, and upon State occasions, by the Serjeant at Arms attending the House of Commons, and is placed upon the Table when the Speaker is in the Chair.1 In debate all speeches are addressed to the Speaker who also calls upon Members to speak—a choice which is not open to dispute. On rising to preserve order or to give a ruling on a doubtful point the Speaker must always be heard in silence and no Member may stand when the Speaker is on their feet. Reflections upon the character or actions of the Speaker may be punished as breaches of privilege (see para 15.14 ). No action may be criticised incidentally in debate or upon any form of proceeding except a substantive motion (see para 20.10 ). The Speaker's authority in the Chair is fortified by many special powers which are referred to below. Confidence in the impartiality of the Speaker is an indispensable condition of the successful working of procedure, and many conventions exist which have as their object not only to ensure the impartiality of the Speaker but also to ensure that that impartiality is generally recognised. The Speaker takes no part in debate either in the House or in committee, but makes occasional observations from the Chair.2 The Speaker votes only when the voices are equal, and then in accordance with rules which preclude an expression of opinion upon the merits of a question (see para 20.89 ). At a General Election the Speaker stands as ‘the Speaker seeking re-election’, as belonging to no party;3 in a reversion to a frequent previous practice, candidates from major parties have not contested the Speaker's seat in recent general elections.

Footnotes

  1. 1. The Mace is received by the Serjeant at Arms from the Lord Chamberlain of the Household; it is, therefore, in the first place a symbol of the Royal authority, and thence derivatively of the authority of the Speaker and the House. When the House is dissolved or prorogued it reverts to the custody of the Lord Chamberlain of the Household, but during an adjournment it remains in the control of the Serjeant at Arms. See also HC Deb (7 December 1961) 650, cc 1544–52, and P F Thorne The Royal Mace House of Commons Library Document No 18 (1990).
  2. 2. See eg HC Deb (30 October 2017) 630, cc 577–78.
  3. 3. See Report of the Select Committee on Parliamentary Elections (the Speaker's Seat), HC 98 (1938–39).