2nd March 1624. How to resign as an MP.
Britain with its long and varied history has thrown up many quirky traditions which once made sense but now seem rather quaint.
One concerned the fact that MPs couldn’t resign unless they took an Office of Profit under the Crown, owing to a Resolution passed by the House of Commons Today 1624, as it was regarded as a position of trust.(1)
A Parliamentary Seat could, and can, be vacated by death or disqualification, but otherwise to resign as an MP, one has to apply for a paid Office of the Crown. In 16th century Tudor England resignation wasn’t an issue as the English Parliament only met for a few weeks in a year.
However serving in parliament became to be seen less an honour than an onerous obligation which many sought to evade by resignation, but by the 17th century most applications were ignored or rejected.
So between 1604 and 1629 only 5 were allowed-these ostensibly for ill-health, though absence abroad was also deemed an excuse.
On 30th December 1680 the Commons resolved ‘nemine contradicente’ (with none against), that, ‘no member shall accept a place of profit…without leave… and resolved that all members be expelled’, for contravention. This now opening up the way to escape the Commons by applying, where necessary, for a nominal Office of Profit.
Nowadays, one can apply to become The Steward and Bailiff of the Chiltern Hundreds or The Manor of Northstead, both of which were once Offices of Profit, under the Crown.
The device of applying for the Chiltern Hundreds was first used by John Pitt (25.1.1751), one of the two MPs of the Pocket Borough of Wareham.
However there were other Offices under the Crown up to the 19th century, as a way of quitting parliament. One could apply for the Stewardship of East Hendred between 1763-1840; used on 8th June 1781, by the Aldborough Member, Edward Onslow, who left England after being charged with homosexual advances at a Royal Academy Exhibition.
Then the Irish Peer, Viscount Melbourne resigned on 13th February 1793, to bring his son into Parliament, which act of nepotism was quite popular. Others left for duties of Empire, as in Jamaica; one to become Governor of Madras, others for Ambassadorships.
Embarrassingly, East Hendred Manor was sold by the Crown in 1823, and by oversight Members continued to apply for a nominal Office until 1840, which didn’t exist!
Another Manor was that of Poynings, which had 2 applications: on 8th.September 1841 when Sir George Anson of Lichfield applied, and another in 1843.
The Stewardship of the Manor of Old Shoreham, a rotten borough, could be applied for between 1756-1799: John Hervey to become Commander in Chief of the Mediterranean in 1763, and the illegitimate Philip Stanhope who sold his seat St. Germans, Cornwall to the Whig government for £1000, on 30th May 1765.
The Manor of Hempholme was also an alternative between 1845-65 by those wishing to take a seat in the Lords, or to seek another Commons Seat.
Samuel Peto (Liberal), applied for Hempholme, to go to the Crimean War, and to construct the Grand Crimean Central Railway (20.10.1854).
He unusually later resigned again in 1868, using the device of the Manor of Northstead.
Another William Roupell (Liberal), applied for Hempholme (20.4. 1862), after being convicted of forgery and sentenced to penal servitude. Another resigned to serve on financial committee of India.(2)
(1a) However it was a costly business travelling over primitive roads and Members were only paid nominal expenses.
(1b) The Resolution was placed in the Commons Journal 2.3.1623 (Old Style Date) as in the 17th century New Year began on 25th March. Today it would be regarded as 1624 (New Style), as in my title.
(2) Other means were using The List of Escheators of Connaught and Leinster for Irish MPs. As Chief Steward of Otford, The Honour of Berkhamstead; Kennington and Shippon which had been used by only one Member each.
There was nothing to stop one going from a Crown Post to become an MP, but by the 1701 Act of Settlement, there had to be a by-election if one became a Minister. This law was finally changed in 1926.
Ref: parliament.uk/documents/chiltern hundreds.
Ref: wikipedia.uk/all information re Crown Offices and Pictures.