Under a Resolution of the House of 2 March 1624, Members of Parliament cannot directly resign their seat. This means that MPs wishing to resign their seat must be appointed to one of two paid offices of the Crown. These are the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds and the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. This briefing paper explains how this process works, and the historical background behind it.Jump to full report >>
There are several ways by which a Member's seat may be vacated during the lifetime of a Parliament:
A Member who wishes to resign their seat must be appointed to one of two offices of the Crown, retained from antiquity for this purpose only. These are the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds and the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead. Other such offices have been used for this purpose in the past, and some of them have carried duties and salaries: this is not the case today. This process is often described as “taking the Chiltern Hundreds”.
In the past, Ministers were required to re-contest their seats following their appointment as ministers. This was in recognition of the possibility that being a Minister of the Crown – i.e. holding an office provided by the monarch – might constitute a conflict of interest with the duties of a Member of Parliament. This practice has now been discontinued.
Members who are recalled can contest the subsequent by-election. A Member who has taken an incompatible office can also stand if they resign the office. A Member whose election is voided may be permitted to stand, depending on how the election was voided.
This briefing paper details the purposes of the Chiltern Hundreds, the case of Gerry Adams, and debate about possible reforms. It discusses the historical background of Members resigning their seats and of Offices of profit under the Crown. It also summarises the other ways in which Members’ seats can be vacated.
Commons Briefing papers SN06395
Author: Edward Hicks