Former Speaker Michael Martin stands down as an MP

June 22, 2009 at 6:57 pm Leave a comment

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by Tony Grew

The Treasury announced today that Michael Martin has been appointed as Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead – a procedural device which allows MPs to resign between elections.

As the role is a “paid office of the Crown” the former Speaker, who left office yesterday, is now ineligible to sit in the Commons.

His replacement as Speaker will issue a writ for a by-election in his constituency of Glasgow North East.

The Treasury’s involvement is required as there is no mechanism for an MP to resign.

Therefore they take either the Manor of Northstead or another sinecure title, Steward of the Chiltern Hundreds, to leave the Commons.

From the Parliament factsheet:

“A resolution passed by the House on 2 March 1624 prohibits MPs from resigning their seats.

“It states simply “…that a man, after he is duly chosen, cannot relinquish.” Prior to that date resignation was in theory not permitted although the subject was discussed on numerous occasions.

“Requests from Members, or their constituencies, to be discharged from service were commonly ignored or rejected.

“However, the House did sometimes order a by-election if it was believed that a Member was terminally ill or too infirm to attend. Five men were permitted to resign on ill-health grounds between 1604 and 1629, most of them in 1610.

“The absence of Members abroad on royal business was often presented as a reason for resignation but almost never admitted, with the exception of service in various posts in Ireland.

“To put the above in perspective, it should be remembered that in those days serving in Parliament was often regarded as an obligation to be accepted only reluctantly rather than an honour to be eagerly sought.

“Voluntary relinquishment of a seat was not, therefore, something to be encouraged. It was also the case that, before the sixteenth century, it was very rare for a parliament to sit for longer than a few weeks so that a procedure for resignation was hardly necessary.

“One way in which a Member might be able to vacate his seat was by accepting a paid office of the Crown. This was because it was assumed that a Member receiving a salary from the Crown could not be expected to scrutinise the actions of the Crown or the Crown’s government.

“A resolution of 30 December 1680 was worded as follows:

“Resolved, Nemine contradicente, That no Member of this House shall accept of any Office, or Place of Profit, from the Crown, without the Leave of this House, or any Promise of any such Office, or Place of Profit, during such time
as he shall continue a Member of this House.

“Resolved, That all Offenders herein shall be expelled this House.”

“Legislation was passed during subsequent decades which prohibited the holding of a parliamentary seat and certain offices at the same time. This legislation did not prevent MPs from holding various crown stewardships during the first half of the eighteenth-century.

“The many offices of profit under the Crown included a number of crown stewardships.

“However, just two of these stewardships are now used for resignation purposes.

“They are the Crown Steward and Bailiff of the three Chiltern Hundreds of Stoke, Desborough and Burnham, and of the Manor of Northstead.

“These offices have been retained as nominal offices of profit solely to meet the requirements of the House of Commons Disqualification Act 1975.

“Until 1919 Ministers, on their acceptance of office, were disqualified from sitting, and had to submit to an election.

“The Re-election of Ministers Act 1919 made re-election unnecessary within nine months of a general election and the principle was finally abolished in an amending Act of 1926.

“Acceptance of certain paid offices (e.g. a judge) still disqualifies a Member. The last Member to give up his seat from appointment to an actual paid office was Sir Thomas Williams, appointed a circuit judge on 1 June 1981.

“A Member wishing to resign applies to the Chancellor of the Exchequer for one of the offices, which he or she retains until the Chancellor appoints another applicant or until the holder applies for release from it.

“Every new warrant issued revokes the previous holder.

“It is usual to grant the offices alternately; as this enables two Members to retire at precisely the same time.

“Indeed, on 17 December 1985, fifteen Ulster Unionist MPs resigned on the same day.

“Upon receipt of a Member’s application for the Chiltern Hundreds, a warrant of appointment is signed (in the presence of a witness) by the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

“Since 1850, these have been registered and retained in the Treasury. On the day the warrant is signed a letter is sent to the Member, omitting the letters MP after his name, to inform him that he has been appointed to the office.

“Letters of notification are also sent at the same time to the offices of the Speaker and the Government and opposition whips. As soon as practical, the appointment is noted in the London Gazette.

“It is also the practice for the Treasury to issue a brief press notice. The disqualification of a Member because of his new office is recorded in Votes and Proceedings although there are no proceedings in the house and it is not
recorded in the Official Report.”

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Entry filed under: Commons, Procedure. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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