Monday, January 24, 2011

How to resign from Parliament...

There have been a spate of resignations at Westminster this week - Alan Johnson, Andy Coulson, Brian Cowen... and Gerry Adams. Or not, in the latter case. Newsnight's political editor Michael Crick has a fascinating blogpost about the Sinn Fein leader, who on Friday informed the Speaker's office at the House of Commons that he is resigning his seat in order to stand for the Irish Parliament.

The usual method for MPs to resign, given there is no formal mechanism, is for them to "Take the Chiltern Hundreds" - that is, apply for and be appointed to an "office of profit under the Crown", which disqualifies them from the Commons, thereby vacating their seat (the full details of the convention are covered in this House of Commons factsheet). But as Crick notes, a staunch republican such as Adams, who has not taken his seat in Parliament because he refuses to swear an oath of allegiance to The Queen, is hardly likely to accept an office under the Crown. Hence, according to the Parliamentary authorities, he is still an MP, whether he likes it or not.

But fear not - I have a solution. The two "offices of profit" commonly used are the conventional route, but they are not the only ones. Disqualification is governed by the House of Commons Disqualifications Act 1975, which contains a lengthy schedule (updated last year) of other offices which also disqualify their holders from being an MP, including judges and serving members of the Armed Forces. For example, in 1981 Sir Thomas Williams ceased to be an MP when he was appointed a circuit judge.

No, I'm not suggesting Gerry Adams be made a judge - there are plenty more prosaic offices to choose from. Take a look at the list here. He might have had a problem if he'd wanted to stay as a member of the Northern Ireland Assembly, as many of the offices would disqualify him there too, but there are some which don't. But he has already resigned his Stormont seat, so this complication doesn't arise. He therefore has the pick of the full list. All he has to do is apply to the relevant UK Minister, and for them to appoint him. How about a Director of Northern Ireland Water Limited? After recent problems, I suspect there may be a few vacancies soon...

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