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Hilary Benn issues challenge to rules on MP resignation

27 January 11 13:26
Gerry Adams

The Shadow Leader of the House of Commons has called for a change in the constitution to allow a member of parliament to resign by letter.

Under current rules, members wishing to step down must apply for an office of profit under the crown.

It has led to Gerry Adams, who wrote to the speaker last week to resign his seat, being appointed Steward and Bailiff of the Manor of Northstead.

Leader of the House, Sir George Young, said the current rules would remain.

In a statement following his appointment to the crown role, Mr Adams said comments by the prime minister that he accepted the title were untrue and that he had "simply resigned".

Downing Street later confirmed that it had apologised to the Sinn Fein president for David Cameron's comments.

The Speaker of the House, John Bercow, later ruled that Mr Adams had been appointed to the Manor of Northstead and had therefore been disqualified from parliament.

Long-standing precedent

In the Commons on Thursday morning, Hilary Benn asked his opposite number if the government would consider changing the rules.

He said: "Does the Leader (of the House) agree with me that it is time we changed these ancient ways of enabling members to step down and move to a simple system where a member can write to you, Mr Speaker, and step down?"

Sir George Young said the office had been granted by the chancellor in line with "long-standing precedent".

"So Mr Speaker, we have delivered Mr Adams to the required destination, though we may have chosen a vehicle and a route that was not one of his choosing," he added.

He dismissed the "hypothetical possibility" raised by some members that a future chancellor could appoint an MP to an office under the crown without a relevant application.

"I find it inconceivable that such a situation would occur. It is a matter of constitutional principle that the chancellor does not act without an unambiguous request from a member to relinquish his or her seat."

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