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The Speaker is one of the most important figures in the UK Parliamentary system. He or she presides over the House of Commons, maintaining order, administering House services and representing the Chamber to the House of Lords, the Crown and diplomatically.

Erskine May identifies three key roles and responsibilities associated with the Speaker:

  • Presiding Officer – the Speaker presides over Commons debates and enforces its rules
  • Administrative – the Speaker has a range of administrative responsibilities, which includes chairing the House of Commons Commission
  • Representative – the Speaker is the spokesperson of the House in its communications with the Crown, the House of Lords, and external authorities outside Parliament

The first record of (the English) Parliament electing one of its number to act as Speaker dates from 1376. The office holder’s initial function was to report the views of the House of Commons to the monarch. Presiding officers in the Scottish and Irish parliaments fulfilled similar roles. Over the centuries, the role became more independent of the Crown, less partisan and increasingly the choice of the Commons itself rather than the government of the day. To date, there have been 158 Commons Speakers.

This research briefing focuses on the office and role of the Speaker, examining its presiding, administrative and representative aspects in turn. Traditions associated with the office are also covered, as are some international comparisons.

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