Election of House of Commons Select Committee Chairs

At the start of a Parliament the chairs of a number of select committees are elected by the House. The practical arrangements for the election of committee chairs by secret ballot are set out below.

The election of chairs of select committees is governed by Standing Order Number 122B. Not all select committee chairs are elected by the House; those that are elected are listed below.

Before the election of committee chairs can begin, the House must first allocate the posts of particular committee chairs to specific parties.

  • The Speaker of the House of Commons writes to the party leaders on the day following his/her election at the start of the Parliament, indicating the numbers of chairs that should be allotted to each party, according to their strength in the House.
  • Within a week of the Queen’s Speech, a motion is put to the House (in the name of all the leaders of the parties entitled to a chair) to allocate the chair of each committee to a specific party.
  • Debate on this motion is limited to one hour. If changes are also being made to the Departmental Select Committees listed in Standing Order 152, in order to reflect governmental changes (for example, if a new department is created, or if existing departments are merged) then 90 minutes are allowed for debate on the motion.
  • If no such motion is tabled within two weeks, the Standing Order allows a motion allocating chairs to be brought in the name of any MP.

The ballot must take place 14 days after the approval of the motion allocating chairs to parties.

Nominations can be submitted as soon as the motion has been agreed by the House, until 5pm the day before the ballot.

The Speaker has discretion under Standing Order Number 122B to vary timings.

To be valid, nominations must:

  • contain a signed statement made by the candidate declaring their willingness to stand
  • be accompanied by the signatures of 15 MPs elected to the Commons as members of the same political party as the candidate (or 10 per cent of the MPs elected to the House of that party, whichever is the lower). More than 15 signatures can be collected but only the first 15 valid signatures are printed.

Nominations may be accompanied by the signatures of up to five MPs elected to the House as members of any party other than to which the chair is allocated or of no party. Similarly, only five such signatures are printed.

Candidates must declare any relevant interests with their nomination.

Valid nominations received each day are published with the next day’s Order Paper.

As soon as possible after the close of nominations, if there is more than one candidate, the list of candidates and their sponsors is placed in the Vote Office in Members’ Lobby. The list will also be available on the website (only printing the first 15 or 5 valid signatories for each candidate).

If there is only one candidate for particular committee, he or she is elected unopposed.

Select committee chair elections are generally held in one of the committee rooms on the Committee Corridor. MPs have their names recorded at temporary division desks before being issued with a ballot paper.

On the day of election, the ballot will be held between 10am and 5pm.

Nodding through

‘Nodding through’ arrangements for Members on the Parliamentary Estate but incapacitated may be put in place. Members are asked to make requests for this service by an hour before the ballot starts. As is the case with all other votes in the House, proxy voting is not possible.

Ballot papers

MPs are issued with separate ballot papers for each committee, as part of a booklet of papers. Each will be a different colour and will give the names of candidates in alphabetical order.

Members complete the ballot papers at one of the stations erected in the room, and then deposit them in one of the ballot boxes at the exit.
Members should vote by ranking as many candidates as they wish in order of preference, marking 1 by the name of their first preference, 2 by the name of their second preference, and so on. A single X mark is acceptable if only one preference is being given.

Members can indicate as few or as many preferences as they wish.

The ballots are counted under the Alternative Vote system. Any candidate who receives more than half the first preferences for each chair is elected.

If no candidate receives more than half, the candidate with the lowest number of first preference votes is eliminated. Their votes are then reallocated among the remaining candidates, according to the second, third, etc preferences indicated on the ballot papers.

Again, if no candidate has more than half the votes, the process of elimination and distribution is repeated, until one candidate has more than half the votes.

The results are published under the direction of the Speaker as soon as is practicable after the ballot has closed. The successful candidate formally takes up their position as committee chair when the remaining members of the committee have been appointed by the House.

The chairs of the following House of Commons Select Committees are elected under Standing Order Number 122B:

Departmental Committees

Other Committees

Backbench Business Committee

The chair of the Backbench Business Committee is elected separately under Standing Order Number 122D.