The Green Chair Quartet

The Ways & Means Committee was, and in some countries still is, a subgroup of the national legislature responsible for proposing changes to fiscal policy. In the House of Commons a tradition developed whereby the Chairman of Ways & Means, rather than the Speaker, would preside over the chamber during the annual budget statement. From 1853 the Chairman took on the role of the Speaker’s deputy in general. This was codified by the Deputy Speakers Act of 1855. The Chairman was given his own Deputy in 1902.

The committee itself was abolished in 1967, with full authority over fiscal matters going to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the chairmen retained their functions as deputy speakers. Like the main Speaker they do not speak in the chamber except on matters of procedure, nor vote unless to break a tie. Unlike him they remain members of their respective parties and must fight as party candidates at general elections. Traditionally the Speaker was elected at the first sitting day after each general election, whereas the deputies were appointed just after the first State Opening.

The table that I have created shows all of the speakers and their deputies since the beginning of the 45th Parliament in 1970.

The Commons assembled on 29th June and Dr Horace King, member for Southampton Itchen, was elected to a third term as Speaker, having taken office following the death of Sir Harry Hylton-Foster in 1965. On 2nd July he was given Sir Robert Grant-Ferris (Conservative, Nantwich) as Chairman and Betty Harvie Anderson (Conservative, East Renfrewshire) as Deputy.

On 12th January 1971 King retired and former Foreign Secretary Selwyn Lloyd was, with a bit of difficulty, elected to replace him. This briefly resulted in an all-blue speakership trio. Ten months later the post of Second Deputy Chairman was established and conferred upon the Labour backbencher Sir Lancelot Mallalieu. Anderson resigned her post at the end of the third session. After the state opening Mallalieu was promoted to replace her and his position given to Oscar Murton, Conservative member for Poole.

Ferris and Mallalieu both retired from the Commons at the general election of February 1974. The short-lived 46th Parliament saw Lloyd re-elected as speaker and Murton promoted to First Deputy, with former Secretary of State for Wales George Thomas becoming chairman. Seemingly no Second Deputy was appointed that time. After the October election Lloyd, Thomas and Murton were restored, with Sir Myer Galpern (Labour, Glasgow Shettleston) becoming Second Deputy. This arrangement persisted until 3rd February 1976 when Lloyd retired and Thomas was elected to replace him. That same day Murton and Galpern were promoted one step each, with Sir Godman Irvine brought in at the bottom.

At the 1979 general election Murton and Galpern both retired from the Commons and were kicked upstairs that summer. Anderson, a backbencher since her resignation, did the same with the unusual title Baroness Skrimshire of Quarter, of Dunipace in the District of Falkirk, but she suffered a fatal asthma attack just a week after her introduction to the Lords. Thomas resumed his place, with Irvine becoming First Deputy under Bernard Weatherill (Conservative, Croydon North East). Richard Cranshaw (Labour, Liverpool Toxteth) was then appointed Second Deputy. Cranshaw vacated the post in February 1981 when he defected to the Social Democratic Party. He was replaced by Ernest Armstrong (Labour, North West Durham). On 28 May 1982 Armstrong was promoted after Irvine’s resignation, with Paul Dean (Conservative, North Somerset) appointed below him.

At the 1983 general election Cranshaw was defeated while Thomas and Irvine both retired. The former two were ennobled. Weatherill then became Speaker and Harold Walker (Labour, Doncaster Central) became Chairman. Armstrong and Dean stayed still.

In 1987 Armstrong retired. Weatherill and Walker remained, with Dean made First Deputy and Betty Boothroyd (Labour, West Bromwich West) Second. In 1992 Weatherill, Walker and Dean all stood down. Boothroyd beat Peter Brooke to the Speaker’s chair. She acquired a new team of Michael Morris (Conservative, Northampton South), Geoffrey Lofthouse (Labour, Pontefract & Castleford) and Dame Janet Fookes (Conservative, Plymouth Drake). They too departed on masse in 1997 – the latter two voluntarily, the former less so.

Their replacements were Alan Haselhurst (Conservative, Saffron Walden), Michael Martin (Labour, Glasgow Springburn) and Michael Lord (Conservative, Central Suffolk and North Ipswich). Martin succeeded Boothroyd upon her retirement in 2000, and was himself replaced by Sylvia Heal (Labour, Halesowen and Rowley Regis). This team remained stable for most of the noughties.

Martin resigned in 2009. Haselhurst and Lord both contested the ensuing election, the former getting a measly sixty-six votes and the latter just nine. The winner was outsider John Bercow (Conservative, Buckingham). That knocked off the party balance for the first time in thirty-five years. At the 2010 general election Heal left politics behind and Lord moved upstairs, taking the title Baron Framlingham, of Eye in the County of Suffolk, to avoid the obvious joke.

At the start of the 55th Parliament Bercow was re-elected Speaker, and new rules took effect requiring deputies to be elected a ballot of members rather than appointed in the old manner. Haselhurst was no longer eligible to be Chairman, only First Deputy, so he became Chairman of the Administration Committee instead. Those elected were Lindsay Hoyle (Labour, Chorley), Nigel Evans (Conservative, Ribble Valley) and Dawn Primarolo (Labour, Bristol South). Evans resigned as First Deputy in September 2013, and the next month Eleanor Laing (Conservative, Epping Forest) took his place.

In 2015 Primarolo left for benches redder. Bercow, Hoyle and Laing continued, with Natasha Engel (Labour, North East Derbyshire) taking the junior spot in a rather noncompetitive election. Engel was defeated in the 2017 snap election. Haselhurst stood down, accepting a life peerage the next year. The new Second Deputy was Dame Rosie Winterton (Labour, Doncaster Central).

Some awkwardness ensued in 2019 when another snap election was imposed. Bercow resigned his seat in the 57th House of Commons two days before it was due to dissolve. All three deputies sought to succeed him as Speaker, with Hoyle ultimately prevailing. His former position as Chairman of Ways & Means was left vacant on the one remaining sitting day.

The present parliament assembled on 17th December and Hoyle was swiftly re-instated, but the deputies were not elected until January. Laing was made Chairman, with Winterton becoming First Deputy unopposed and Evans coming back in as second. How long this team will stay together is to be determined.

You may notice that there are some italicised names not yet mentioned. The new arrangements for electing deputies contained a caveat that the old system could still be used to appoint up to three temporary placeholders from among the surviving members of the previous house’s Panel of Chairs so that the Speaker was not left to carry the whole workload alone for the first few days. Haselhurst was kept on in 2010 with Hugh Bayley (York Central). In 2015 the appointments were Sir Roger Gale (Conservative, North Thanet) and George Howarth (Labour, Knowsley). In 2017 they were Howarth and Sir David Amess (Conservative, Southend West). In these instances the documentation of was hard to find, and I really only know who served as temporary deputies from the Speaker thanking them once the permanent deputies were elected. In no case was it made clear which member acted in which particular office, so I have assigned them to the roles for which they would have been eligible to contest in the elections, and according to seniority of service in the house.

For 2019-2020 it was much clearer, with an explicit statement in the appointment motion that Gale would be Chairman, Howarth would be First Deputy and Sir Gary Streeter (Conservative, South West Devon) would be Second.

FURTHER READING

https://www.parliament.uk/about/mps-and-lords/principal/deputy-speakers/

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