Deputy Speakers

4.32In 1855, on the report of a select committee, a standing order was agreed to which enabled the Chairman of Ways and Means (see para 4.33 ), as Deputy Speaker, to take the Chair during the unavoidable absence, or absence by leave of the House, of the Speaker, and perform the Speaker's duties in relation to all proceedings in the House. The sanction of the consent of the Crown was given to the appointment of this committee, to the standing order and to its amendment.1

The provision of this standing order received statutory authority by the Deputy Speaker Act 1855. The standing order has since been amended by a provision for the appointment of a First and Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means.2 Since the start of the 2010 Parliament these three posts have been filled by election (see para 8.30 ).

Whenever the House has been informed by the Clerk at the Table of the unavoidable absence or absence by leave of the House both of the Speaker and of the Chairman of Ways and Means, the First Deputy Chairman is entitled to perform the duties and exercise the authority of the Speaker in relation to all the proceedings in the House, and should the First Deputy Chairman also be thus absent, then these powers devolve upon the Second Deputy Chairman (Standing Order No 3(4)).3

When the Chairman of Ways and Means takes the Chair as Deputy Speaker in the Speaker's unavoidable absence or absence by leave,4 the Serjeant, accompanied by the Chaplain, enters the House with the Mace, which is placed upon the Table. The Clerk informs the House of the Speaker's unavoidable absence or absence by leave, and if necessary of that of the Chairman of Ways and Means.5 The Chairman of Ways and Means, or in their absence a Deputy Chairman, then proceeds to the Table, and, after prayers, takes the Chair. If the House goes into committee and the Chairman of Ways and Means takes the Chair, when the question for reporting progress has been agreed to, the Chairman returns to the Chair of the House, and a Deputy Chairman6 or a government Whip7 makes the report of the committee.

The unavoidable absence of the Speaker may be announced by the Clerk at the Table at any time during a sitting;8 but an opportunity is usually taken which interferes as little as possible with the progress of debate. When the Speaker was absent for several months because of illness, the Clerk informed the House of the Speaker's absence only on the first day of each sitting week.9

Unless the absence of the Speaker is thus formally announced (or the Speaker is absent on a Friday), Deputies in the Chair may not perform any duties of the Speaker, such as those in connection with the issue of writs, which do not arise from the course of debate, although they may, on behalf of the Speaker, grant an application for an emergency debate made under Standing Order No 24.10 After the unavoidable absence of the Speaker has been announced and the Chair has been occupied for some time by the Deputy Speaker, the Speaker is not precluded from resuming the Chair, if they wish to.11

Standing Order No 3(1) empowers the Speaker, without any formal communication to the House, to request the Chairman of Ways and Means or a Deputy Chairman to take the Chair, either temporarily or until the adjournment of the House.12 Deputies in the Chair have by convention when a decision is necessary the authority to exercise powers of selection for separate decision under Standing Order No 32; and speech limits under Standing Order No 47.


  1. 1. CJ (1852–53) 758, 766; ibid (1854–55) 395; ibid (1902) 65; HC 478 (1852–53).
  2. 2. CJ (1902) 59; ibid (1909) 337. Now SO No 2. For details of the creation and development of the post, see Procedure Committee, Second Report, HC 770 (2001–02), especially Appendix 2.
  3. 3. The Deputy Speaker Act 1855 (c 84) does not explicitly refer to the exercise by the Deputy Speaker of any powers placed upon the Speaker by statute during the latter's absence: such a provision is made in the House of Commons (Administration) Act 1978, sch 2, para 2, in relation to that Act. The Recess Elections Act 1975 lays down that the Speaker should appoint between three and seven Members, any one of whom may exercise the Speaker's duties under that Act when there is no Speaker or the Speaker is absent from the United Kingdom (s 4).
  4. 4. For example, CJ (1870) 265; ibid (1998–99) 413; ibid (2002–03) 463.
  5. 5. CJ (1903) 6; ibid (1994–95) 389.
  6. 6. CJ (1950–51) 146.
  7. 7. Votes and Proceedings, 20 November 2018.
  8. 8. CJ (1881) 50; ibid (1994–95) 389.
  9. 9. For example, CJ (2005–06) 450.
  10. 10. HC Deb (13 July 2017) 627, c 462.
  11. 11. CJ (1947–48) 309, HC Deb (5 April 1982) 21, cc 669, 685; CJ (2001–02) 308.
  12. 12. CJ (1889) 393, 394; ibid (1890) 539, 580; ibid (1981–82) 286.